- Words Solly Warner
Recent graduate Jake Baker-Cliff shares wecanfly, an innovative and inclusive fashion brand that is creating functional products for everyone.
Initially inspired by sports’ relationship with fashion, young designer Jake Baker-Cliff has spent the last few years completing a degree in Fashion Sportswear at The London College of Fashion (LCF). Formed during an early project, Jake birthed the idea for wecanfly, a brand with a new vision for fashion. The initial concept led to Italian sportswear brand Sergio Tacchini awarding Jake with a scholarship that covered his entire period of study at LCF.
Through the support from Tacchini and having gained additional direction whilst spending time working at C.P. Company, wecanfly has been able to develop as a brand with a bigger purpose. This officially came to fruition as Jake publicly shared wecanfly and the brand’s first garment in June of this year. In collaboration with BlindAid UK, the product perfectly encapsulates the brand’s ethos, providing innovative solutions to those with additional needs.
Despite its infancy, wecanfly has already shown the capability of exploring multiple avenues. This has been backed up by its ability to secure support from other brands. wecanfly’s newest collection of ergonomic creations is in collaboration with C.P. Company. Alongside clean long sleeves and technical bucket hats, the line-up includes the Removable Sleeves PrimaLoft Jacket / Gilet; a completely fresh and unique garment that features quick-release magnetic sleeves, which can be removed easily over the wearer’s head once unzipped.
From working with charities, to producing accessible products through sponsored partnerships, to using high-quality fabrics and soft yet vibrant dyes, wecanfly is offering considered and authentic clothing that is inspired by the individual and focuses on a positive future.
Notion caught up with Jake to discuss how fashion can be a form of social activism, how he would like to expand wecanfly going forward, and why people should support small, independent brands.
Where does your interest in fashion and sport stem from? When did you realise that the two could cross over and that it could be pursued as a career?
My love for both fashion and sport goes back as far as I can remember. Once I could walk, I’d always have a football at my feet, and this didn’t change throughout my childhood. I think my interests in fashion and style initially came from sport. I was fascinated with what the players would wear to the games and on the pitch, I’d often try to mimic it myself. From here, my curiosity in fashion grew, and I started to look further into clothing and brands with my best mate who brought a fresh perspective on style being from south London. My interests in designs often stayed rooted in sportswear but I didn’t realise I could focus on both areas until I was looking for universities and came across the course Fashion Sportswear and for me, it was a no brainer.
What was your university experience like and what sacrifices did you have to make?
My university experience was great. I can’t really fault it. Of course, there were plenty of ups and downs, but I feel like uni is completely what you make of it. Prior to joining the course, I had only begun fashion design a couple of months before on my foundation and I knew I was a complete novice. At the time I felt really out of my depth, but my transition from foundation to university was a bit mad! I received the scholarship for my foundation final project which definitely gave me a new wave of confidence, but shortly afterwards I suffered a traumatic head injury. It was touch and go if I’d actually be able to join the course but, once I did, I felt like I had a lot to prove, and that determination stayed with me throughout my time at university.
You received a full scholarship from Sergio Tacchini during your time at LCF. How did it feel to have that support and how did it aid you in the completion of your degree?
The scholarship was incredible. The financial support was, of course, great, however, having a world-renowned sportswear brand – Sergio Tacchini put their confidence in me really helped me to believe in myself. There was a certain pressure with the scholarship which I loved, it really helped me push myself to learn and be the best I could be. I wanted to show myself, my teachers and of course Sergio Tacchini why I had received the scholarship. I have found the confidence and drive from the scholarship increased my ambition to succeed while on my course and still does to this day.
How did you find developing and creating your designs during the pandemic? How has the past year changed your relationship with fashion?
Yeah, this has definitely been a unique time for designing and creating! It really showed me how much you can do from home when you approach differently. Realistically, I feel like you have to be able to adapt in any industry, especially fashion. Having most things that I would have relied on inaccessible due to facilities being closed just forced further creativity. I’m connected to fashion and my creations more than ever knowing the circumstances that I still managed to realise my vision through. I hope the industry learns from this situation and stops demanding quantity and instead the focus can be on quality.
What is the overriding purpose of wecanfly and how are you looking to approach the role of fashion differently? Did this inspire the name?
wecanfly was born out of a desire to create clothing for everyone of all abilities. The innovations within the creations are rooted in solutions for those with additional needs. wecanfly strives to make fashion inclusive by creating accessible products which are open to everyone. Clothing shouldn’t add to the marginalisation of any group or person due to an individual’s ability. The objective is to work with people with additional needs to provide accessible clothing that improves their lives. By considering a wide demographic of individual needs, wecanfly makes products that make a real difference. I’m aiming to build a community by giving those with additional needs an opportunity to be involved in fashion like never before, by providing a platform for their voices and creativity, this inspired the name wecanfly.
Your first product was The BlindAid jacket. What led you to focus on this particular subject matter and how does the magnetic design cater for its user?
So, the vision of wecanfly stems from my project in 2017 which was focused on my twin sister Daisy’s life, being disabled in society. This changed my mindset towards design, I realised how fashion can be a form of social activism that can help create a positive future. Fast forward to this previous year, still rooted in inspiration from Daisy, I have worked on better understanding my own vision and laying the foundations of wecanfly. A brand with a bigger purpose than just creating clothing. I contacted charities with my idea and BlindAid UK were keen to be involved in the project. The ambition is to work directly with charities and individuals to create authentic products which directly improve people’s lives.
The specific objective for this project came after the connection between myself and BlindAid. Through focus groups with BlindAid, I gained a better understanding of their lives and took key points which became the foundations of the design. This avenue hasn’t been explored in fashion and it’s incredible as a designer because it really forces you to think differently. For example, personally, I’d never had to think twice about fastening zips and this is true for the large majority of people in society. However, for those who have visual impairments, a zip could be a real challenge and become an insecurity. The fully magnetic design was created to avoid the use of zips so the jacket could effectively fasten by itself and when using the pockets, the wearer can be assured the pocket will be closed correctly for them.
The jacket also uses EMF shielding fabric. Can you explain the material’s function and the reasoning behind its inclusion in the design?
Another key point raised by the members of BlindAid was the need for specific pockets, so they’d always know the location of their valuables. However, it was really important to ensure the wearer’s safety as unfortunately, disabled people especially those who are blind are a direct target of scammers. After deciding to feature a card pocket on the left wrist to be easily accessible the task became how would the pocket safeguard the card inside. Following research, I discovered the EMF shielding fabric which effectively blocks a card transaction, after testing it actually worked, I went forward with using it to line the card pocket. The fabric is also featured in the matching trousers being used to line the magnetic wallet pocket. I think this specific function is a great example of the vision of wecanfly – the use of EMF shielding fabric was rooted in a solution for those who are visually impaired however, the pocket is universal; anyone and everyone can relate and benefit from better safety for their valuables!
What was your time like at C.P. Company and what new knowledge were you able to gain?
C.P. Company was an amazing experience. I feel lucky to have already worked and learnt at such a historic company that has pioneered sportswear. I was fortunate enough to work with some of the best in the industry and gain an insight into their ways of working. My time there heavily developed my approach towards design. I gained a crucial understanding of design to creation, which guided me throughout this previous year to direct the creation of wecanfly.
How did this relationship help towards creating your most recent project, the Removable Sleeves PrimaLoft Jacket / Gilet?
Continuing the relationship, my most recent project was sponsored by C.P. Company. I selected appropriate fabrics and trims which were pre-dyed to specified colours, which produced an outcome of chromatic depth and intensity. Fabrics that were chosen were catered to being user friendly through having a soft feel and being lightweight. It gave me the opportunity to work with excellent fabrics within the desired colour pallet to create high-quality products.
How would you like to expand the brand going forward? Are there any new materials, features, or functions that you’re hoping to bring into your work soon?
I see wecanfly having multiple avenues, one being the work created with charities/individuals to produce products like The BlindAid Jacket, and another like the sponsored by C.P. project with the key focus of everything being accessibility. When working with specific charities/individuals, although I may have ideas of fabrics I’d like to work with, the attributes of the design are unknown until focus groups are run to hear directly about their opinions and experiences to ensure the design and products have the best possible features and functions. I’m constantly having ideas, for example, I love the function Nike has created in their Flyease shoes, I’m really intrigued by how this could be mirrored in garments.
You seem to be someone who is open to collaboration. Are there any particular designers or creatives that you would love to work with?
This is actually something I think about a lot! Like I mentioned I have a lot of ideas which often lead me to think of others that I could collaborate with on them. Nike has got to be one. But regarding specific designers, Errolson Hugh really pushes the boundaries of innovation and technical design. I think working with his talent on a concept pushing clothing to improve lives could create something new and groundbreaking. Seeing forward-thinking brands who are using fashion to stand for a positive future like Story MFG and Klabu is inspiring, I’d love to connect with them, especially Story to discuss a workshop collaboration.
What advice would you give to other young designers looking to start their own brand? What key elements are vital in turning an idea into a physical product?
Find a concept that you’re passionate about! It doesn’t have to be related to fashion. Mine roots back to growing up with Daisy and seeing her life as a disabled person in society – nothing to do with fashion. Build on from there, you can then start to research and experiment to discover what you like and sometimes finding what you don’t like can be even better. But I believe when the foundations of your ideas are something you have a strong emotion towards, you’ll go far.
As the current state of fashion is consumed by a vast amount of poorly made, unwanted, fast fashion garments, is using sustainable materials, reducing waste, or promoting a slower fashion future important to you? If so, can you tell us how you would like to implement these values into your brand?
I think now more than ever people will realise again the benefits of local well-made production. The unprecedented few years we’ve been living through has forced us to think and consume differently. As a designer, this is no different. I believe sustainability and minimal waste should be in the foundations of any brand and it can’t exist without either. All my fabrics used are deadstock and to minimize waste I have been saving my offcuts to create some exclusive upcycled one of one-pieces. The speed of fashion has been unhealthy for a long time, I hope to see these last few years change people’s mindsets to one focussed on quality and not quantity. At the core of wecanfly are people, everything created is inspired by the people I work with, and everyone is individual. For this reason, my creations won’t be forced but rather fully considered.
Why should people support small, independent brands?
Supporting small, independent brands is crucial in keeping new, fresh, and modern ideologies alive. In my case, I hope this is about supporting a brand that wants to create a better future and a better world, and wearing clothing that has a deeper meaning, supports something you believe in so you can wear it with a sense of pride. The industry needs smaller independent brands at the forefront of positive fashion and supporting start-up brands makes this possible. Look into the brand and if their ethos is something you agree with don’t shy away from supporting them.