In Part Two of our interview with Eleanor O'Neill, we discuss the aesthetics and ethics behind her label, STUDY 34, and how the fashion industry might develop in the future.
What are your core values at STUDY 34?
In terms of my knitwear values: a timeless and simple, but modern, aesthetic is important. Having a knowledge of the supply chain. The idea that it's not going to be perfect and that there's always improvements to be made. Honesty with your consumer about where you can improve and, also, to be transparent, to be open and to talk about things. There's so much of the industry we don't know about. It's not all beautiful, it doesn't mean it's not ethical, but some of it is boring. It's important to put light on those aspects, so that people can become more engaged with their clothing.
As a consumer, are your values different?
I suppose they are. When I'm buying clothing, I like if it's from a smaller brand and it has to be something very easy for me to wear. I can appreciate something that’s beautiful, but then I'll think, well, those shoes might be beautiful but, as soon as you step in a puddle (which you will) they’ll be ruined... or that shirt only looks really beautiful when it's crisply ironed, 100%, every time. I don't do that, so there's no point me buying it. I wear jeans everyday, I wear trainers, I want to be comfortable.
What are your influences when you design?
I'm strongly influenced by menswear and the idea of a women that's busy (whether she’s a busy mother or someone high-profile, or whether she’s a creative person like me) and who needs to look good. It's about comfort and style which ultimately gives you confidence inside of you.
When you consider the fashion industry as a whole, do you have any hopes for the future?
I hope it becomes an industry that's interested in skills, craft and tradition, rather than making money quickly. I hope it becomes less pretentious (I don't really like a typical fashion crowd and think people can be put off by that). I would like to see a change in the hierarchy—people think that designers are at the top and those who produce are at the bottom. It should be equal and, if anything, the people who produce are the ones with the real skill. I would love to see a change in the stigma attached to working in a factory. I’d love to see people who design clothing also knowing how to make clothing, so they can make more informed choices to make it more sustainable. Those are the changes I’d hope to see.
Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to start making more sustainable lifestyle choices?
It's hard to say because what makes me really like something isn't what it looks like. I love if I know who's made it, or I know the country where it's come from, or if I've been to the studio. I think it's important to be aware of the impact your choices make on the world. When it comes to clothing, think about the waste and think about the cost. I know we all say, "I can’t afford a t-shirt that costs £35" (or whatever it costs), but have you ever thought about how it's made and how the person lives who made it? Most likely it was a women, she probably has a child who she can’t see, or the child also works... We're so disconnected from other people. I’m not saying that things can be changed quickly, but try to be aware of your choice and how it impacts other peoples’ lives. I'd like to see people get more joy from knowing the story behind their clothing, not simply the purchase of it. To try to live more simply: knowledge and thought and ideas are so much more valuable than anything we can consume. That would be my advice.