Interview—Eleanor O'Neill, founder of STUDY 34, Part Two

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.


The New Crew in navy.

The New Crew in navy.

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.

Grey merino yarn, sourced by Eleanor for the New Crew.

Grey merino yarn, sourced by Eleanor for the New Crew.

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.

Interview—Eleanor O'Neill, founder of STUDY 34, Part One

Sustainable fashion designer and columnist at The Huffington Post, Eleanor O'Neill, chats to me about the challenges of building an ethical fashion business and shares her thoughts on the future of the fashion industry in this two part interview. In Part One, Eleanor and I talk about what inspired her to start Newcastle-based STUDY 34 and discuss the ins and outs of running a small fashion business.


Alpaca yarn samples  ready for a new  STUDY 34  collection.

Alpaca yarn samples ready for a new STUDY 34 collection.

How did STUDY 34 begin?

STUDY 34 began towards the end of my last job in Italy as a junior designer. It was driven by a frustration with the experiences I was having and my observations of the industry. I became really frustrated with the lack of creativity, and frustrated by how limiting my job was. As the designer, I was in charge of drawing an item and not involved in the technical process of how to make up the garments, so I felt like I wasn’t improving any skills. I’ve often found the office environment quite challenging. Those atmospheres where everyone’s stabbing each other in the back or rifling through your desk to look at what you’re designing when you’re supposed to be a team. I didn’t enjoy it. But most of all I didn’t enjoy the isolation of being a designer and not being involved in all other aspects of the supply chain. It’s a really important thing to know about and to be involved in so you can be better at your job.

 

When setting up STUDY 34, what drove you to create an ethically-driven brand—was it because you had worked in a bigger company, not been involved in the supply chain, and wanted to know more about it, or because you thought it lacked ethical principles? 

I think that when you work for these slightly larger brands—certainly in my experience—a designer is never exposed to the supply chain. I couldn’t say that it was unethical because I hadn’t actually seen it. But… I guess you get a vibe from things and think that there may be issues. Perhaps if I’d worked for a smaller brand in the first place, and was therefore involved in all the different processes, I wouldn’t have started STUDY 34 so quickly. I would’ve felt fulfilled by that experience, for sure.

 

And so, when you started STUDY 34 it was partly because you wanted to address all aspects of the label: the design, working with the production team directly, and wanting to see the whole company…

Absolutely, because I think you have to have knowledge of all of the stages in order to really understand the impact of the thing that you’re making. Right back at the beginning I made everything myself. That was driven by several things: Firstly, I didn’t have any money to ask someone else to do it. Secondly, I had the skills to make the pieces myself. And thirdly, I really really enjoyed manufacturing. I loved manufacturing. I’m not one for sitting in the office and styling the photoshoots—I hate to do things like that—I’m much more interested in the nitty-gritty of how things are put together. I definitely wanted to be more hands-on.

The  New Crew , available now on  STUDY 34  and made from end-of-the-line merino yarn.

The New Crew, available now on STUDY 34 and made from end-of-the-line merino yarn.

How has your process developed?

It started where everything was made to order. Someone would order something, I would have all the sizes ready, all the instructions ready. If someone ordered a small, medium, or large, I put the paper in front of the machine and started getting to work. It’s enjoyable if everything goes right, isn’t it? You’re like—god!—I love making things. But, actually, when you have to make stuff back-to-back and something goes wrong and it means you have to start a panel again, it’s a bloody nightmare! So, actually, I did enjoy it, but not when the pressure was on. It actually gets quite difficult. It also means that you can’t do anything else for your brand because you’re sitting in front of a machine. So it started like that and, to be honest, that was stage one of STUDY 34. Stage two has been working with a manufacturer, so outsourcing the production. I still source all the raw materials myself, I do all of the technical drawings and measurements, but the actual making is sub-contracted, as it were. Last year’s crew was made in Leicester—not, I would say, part of the UK which is particularly known for it’s knitwear craft—but, as a small brand it’s so hard to find someone who will work with you, to work to your minimums and work with your deadlines. I did get to a point where I just worked with whoever would work with me, which you might say is not a good thing, but I had to. It’s difficult because you want to do everything right, but also you run a business. You have to get something off the ground to prove that your idea is worth something, otherwise you’re just wasting your time. You have to produce something to test the market, so I produced my first crew. In terms of craftsmanship it could be a million times better—I still like it, I still wear it everyday, but I have ambitions for it to be better. Now I’m working with a different factory near Hawick, which is between Newcastle and Edinburgh—which is much more the heartland of knitwear—so I’m looking forward to seeing how far we can get there.

 

Where do you source your raw materials currently?

At the moment I source them from a guy in Manchester who buys end-of-line from mills and design houses. He bids for them in bulk and he’ll ring and say, “I’ve got a really nice cotton but I’ve only got 20 kilos, do you want it?”. It’s a way for me to access raw material that is really good quality, but also in quantities I can afford to buy and that fit my manufacturing capability. Another problem arises where you have to make the decision: right, ok, it’s about 20 kilos—your average cotton garment weighs 300g, so you can get about 50 something out of that—do I buy it? After making the financial choice to buy it, I’ve then got to find someone who’s going to use it. It may be that their minimum is 70, and I’ve not got enough to make 70. It’s very difficult. In terms of sourcing the raw material, that’s what it’s been like so far. Moving forward, I went to Peru in October to learn more about Alpaca and met the two leading mills there—that was really great. Sourcing alpaca is something I’m looking to do in 2017 for fine-gauge alpaca jumpers.

 

Where do you see STUDY 34 going in the next year or so? …What’s the plan?!

Original two colour ways of the  New Crew .

Original two colour ways of the New Crew.

Well, [laughs] we all know how well plans work out! I’m currently working on some cotton jumpers with the factory near Hawick. If everything goes according to plan they should be up on the site in March. Then, for the release in September, I’m looking at using alpaca. So that’s two little knitwear collections coming. The issue with the second collection is that it turns out manufacturers in the UK, who work with alpaca, are hard to find! Alpaca’s not a fibre many factories here are working with—it doesn’t behave in the same way as wool or cotton, it requires a lot of knowledge and a lot of skill. If you don’t have that prior knowledge, it requires a lot of patience to test, and patience is certainly not something that I would associate with our industry. The thought of producing with alpaca in its native country is something I could do, too—Peru has a really great textile history that’s a part of its culture. I’m really passionate about our manufacturing in the UK, but I’m more passionate about a transparent and ethical supply chain. If these aren’t in the UK, I’m not going to bust my balls and try and make it here when there’s a perfectly good option in Peru. In terms of knitwear, that’s the plan. In terms of STUDY 34, the platform and content, I’m working on a few ideas for it to become a platform where you can come as a consumer and not only find my knitwear, but other brands’ clothing whose values and aesthetic match my own. I’m often asked “Els, I’m looking for a t-shirt or a leather bag, where can I find one?”. I’ll reel off a list of brands making incredible products, and I’d love to have them all in one place on STUDY 34 where you can not only buy a product, but learn about it and its founder and their vision. Maybe, as a consumer, you’ve decided you want to make changes but you can’t change everything all at once, so you ask yourself, “What do I really care about?”. Do I really care about the fact that it’s made in the UK? Do I really care about organic cotton? All these sorts of things. I’d like STUDY 34 to be a place for someone to discover what all these terms mean. You know, what is organic cotton? Explained simply. And if you’re interested, what are its benefits?


Read Part Two of the interview here.

Quarterly Review—Summer

A look back at some of our favourite moments from the summer season.


Collaborations

PrêtàMuse highlight the simplicity and ease of the SS16 collection in their shoot 'Playing for Keeps'—these gorgeous photos are just a couple from the piece.

We started PrêtàMuse because as young creatives who were fresh into the thick of our Degrees, we naturally wanted to go into the exciting world of fashion and the creative industry at large, however, we did not want to be part of the mindless production, waste and consumption that we were witnessing over and over again. We felt like we were searching for something that our industry could not give us, so we thought, why not create it ourselves.

Supporting the sustainable fashion movement is very important for us because we believe in doing everything with a conscience, this means having a conscience about the kind of world we are going to leave behind once we’ve had our moment, a conscience about where our clothes are coming from and whose hands have to bleed for them. Creativity is so exciting and incredibly beautiful, but this industry has fallen into a loop of contradicting itself, by using ugly methods to create items that are meant for purposes of beauty.
— Sara Ngwenya, Creative Director, Pretamuse

Interviewees

I chatted to Hazel & Roberta—the pair behind Bedboat magazine—they shared how they act upon their ethos "living fearlessly" and some thoughts on how to live sustainably in our summer interview.

For me, the idea of living fearlessly isn’t about jumping out of planes or touching scorpions—it’s about taking those everyday fears and worries, facing up to them, and embracing them whatever happens.
— Hazel Gibbens, editor-founder, Bedboat
...living sustainably is to be conscious of where something has come from and how your own consumption and practice can affect the world.
— Roberta Juxon-Keen, creative director, Bedboat

 

Behind-the-scenes

Hot, busy days in the studio called for many iced coffees whilst we worked our way through summer production runs and polished new collection designs. The next collection, SS17, will be a season of texture and easy silhouettes—dresses for moving and living in. We can't wait to share the garments with you.

Summer wouldn't be summer without a little time to explore new places—swimming in the sea and beautiful sunsets made for an idyllic trip to Sardinia. We clambered up mountainsides to explore a nuraghe and indulged in local seafood and pizza.

Iced coffee behind-the-scenes
A sunset in Sardinia

 

Collections

The Core range launched with the #023 t-shirt, simple, beautifully-cut and made from soft organic single knit jersey. Available in three key colours, it's the ultimate staple t-shirt. More pieces will be added to this collection in the new year.

Fundamental to the Veryan ethos is presenting core building block garments alongside our special seasonal collections. Pieces that will always be available and will never be on sale, foundations of a modern wardrobe.
— Veryan Raiker

Interview—Hazel & Roberta, editor-founder & creative director of Bedboat magazine

Bedboat is a quarterly print magazine, representing and promoting a range of creative talents. Integral to its ideology is the theme of “living fearlessly”. Hazel and Roberta (the editor-founder and creative director) tell me how this represents an honest look at fears: how human interaction, connecting with strangers, and being welcoming are often the bravest things we do. We talk about the process of developing the first issue of Bedboat, how they’ve gone on to represent a plethora of independent brands and their thoughts on living a sustainable lifestyle below.


Photography by Alex May, styling by Roberta Juxon-Keen.

Photography by Alex May, styling by Roberta Juxon-Keen.

 
For me, the idea of living fearlessly isn’t about jumping out of planes or touching scorpions—it’s about taking those everyday fears and worries, facing up to them, and embracing whatever happens.
— Hazel Gibbens
 

What inspired you both to represent the motto “live fearlessly”?

Hazel:  It stemmed from this idea that I see my peers feeling more fearful of the world around them. This idea that we can go into town, buy our shopping, bring it home on public transport, and not have to talk to a single other human makes me sad. That lack of communication means we are starting to know and understand our fellow humans so much less. For me, the idea of living fearlessly isn’t about jumping out of planes or touching scorpions—it’s about taking those everyday fears and worries, facing up to them, and embracing whatever happens.

Roberta: The motto "live fearless" was not my inception, as when I joined Hazel in making Bedboat, both the name and the tag line were already conceived under her founding. However, I am more than happy to advocate it, as I think it is imperative to creativity, growth, and experiencing everything fully, both good and bad. While it can be interpreted as to "do something that scares you every day" or to face your phobias, to me, it means more. I want it to represent a plethora of people, including myself, that are fearless in their attitudes; becoming stronger in the face of any negativity and taking chances to get the most out of your career, love and life's opportunities overall. 

 

You mentioned to me previously, Hazel, that running a magazine was something you’d always wanted to do. The idea of ‘Bedboat’ began to form when you discovered the likes of independents—‘Cereal’, ‘Kinfolk’ and ‘Oh, Comely’. What was the process for developing the first edition?

Hazel: The first edition took me a year to create. I exhausted every possible contact I had, and did a lot of cold calling. I’m incredibly lucky that people took chances on me, and so many talented creatives gave up their time to help me put it together. In terms of the business side, I took a business course and asked a LOT of questions. Looking back on the first edition is difficult because there’s so much I’d change, but it was just me and a dream, and the fact that it exists at all is simply incredible to me.

 

The 'Bedboat' website opens with:

“leave me

floating in my bedboat

sailing in this world”

Can you both tell me more about the creative concept behind 'Bedboat'?

Hazel: When I first started thinking about what I wanted Bedboat to be, I found it hard to pin down the idea. I wanted to create something that people felt like they could be themselves with. I didn’t want anyone to think they weren’t fashionable enough, rich enough, edgy enough, or old enough to be part of the Bedboat world. I was also sick of seeing magazines and adverts aimed at me that required me to be moody and grungy and only wear black and smoke 30 cigarettes a day. I love "floating on my bedboat" because to me it means that you don’t have to spend your life pushing against the tide to try and be different, just do what you love and let life take you where it wants naturally.

Roberta: We always lead with the fact that Bedboat is designed to inspire people to live fearlessly and creatively. To me, the concept of Bedboat lies in our eagerness to maintain it as a platform for creatives, people, places and ideas, that may not get the same access to publications, or the applicable experience to get noticed. We strive to work with our contributors on original concepts that add to what we hope is a diverse variety of interesting, inspiring and accessibly honest content. 

 

What are your influences and draws when considering content for new editions, Roberta?

Roberta: Bedboat is about being comfortable in your own journey, which is one of my main inspirations for drawing up content ideas. I always search for people or businesses doing things in their own way, or with a niche to their story that I know the readers will find encouraging. Sometimes the seasons will conduct the tones of shoots or articles that go in, but I avoid anything too rigidly trend conscious. It's important that the content feels more timeless than fleeting in a society where everything is so throwaway. I try and trust my Instincts on what I feel our readers—who I really try to listen to—will appreciate seeing next and often features will develop very organically off the back of the magazines growth.

 

Which are both of your favourite features to date?

Photorgraphy and styling by Natalie Lynn.

Photorgraphy and styling by Natalie Lynn.

Hazel: What a tricky question! There are so many aspects to each feature. The photography, the writing, and the subject add up to create something wonderful. I’d say my favourite feature is probably the piece I did on my Aunt Armorel—meeting up with her gave me the opportunity to reflect on the importance of family, and reminded how super badass she is as a woman. 72 years old and still writing and recording music: what an inspiration.

Roberta: I have quite a lot of favourites, so that's a very tough question! In terms of a photo set, the cover story for issue two shot by Dom Moore will always be very dear to me. It was one of the most sentimental to date and featured my hometown and one of my best friends, Joe. I also really enjoyed the results of our Time Well Spent with graphic designer and all round interior and DIY inspiration, Becca Allen, in issue three. Alex May captured her beautiful home so brilliantly.

 

We chatted before, Hazel, about how you wanted to create “something beautiful that people would want to keep forever” and 'Bedboat' is only offered in print. You offer something tactile and permanent in an often a hectic publishing world. Can you tell me more about this choice?

Hazel: I’ve always hated online magazines. I don’t understand them. Some things naturally progress to the digital age, and that’s fine. But for magazines, the beauty was always in the layouts, in the flow of the features, in the crispness of the photos and how you can truly connect with them. I could talk about this forever but I’ll just touch on a couple of things. Firstly, when you have a website, you can chuck as much as you want on each page, you could put hundreds of images from the same shoot up, and upload as many paragraphs as your heart desires with an endless scroll. But with print, there are beautiful limitations. These limitations force us to look at things longer, and spend more time carefully choosing the final images and words, because there’s only space for the best. This means that the reader is looking at the most loved, and the most representative works, which is really special. The other side of it is the sense of ownership. When you own a magazine, particularly one created with high quality paper and printing, then you are forever a part of that publication, and each one of those images and words belong to you.

 
...the content feels more timeless than fleeting in a society where everything is so throwaway.
— Roberta Juxon-Keen
 
Photography and styling by Roberta Juxon-Keen.

Photography and styling by Roberta Juxon-Keen.

 

What advice would you both give to someone who wants to live more “fearlessly and creatively”?

Hazel: Honestly, being fearless is terrifying. There are so many unknowns, and our world is changing so quickly. I’ve certainly had my share of panicky mornings and self-doubt, so I don’t want to be the voice of Bravery. I think the main thing that I try and remember is that you’re honestly not alone. I know how cliché and cheesy that sounds, but if you have anxiety, there’s people struggling with that too, or if you’re scared for the future, you’re probably in the same boat as most other people. So I say take a deep breath, feel the solidarity and use that to face the world head-on. God, that really was cheesy.

Roberta: Ultimately, be open to new opportunities and don't be scared to get involved. Collaborating and meeting other creatives and makers is a really great way to challenge yourself and grow your own skill set. Even if you don't have a life plan yet, are trying something new, or aren't entirely confident with your ideas, something rewarding will come from having a go, even if it doesn't work out the first time. 

 

Finally, can you both tell me a little about what living sustainably means to you?

Hazel: Living sustainably is the ultimate dream. I’ve been looking into it a lot recently (check out Trash is for Tossers if you haven’t already), and it’s definitely something we cover in Bedboat as frequently as possible (check out Veja shoes or Victory Gardens Vancouver). Living sustainably is something I don’t feel I am achieving yet, but I feel endlessly inspired by those who are doing better than me and paving the way for my generation.

Roberta: Personally, I find that living sustainably is to be conscious of where something has come from and how your own consumption and practice can affect the world. I think shopping locally or seeing the value in buying a hand crafted version of something where possible is really important in making small steps to a more sustainable future, and helps develop a really encouraging sense of community.

A selection of images from the  Bedboat   instagram  feed.

A selection of images from the Bedboat instagram feed.

Quarterly Review—Spring

A look back at some favourite moments in the Veryan Studio over the Spring season.


Interviewees

Our interviewees Freya Dowson & Niina Sarma-Hintikka engaged us with stories of their careers and their experiences of sustainability in action.

 
An image from the   Coal Mines in Chakwal, Pakistan   series

An image from the Coal Mines in Chakwal, Pakistan series

Our March interviewee was Freya Dowson, the humanitarian photographer and blogger behind Nishaantishu. She shared her thoughts on her work with NGOs, how they help contribute to sustainable change and how she captures the personality of her subjects with us.

I’ve been to communities where...you talk about the importance of good animal handling and thinking about the welfare of your animals, for example, and you can hear people coming back with “that’s all very well and good for you to tell us, but what does it actually mean? How can we apply it to our lives and how can we teach our children?” And then you’re like, that’s sustainability. That’s what sustainability actually means and looks like in practice.
— March interview with Freya
 

For June, we interviewed Niina Sarma-Hintikka, the founder of Kielo clothing, who took us through her journey to building a label founded on ethics and ecological values.

A selection of instagram images from Niina's beautiful   page for Kielo  .

A selection of instagram images from Niina's beautiful page for Kielo.

...only later in life I started to think what ethical values really mean to me. Becoming a mother also had an influence on this. I started to get really anxious about all the clutter we are surrounded by, all the chemicals they put on everything, factory farming, animal welfare issues, fast fashion... It really was a snowball effect. I wanted to learn more, but I also wanted to be the change.
— June interview with Niina

Collaborations

Elleanor wearing her #021 dress and carrying the  mini mini Elwin  bag by   Lost Property of London  .

Elleanor wearing her #021 dress and carrying the mini mini Elwin bag by Lost Property of London.

At the studio we developed a custom #021 dress for Eleanor O'neill, founder of Study 34 and sustainable fashion journalist at Huffington Post, to wear for a special day at Buckingham Palace.

I was thrilled to wear Veryan for this brilliantly British garden party
— Eleanor O'neill, Study 34 designer and journalist
 

One of our new partners, Hazel & Rose, opened the doors to their Minneapolis boutique this summer. They source a range of local and global ethical designers for a unique selection in their store in The Broadway.

Emma's shot of the Veryan collection at her boutique,   Hazel & Rose  , in Minneapolis.

Emma's shot of the Veryan collection at her boutique, Hazel & Rose, in Minneapolis.

I started this boutique to give local shoppers an alternative to fast fashion and to introduce new designers to the area. I didn’t want anyone to think they had to compromise their personal style in order to shop ethically.
— Emma Olson, found of Hazel & Rose

Behind-the-scenes

A moment from our  instagram , prepping labels for SS16.

A moment from our instagram, prepping labels for SS16.

This spring saw our busiest production period yet in the studio—it was exciting and challenging. It brought home to us how off-cuts from pattern cutting can massively increase the waste we have. As we pick durable fabrics, off-cuts can be very handy. We use them as bias binding, as interlining or sometimes even lining in the #019 tote bags or accessories range. The very smallest of scraps and threads in natural fibres (that make up the vast majority of our garments) can be composted.
— Veryan Raiker

Collections

May marked the launch of our SS16 womenswear collection.

Building garments to seamlessly integrate into the daily lives of busy women is at the forefront of our design ethos. This season we focussed on easy, pared-back dresses and wrap tops in crisp cottons. We used GOTS certified organic fabric for this capsule collection, dyed and woven in small runs by a family run business in Kerala. The designs and finishes are durable, the pieces are timeless additions to curated wardrobes.
— Veryan Raiker