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What is it that drives a clothing designer?

Fashion
Durban-born model Sanele Xaba is the face of street wear brand Unknown Union 


We get to know the founder of the brand, Jason Storey.

Tell us a bit about yourself? I wasn’t always a designer. I actually spent my early career as an in-house corporate attorney in New York, working around the clock on deal after deal. But I always had a passion for expression outside the field of law. To be honest, I’m a nerd at heart. I grew up surrounded by the study of art (my father was an art dealer) and with a passion for learning. I love to read about everything... art, culture, history, science and how it shapes societies and people.

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The Unknown Union (UU) capsule collection that was presented at the SA Menswear Week in CapeTown in February.Picture: Simon Deiner / SDR Photo

Tell us about the journey to starting your label Unknown Union? Unknown Union was born from that passion, but its vision has changed significantly since its origins. My family and I have been travelling to South Africa since I was much younger and it is through that experience that I developed a deep affinity for the people, places, and cultures here. UU originally was founded in 2010 and at that time we primarily imported brands from outside of South Africa, such as Obey, Levi’s Vintage, Pendleton, and Warriors of Radness among others. We also were the first to officially introduce Topshop to the African market through our exclusive pop up shop. Around 2011, we began developing our in-house clothing brand which was inspired by local art and culture, and it didn’t take long before this became the primary focus of our shop. Today, you can find our range at our newest location in Cape Town CBD, where our garments celebrate the rich cultural history of Lesotho and South Africa, and several new design projects that touch Angola, Congo and Kenya.

What’s it like being in the fashion industry? The fashion industry is a fun but challenging industry. From the outside the industry can easily appear to be very sexy and glamorous, but people don’t always see how much work and effort goes into the creation of each garment.From design to production it takes a team working meticulously around the clock to produce something worth buying. That goes for any designer. But at Unknown Union the work is a little more involved because we’ve challenged ourselves to use fashion as a vehicle for communicating stories that celebrate specific people, arts, traditions and so on.

How would you describe your brand? We believe that there is something that binds every person on this planet together. There is no name for that thing. There is no way to smell it, taste it, feel it, see it, etc. But we all intrinsically recognise that it exists. That’s one of the meanings behind our name and the celebration of histories and stories of people around the world is our attempt to shine light on the things that bond and unite the human experience.

How difficult is it to remain original when street-wear brands seem to emerge daily? If you are pinning your originality on the uniqueness of your design then very few designers can meet that standard because almost every design you could think of to drape the human body has already been thought of or created.While, like other designers, we do try to create an aesthetic that appeals to our design sensibilities, that is not our primary focus when it comes to creation. Instead, we focus our efforts and strive to create designs that meaningfully convey the ideas and stories that we are responding to.

Is it important for the brand to have the clothing worn by celebrities? While we are thankful that many celebrities have taken an interest in our brand, our clothing is designed for everyone. We design clothes that we hope each and every person who wears them can take ownership of and see their personal style come alive. We want you to put on a garment and say: “This is me and this is a mission I can get behind.” Yes, celebrities help to share our story and the mission behind the brand, but so do our customers, the artists we collaborate with, and so do many other members of the UU family.

How have you seen the role of social media develop for you as a brand since you first started out? Social media has become more of a focus for the brand over the past year. Up until recently, word of mouth and print were our primary marketing vehicles, since much of our energy is spent designing and creating a collaborative space for art, community and discussion. However, thanks to our growing team of Unknown Union ambassadors our social media presence has grown through platforms like Instagram and Facebook, bringing our brand to an entirely new audience, which has led to new and exciting opportunities.

What’s next for Unknown Union? There are a lot of exciting projects in the works at Unknown Union. In addition to our brand’s commitment to continuing to produce clothing for our signature collection, which speaks to the stories that inspire us and expand our knowledge of the world. Our UU family can expect to see new and innovative capsule collections from upcoming collaborations with local and international artists.An ongoing commitment to creating opportunities for and exhibitions and dialogues around the arts, and the store’s potential expansion to Johannesburg. In fact, everyone is invited to come through our flagship location at 44 Bloem in Cape Town (Corner of Loop and Bloem) for the launch of our next exhibit: Fashion Art, on June 23.

For details on the exhibit or to RSVP, please contact [email protected] by June 12.

* Connect with Unknown Union on Instagram @unknownunion

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