24 HOURS WITH
Fashion Designer / Atelier
A Series by Frank Rodriguez
24 Hours with Robert Jesse
On the third episode of our series documenting a day in the life of a creative individual.
Frank Rodriguez continues our new series by spending a day with Robert Jesse, a talented Designer and Atelier. Through a Q&A and film photography documenting her day, we gain insight on Robert's background and his thought process behind his next collection.
Frank: Tell me about yourself?
Robert: My name is Robert Jesse and I am a Fashion Designer and I run a production company called RJ’s Atelier working with small and upcoming brands. I also run a brand called Personal Hobby (PRSNL.HB) which focuses on technical design, using my childhood experiences and interest and translating that into the garment. For example anime to architecture and merging those two things together.
Frank: Where are we?
Robert: You’re in my studio in Woolwich, south east London. I’ve been here for around a year. I’ve just been building my equipment up over the years. I am just trying to create a good foundation for myself.
Frank: How did you get into fashion?
Robert: In secondary school, my friend and I, we had a T-shirt business where we would just get images from google and print them on blank T-shirts.
Frank: How did you print them?
Robert: We went to a printing shop near our area called the ’T-shirt Shop’, they would do all forms of printing: screen, digital and heat press etc. The most popular T-shirt we sold was called ‘I’m so wavy’. I carried on printing and I recall a family friend that told me more about the industry and the T-shirt selling business. I met people who are upcoming in the industry right now like Kojey Radical, Amari Lewis, Last Night in Paris, Josh Collard, I guess that was my insight of just being in that space and not being in London at all as I was living in Kent. I decided to do a foundation in Art & Design as I knew this was something I wanted to take on as a career, I kept the mindset of constantly learning and progressing and now I just want to create my own brand and foundations in the industry.
Interviewer: Where did you study for your foundation?
Robert: I went to the University for the Creative Arts in Rochester, it was about a 30 minute walk from my house, everything was Kent based. I ended up staying there for my degree as well, I also applied to LCF in Shoreditch (London College of Fashion) but I didn’t get in. I studied the ‘Fashion Atelier’ course, I spoke to people that studied the course and they told me how hard it was and that you learn all these techniques etc. It was cool knowing that I could put something of that level on CV. I didn’t really enjoy the course in my first year because it was very intense for me. However, after speaking to my parents, they convinced me that it will be fine as long as I managed to complete the course.
Frank: Would you say University is necessary?
Robert: I believe for the course I did - yes, it was necessary because learning how to make clothes, you need a particular skill and an eye for it because clothes are the next thing to armour, we wear them every day. For someone to make something for you whether it be like bespoke or commercial, it requires problem solving. However I think it’s a bit of both as you can learn from the internet and that’s how we’re moving into the future, becoming more technical but I feel like education, in general, you do need it - just so we can understand what’s good for us and what’s not.
Frank: What did you learn at university that you think you wouldn’t have learnt on your own? What main skills did you pick up?
Robert: I think it was just being more focused. I’d say my childhood was very work focused anyways, like my parents were both academics, aunties, uncles, cousins so my weekends consisted of me going to my cousin’s house, in Croydon and doing Business/IT from morning till the night and it was literally no days off for me. I guess it upgraded my focus. It taught me more of the technical side of things, also being more open to ideas and thoughts because I was quite held back in terms of experiences of meeting new people of different backgrounds, cultural identities, ethnicity and even history. These were the main things I wouldn’t pay attention to by myself.
Understand you can’t be in your own bubble and you must listen in order to collaborate successfully.
Frank: What tips would you give to someone who wants to be in your position?
Robert: I’d say find a good mentor that will guide you through the industry, both the technical and physical labour because it’s a trade that not everyone wants to do, especially in the UK as our focus leans more on designing rather than making. Also have integrity of knowing your worth because you’ll find yourself doing things for free and even having to sell yourself short because you need to make money or want to be featured with a certain circle. I feel like once you figure out where you want to put your focus on and your values, don’t tell yourself you need to change and put God first before everything else.
Frank: What’s the biggest project you’ve worked on?
Robert: I would say it’ll be the Mojo Kojo and Urban Outfitters collaboration. I know the owner of Mojo Kojo, Koye, who sent me a brief of what Urban Outfitters needed, which was patterns and three prototypes of the garments. This was like my first big project coming after I finished university. Urban Outfitters sent us a garment that could cut up and merge and make the pattern for it. I remember making sure all the specifications were perfect as this was my first project since graduating from university and even working with such a huge brand. I think looking back now when it comes to brands working with designers, I believe we should get royalties or something similar as we are not designing things that will be mass produced.
Frank: What brands have you worked with?
Robert: I have worked with Mojo Kojo, Urban Outfitters, What We Wear, K-Swiss, Mowalola and a few other brands that I can’t really remember but those are the mains brands I have worked with directly.
Frank: What brands would you like to work with?
Robert: I’d like to work with Errolson Hugh of Acronym, A-Cold-Wall, Kiko, Bianca Saunders and Martine Rose.
Frank: What tips would you give to people that want to work with similar brands?
Robert: I would recommend getting everything on contract or at least in writing to protect yourself and the other person. Also understand you can’t be in your own bubble and you must listen in order to collaborate successfully. If you have a bad experience, take it as a lesson and if it’s a good experience, also take it as a lesson. I don’t believe in right or wrongs, most of the time it’s a point of view, make sure you enjoy the process.
It was literally no days off for me
Frank: What are you currently working on right now?
Robert: I am currently working on my collection which I hope to release in July - don’t quote me on that. The collection focuses on pieces that are very uniform and you can wear on a day to day basis. I am also just learning more about my craft and practicing. Another thing is providing better customer service and becoming the go to guy.
Frank: When a brand approaches you, what are the first things you ask for?
Robert: The first thing I ask for is what is the time frame? Because normally when I get contacted to do something, they want it ASAP which could be difficult depending on if I am currently working on something else. I also ask for the rate so we can find a middle ground depending on their budget. I don’t start working until the invoice is paid and confirmed.
Frank: Could you go a little deeper into your upcoming collection?
Robert: Well the collection I’m working towards is based on my experiences so far as Robert Jesse, which will touch on when I was working in retail and in different spaces. I plan to name it ‘New Error’, I want to present something dark. It will touch on things where it might seem as political but being a black man living in the U.K., this is just an experience that black people in general might experience on a day to day basis. It will also touch on references from Marvel. I just want to make menswear more interesting, I feel that things can be restructured in a way that it will not be the ordinary of what British fashion is now.
Frank: How do you stay so focused?
Robert: That I always have something to say and I do have value that I can bring to this Earth. I believe when God uses me and obviously I’ve done everything I can possibly do, me just being here motivates me knowing that it can change my children’s life and their children’s lives. Also being a professional in this industry because of how black people are viewed in an unprofessional sense. I am not saying that I have to prove them wrong, it’s just one of those things where I want to show others why people come to me. It’s important to be focused to ensure that I create a level of standards that I would like to create for myself and anyone that works under me or that I work with can see that I’m completely focused in what I do. Adding to that being focused is just to ensure that I create a level of standards that I work in. Hopefully, that will inspire other people that look at my work.
Clothes are the next thing to armour, we wear them every day
Frank: What’s next for Robert Jesse?
Robert: I am building a better foundation for myself in terms of making it easier for customers to get in touch with me, also creating a website and finalising the brand direction. Hopefully, you’ll be able to see more exciting pieces soon.
Photography & Interview by Frank Rodriguez
Transcribed by Siobhan Martin
Produced by New Wave Studios