non: conscious by design
Interview with Creative Director of non, Designer Pete Hellyer
Interview: Hiba Hassan
As we move toward the end of lockdown, we inevitably shift from the majority of our uniforms being joggers and pajamas to outerwear such as jeans. It has been a topic of conversation with many raising the question of when the last time they wore a pair was, we need newness incorporated with comfort and sustainability with the current climate.
Today sees the release of non, an agender, minimalist denim brand, conscious by design. Founder, Pete Hellyer, is determined to showcase the new brand that prides itself on durability and environmental impact. Their exclusive salvaged denim, which can sometimes be hard-wearing, is 50/50 organic cotton and recycled cotton, developed with ISKO, one of the leading production companies for responsible denim based in Turkey.
It is built to its ethos down to every detail, from minimising naturally occurring waste by recycling it into yarn to a scannable tag to display care instructions. The end of life a piece of clothing goes through is also considered by the brand offering a take-back scheme for your old jeans and jackets, donated to a charity for reuse or recycling. All encouraging a more responsible consumer-to-brand relationship.
non founder, Pete sat down with New Wave to tell us more about the brand that is making it's way to our wardrobes…
You used your time during lockdown to create an entire business! This is the reverse impact that corona has had on places like retail. How were you able to use this time to your advantage?
I am a freelance creative director, so when the first lockdown hit, a lot of shoots and things that were scheduled just disappeared. And like most people I was sat at home thinking what am I going to do? And I thought that the one thing I have got is time on my hands.
It kind of happened by accident, I was bored during lockdown and I wanted a new pair of jeans, so I went online and I couldn’t find a pair that I liked, that has the same aesthetic as non now. Initially, it was for about 100 pairs, just to show that it could happen. And it snowballed from there. People have been really kind in terms of positive feedback and stores taking an interest in the brand. It has evolved into a brand that launches in a week. I never really thought I would have my brand, but it gives me the freedom, I have done everything from the website to the casting.
What can we expect from the launch?
It will be launching on March 1st on our website and in loads of boutiques around the world. These are all around the world including SSENSE in Montreal, Incu in Australia, Oallery in Amsterdam, Beamhill in Helsinki, HIP based in Leeds, UK and online, Never Never in Belfast. These are all stores that I love and have a great aesthetic and a really good fit for non.
What were the steps you took from the idea to a physical product?
I knew really clearly what I wanted the product to look like. it’s a classic denim shape, 5 pocket jean or jacket that I thought could be made more contemporary. It is very much pieces I would wear, or my friends would wear. I was very fortunate to already know of the Mill, ISKO based in Turkey. They were always my first choice and thankfully it worked out with them.
What’s great about sustainable fashion is its transparency, people are always open to share what works well and who can help in the industry. I then got the samples produced in my size for the fittings. Coming up with the brand name was quick, it’s non-branded, nongendered, non-destructive, so it kind of just stuck.
Fashion is integral in society; how do you plan on defining your role in the industry?
I think the fashion industry is having a bit of a reckoning with itself, it is a hugely unsustainable industry. I don’t identify non as a sustainable brand. Fashion itself is built on inherent redundancy, something that is cool one day will be thrown away in 6 months, it is an industry that has a real cultural problem. non is a clothing brand instead of a fashion brand, it is classic pieces that you can wear in years to come.
Realistically us making 100 jeans ethically won’t save the planet. But if we can be in that conversation of changing people’s behaviour and industry practice would be amazing. I think sustainable fashion has a slight image problem where it can antagonize people, fashion is amazing in terms of self-expression but tells people off for what they buy feels wrong to me. So, the brand is there to highlight positive change instead of making people feel bad for what they buy.
You seem technology forward with your pieces what else can we expect?
Depending how nerdy you are, we have a digital ID of the garment label, where you can scan the label and it will take you to care instructions and how the item was made. What else is cool about it is, it is the same tag that can be used by recycling companies. At the moment a lot of recycling is done manually which is a problem for third world countries and the carbon footprint for actually getting it there. So, this technology that is created by EON group, will be stunning to get it implemented across the country. We have really tried to consider what will happen to these pieces in 10 years, and this is a great initiative.
What certain stores are doing now is you can track the journey of an item so you can see it is authentic and where your money is going.
This is just my opinion, but I have noticed when things first launch they stick to their ethos the whole way through but when they grow, it is sort of lost, how will you ensure that as non grows you will stick with why you created the brand?
I think what I have had in mind from the start is how it can scale, for instance, there are sustainable brands that use hand dye or hand weaving from all around the world which is fantastic but it is also very hard to scale up when there is a demand for it. So, that was a part of the thinking, I think it Is harder for existing brands to become more sustainable because they have always done things a certain way. It is definitely a challenge, but it is something I prepped for.
How was it featuring your products in these boutiques all around the world during the pandemic?
I will be honest; sales were probably the hardest part of the whole process. I was lucky enough to have connections, I actually used to be creative director of SSENSE a few years back, so I still knew people there. A lot of it was trying to find the details of buys and just putting it out there. I was probably that annoying person that emailed three times, but it is a really difficult time for stores. There is a lot of uncertainty for them right now, so I am grateful they also had faith in the brand as it is brand new. It was a 3-month process, but moving forward I do have a sales partner, who are really great and are much better at it than I am. It really did become a full-time job and I sent around 1200 emails to get those 8 stores, but it was a great outcome.
Who are the creatives behind the brand?
It’s just me, everything in the brand has been from me. I have an amazing pattern cutter and I’m very grateful for the mill & factory we work within Turkey. They have given me amazing advice and schooled me on the different things I should be doing, without them both it wouldn’t be where it is.
But doing PR, sales, product design has been all me, it’s been exciting every week is a new objective to learn. Like this week I have been trying to ship hundreds of products around the world from Turkey.
You are a strictly denim, conscious agender brand, what made you want to create denim?
I am one of those people who live in a uniform, it is pretty much a white tee and jeans for me every day. There is already a lot of amazing ethically produced white tees out there so that didn’t seem like an opportunity for me to create. Denim was something I felt that knew enough about to design, I am self-trained and have always worked in the industry, so I think I know a good pair of jeans when I see one. I feel like there’s a lot less happening in denim, it felt like the right time, so I feel like once lockdown is over everyone is going to want to take off their joggers and put on a new pair of jeans. Denim hasn’t really been on trend these past few years so hopefully, we have reached the end of that.
Where do you draw inspiration from for your creative concepts?
I have always tried to work out where my taste comes from. I grew up outside of London, reading music magazines and I was very drawn to fashion. The brand is a manifestation of everything I know, and how I typically work for brands. This is great because I can then work instinctively instead of second guess.
I think coming out of lockdown people will be looking for brands that are just a little bit friendlier, how do you feel about that and the juxtaposition of the challenges you had to face creating a brand at home?
Yeah, creating a brand during lockdown is an idea that I have wrestled with. It has been tough; I don’t want people to read this and think any less of what they have done. As long as everyone is getting through it, that’s the most important, creating this during lockdown gave me a sense of purpose, which is important. I don’t want to come across as one of those people who shove it in your face what they have achieved during the most challenging time, I have also binge-watched Netflix.
I have worked from home for quite a while, it was a shock when lockdown came for creatives and panted seeds of self-doubt. I emailed a lot of stores and didn’t initially get anyone saying it was amazing. So, I was sat there thinking that maybe someone else can do it better or before me, or if it was even a good idea. I think all creatives have moments of self-doubt, but what did keep me going was that it was necessary. non unofficially means ‘now or never’, which is to do with everything right now, to make a change before it is too late.
What are your favourite items from your collection?
I think the jacket, is simple, but the subtleties make it seem new. it has the rear pockets of denim jeans on the chest
What is the ultimate goal for non?
I would be really proud if non becomes a part of the conversation of how the fashion industry can change. I want us to be an example of what is possible for new designers and help move the needle to more ethically produced fashion. It goes far beyond what I am doing, the industry needs to change but I hope we are a part of that.