Don't be misled by the pink-haired, effervescent yet sensible Gemma Shiel. The creative mastermind behind the London-based label Lazy Oaf has a youthful energy that manifests in the saucy, playful apparel she and her team designs, but she's been in the industry for over a decade. With humble beginnings selling printed T-shirts in a market stall to opening a shop in Soho, London (the online shop came later) to collaborating with icons for the production of Garfield-covered bodysuits and more, Shiel's steadfast commitment to the brand's roots has led it to eventual global success. Each capsule collection Lazy Oaf produces leaves enthusiasts with overflowing shopping carts, as it's hard to leave with just one piece.
We spoke with the illustrator and designer to discuss Lazy Oaf's Autumn '14 collection (which hits stores today), the team's creative process and making fashion fun and accessible.
What kind of guy or girl do you have mind when you're dreaming up designs for Lazy Oaf?
There's always two separate people, I guess. For womenswear, I'm always imagining sort of a dorky—I don't know, "dorky" is maybe not the right word, it's not fair. The girl who has the sense of the outsider. The girl who, at high school, floats around with all the different social groups; she's not really part of any particular scene. And she's into her own geeky things and likes fashion; she has a bit of a punk attitude, a bit rebellious. She probably has amazing hair. [laughs]
The boy inspiration—definitely hangs out with the girl. I guess it's kind of a reflection of the boys I spent too much time hanging out with. They're also the guy that's probably going to get you in trouble and break your heart. What your mum would call a "bad influence."
Can you walk us through the Lazy Oaf creative process and the concept selection?
I work with my assistant designer on coming up with concepts that we can really engage in and have fun and be really tangible to our customers. We collect lots of imagery that's going to spark lots of ideas and excitement; that's the beginning of the process. It's important for us to genuinely love [a theme] and sort of be able to instantly gauge and know that it's going to funny, that we're going to get some of great illustration and graphics out of it, too. For me, it's really important if I can almost visualize the product straight away and how I want it to look. If I get that feeling from a collection or theme, I'm gung-ho to start the design process.
Normally we produce a lot of designs; we have to have a massive cull to get a fine-tuned collection that's really clear and has something to say.
Quite often, we just start with a massive wall of visual inspiration and sit there and draw and sketch and write funny things and we start putting it together into the clothing and see what works. Normally we produce a lot of designs; we have to have a massive cull to get a fine-tuned collection that's really clear and has something to say.
What sort of designs got scrapped for your recent capsule collection, Space Oddity?
For the menswear—[designs] maybe a little bit too conceptual for Lazy Oaf? So we concentrated on the alien jokes and like having sort of a global presidential campaign. For womenswear, actually we got carried away with going down the '60s or '70s sort of kitsch road. The stuff I was designing was starting to look quite Barbarella-esque, like the film, so those were the bits that we had to cull and make sure that it did evoke "Lazy Oaf does space" rather than "James Bond shoots aliens."
What was on the mood board when you were planning the Autumn 2014 collection?
Mostly it was full of strange pictures that I had taken from Tumblr—old computer graphics, etc. I went with the Microsoft Paint idea; classic sort of toolbars and icons and mixing it up. Instead of an arrow for the mouse, I've got pizza slices. Or what I imagine would be the first emoticon face: a grey, pixelated thing. Bits and pieces like that.
For menswear, it kind of went '90s G, I want to say. A bit of an "homage" to different designers that were big in that day, but I don't think I can explicitly say who they are. [laughs] Parodying the whole logo design, branded wear. And also, we always do something food-related, always.
And for the Autumn '14 collection, you've tapped some not-so-traditional models.
We work with Anti-Agency, which has a huge array of interesting models. These guys are like the face of your brand, but beyond that, they're actually doing pretty cool stuff too. Some of them are musicians, a poet, skateboarders—they're enjoying their own subcultures. It's great for Lazy Oaf because we have a massive personality and that's part of it.
Since the brand has become so global, have you noticed a difference in what customers in one country are buying versus another?
It's kind of interesting—in Japan and South Korea, we do really well and they love it when we go a bit crazy. I love that we've got customers who come to us for that, so I can carry on doing the really nutty stuff that I love doing. I think the US customers are a little bit more serious—they buy slightly more toned down stuff.
Lazy Oaf's prices lean toward affordable—has that been a conscious part of your business plan?
We want to keep our produces totally accessible because they are fun and the whole nature of our brand is, it's sort of trash culture. And not that we have trash prices, but I want people to enjoy it and wear it, and not be one of those brands that are just like, "I'll never be able to afford to buy that." We're not super cheap either, so we're in a strange sort of market position where we're accessible. I can't connect with fashion brands that don't really have a sense of humor in what they do or what they've got to say; those things are important to me. We try and create a community; we do events in the shop so we can actually meet our customers and get feedback and they can hang out with us. And I don't really like the exclusivity in sort of shutting people out because you're expensive and premium. We like the same stuff [our customers] do, probably; we're probably sitting at home, eating disgusting things in our pajamas.
Images courtesy of Lazy Oaf