One of the countless lessons that has been reinforced during the pandemic — perhaps forcibly — is that the big-brand route to success in the fashion industry isn’t the only one.
New York-based designers Kate Hundley and De’Jon Jackson need no convincing. Hundley, who started her own label in 2018, has teamed with Jackson, who will launch his Weird English brand this fall, to create bespoke shorts made from vintage scarves. In addition to finding a select amount semiannually on Hundley’s site starting today, shoppers can also have custom pairs of shorts made with family heirlooms, flea market finds or other favorite materials on an ongoing basis.
These $430 rarities are not just meant to offer one-of-a-kind designs but also sustainability, substance and individuality. Hundley worked for Zac Posen and Coach before venturing out with her own direct-to-consumer label. She and Jackson connected through his fiancé and bonded over fashion, design and project ambitions, so they decided to work together. The idea for the shorts crystallized while hanging out at the house of a stylist friend, who brought out a vintage Dior scarf, which made Jackson envision shorts. He and Hundley later agreed to put that in motion and will continue to collaborate on different pieces, not just shorts.
Without knowing what’s coming due to the pandemic, planning can be difficult, Hundley allowed. “But people have definitely gotten more open-minded about how to work together and what’s important. There’s been a lot of cutting down on the noise and [instead] focusing on what’s most exciting and most worth your time,” she said.
Weird English will debut with d-to-c basic essentials with cut-and-sew options to possibly follow. The name stemmed from an exchange with a friend, who told Jackson she was having trouble understanding him. He said, “I told her, ‘But I’m speaking English.’ And she said, ‘But it sounds weird,” adding that the name stuck partially because of the prevalence of how two people can have different perceptions of a shared conversation. That weirdness could dissolve, though, if people got to know each other better, Jackson said.
Noting how the abbreviation of Weird English is WE, the founder said that “encompasses us as a nation, a people, a community — there’s definitely a lot to it.” Starting out, each design will be capped at a maximum of 100 units to create a sense of ownership. “One of our mantras is, ‘Born to be rare.’ We want to carry that through the ethos of our brand,” Jackson said.
Rather than introduce a new collection next month, Hundley will hold off until December to follow the pre-fall, pre-season calendar. That will allow for a little more space to think ideas through and a bit more time for selling. Abiding by a timeline that makes sense is key, according to the designer, who continues to design at other brands. “We’ve all rushed into some stuff that maybe we didn’t get to put enough love into. That’s a crucial part of going forward out of the pandemic [in] how we do business.”
Offering pre-sales each season has also proven to be helpful in terms of building closer relationships with clients and defining what differentiates her designs. Hundley is considering selling a small amount via wholesale, which will still be a way people discover fashion, especially luxury fashion. “But definitely staying closer to the consumer directly is vital,” she said.
With most shoppers squared away with jeans, button-downs and other basics, excitement is what they are after, whether that be the piece that gets them excited to go out or what they are building their whole look around. “We’ve all been cooped up for so long. I know I’m looking back at pieces that maybe I had saved for a special occasion and hadn’t worn because I’d been precious about it. I want to bring that excitement into my daily life.”
For Jackson, relatability is a key to closing a sale, whether that be by the garment’s feel, visual appeal or graphics. “If you’re not connected to it, you probably aren’t going to buy it — let alone wear it,” he said. “Just from the instincts that we have as human beings, we’re able to tap into that through clothing. That’s definitely the way to go buying clothes.”
As for whether shoppers are less influenced by social media influencers and celebrities, Hundley said, “There’s a bit of a rejection of you’ve seen too much of something. Even in graphic design, there’s kind of that Instagram aesthetic that was so pervasive of light pink with white text. Things got so saturated. There is a desire for things that are special and unique that allow you to express your personality outwardly in ways that maybe we hadn’t prioritized before.”
Agreeing, Jackson said knowing that something is yours and only yours makes designs more appealing. This more studied approach is in some ways a complete turnaround from the well-worn fashion career that pinnacles by joining a huge conglomerate that designs clothing, curtains and everything in between. Collaborations offer interesting alternatives, Hundley said. “As much as I love interiors, maybe it doesn’t make sense for me to spend my time and energy doing plates, books or whatever. But I could collaborate with someone who does beautiful work, has something to say and together we can uncover something interesting that neither of us might have thought of on our own. Working with De’Jon has been like that — we’re merging our aesthetics and thinking of things that we both think are exciting for a project that is new for both of us and that we might not have done alone.”
From Jackson’s viewpoint, a lot of it comes down to efficiency, noting the degree of waste the fashion industry is responsible for creating. “Me and Kate came with the idea that we’re going to be really precise. There’s no waste involved. We’re taking waste to make a piece that someone would love and wear. The way we work is very efficient. That’s the best way to go about things especially moving forward in the way our society is.”