Meet Jenna Young. The 29-year-old Goldsmiths graduate in fine arts is now a fashion designer and her work is going places.
Last month she saw her brand — This is the Uniform — feature at New York Fashion Week. “It was an amazing experience” she says. “After doing London Fashion week last season, New York was really great for us and the brand.” She adds with a smile: “It was hundreds of suitcases and a very long flight but it was amazing.”
But despite her international profile, Young’s roots are in south-east London with her studio in Brockley. And she says south-east London has played its part in inspiring her work.
“I used to live in Deptford and on a Sunday, on the bus, this man was wearing a full white suit with a white hat. Then there’s a guy next to him dressed with a full on tracksuit. That’s what inspires me. The mix of people is amazing,” she says.
Young, who graduated in 2009, started out interning, balancing that with a part-time job. “I worked for Stylist, worked on music videos, I did costume making, fashion shoots,” she explains. “I tried to build a lot of experience to figure out what I wanted to do and most importantly what I didn’t want to do.” From her experiences she then decided to create her own brand three years ago.
She’s known for working with sheer fabrics and her work reflects her roots – she is from Blackpool and pieces in the past have referenced the Lancashire rose.
Young was ambivalent about her time at Goldsmiths. “It was a challenging time, being on an art course and having aspiration to be a designer, especially in a Fine Arts course, that was not what [Goldsmiths] saw as appropriate at the time. It was very hard for me.”
But looking back on it, Young sees the positive impact Goldsmiths has had on her and her work. “Although it didn’t encourage me to be a designer, it probably made me into the designer that I am today,” she says.
Young didn’t want to brand her own name as said working in this industry is not a one-man job and the name This is the Uniform came to being. “I didn’t want the brand to be called ‘Jenna Young’ even though we do reference a lot of my life and childhood in the collections. I mean the brand is a massive product of a lot of people’s help.” Her mother, her sister and many students helped Young through the creative process: “It’s very much a joint effort.”
The countless debates around the pace of fashion have scared many people in the industry. Young says she is terrified.
“We kind of made fun of ‘fast-fashion’ with what we’ve presented in New York.” she says, “We made something very beautiful and then put tape all over it. We literally made things out of nothing, using seatbelts to make jackets.” Young explains that it was in no way fast fashion: “It took me 48 hours to make one jacket.
“In terms of creativity, being pushed collection after collection in order for people to consume and consume, is quite scary and draining.”
She continues by addressing the challenges that ‘fast-fashion’ raises for designers today: “I can totally understand what’s happened with Raf [Simmons] leaving Dior and what’s happened with a lot of younger designers since.”
Young told East London Lines she hasn’t had a day off in months but shows no sign of stopping. “It’s my own choice. I really love what I do but the pace is unbelievable. My advice to young designer is to be prepared to make sacrifices. They need to have incredible work ethic. That’s something you have to have in fashion — even more so today.”