Photograph by Jo Fetto.

Jawara Alleyne Reimagines Fashion’s Value System

Ahead of London Fashion Week, the Jamaican-Caymanian menswear designer talks upcycling, circularity, and finding roots in music—discover his exclusive Spotify playlist for Atmos.

Follow Atmos on Spotify here to keep up to date with monthly EarthTones playlists.

 

Jawara Alleyne has been repurposing old garments since he was a child. Secondhand clothes—the act of finding them, deconstructing them, and then reconstructing them into new creations—soon became a vehicle to experiment with fresh ensembles and cool costumes for Alleyne, who grew up in Jamaica before moving to London as a young adult.

 

Now, Alleyne is one of the fast-rising young designers who have been handpicked to partake in Lulu Kennedy’s nonprofit talent incubator, Fashion East, which has catapulted the careers of Grace Wales Bonner, Jonathan Anderson, and Supriya Lele among others.

 

And Alleyne’s bright future is rooted in values as strong and coherent as his creative vision. Characterized by sculptural drapework and distressed cutouts, Alleyne’s garments are a testament to his DIY approach, which typically involves thrifting for high-quality, pre-loved garments that he then transforms into decorative showpieces in his East London studio. It’s a philosophy of care that he hopes to pass on to local communities through DIY and upcycling workshops. It’s also one that’s grounded in the rebellious spirit of certain music histories, including reggae, rock, and gospel.

 

Below, Atmos speaks with Alleyne about the role that sound, safety pins, and steadfast determination play within his practice. Also below is a playlist—filled with some of Alleyne’s favorite songs—curated by the designer exclusively for Atmos.

Daphne

I’ll start by asking about the playlist. What informed the songs you’ve curated?

Jawara

The playlist actually is a compilation of moods and songs from various different playlists that I’ve been building. It’s funny you asked me to do a playlist because I’ve wanted to create one for some time. The playlist came together quite organically—it’s relaxing, a little bit meditative, quite groovy and jazzy. And music is a big inspiration to my work.

Daphne

I’ve read that music and music history has informed past collections. Is that right?

Jawara

Definitely. I was born in Jamaica and music is such a big part of our culture and our way of being there. Both in the secular space and within the gospel space, music was always a thing. The first collection I did with Fashion East was heavily inspired by music because I always felt that, despite all the ways I didn’t see myself represented in the world, music allowed me to find myself. So, I drew ideas from a balance between reggae, rock, soul, and gospel.

Photograph by JJ Lorenzo.

Daphne

In what ways does your interest in music translate into your drapework and overall aesthetic?

Jawara

I’ve always tried to find a way to say, in fashion, what it felt like to be Caribbean. I try to translate this feeling of freedom, lyricism, and mysticism, typically expressed in the music, into the fabrics that I use—through silks and other fabrics that move really well in the wind. I find myself contemplating that feeling of being by the ocean and the freedom that you feel when you’re sitting on the beach under the sun. And that’s reflected in the draping and the fabrics.

 

So, on one side you have the lyricism and the freedom, but then on the other side you have this hard rock element. That ties into the DIY perspective that I have always [adopted] because of the way I made stuff when I was growing up—it was very crafty. I’ve pushed that forward in my designs now as a way of giving value to that way of doing things. I’m talking about my use of pins and my focus on cutting things up and reconstructing [pre-existing] garments; it’s this almost naive way of working that, as a kid, I thought didn’t have much value. But now it’s about creating these garments within a space where I can change the narrative to: Yes, this is just as valuable a design.

Daphne

And you’ve run DIY workshops in the past. Can you talk a bit about why it’s important to you to pass on the craft to more people?

Jawara

I’ve done a few craft-related workshops and I’m working on developing a few ideas to continue that conversation. As a kid, I thought I was going to become a teacher because it was the only way I could imagine working with art full-time. So, at the back of my mind I always thought that an aspect of my job would be to impart knowledge onto other people.

 

These workshops I’ve been working on have been exactly that: understanding and respecting different ways of making things. At the moment, perfectly-made garments and perfectly-made objects produced in large factories on a mass scale are considered more valuable than what we can make with our hands. But that’s not the case. On the one hand, these workshops are about showing people that what they can make with their hands is valuable. On the other hand, they’re about helping us rethink how we value things—not for how perfect they are, but for the amount of time and care that goes into the production process. In that sense, it’s also about giving people the autonomy to think for themselves.

“We need to rethink how we value things—not for how perfect they are, but for the amount of time and care that goes into the production process.”

Jawara Alleyne

Daphne

That notion of reimagining our value system is so important and long overdue. You do a lot of deconstructing, reconstructing and upcycling garments. Where do you typically source your fabrics? And what does the creative process that goes into a collection look like?

Jawara

A lot of the materials I use are deadstock fabrics from my archive, ones I’ve sourced over the years. Then, if I need something new, I’ll source it from local shops—primarily charity shops where I can find a lot of T-shirts. A lot of time goes into sourcing and finding things that are of good quality that I can reuse. And that then informs the final outcome of the collection.

 

I’m trying to rethink how the typical fashion brand business model can work. Because, once you start scaling a business, this becomes really important. So, I’ve been taking advantage of the fact that I can source materials from around me, and try to find ways to use and reuse things that already exist in the studio. Having said that, I never put sustainability at the forefront of the brand’s [outward-facing messaging]. It’s not a marketing tool for me. Sustainable and slow ways of working is how I’ve always operated: when you’re growing up in Jamaica, you’re always forced to make stuff for yourself. And so, I think people don’t realize just how important and just how central circular design is within my collections.

Daphne

And you’ve been showing with Fashion East to great success. Tell me: what kind of challenges come from growing a brand, while staying true to your values?

Jawara

It’s hard to scale up, in part because of how long it takes to find high-quality materials that have been previously used. That’s particularly the case now that more people have become interested in thrifting. But it’s a good thing that people have become increasingly interested in this business model: finding things that are already within the value chain and replacing that somewhere else in the value chain. So, sourcing is becoming harder but we’re also a very small team.

 

In future, I’d love to bring someone dedicated to finding secondhand items for our collections onto the team. Because, right now, the biggest problem I face is definitely time.

Photograph by Jo Fetto.
Photograph by Jo Fetto.

Daphne

I’m thinking of sourcing garments, deconstructing them, reconstructing them, presenting them, distributing them—you must have to wear so many hats. You’re showing in February, right?

Jawara

Yes, I believe I am showing in February.

Daphne

Amazing. And beyond February, what are your plans for the future?

Jawara

It’s always said that collaborating is the way forward. And as a young designer, who can’t hire people without a huge [external] investment, collaboration is what keeps you going. So, that’s going to be a big focus for 2022: working even closer with interns, photographers, stylists, and the rest of the team.

 

More specifically, I’ve spent the last year figuring out my supply chain, my distribution channels, my sales calendar, and learning other important business lessons. This next year will be about enacting all these learnings. I want to go out there and actually be present within those spaces and stand on my own as a business—without compromising on my vision or values.

Photograph by Jo Fetto.
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