Continuing on from my interview with Sophie Wordsworth from Swag and Tassel (catch up here if you missed it) I’ve interviewed another designer who’s set up studio in Wales. I discovered Xandra Jane on instagram and as soon as I saw the pictures I wanted to share her pieces on here. Her hand knitted jumpers are a sustainable staple and are as classic as they are modern and cool and come in the most wearable selection of shades. The entire design process takes place in Wales, rebelling against fast fashion and creating luxury pieces that will last lifetime.
1. What was it that first sparked your passion in designing sustainably?
My first ever sustainable garment was done in secondary school after discovering Gary Harvey and his financial times dress. It was an amazing display of skill out of something considered rubbish. So my first sustainable garment at the age of 14 was constructed from bin liners with an inexplicably horrendous black, orange and red colour scheme put together in an extravagant, costume-wear kind of way. It screamed “homeless Moulin Rouge”.
It wasn’t until 10 years later I approached sustainable fashion again after working in the industry in London. Unfortunately my university didn’t offer a sustainable project, which I find a massive shame as I firmly believe it’s the future of design. Companies I worked for highlighted issues with mass production or unfair labour within the industry. When I moved back home to Wales it was a chance to start my own business exercising the morals I believe in, for me it’s a lifestyle choice. People are becoming so aware of nutrition and health, eating everyday and clothing yourself everyday are occurrences we can’t escape. It’s a shame we even have to label sustainable fashion in the first place, all fashion should be responsible and sustainable! However although a lifestyle choice for me, I don’t wish to push this on my customer. The information is readily available should they choose to educate themselves further. I hate the sense of a company preaching when that is certainly not what I am trying to do.
2. Many designers don’t try to create sustainable clothing because they think it’s more expensive or harder to find the right fabrics, have you found this to be true?
To an extent it is true of course, but the essence of design is to problem solve so I have an issue with designers who shy away from sustainable clothing for this reason. I feel many are daunted by the word itself and feel they have to go 100% eco straight away. This is not the case. As a start up brand it would be easy for me to choose the cheapest less responsible options in order to maximise profit but if emerging designers work this way then how will change ever take place? My debut collection unfortunatley doesn’t use eco fabrics however I have made sure not one scrap of fabric goes to waste. I will of course work up to being as 100% sustainable as I can but for now as a young designer just starting out I have to be as resourceful as possible. This is problem solving, this is design.
I also struggle with brands who use eco fabrics yet release a basic white t-shirt and charge a premium price, because there is no design work involved in that. I understand a white t-shirt is a staple, timeless piece, but us fashion designers are meant to bring new silhouettes, new fabric manipulation techniques and ultimately new fashion to our customer.
3. Whats the vision for your brand and how do you see it developing?
To reconnect people with their clothing and rebel against fast fashion. You know how supermarkets introduced ‘wonky veg’ boxes… I’m trying to do that with fashion. Who made the clothes you wear? Do you know where the fabric was sourced from? Do you know how many people were involved in the creation or how many hours were spent making it? Each garment I produce comes with a unique journey card and also gives credit to those involved in the construction, which definitely includes the otherwise undervalued interns!
Interns are integral to the fashion industry and often exploited, I am so grateful for such enthusiastic and positive people who put aside their valuable time to gain experience and work towards the improvement of my business. This, I personally feel, is one of the biggest issues with labour within the UK fashion industry. I also want to become an eco pioneer from Wales. Cardiff is such an up and coming city and I am so patriotic of my background.
I am looking to produce each Autumn Winter collection with a zero waste ethos and each Spring Summer collection with an up cycled/reinvented twist. I am primarily a womenswear designer although I am enjoying the journey into gender neutral fashion and want this to continue. I have accessories in the pipeline and would love to collaborate in the future, as this produces stronger design rather than competing all the time. I just feel the industry needs an facelift as it were, to emerge from the darkness and hidden secrets and it is time for change.
4. I love the knitted jersey pieces, especially the shorts and jumper combination. What attracted you to knitwear?
To be honest I’ve just stumbled into it. I guess this debut collection started from the initial idea of the jumper. I knew my time in London was coming to an end and I would have to come back to Wales, and being too stubborn to do anything else given I had spent so long studying and working towards a career in fashion design – it seemed the only option left. I knew I wanted to target a wide audience to give my brand the best chance of getting noticed and appealing to my target customer and my own personal style is very androgynous. So the jumpers are a one size fits all inclusive of both genders, with zero waste on textiles at the forefront of its aesthetic.
Not only can you pass the jumpers down through generations and genders, if you really felt it no longer had a place in your wardrobe you could always unravel it and knit the yarn into a new design or product. The shorts were a natural progression from there and the skirt is my entry piece. Xandra Jane is a luxury brand though in each collection I will always release at least one item at £100 or below for a more affordable option to my customer who may not necessarily be able to afford that iconic piece yet therefore won’t compromise on the style or luxury.
5. What was it about Wales that inspired you to start your business here?
I’m from Wales, I went to Cowbridge Comprehensive and have the best support network here in Cardiff where I’ve recently moved. I studied my foundation diploma in Art and Design at UWIC (Now Cardiff Met) before studying at UCA. I feel as a graduate there is a lot of pressure to ‘make it’ in London and this couldn’t be further from the truth. Cardiff has incredible transportation links and is such a fast developing, creative city. Living costs are fantastic in comparison and you can have a quality of life which is otherwise unattainable in London. I have met inspiring creatives on my journey so far and we believe a strong fashion movement is about to happen. It’s liberating for me to live in a city that is so small in comparison but so full of life, you have an incredible range in scenery, with my Dad living in Porthcawl I’m often by the beach or nature reserve. There is also a lot of incredible support from organisations such as Business In Focus or The Princes Trust which have given me small steps of confidence in my development so far.
6. Are there any other Welsh designers who inspire you or who you would like to collaborate with?
I have had the pleasure of discovering Sarah Valentin and Julia Harris on my return home who are inspirational sisters with their own sustainable line called Dati Clothing. They have recently established a creative venue called The Sustainable Studio and are a brilliant force to be reckoned with in the sustainable field. Paired with other designers and fashion creatives we have been in discussion of future collaborations as all of us have different aesthetics and visions to bring to the table. Huit Denim have also been inspirational to me for their take on The History Tag which resonates with the journey I am trying to establish within clothing.