Streetwear, sustainability & doing it yourself with Joshua Samuels

Streetwear, sustainability & doing it yourself with Joshua Samuels

by Ollie Cox
11 min

Joshua Samuels is slapping fashion in the face with his sustainable streetwear label, founded on the belief that everyone should be able to afford an ethical wardrobe. After cutting his teeth interning for London-based menswear designer Liam Hodges, he decided to take the plunge and go it alone, creating a planet-friendly clothing label that people actually cared about.

What started in a shed in his mum’s garden quickly expanded into a fully-fledged fashion line, with items selling out online and the operation growing quickly. Rooted in wearability and inspired by a youth spent skateboarding, Samuels’ designs are dominated by loose-fitting silhouettes, with the Londoner looking to his friends as a source of inspiration. With no two days being the same in his fast-paced world, we caught up with him to talk all things sustainability, skating and streetwear.  

@joshuasamuels ©

It’s the start of a new year. What’s the mindset you’re stepping into 2024 with? 

It’s a new year but the same mission. I think with the brand, nothing changes. It’s just how we’re trying to grow it. I think so much has changed since starting it, except the brand’s core. The mission is rock solid, it’s something we really care about. It’s about going into the new year [thinking] how can we do more of what of we’re doing on a bigger scale.

What’s changed? 

Starting it, I was still interning at a fashion label. Iit was very part-time, and then I went back to uni, trying to juggle [everything], so that changed. I was lucky enough to have a little garden shed at the end of my mum’s garden. It was fucking tiny. And then I got a little studio. We knocked that shed down and made it bigger. Now, there are two of us, which helps. Even though the mission hasn’t changed, the way we are approaching the mission is evolving. There’s different ways we can reduce things going to landfill.

Your “About us” section on your website reads like a manifesto. What about the brands you saw at the time made you want to start your own label? 

It sounds so up my own arse, but everything. I almost started to get an icky feeling from every brand I was seeing. It was, “You know, maybe that product looks quite nice, but how are you selling it at that price point?” There must be something, maybe the manufacturing. There is something very socially wrong with how affordable some clothes are. Then again, it’s like maybe all the clothes are made from plastic fibres, and that’s fucked as well. Or the speed at which places are pumping things out. Fashion used to be four seasons a year. Now it’s like 150, there’s like three new trends a week. It’s just about stopping all of that. 

There are some brands that I really care about that are doing important things socially and environmentally, but then the price point is like, “How do I buy into that?” I care so much about sustainability, but I can’t afford to spend £400 on your sustainable thing. So it’s about finding a way that we can make socially, environmentally ethical clothing at an accessible price point. 

You emphasise that your brand is doing things differently. What is it about your approach that is different from other brands? 

It’s about keeping our production methodologies as minimalistic as possible. If we come across a bunch of old second-hand T-shirts that are completely fine, they might have a stain on it when we could cover up or a small rip in it. We don’t need to cut it up and turn it into a new T-shirt, or we don’t need to manufacture a new T-shirt from new cotton. If we’re going to print on T-shirts anyway, why not just print onto some old T-shirts. It’s about keeping everything minimalistic, only doing what we think we need to do to make something more desirable.  

One of the designs that stood out was the “Human Error” tee. It seems like it is acknowledging mistakes and presenting them in an aesthetically pleasing and artistic way. How have mistakes or errors influenced you and your brand? 

The core of that collection was the Anthropocene. They call it a geological unit of time, so there was the Stone Age and the Ice Age. [This] is the age where humans are exerting the most amount of change on our environment. That’s fascinating, we’re the one species fucking it up. 

It’s the idea of this whole whimsical approach because it seems that way. The way we consume is so “ugh, another T-shirt, why not?” It’s playing with [that.] This is something that I’ve been wanting to communicate, but I want to try and get across to people who are trying to know more about the brand. The hand print (I’m wearing one today), [it’s] all vintage T-shirts, all the applique onto it is old second-hand knits – fuck knows how you’re going to condense this to write it down, but just follow me. It’s a very convoluted idea. 

Somewhere along the line of that garment’s life ended, maybe they spilt some coffee on it; human error – oops. Maybe they got a rip in it; human error – oops. Maybe the person wearing it died, maybe they lost weight, maybe they gained weight – something happened they threw it away. It’s about this idea that loads of human error went into making this one really cool thing. It’s the whimsy of it. It’s such a silly long chain of human errors that ended up with something quite beautiful. 

You have used skaters in a promotional campaign for your products. Has skateboarding had an impact on your design process, and if so, how? 

I fucking miss it man. I skated for about four or five years, and I haven’t in about four or five years. I’ve been very wary of marketing myself as a skating brand. I remember being a skater and being like “fuck you, I can tell you’re not a skate brand.” It’s such an “us” and “them” mentality, so I’ve tried to stay away from marketing myself as that. It’s such a cool community that I think that once you were a part of it, it’s hard for it not to have influenced how you see clothes. It’s definitely left its mark and continues to shape how I want my clothes to be. 

You show product labels on the outside of your products rather than on the inside. Is there a particular reason for this? 

One of the main references is old military items. [For example] a lot of the things we work with might be military surplus. They have really interesting labels. There’s a really weird juxtaposition, where if you’re part of the army, or you’re an item in the army, you’re one of just like an ocean of objects that’s like all individuals but not really. It’s all the same. It’s very depersonalised. There’s something really fascinating about that, and we referenced that in the style of the label we have. We wanted to show that juxtaposition in our clothes, in that they’re all one of one. You’ll never have any two exactly the same Joshua Samuels items because they’re all upcycled, we want to show that individuality but also that they’re all part of the same ecosystem.

It acts as a path for each item. It has a bunch of different information on it. It has two different sections, and each section has three different categories. There’s the ID of the item, so the name of the item, for example, “Human Error” tees. There’s the code of the item, so all of them are coded like a passport number. Like “you’ve got 001, I’ve got 0028.” They’re one of one, there’s not two people with 001. It’s got the made section, which will tell you who it’s made by. At the moment, it will either be me or Dylan (who is behind me). What it’s made from, maybe vintage knits or vintage T-shirts. Then who it’s made for, so kind of the idea that this is now your thing. Like an old-school tag. 

One of the graphics that we see throughout your work is the strawberry motif. Besides being visually pleasing, does it represent anything else? 

Firstly, yeah. I like to think it looks cool. It’s one of the core references within the brand, and something that I’ve not communicated much since the beginning is this core concept of samsara. [It] essentially means the cycle of life and death, and how it’s sort of never-ending. We thought that was a pretty good metaphor for upcycling. The strawberry fits into it because fruits and plants, [which] we play on a lot, carry that message. The strawberry is a really good example of it where the seeds are on the outside. It’s a metaphor for the process of upcycling. Things die, but they give birth to something else. I remember when I first started the brand, I was talking to people about caring about sustainability. 

The only brands that came to mind, outside of a few that I do quite like, all feel quite “let’s go strawberry picking in a field in a gingham dress and skip all happily.” That’s not the mood of my brand. It was a bit of a “fuck you.” We’re sustainable, but we’re not cutesy cutesy. 

A lot of your campaigns capture your clothing on the streets rather than in a studio in a way that feels authentic. How important is it to show your clothing being worn in this way? 

I think it’s really important to be able to see yourself in a campaign. If you look at a lot of the brands that I loved growing up, the ones that I really bought into are the ones with the messaging that I see myself in. 

Now that I’m a designer, I spend a lot of time in a polished environment. But this clothing is made to be worn in people’s real lives. It’s not meant for a weird fantasy thing. I want it to be a lifestyle brand. Our lifestyle is being out and about, it’s not white backdrop with amazing lighting. It’s about getting a feel for reality. 

When it comes to fashion, what or who influences you? 

My life and my friends are probably the number one. I think it’s the easiest reference you can have. I think it comes down to like the KIDS movie, your life is also the things you watch and consume. As far as brands go it’s really, really difficult to pick out someone that I kind of really look up to for my brand’s sake. 

I feel like it’s too easy to pick holes in people’s missions and [be] like, “why are you still making stuff?” 

It doesn’t make sense to me why a lot of people are still doing it. I’d say a lot of my inspiration falls closer within myself than it does outside. 

Would you say you have quite a stylish group of friends? 

No, we’re all just comfy. None of us are cool, we’re all nerds. Nerds are cool.

Is there anything or anyone outside of fashion that inspires you? 

When it comes to designing these clothes, the main reference or inspiration is what we can find. You can frame it in two ways. You could say that I don’t have the luxury of designing from scratch, but I have the luxury of being able to design with whatever we can find. 

Instead of being like, “Oh I’ve watched this amazing movie, or I’ve listened to this amazing album.” Instead, it’s “let’s see what vintage things people have thrown away and what can we take away from that which is interesting.” 

What concept from whatever I’ve just learnt about can I apply to those things. So I think the references and inspiration come from what we find rather than finding references and making things from it. 

Can you describe a typical day in the studio, or on the hunt for vintage? 

It’s all so different, and it’s all so the same. At the moment, the average day is making jeans. It is Dylan cutting up old jeans and me sewing them up. Listening to music, listening to podcasts, chatting to each other while we’re doing and sourcing things. It’s really interesting running a two-person brand because we do all of the designing, sampling, making textile development, web design, backend of the thing, packing items, posting items, marketing, photography, and styling. No day is the same, but we pick up a lot of responsibility between us. 

Any parting words for our readers? 

Next time you buy clothes, think about where you’re getting them, why you’re getting them and think about the impact. 

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