In partnership with AXE, we headed down to check out the collections on display at New York Fashion Week from five budding young designers involved in the brand's White Label Collective mentorship program.
Breaking into the fashion industry isn't easy. With huge overheads, a crowded market, and financial security far from guaranteed, it's hardly surprising that many designers need a helping hand kick-starting their careers in the world of style. One such helping hand is the AXE White Label Collective, a mentorship program that provides budding artists with guidance and opportunities to make sure their talents don't go to waste.
This season the White Label Collective enlisted a trio of industry experts - Esquire's Nick Sullivan, legendary menswear designer Billy Reid and Grammy-winning musician John Legend - to advise and nurture five lucky young designers, who were given the unique opportunity to showcase their wares during New York Fashion Week. We caught up with the talents - whose collections ranged from bespoke leather jackets to gym-ready athleisure gear - to get the inside scoop on the White Label Collective and to see how they're feeling ahead of their collections' grand unveiling.
Whipping Post is the brainchild of Atlanta native Ryan Barr. What started off as a small line of guitar straps has since evolved into a fully-fledged line of leather goods. "It's been a real dream for me" he told us. "It's the sort of thing that would never normally happen to a guy working out of a small studio in Atlanta." The AXE White Label Collective has given Barr the chance to show his lovingly-made creations to a wider audience, with the project's mentors providing countless words of wisdom, too. "Billy and Nick have so much experience in the industry, they've been there before. I'm feeling good" the softly-spoken craftsman told us.
Short for Exercise Your State Of Mind, Stanley Cheung's EYSOM label specializes in stylish sportswear that's equally at home in the gym and on the streets. Having cut his teeth working for many retailers' in-house labels, the LA-based creative has since branched out into his own line of highly wearable athletic gear; "I was trying to buy workout clothes, and there just wasn't anything good out there so I just made my own" he told us. EYSOM's gear sticks to a minimal color palette, focussing on performance fabrics and clean silhouettes, for an aesthetic that can be worn both casually and for intense workout sessions. "They've been so supportive, so awesome" Cheung told us of the program's mentors. "The support, the mentorship has just been crazy. I'm still so surprised that I'm here."
Savannah Yarborough hails from Birmingham, Alabama but currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee. ATELIERSAVAS is her line of bespoke leather jackets, which she started after she graduated from London's legendary Central Saint Martins school. Running a bespoke service is a highly niche business, and getting help from industry insiders and experts has no doubt been of great help to Yarborough. "John Legend was great," she told us. "We talked a lot about clients and how to manage relationships...as someone I'd hope to be a customer, getting his perspective on my process was so helpful." After showcasing her bespoke collection to the Big Apple's industry insiders, Savannah plans to expand her custom service into a full collection of ready-to-wear leather jackets.
Ghanaian-born, Maryland-based designer Afriyie Poku's label produce menswear collections for the savvy, debonair gentleman. "I used to buy clothes from thrift stores and alter them to fit me" he told us. "I'd just learn the stitching and the pockets from there...literally it's been a process of trial and error." The self-taught designer's collection was based on the history of the samurai, taking the spirit of Japan's outsiders and rebels to bring something new to the world of menswear.
Kristopher Haigh's 1K label specializes in minimalist headwear. Much like EYSOM, the brand was created because Kris couldn't find a product on the market that satisfied him. His brand's headwear is simple, clean and above all, easy to wear - thanks to its spartan color palette. "I was super excited to get such great exposure so soon" he told us on his collection's debut. "[Billy, Nick and John] are all really hard working, creative guys but who do completely different jobs...They were all super supportive of my idea and pushed me to take it further."
Both the designers and industry experts alike spoke of the difficulties of making it in the industry in the age of the internet and social media. While the internet has made it easier than ever for brands to connect with customers, huge overheads, a crowded market and financial insecurity far from guaranteed have simultaneously made things much, much harder. "It's easier than ever to break in, and it's harder than ever to break in...or at least to sustain it in many ways" Billy Reid told us. "What's great about these days is you can be anywhere - if you're good at what you do, and passionate about what you do, you can be found." Reid's words rang especially true when you looked at the hometowns of the project's designers - who hailed from Maryland and Atlanta as well as the usual LA and New York locations.
"The men's market in the US is growing...both for big brands and small brands" Sullivan, the esteemed Fashion Director at menswear publication Esquire, told us on the White Label Collective's participants. "There's this growth and enthusiasm for fashion with young guys, fueled by the internet and fueled by social media" - no bad thing, in our books. Stay tuned for our recap of the project's official presentation.