Kim Jones, Grace Wales Bonner, Simone Rocha, Jonathan Anderson, and Craig Green. All of these designers have one thing in common — Fashion East. The incubator program just entered its 21st year and at a particularly uncertain time in the industry, it’s needed now more than ever.

This year, Highsnobiety is exclusively announcing the Fashion East line-up. Maximilian Davis, Nensi Dojaka and Goom Heo will continue to be part of the program, alongside newcomers Jawara Alleyne and HRH.

Fashion East began as a personal project. "The start point was me wanting to help out my friends who were designers," founder Lulu Kennedy tells us. "By relieving them of logistical headaches like sourcing funding, and producing the show, they could concentrate on the creative side of things."

Since then, the project has grown to include a handful of designers each year, picked by a rotating panel of industry professionals and Kennedy herself. The most forward-facing part of Fashion East is the seasonal fashion show, but the mentorship doesn't end with a single show. Many of the designers join Fashion East straight after graduating university and most stay with Fashion East for multiple seasons before they leave to fully launch on their own. The whole system is a kind of PhD in running a fashion brand.

Kennedy explains that the mentorship differs for each designer. "It’s very much tailored to where they’re at; everyone has different needs. It goes from full-on hand-holding throughout the season, advising on range plan and pricing, manufacturing, stockists, to smaller but important intros to stylists, casting directors, photographers, and consultants that elevate the work."

Considering all the famous Fashion East alum, Kennedy obviously has a good eye. When asked what she looks for in a designer, Kennedy explained, "Someone with a good attitude, who knows what they’re trying to say and works hard. Even if they haven’t yet refined their aesthetic or have the most polished execution, it’s easy to spot the raw talent."

Below, we caught up with each designer to hear about their experience with Fashion East, what mentorship looks like to them, and what we can expect from their new collections.

HRH

Tell me about your label.

HRH evolved quite organically from pieces I was playing around with for myself and later making private commissions. I didn’t study design but I have always been motivated by my desire for "things," which forced me to learn how to make them. Years ago, I started a project called "monster coat club" which was a design platform focusing on bespoke pieces and artist collaboration. Gradually I became really fixated on accessories, their unique status as both essential items and usable sculpture.

My inspiration really starts with materials, I love to work with leather and responsibly sourced skins as each one is so unique and informs the product. I also use a lot of nylon and sports fabrics, the contrast between practical and decorative really excites me.

Why did you want to get involved with Fashion East?

I was really excited to work with FE, obviously, they have launched some of the most wonderful creative talents. Also because I don’t have formal training, mentorship is really helpful, I make everything completely by myself so it feels good to have support.

What are you hoping to get from the Fashion East mentorship?

I hope to use this opportunity to explore my practice and grow as a designer.

What can we expect from your new collection?

This collection is called “active accessories." My love of sports, in particular gymnastics and figure skating, is a huge inspiration behind it. It’s very much about adornment but make it “practical.”

Maximillian Davis

Tell me about your label.

It’s a mix of clothing made for anyone and everyone. My goal is to have fun and to educate.

What has the Fashion East experience been like for you so far?

Super supportive! I don’t really know what I would do without Lulu and Raph — they really look out for me and help/guide me as much as possible.

What are you hoping to get from the Fashion East mentorship?

The Fashion East team has given me so much already, so anything more would be a bonus.

What can we expect from your new collection? What were your inspirations for this season?

History, sex, elegance, and music.

Jawara Alleyne

Tell me about your label.

My MA collection (Self Made Man) explored the idea of a new man who’s been emerging for quite some time. Someone who has chosen to define themselves outside of the dominant narrative of what’s considered masculine. My label and all the work around it is really about exploring the different aspects of this man, finding new ways to tell stories about the masculine. The man I’m designing for has made a conscious decision to re-learn and develop their sense of identity and has chosen, through the way they dress, to say I’m committed to re-evaluating what I think I know about the masculine.

My aim is to show that there’s more than one way to be a man and to inspire the next step of what it means to be masculine. The toxic masculine has taken over what it means to be masculine and what we need are new narratives to inspire change.

Why did you want to get involved with Fashion East?

The timing was right, in the past few years, I’ve been doing a lot of my own personal projects, research, and tests. I think graduating from the MA at the time that I did, told me that I’ve done enough tests and that the next step was about sharing all the research I’ve been doing.

What are you hoping to get from the Fashion East mentorship?

With each new opportunity you get, you realize that there’s so much to learn. I think Lulu and the Fashion East team are great mentors that I can present my thoughts with a sense of honesty. For anyone entering into the industry, it's really key to feel like your ideas and stories are worth telling, even if the product isn’t a fit for the market; despite what they tell you, fashion is not solely about the product.

You really need to strike a balance between the product and the story being told — with Fashion East, I’m most looking forward to building both in a way that’s honest, not only to my way of working but to the world.

What can we expect from your new collection?

Covid-19 and lockdown have proven the importance of storytelling within culture and the importance of showing society new perspectives and ways of being. Art in the 21st century is philosophy. It has a different name but functions in exactly the same way. It gives us ideas for different ways to think about things. Human nature is very adaptable, but we often forget that perhaps because we don’t see enough of ourselves reflected from different angles.

This season I’ve taken all my different interests and experiences and woven them into a narrative that sits in one space. [The collection] sits within a story set on a pirate ship which, in many ways, is a metaphor for the lessons I learned growing up between Jamaica and the Cayman Islands — lessons such as the importance of diversity, sustainability, the strength within the feminine.

I feel like this collection is about capturing all these different layers, chapters, scenes that come together to tell one story. It’s about highlighting the fact that any group is made up of many different parts that come together to create balance. That’s the Caribbean. That’s the world. That’s the universe. It all comes back to the truth of balance, but achieving balance is something we have to work on constantly. You don’t find balance, you create it.

Nensi Dojaka

Tell me about your label.

Starting with a lingerie background, my work is very much based around the female body and on intricate details. I play around the idea of merging the soft and severe duality of being a modern woman. I hope to organically grow the brand each season and continue to support the talented people that I work with as well as share my vision with people.

What has the Fashion East experience been like for you so far?

It was definitely the biggest turning point. It taught me about many aspects of delivering a collection and supported my growth as well. We, as young designers in London, are lucky to have such amazing support, showcasing systems, and opportunities that Fashion East can offer us.

What are you hoping to get from the Fashion East mentorship?

This season means a lot to have their support again as it has been really a difficult time. I'm lucky to have a platform to show the collection!

What can we expect from your new collection?

For me, this collection feels special and personal as it was done with fewer available sources due to the lockdown and the general situation. It is much more rounded and complete and has a wider product range. I worked a lot on details across every single piece and I introduced new techniques and fabrics that I hadn’t worked with before.

Goom Heo

Tell me about your label

The inspiration is different each season. I want to create a different mood, but still want to have a sense of my own taste and world.

What has the Fashion East experience been like for you so far?

It’s been amazing, they are always supportive and trust in what we do.

What are you hoping to get from the Fashion East mentorship?

Believe in your work and confidence, I think I’m already getting that from them.

What can we expect from your new collection?

The inspiration of this season is "Horror."

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