10 Questions for MONO + n.a.v.y Founder Jackie Lee

All Images: MONO + n.a.v.y

Sustainable fashion goes much further than just fabrics and makers. Jackie Lee is rethinking how we wear and use our clothes. We asked her 10 questions about her new label MONO + n.a.v.y

As shoppers values continue to shift, designers must keep up with demand. Where consumers once wanted fun, throw away fashion, many now want comfortable, well made or gender non conforming clothing. One designer has honed in on what the future of fashion looks like. With an eye for detail, as well as practicality, Jackie Lee has left behind her former label J. JS Lee. Her new venture MONO + n.a.v.y is not only well researched and well made, but it’s careful design and broad appeal makes it the perfect sustainable fashion collection.

10 Questions for MONO + n.a.v.y Founder Jackie Lee

Grounded in practicality, and good design, MONO + n.a.v.y offers a capsule collection of classic pieces, designed to be worn by anyone. As well as carefully selecting eco friendly materials and ethical factories to work with, Jackie asked several important questions. Why create several collections a year, one for each gender when she can just create one for everyone? Why create materials for design, when you can design from existing materials? Jackie’s relaxed and but considered approach to fashion is a breath of fresh air. From her gender neutral pieces, to the necessary accessories like flower and wine bags, as well as pin cushions, all created using waste materials. For her, it’s all about making things go further. Not only in terms of manufacturing but in terms of the lifecycle of a product. 

The Vendeur: Can you tell us a bit about your background and experience working in the fashion industry?

Jackie Lee: ​​I got my start in the fashion industry nearly 20 years ago now as a pattern cutter. It was just a small job before I came to the UK and started my masters at Central Saint Martins. I have worked as a creative director and head designer not just for my own label but for a French fashion label too. I have also designed at an eyewear company based out of Korea and been lucky enough to work on many collaborations with other fashion companies and other industries. I created my label, J. JS LEE about 10 years ago which I showcased at London Fashion Week over many seasons.

TV: J. JS Lee became a well known, London based label, what made you explore a new venture in MONO + n.a.v.y?

JK: While I was heavily focused on J. JS LEE, I felt required to design pieces that weren’t helping me to grow or be an effective use of my creativity.  For example; wasting materials on dead stocks, accessories I didn’t sell except to use them for catwalks, seasonal shows and cycles made me feel anti-sustainable. During the Covid 19 pandemic, I felt driven to design and create more sustainably. When I had a one year break in 2019, sustainability became a big part of my life. Earth, plants, animals, other people especially have become such a source of inspiration for me and MONO+n.a.v.y.

10 Questions for MONO + n.a.v.y Founder Jackie Lee Monogrammed jumper
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10 Questions for MONO + n.a.v.y Founder Jackie Lee Gender Neutral Fashion

TV: What was behind the decision to produce in South Korea and how did you go about choosing your factories?

JL: The sustainability pledge was my guiding factor here, I knew I needed to choose manufacturers and suppliers who also believed in sustainable practices. It was very important to me to use fair-trade materials and companies who cared about their employees. With the lockdown situation in London, I was unable to travel to find such partners for MONO+n.a.v.y. However the wider world certainly presented challenges too. Luckily, I had contacts and close friends who could work on finding those partners, plus, our main supplier of sustainable fabric is based in Korea which meant I was able to save on shipping costs to the manufacturers in Korea. This of course helps to limit our carbon footprint, as well as allowing me to open e-commerce in Korea much more easily.

TV: Having previously concentrated on womenswear, why did you decide to broaden the offering to be more gender neutral with MONO + n.a.v.y?

JL: The idea of more gender-neutral clothing came again from my focus on sustainability. I was asking myself why fashion is so focused on a divide in gender when so recently fashion has become more ambiguous. I knew I wanted to create a collection that could be worn by anyone. the idea is that it could be worn by your boyfriend/girlfriend, your son/daughter, or your parents. I intended to encourage people to give away their clothes rather than throw them away if they no longer wear them.

10 Questions for MONO + n.a.v.y Founder Jackie Lee Wine Carrier bag

TV: You place a lot of attention on fabrication and sourcing sustainable materials, was this something you researched before designing the pieces?

JL: Yes. Unlike J. JS LEE, this process is a little bit different. For MONO+n.a.v.y. I am mainly inspired by the materials themselves and from there my mind starts working and thinking about how I can best use the materials for my customers. How can I turn this into a good product as well as delivering the concept of sustainability?

TV: How often will you release new collections?

JL: Good question. At the moment, I don’t know. One of my slogans is “no reason for seasons”, I can’t say when it will be. If I have more ideas in the next few months, then more styles will be introduced. If I have no ideas, whether I’m looking for inspiration or waiting until I have a solid core concept for a collection, then I won’t create a collection. It will be very ad hoc.

TV: How do you minimise waste?

JL: I like to keep scraps after cutting materials for small goods. I try to design to a zero-waste specification, but we do what we can to minimize fabric waste. For example, I made keychains for my employees out of discarded vegetable leather. It was a small thing, but I find it’s important to keep your eyes open to even the small stuff you can create. Other examples of where I have been reducing waste are adding seamlines, adjusting lengths, or re-using deadstock fabrics.

TV: The MONO + n.a.v.y bag selection is amazing, the wine carrier style is genius, how did you come up with the idea for gender neutral and highly practical bags?

JL: The wine carrier was originally designed for my best friend for their first wedding anniversary. It’s was made using deadstock leather scraps and cotton from old canvas bags. I thought that if I made something with a good story behind the design it would be more enjoyable for people. Bags have always been a necessity, but I didn’t like how I would go through bags quite quickly, so I started looking at designing for practicality and using recyclable and upcycled materials.

TV: Tell us more about the new flower printed t-shirts?

JL: The T-shirt is the spotlight of my summer collection, I wanted to go with a design that not only encompassed what I like in nature but also supports our messaging. They are available in white, black, pink, and mint. I don’t see any gender for any colour I just thought these would appeal and complement one another.

10 Questions for MONO + n.a.v.y Founder Jackie Lee Gender Neutral Fashion

TV: How do you think labels like MONO + n.a.v.y have a part to play in a wider conversation around sustainable fashion in the UK?

JL: It’s a very important conversation that needs to be had. There’s certainly a wider consciousness growing in the fashion industry over sustainable practices, especially here in the UK where the culture has seen movements like extinction rebellion capture the attention of the nation. I feel there’s a lot of conflict over fast fashion versus vintage style that is very popular right now. I’ve found the most important thing is accessibility, people will only be able to change their spending habits on greener retailers if those retailers become more accessible to the general market. I completely understand not everyone can afford a whole new wardrobe of nothing but recyclables. The most important thing is that fashion continues to move away from unsustainable practices and thus sustainably can be something we all feel we can participate in.

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