I first met Louisa Rowland – designer and founder of the new boys’ wear brand ABC123ME – whilst being her teacher at Central Saint Martins, London. Louisa’s work stood out, as her work was fun and enticing, without compromising the garments’ function. Fast-forward two years, and after careful deliberation and development, ABC123ME has arrived – a new collection that transcends trends, and features soft tailoring and functionality for all occasions…
Is designing for the wearer, as opposed to the parents, a big concern for you?
I was really drawn to designing for boys at the age of 4 to 11. Initially, out of necessity, but also because it really interested me. There are lots of incredible brands out there that cater to the younger boys’ market with super cute monsters or minimalist high design concept imagery or graphics. Brands like Stella McCartney, Beau Loves or Bobo Choses, comes to mind. But once boys reach 6 years of age, the choice is much more limited. It’s also around this age that it becomes impossible to ‘make’ your child wear something they don’t like. Each child then connects with his or her clothes far more.
The graphics on our t-shirts is one aspect of our design approach. If we make a prototype that we love, but that my son or his friends won’t put on, because it’s itchy, they hate the imagery, it’s too tight, or the zip catches, then that prototype will never make it to production. As a result, we are fanatical about the feel of our fabrics. We buy our corduroy from one of the oldest weavers and converters of corduroy in England, then dye and treat the corduroy, in order to make the feel of the garment super soft. We are equally strident about the feel of our hoodies, and have this year started using organic cottons for our henleys – for both ethical and tactile reasons. Boys love to run, get muddy, get hot and pull on and off layers of clothing, so everything must be soft, easy to get on and off, machine washable and tumble dryable, with no bobbling. Thinking about the caring of the garment, and its durability, I am probably designing for both the child and the parent.
I am often surprised how luxury and mid-market kidswear labels do not consider what children like. Instead the design is focused on what the parent wants, for example mini-me looks. As the social activist Naomi Klein points out, kids are mini-consumers as well. This is especially noticeable in toy trends – and there are really grotesque toy television adverts aimed at children, especially at key times of the day, which Klein calls ‘ nag time’. How do you negotiate what “needs” are manufactured by advertising and the media, and what “needs” are real?
I absolutely love the expression ‘nag time’ and suspect it’s one that resonates all too clearly with most parents. This is a very challenging question, as it’s not always easy to discern between the two, and I think in many ways, parents are as susceptible to the pester power of advertising and the media as the child – particularly where the mini-me is concerned.
In a world where everyone is selling something, it’s all the more important for us as a brand to be very clear about our message. For me, this is about authenticity and transparency. Transparency can range from the provenance of our tailored corduroy suits, which were customised, cut and prototyped on Savile Row, to the quality of our clothes, especially in regards to the choice of fabrics we use, like organic cotton. Authenticity relates to the image we put forward as a brand. Our choice to use real, everyday boys in the current campaign, and real athletes in our forthcoming campaign reflects that.
The lifestyle that we portray is also genuine. The boys involved aren’t just pretending to skateboard or to love the outdoors. They are those kids, and I’m proud of the fact that they are absolutely inspirational kids promoting healthy and active lifestyles. Our photographer and collaborator Aaron has been photographing skaters since he was 16. His work has appeared in some of the biggest skating magazines. Our shoot was the first he had ever done with kids.
With so much information readily available online, we see certain brands outmoded before they hit the stores. Do you think the currency of fashion is changing, and how do you negotiate trends in your own designs?
I think the speed of life has gone supersonic, taking fashion along with it. Sometimes it seems like it’s only a matter of minutes from a certain celebrity being papped in an outfit, before it’s for sale on the high street. In such a fast paced world, it can be hard for brands to stay ahead of the curve and keep their designs relevant, but ultimately, I believe that the true currency of fashion is classic style and that’s what we’ve tried to capture with our range. For me, it’s all about classic pieces that are beautifully made in great fabrics. We all know how great you feel as a woman, when you put on that favourite t-shirt, regardless of whether you are dressing it up with jeans and a heel, or having a rough and tumble day in the park with the kids. I wanted to bring that same sense of confidence, comfort and versatility to the clothes we design. I’d like them to be items that can be worn again and again, dressed up or down as the occasion demands. However, that’s not to say that we are completely impervious to trends and we will introduce small seasonal runs or new colours on a yearly basis that are inspired by what we feel is going to be relevant at that time.
What is your philosophy on sustainability issues?
Sustainability is something that is very close to our hearts. We are making clothes to be handed down, not disposable fashion. This ideal has determined lots of our choices, from the fabrics we use as much as to where they are manufactured. This year, as a result of customer demand, we have moved into organic cottons for our t-shirts and cotton henleys and that’s very exciting for us especially as it directly reflects the way in which many consumers want more from their clothing. They want to know where you produce, where your fabrics are sourced from and what your brand stands for and I like that. It’s the way we think.
While still in the very early product development stage we looked long and hard at packaging options as while we were heavily drawn to stiff white card we decided against the perfectly packed pass the parcel style packaging – that many luxury brands favour – in order to reach the product. It’s undeniable that packaging plays an incredibly important part in the luxury to mid-market brands but this didn’t seem to gel with our values or those of our customers’ – so we stripped it back to clean basics: Kraft block bottom bags and brown paper wrapping. Simple and recyclable.
It’s important for me to know and be comfortable with the way in which our clothes are produced – which is one of the reasons we chose to manufacture in Portugal. We are still growing as a company and one day I would hope that we would be able to bring back elements of our manufacturing to the UK. That would make us really happy.
For more information on ABC123ME visit www.abc123me.com
Fashion and words Matthew Holroyd
Photography Jacob Thue
Model Reis at Kids London Model Management