INTERVIEW: AWAKE AT THREE
By Jemima Stafford
Tell us a bit about your brand - where did the inspiration come from to start an independent clothing brand?
Awake at Three is a passion project above everything else, and the inspiration that has driven me to keep doing it has changed massively throughout the couple years I’ve been running it. As I’m sure is the way for most startup brands nowadays, the first urge came about during a long, boring summer during sixth-form, a bank account that was looking a bit empty, and an optimistic (and quite, well, ignorant) “how hard can it be?”. I’d just started developing an interest in fashion, and so had only seen what high street shops and places like ASOS had to offer … so of course I thought I could do better than them. Also, for me personally, I’ve always had a creative streak that I’ve neglected when choosing subjects throughout school. I always favoured the ‘safer’ maths-based subjects with the logic that if I truly did enjoy the arty stuff, I would find the time to just do it myself. And, it has to be said, it’s been a lot easier to design t-shirts in my spare time than it would have been trying to self-teach physics.
Over time, having cultivated a passion for fashion (there, I said it), what started out as a silly little side project has turned into something I truly care about and get a lot of value from. The combination of it being a creative outlet, a business, and an opportunity to learn everything from coding in HTML and using design software to photography and online marketing has been really rewarding, and has taught me much more than I ever thought it would.
Where does the inspiration come from for your designs? Do you look to any other designers at a local level or an industry level for this?
Absolutely - one of the many things that Awake at Three has taught me is that creativity, or someones’ ‘creative process’ isn’t just some airy-fairy thing that you’re somehow innately born with, it’s a skill like any other that can be practiced. Making sure I’m pro-actively exposing myself to new content and searching for different curators of news/brands has really helped me mould my own designs and direction. I personally take a lot of inspiration from the amazing network of other (more talented) people like me who run underground streetwear brands from across the world. The fact that I actually talk to them on a daily basis though the wonders of the internet makes it a lot more real and really motivates me to push myself. One particular hub is the subreddit r/streetwearstartup, that for all its faults has been an incredibly helpful resource for me (whether you’re looking to start a brand or to buy original designs from people who actually care about their customers, definitely take a look).
It’s strange actually, because I would definitely consider these brands that I talk to my “local” inspiration, but they also happen to be located everywhere from Pittsburgh and Singapore to New York and London. Some of these brands that you should look up right now include: Absure, Do Nothing NYC, AHDCO, Alex’s Stupid Shirts, Storm the Gates, Resurgence, and NIHIL. Of course, I also do draw inspiration from established brands - I’ve loved seeing the impact ‘streetwear’ has had on high fashion in the last decade and will probably continue to make it (despite Virgil declaring it dead a few weeks ago). Some of my personal favourites at the moment are: Sunnei, Pleasures, Heresy, Braindead, Adererror and Stingwater.
Is that a reflection of your own personal style, or is there a separate image at work there?
That’s a good question - I think the answer is inescapably ‘yes’, especially as one rule of thumb that all designs have to pass is whether I would be excited to wear it myself. In fact more recently, as I’ve gravitated towards vintage and second hand pieces, I try and make designs that’d get me excited if I saw it on the rail in a thrift store or charity shop. Now that I’ve figured out how to make garments completely from scratch (or as it’s called, cut and sew), I’m excited to be able to customise the whole cut and the fabrics to match my love for more vintage clothes.
You study Physics at Bristol and work on a clothing brand. Can you synthesise these two very different interests?
So far Awake at Three has been more of a creative outlet, but I’ve been on the lookout for a way to incorporate some physics into a design. Actually, a perfect example is the Joy Division album cover, arguably one of the most iconic album covers in history. Believe it or not, it’s actually just data from the measurement of radio waves emitted from a pulsar (which is a neutron star that can rotate 100 times per second!). There are all sorts of beautiful images and data sets that are produced from the natural world, and I’ve got my eyes peeled for one to use myself. Another example that springs to
mind is another brand that I love, Advisory Board Crystals, who have used circuit diagrams, graphs and diagrams of the cosmos alongside ‘arcane’ references to create a cool aesthetic.
I must say, you make most students look entirely unproductive. Is it a struggle managing your time?
That’s very kind of you to say, but I should also say that the reason I chose Awake at Three as the name of this brand is that I’m literally up until the early hours of the morning working on it! The balance was initially hard to strike between university and the brand, but feel like I’m in a good groove now. I do remember getting my first serious wave of orders just after I dropped some tees in first year just before exams, and got so carried away with it I almost ended up flopping some units. So yeah… don’t do that.
It’s quite nice that I can leave it alone for periods of time when I’m busy with deadlines and just come back to it when I want, now that the irrational fear that everyone will stop caring if I stop posting for a week has worn off. I think the major reason why I’ve been able to keep it up is that I see it as something I can just have fun doing and switch off to - it’s never been a chore for me. I think if it ever did, I’d struggle to make the time for it.
What are the values that you champion as a brand?
With respect to design, I think my core value is originality. I think that there’s an incredible amount of regurgitated noise in all aspects of our world today, and just being unapologetically authentic slices through that every time. So, even though I’m at best a very average “designer” of clothes, I like to think that my eagerness to make mistakes, learn and maybe make even a little dent on the scene shines through in what I create.
I’m not usually a fan of having an overbearing, cliched “mission” as a brand, but if Awake at Three was to ever stand for something bigger than itself, it would absolutely be to encourage anyone else to go out and just DO that thing that you really want to do but feel like you can’t, or that it’s already been done, or that it’s too hard. If you truly care about it, other people will see that, and you’ll make it work. If I can do it, you sure as hell can.
What values do you think the industry are doing well by at the moment — and what not so
I think one of the best thing about streetwear has been how people have used the platform and the medium of clothing to commentate and mobilise on bigger issues. The recent response to the horrific Australian wildfires has been amazing, with loads of brands making designs where all the proceeds are put towards charities helping people affected by the blazes.
Saying that, one obvious issue that I think the fashion industry as a whole has been slow at properly addressing is sustainability. Exclusive ‘drops’ that play on FOMO, using inhumane labour from overseas, and the decreasing quality of the products themselves are all part of a cycle that just cannot sustain itself. I think that although the onus is on bigger companies to make changes, as they are contributing the most and actually have the choice of using more ethical materials and manufacturing methods, it’s up to the smaller independent brands to be making as much noise as we can too. It’s not all doom and gloom though - Noah and Heresy are brands that I think have a very common-sense and transparent approach to making more sustainable choices, and I think other brands should absolutely follow suit.
Your website isn’t just focussed on clothing, you’ve got other content on there too. What’s the idea behind that? Is Awake at Three just a clothing brand, or something else?
One thing I always love when I’m looking at other brand’s websites is anything that gives me more dimensions to what their identity is! It makes it much easier to connect with their vision. So with mine, I’ve just put up a few other things that I’m interested in to give people a better idea of what I’m about. I listen to a lot of music, so I like to do a monthly playlist. I think a part of it is also documenting what I’ve done so far, which helps remind myself that I have actually accomplished some things when I’m feeling shit. Designing the fleeces for the UoB Futsal team was a highlight, and I’m super excited to collaborate with Helicon for the next launch party!
Care to share two of your favourite designs and talk a little bit about them?
I thought this would be easy but it’s almost like picking a favourite child! I’ve also got about a 100% record of incorrectly guessing which design will sell best, so even I’m not sure I know what I’m talking about.
Having said that, the Fear™ design has to be up there for me. I’m especially proud of this design because it utilised a lot of design software that I was completely inept at a year ago, so it represents how far I’ve come in that sense. I couldn’t actually find a good stock image for the box that makes up this design, so I rummaged through drawers until I found a little box that housed a bar of fancy soap. A green folder that I used for my physics notes made a decent make-shift green screen, and voila - Fear™ was born.
The other design is one that I haven’t released yet, called Always Awake. I found the graphics from an old (and yes, real) patent from the 80s for a powerful, in-ear alarm clock. I thought it sounded objectively horrific, but also really liked the idea of the retro-futuristic, dystopian reality where these would have existed. If you’re a fan, then keep an eye on the site - they’re getting printed now and I should have them up in a week or two!