THE NJAL T-SHIRTS

...sustainable fashion meets three black sheep

by Crystal Kruger
Here at NOT JUST A LABEL, we are committed to being the black sheep: leading the way in the fashion industry, and supporting avant-garde designers who feel the same. In 2010, we launched of a unique and exciting partnership with new fashion talents Patrick Mohr, Aoi Kotsuhiroi and Spon Diogo, as we release our first limited edition, Organic Collection.

Championing the belief that fashion should have a conscience, this range features handmade, organic, fair-trade cotton tees, free from synthetic chemicals, stamped with the unique personal styling of each collaborating designer, including an embroidered label detailing their background and choice of design. Each comes in a beautiful biodegradable display box, and is to be delivered free of cost, in custom designed sustainable packaging by our partner UPS. The range aims to change the perception of eco-fashion being uninspired basics and rough-sewn hemp, to that of luxurious, fashion forward, avant-garde pieces that are anything but boring.

NJAL collaborated with three design labels, chosen specifically for their sustainable sensibilities and eclectic style. London based, Japanese designer Aoi Kotsuhiroi takes a very poetic hand to fashion, expressed in her contribution to the collection, with the sheer ‘Nowhere’ tank. Patrick Mohr, one of Germany’s leading designers, plays with a loose-fitting t-shirt silhouette that ambiguously lends itself to masculinity, with a bold, graphic black and white print dividing the fabric. Spon Diogo, design Danish design duo created the unisex Yin Yang tee, expressing their structured, balanced take on prints and cuts.

It is designers like these who are forging a unique path in eco-fashion, where innovation, creativity and ethics meet to become a driving force. It is becoming increasingly critical for designers who wish to remain leaders in the fashion industry, to not only consider, but embrace sustainable, ethical design. An entire industry built on the concept of disposable whim, mass production and excess, has caused us to forget the value of a garment. Rarely do we consider the complex process that went into the conception of even the humblest tee – from the growing of cotton plants or extruding of synthetic fibres from petrochemicals, harvesting, cleaning, spinning, dyeing, knitting or weaving, printing, cutting, sewing, not to mention the consumable resources required for each process, and the distribution between each of these stages. On a mass produced scale this becomes absurdly cost effective, but at what expense?

Consider socially, ethically, environmentally? Pesticides, erosion, nutrient stripped soil, chemicals, electricity, water, pollution – the carbon footprint is huge. That’s without even beginning to consider ethical issues of exploitation of staff and consumers, sweatshop labour, or sustainability. It is possible to retail a basic tank top for as little as £2.99. That includes a profit margin. How? How could they produce it, let alone pay for the wages of the employee who spun the cotton? Or sewed the garment? How does that consider the environment? And how do you, when purchasing it? Do you legitimise the entire process? How many tees do you own? How many dresses? Or pairs of shoes? How easily do you dispose of them? How attached to any of those pieces are you really?

We have forgotten that fashion should be a love story, not an affair. Fashion should be as emotional as it is aesthetic. When fashion became en masse, we quite often abandoned quality for quantity. Environmentally-aware fashion has to be the future, and consumers should start appreciating garments all over again, for what they really are, and the impact that production process has. Fashion should be about revelling in the way a garment looks and feels, the aesthetic it exudes, but also the ethos you personally promote. Garments should have value, both visually and ethically: it’s time to embrace change in the fashion industry.

The shoot in the Namibian desert by Andreas Waldschuetz inspired us so much that we chose him to shoot the campaign for our range of t-shirts. He told us Helmut Newton's iconic series "The Story of Ohh", served as inspiration. “When given the assignment, our intention immediately became a matter of producing a story rather than delivering obvious product shots. In general, our team works this way, by choosing to focus on fashion as a basis for character development rather than fashion only for fashion's sake.” The approach of campaign images as Film Stills always brings a reaction and a more sustained attention to the entire concept than most studio shots do.

What makes the Helmut Newton’s image “Woman Examining Man, St. Tropez, 1975” so remarkable is the number of questions that arise about one single static moment. The idea of quick communication is endlessly effective in advertisement and produces some of the most emotional pictures. Andreas and his art director Adia Trischler wanted to re-examine the moment in the Helmut Newton image, that feeling of 'did it just happen' or 'is it about to happen', various moments of intimacy and cinematic still conversations. In ‘our story' the story revolves around three people instead of two, making these moments of intimacy (both sexual and emotional) constantly exciting and subversive. Our plot consisted of a very questionable, young ménage à trois with a strong woman at the centre of it, bringing some rock n' roll glamour to the opulent and traditional setting of the Presidential Suite at the Vienna Grand Hotel.

The characters are living moments of desire, a somewhat naive bliss that is bordered with a slightly dark edge, while the t-shirts serve both as costumes and as backdrop to their lives; simple, beautiful, sexy, irrelevant and timely: Careful without caring, yet intriguing to watch. “My hope is that one should want to watch these images, and should question the relationship or the moment in the picture. Yes, ultimately the pictures should focus on the collection, but it is also about the collection having a place in individual lives.”