Designer Focus: Larry Jay
Was there a particular moment that made you decide you wanted to work in fashion?
I think several moments stimulated my desire to want to work in fashion. First, I grew up with a family where everyone loved fashion: my mom was into selling fashionable clothes and she was always interested in dressing well. Meanwhile, some of my aunties and uncles were into making clothes and selling sewing accessories. Somehow, I think it's genetic; after high school I disregarded other avenues of study and my passion took over. I made fashion accessories and some shirts patched with our local wax prints for myself, but then friends and people around me liked my pieces so I started making items for others. That's when I realized I could turn my passion into something big.
Do you think you have a responsibility as a designer to respond to the social and political issues of our time?
Yes, but it basically depends on our approach of fashion. An ethical and sustainable approach to fashion enables you to enact some sort of change on your own level. This type of approach improves fair trade in fashion and also aims to address the problems it sees in the society with the way the fashion industry currently operates, such as labour, damage in the environment, the use of hazardous chemicals, waste, and animal cruelty. Although our responsibility is to produce clothes for the fashionably conscious individuals as designers, it should follow acceptable moral standards in society and must not cause any harm to its consumers, producers, and the environment.
In your opinion, what’s the problem with fashion today?
There are a number of problems with fashion today. I think most fashion brands lack originality and style; there are fast fashion brands copying and owning designs that belong to new and emerging fashion brands just because the new brands are still in the dark and have no foot in the major industry. Funding in fashion is also a problem, at least from what we experience here in Ghana, as there isn’t really a major governing body that will help up-and-coming talents find their footing in the fashion industry.
We believe that our brand will make a way into the fashion industry and find its footing soon because of our originality and unusual style. We are gradually self-funding but hope to meet clients and investors who will really have a great understanding and also see the essence and positive impacts of our style and decide to invest in us.
Has your relationship with clothing changed as you delve into the fashion world?
Yes, it has made me more conscious about what I wear. You know style is actually the reflection of what you feel inside yourself, and in most cases it is the real you. I try to stay original with my style because it is what I put out there in a form of fashion for my consumers and it’s actually making me go in my own direction rather than being a copy-cat.
What are the trials and tribulations of being an emerging designer?
It’s a long list that can keep going on and on without an end. Finance is the major problem, sourcing a production team either at home or overseas is another problem, getting a trusted force to back your brand, finding the right platform to showcase your talent to the world for the first time is another problem as most show organizers want preexisting designers who have already made a name for themselves so they hardly make way for the new and emerging designers to pour out their talent, which means you will still be hiding in the dark. Also recognition and approval, getting people to embrace the brands identity/style is another problem. There are lots of fast fashion companies giving consumers the latest trends of fashion each season, but this is where perseverance comes in—we never stop pushing because we want people to understand the brand. Consumers are beginning to embrace the brand as we make them understand the stories behind each piece created.
What do you feel are the most important ingredients in building a brand?
Picking an identity and style for your brand is key. It’s important for your brand’s style to be easily identified. What makes us really stand out as a brand here in Ghana is our ethical and sustainable pieces and production, our scenic, unusual and timeless clothes and accessories and also our gender-fluid nature, which many are not sure how to embrace yet. Again, being driven and not getting discouraged from the outside world is so important.
How do you balance your creative vision with the harsh realities of the fashion industry?
Sometimes it really gets to you; it really hits you hard on the face, but then again, you never let anything stop you from doing you. At Larry Jay, I believe it’s my inward style that I bring out in a form of fashion for the fashionably conscious individuals and individuals who are ready to choose a responsible brand. It might be hard for it to be accepted, but again, the story being told about it can change everything and make one fall for it. Most fashionistas are ready to buy and spend millions on clothes from fast fashion companies just because of trends, but you don’t let that stop you or discourage you in anyway because you know the worth and value of what you are crafting.
Tell us any anecdotes about the making of your last collection?
So my last collection “70’s Africa” SS19 was actually made in order to express my love for my parents. I fell in love with their looks while flipping through their photo archives. Their style was native with a little touch of America or Europe, but it never impacted their unique love and style of fashion. They always wore clothes that were morally right, thus religiously and socially acceptable. My mother always covered her hair and wore outfits to cover her womanhood because of her religious background, but it never affected her great sense of style.
My dad also wore outfits that always left a positive impact amongst his peers. Although inspired by my Ghanaian parents’ style from the 70’s, the collection also took some inspirations from various West African countries such as Nigeria, Mali, Senegal, and so forth. Fashion from the 70’s was timeless, minimal, unusual, and ethical—and that’s what the Larry Jay brand represents. I used very soft cotton materials, silks, satins, lace and some spandex to really express the diverse looks of my parents back then, all with a little added androgynous twist.
How do go about choosing your materials and manufacturers?
It is sometimes very stressful choosing the right material to really represent your brand. The materials you want might not be readily available in your country and sourcing them overseas means high cost, which is a problem to emerging brands. For now, all of our materials are sourced locally from material stores here in the capital. We use a lot of rayons, viscose, raw cottons, silks, Jute, leather scraps and local wax prints.
We are trying to work on the use of materials that are locally made here in Ghana, like our local woven fabrics and batiks/tie and dyes. We don’t have an in-house production team yet so manufacturing is outsourced locally in Ghana. We make sure that they are carefully supervised because you need to ensure that careful thought is put into this decision as your company and brand reputation are on the line; if your product does not prove to be of high standards, neither will you!
Tell us a bit about how you run your business?
Currently, people get to know the brand through social media and through suggestions by friends. We also try to hire the right people. This is to ensure everything we want for the brand is rightfully done for us. Running a business involves a lot, but I think it’s also about having an identity which should be adopted by the audience. Of course not everyone will like what you do; some might love it immediately and others will not. But it's about telling the stories behind your brand and connecting with your correct target audience.
What’s your take on the advent of commerce via social media?
Social media has made everything easy. It allows us to get our works out there for the entire world to see and it serves as a sales platform, which is so powerful.
What makes a design compelling?
It’s aesthetic nature, originality, and identity. I feel that every design should have a story behind it. It should be easily identified when seen everywhere. Our styles are mostly scenic and unusual so you don’t only stare at it once, but you stare again and dare to know what it is about that style.
What would be your dream collaboration scenario?
Collaborating with one of the biggest international ethical and sustainable brands. We believe in producing eco-friendly pieces that can be used for decades and not cause harm to the environment in the end but rather make a positive change.
Designer: Larry Jay