20 years of Lazy Oaf and the art of collaboration
In conversation with some of its greatest collaborators, we delve into the unique relationships Lazy Oaf fosters, as well as its continued support of the creative community.
Now celebrating its 20th birthday, Lazy Oaf has quite the story to tell. Founder Gemma Shiel started the brand in her dad’s garage, before launching a stall at Spitalfields Market and she’s not looked back since. There were, unsurprisingly, a few bumps along the way though. From firsts and failures to fires and floods, not to mention organ removal and a pandemic, the Lazy Oaf team have had to pick themselves up again and again, “literally dust ourselves down and make the best of every shitty situation,” Gemma tells It’s Nice That. And they’ve tackled every challenge with the grace, graft and humour that makes Lazy Oaf so remarkable and so utterly unique. Along the way, it has amassed somewhat of a cult following for its exuberant, bold and graphic collections which fly in the face of minimalism and, much to our liking, don’t take themselves too seriously. Meaning that today the brand boasts two storefronts, countless collaborations and a global fanbase – it’s a remarkable tale, to say the least. So if there’s one thing Lazy Oaf is, it’s resilient. With this in mind, summarising the last two decades of Lazy Oaf in three words, Gemma succinctly suggests the journey has been “a learning curve.”
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Meredith Watt: Aga Giecko, Pet Shop, 2020 (Copyright © Lazy Oaf, 2020)
The brand has its roots in illustration and graphic design, so a move into commissioning others from that background early on was only natural. Group exhibitions, a drawing club and collaborations ensued – in doing so shining a light on these individual creatives and supporting the community as a whole. This model has become a defining feature of Lazy Oaf; it’s what makes the brand so popular among the creative community, and keeps it evolving while staying true to its roots.
“Both of my campaign collaborations were dream jobs,” London-based freelance illustrator and designer Aga Giecko who has worked with Lazy Oaf several times tells us. In line with the wonky style of her often mischievously characterful work, Lazy Oaf “let me explore and experiment with creating new worlds with funny characters going about their everyday life,” Aga explains. “I always liked Lazy Oaf and I followed the brand for nearly ten years,” she recalls, so was keen to visit the stores upon moving to London. From there Aga took part in a Lazy Oaf competition and then was included in its subsequent Take a Break exhibition. “I was invited to its studio afterwards where I met Gemma,” Aga adds, “and that’s how Grow Your Own came about;” Aga’s first collection with the brand prior to her second campaign Pet Shop.
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Sailey x Lazy Oaf (Copyright © Lazy Oaf, 2018
This personability and sense of creative trust were also shared with Sam Bailey, a London-based multidisciplinary designer who mixes different programmes in order to create freeform, unique outcomes. He recalls his Lucky 24 collaboration as an incredibly open process. “The brief basically came from a conversation along the lines of ‘have you got an idea you’d like to do?’” Sam explains, adding how “those kinds of briefs are rare.” He then went on to create a Planet Oaf sci-fi uniform. “It was super inline with the kind of stuff I’m already into,” he recalls, demonstrating a sentiment fundamental to the success of Lazy Oaf’s collaborations – personal expression.
“I think that Lazy Oaf really plays on this child-like wonder I feel so many are too shy to embody,” Boston-based creative Mithsuca Berry chips in. “That’s so valuable because it’s bringing new silhouettes and designs to the forefront,” they explain, excited by the playfulness and self-reflection that Lazy Oaf offers. Mithsuca’s practice is borderless, encompassing illustration, writing, curation and activism – whatever they can get their hands on, so the opportunity to use clothing as their canvas seemed fitting. “We are dripping in wearable art now, and it’s being made accessible.”
“I think Lazy Oaf just wants to be fun and not take itself too seriously which is refreshing to see and feels genuine,” Jiro Bevis, who has collaborated with Lazy Oaf for years now, tells us, nodding to what makes the brand a stand out to work for and to buy. “There are so many brands these days it can be hard to differentiate them because they don’t really seem to want to be or say something different,” the London-based illustrator adds, “which seems a waste,” finding this spirit fundamentally in tune with his own practice. Half-Japanese, Jiro was obsessed with Japanese culture at a young age and that was a huge influence on his work. Plus his dad was a big collector of comics, toys and records so regularly took Jiro and his brother to comic conventions, record fairs and collectors’ homes. These are elements that echo throughout Lazy Oaf’s output too, so it was a match made in heaven. “There are so many variables on how a job can go, sometimes you just click with a client and it makes things really enjoyable,” Jiro recalls. “Lazy Oaf has always been so easy to work with,” as it trusts him to do what he does best, “which is so important and why I enjoy working for the brand,” he adds.
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Katie Silvester: Jiro Bevis, Pet Shop (Copyright © Lazy Oaf, 2020)
This trust is perhaps the secret ingredient in Lazy Oaf’s recipe for successful collaborations, whilst also knowing who to call upon and at what time. “It’s the collaborations with many great artists that make Lazy Oaf stand out as a brand,” Aga tells us, “it’s exciting that you can never know or guess what campaign idea will be next and one of your favourite artists may be involved in it.” London-based illustrator Charlotte Mei adds that “there is nothing pretentious about Lazy Oaf or the people behind the designs,” noting how Gemma and the team are “so open-minded, fun and kind,” nurturing an atmosphere that truly sets Lazy Oaf apart from the rest.
Charlotte and Lazy Oaf’s working relationship has built up over the years, and she designed this year’s summer drop for the brand. “We first connected in 2014,” Charlotte recalls, “and have done little bits together ever since!” This is notably representative of the personal relationships Lazy Oaf develops with its collaborators – all of the creatives we spoke to share the same experience – working closer and closer together until their visions harmonise. “I went into Lazy Oaf’s store in Soho to try on my collection,” Charlotte tells us, recalling the feeling of seeing her design in-store: “I felt like I was in a fantasy where I had dreamt up outfits and they had materialised like magic!”
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James Rees: Charlotte Mei, Lazy Hotel (Copyright © Lazy Oaf, 2021)
This was similarly felt by Aga, who remembers the surreal feeling of walking into the store and seeing her “silly tomatoes” on turtleneck jumpers. “I used to go to that store for a couple of years just to admire their collections,” Aga explains, “now I could see my illustrations on the clothes… it’s a dream come true!” Having previously worked with apparel, she notes that “usually, you can’t get too creative with the fabric or placement of the print.” In turn, Aga lauded the rare opportunity to design a piece from scratch. Mithsuca also notes how the collaboration acted as a springboard for new experiences. “This collab kind of lit a fire under my ass,” they say. “I identify as a multidisciplinary artist for exactly these reasons, there’s always a new medium to play with, and there’s always going to be a new iteration of what your practice once was.”
It’s here that we see something that Lazy Oaf not only fosters but thrives within – connection. Connection with its collaborators, audience and its own self-expression. “I think there’s such a disconnect between independent creators and brands,” Mithsuca continues, “coming from how much of a battle there is for resources and stability out here.” With so many creatives seemingly fighting for their voice to be heard, Mithsuca suggests that the wonder of Lazy Oaf is its belief in people – and the investment it makes in them. “At the end of the day we are providing the world with content and inspiration,” they add, “a world without art and fashion and self-expression is not a world that any of us would enjoy living in.”
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Tom Cattanach: Mithsuca Berry, Do Good Art Club, 2021 (Copyright © Lazy Oaf, 2021)
The emphasis on bringing creativity to its wearers in such a quotidian way – whether it’s ridiculously silly in its execution or not – is what makes Lazy Oaf’s relationship with the creative community so earnest and supportive. “It’s common now for brands to use individuals or create sponsored content,” Sam tells us. “I think something I noticed early on is how Lazy Oaf heroes talent and puts collaborators at the front, before it was so commonplace, and it did it honestly and organically.” The natural progression of this benefits both the brand and the buyer – creating work that keeps Lazy Oaf at the forefront of design, and its audience perpetually interested. “I think it’s important for fashion brands to really care about what they are making and to always be looking out for the right creative people to work with,” Jiro suggests. “[There is] nothing worse than a brand that stagnates and regurgitates the same stuff again and again.”
Correspondingly, “big brands supporting smaller artists is an ethical thing to do and it challenges the fashion industry,” Aga suggests, going one step further and pointing out the immediate support Lazy Oaf provides emerging talent – be it through articles and interviews on Lazy Oaf World, or the competitions it runs. “Especially now, where you hear about stolen designs and ideas every other day,” Aga adds, “a company maintaining friendly relationships with creatives is something that should be applauded.” To this end, Charlotte explains that it “is a brand which takes a lot of risks design-wise,” yet trusts in the eventual pay-off because it results in garments people haven’t seen before. “That said,” she comments, “I think Oaf is a real trendsetter and I do see high street brands trying to bite – but there’s only one Lazy Oaf…”
“It is important to support this community, being creative is my therapy, it’s how my brain thinks and is at its happiest, so I want to encourage everyone to get creative,” Gemma concludes. “The creative application can be anything; we turn it into clothes, shoots, digital content, animation, bedding and rugs…. each project is totally different and always fun. Every creative brings new ideas and ways of working, we always get to do something new.” That being said, looking at what the future holds for Lazy Oaf, it’s hard to say. For a brand so inherently inventive, its strength lies in its unpredictability. Its ethos of championing creatives, no matter what their background or following is one we certainly get behind and it’s what keeps us refreshing our browser with each new drop. Here’s to another 20 years.
To celebrate its monumental milestone, Lazy Oaf is launching The Birthday Collection – a 20-piece range that pulls on some of the wildest, weirdest and most wonderful designs from across its two-decade-long history.
Founded by Gemma Shiel from a north London Garage in 2001, Lazy Oaf is a London-based design-led lifestyle brand celebrating creativity, collaboration, and community with a history of doing things its own way and a sideways glance at life.
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