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Meet the designer celebrating her working class roots

This Is The Uniform’s Jenna Young is the Goldsmiths grad making jogging bottoms couture

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Not every designer’s first call-in is from Vogue. But Jenna Young’s was, after a pair of sheer organza jogging bottoms she made for a friend caught the eye of the publication’s fashion director Lucinda Chambers. After this flying – and perhaps unexpected – start, Young decided to launch This Is The Uniform, which is now in its fifth season. And Chambers isn’t Young’s only fan – Lulu Kennedy and her team at Fashion East are too, announcing last week that they will be supporting her this season.

Hailing from Blackpool, Young comes from working class roots – something that is reflected in her collections, from the organza tracksuits and Reeboks they're styled with, to the Lancashire rose appliqués. Despite the success her brand is experiencing, Young’s route into fashion wasn’t the orthodox one. The daughter of a fashion and costume teach, she describes her younger self as “the kid that got stuck trying to rip the gemstones of costumes.” Then, after gaining a degree in Fine Art and Textiles at Goldsmiths, a brief stint as a stylist and that call-in from Vogue, This Is Uniform was born. So, in the run-up to her London Fashion Week debut, we meet the rising Blackpudlian star.

So tell us about how This Is Uniform began.

Jenna Young: I was doing a styling project for a friend and made a pair of sheer, neon orange organza jogging bottoms to go with his stuff. I didn’t think anything of it. Then a month or two later, they were called in for a shoot at Vogue – that was the first call we had which was really amazing! In the end they went into the first edition of Miss Vogue. I think it was Lucinda Chambers. When I found out they was going to be in and I decided to start the brand and just go for it.

What is it about the sheer fabric that you like? Why is that you use them?

Jenna Young: Sheer fabric has a weird power. It’s a strange thing, if you go out wearing something and you wear a sheer t-shirt over that something, you get more noticed. It’s got a very provocative nature to it but for us it’s never been totally about sex. Obviously it’s there – we shoot with a female form or a male form – but it’s actually more to do with that weird power and owning it.

Is your work at all autobiographical or self-referential?

Jenna Young: I think it really is. I’m from Blackpool which a definite influence for me. Obviously Blackpool is very, very different to London. I am very interested in class and status and that definitely comes from my very working class upbringing. I think that’s where my obsession with the tracksuits comes from too – because that was us at our best, you know, it was the Adidas tracksuit! 

Do you feel like you're celebrating your working class roots?

Jenna Young: Absolutely. We’ve always worked in a way that maybe isn’t typically ‘fashion’. When we shot our media campaigns one of the first thing we cast for a girl smiling. It isn’t so much about creating this moody fashion image, its all about celebration of fashion and that working class sort of element to it. Because I think it can be so easily dismissed.

In a way you beautify that element, with the organza – it’s like you’re making tracksuits couture.

Jenna Young: Last season, we took the idea of a tracksuit – a commonly seen item on the street – but we did it in this beautiful metallic wool and we smocked it and we sheered it and we beaded it and we tried to imbue this sort of sense of value into it. It was about taking that working class element, not just of Northern England, but of what is a lot of the UK, and celebrating it.

“We took the idea of a tracksuit but we did it in this beautiful metallic wool and we smocked it and we sheered it and we beaded it and we tried to imbue this sort of sense of value into it. It was about taking that working class element and celebrating it” – Jenna Young

Is that why you always style your collections with Reeboks?

Jenna Young: I’ve always loved Reeboks and I’ve had them since I was a kid but I read somewhere that they are the most commonly found footprint at the scene of a crime, which I thought was amazing. And we’ve used them exclusively since the second collection. I think they’re so symbolic, really. To me at least. They’ve become pretty cool since Urban Outfitters have started stocking them – something I’m pretty gutted about!

You've always included roses in your collections – why?

Jenna Young: It’s a reference to the Lancashire rose, which is sort of like our symbol up North. But it was also a reference to folk costumes – there was so many produced with flowers everywhere, they were a massive symbol. So we went really big with them. The third collection we did had a floral dress but it had a peak so we fused that street style and delicate fabric technique.

There’s a quote on your website that says ‘I don’t want to be a traitor to my generation’. Talk to me about that.

Jenna Young: That’s actually a quote from Cher Horowitz in Clueless. It has always stuck with me. That film is so iconic and a lot of the dialogue really resonated with me and what I’ve been doing. I think (Cher) says it when Murray is wearing his jeans with his bum hanging out – we actually had that in a collection once.

Do you think class diversity and access to education a problem in moment in fashion?

Jenna Young: I think everybody should have access to education. My mum teaches fashion and costume up North in Blackpool and I know she’s really struggled this year because of the massive up in fees. I myself would never ever have been able to go to university without support. And I think what’s happened recently has ostracised a whole group of people which is really sad.