The British designer joined Nike and Dazed’s Jefferson Hack to talk about launching his label, sustainability, and working with the likes of Virgil Abloh and Kim Jones
Since starting his label, A-COLD-WALL* back in 2015, designer Samuel Ross has made a name for himself as a force to be reckoned with on London’s menswear scene – earning himself a Fashion Award from the British Fashion Council for Emerging Menswear Designer in 2018, and a nomination for the 2018 LVMH Prize. The designer has also created two collections for Oakley and released a number of collections in collaboration with Nike since 2017.
As a celebration of this ongoing partnership, last week, Ross was invited to host an event which saw him in conversation with Dazed’s founder Jefferson Hack at Central Saint Martins. Discussing his non-traditional entry into fashion, the designer shared tips on how to start your own label, explained how he started ACW*, and discussed what he learnt from his mentor Virgil Abloh. The talk was a full circle moment for Ross, as he advised students at the same institution his father studied Fine Art at in the 80s, and talked about growing up viewing Nike as the “apex of fashion” – despite the fact he was unable to afford the label and had never imagined he would be working with the brand years down the line.
Elsewhere, the designer explored sustainability – a factor that plays a huge part of Ross’s latest collaboration with Nike, which features pieces made from a specialist material created using recycled leather. Despite only working on ACW* for four years, he stressed that sustainability should be important for all brands, both big and small. “It’s becoming more of a philosophy rather than a principle,” he explained. “There are still some struggles, as you all know, in regards to trying to switch to or source more sustainable fabrics. It’s not just about recycling anymore but more about how we can reconvene and interact with materials. It’s something everyone needs to work with.”
Here, we round-up the best takeaways from the talk.
PERSISTENCE PAYS OFF
“I was selling fake Nike and adidas when I was around 15 – which is kind of ironic now, but that’s what was happening. However, my first commercial dialogue with Nike was when I managed to get an email address of someone who worked at the Nike London Energy team. I wanted to borrow a pair of Air Forces to be in the first lookbook of A-COLD-WALL*, when it was more an idea than a brand. I was quite proactive in making sure my emails were seen, resending them a lot and just asking to help at Nike. It’s quite brilliant that their team started to do research into what I was doing and they found it quite interesting. It was a long journey to get to produce an Air Force, then go on to the Vomeros, but it was one that began through support from Nike.
The first opportunity, outside of using the Air Forces, was working on Kim Jones' packaging for his Nike sneaker release a few years ago. Just contributing ideas into the Nike system, I was so grateful to have that dialogue. That, of course, came after a year and a half of emailing and checking in at Nike. I would turn up at Nike talks to see what was going on, just integrating myself and showing my face along with the fact I wanted to be involved in this design conversation.”
“I was quite proactive in making sure my emails were seen (by Nike), resending them a lot and just asking to help there. It’s quite brilliant that their team started to do research into what I was doing and they found it quite interesting” – Samuel Ross
FAILURE ISN’T ALWAYS A BAD THING
“At 19, I had a small streetwear and t-shirt brand and it was really abstract, kind of like an art practice. Nevertheless, it went into retail and I had three or four retailers in Leceister, which is where I studied Graphic Design and Contemporary Illustration. That brand failed, but what it did was open me to a wider form of communication and made me acutely aware that there was this moment of osmosis happening culturally. This was around the time that Hood By Air had just entered the scene – they had this space between artistic communication, film, audio, and garment. At this moment, the fire was re-ignited to go back and learn more about garment design and how branding can be a vice of communication.”
THE EARLIER YOU START BECOMING SUSTAINABLE, THE BETTER
“It makes sense to try and integrate sustainability as soon as possible; integrate materials that are more sustainable. One of the challenges myself and my team have had over the last year and a half is being able to integrate into a new sustainable way of working.
As you’re starting in your journey, it makes a lot of sense to start talking to specific mills. There are not that many at the moment, but start building those relationships now so when your brand or label reaches a point where you have retailers and can start putting on shows, you already have a line of communication with the correct producers rather than having the negotiate that part of your design. The sooner you can start on that route the better.”
ALWAYS BE PREPARED
“When I got the opportunity to cross paths with Virgil, I already had four portfolios prepared. One for graphic design, one was the brand, one was illustration, and the other was a short, artistic film. So, when that opportunity actually came about, for dialogue or even the thought of an internship, I had already taken two and a half years to produce a body of work to show and build a relationship with that team. I prepared for it. It was another case of making sure my emails were seen somehow. I made sure I was emailing every single person and business connected to that team, who were really building that zeitgeist moment.”
EXIST WITHOUT EXPLANATION
“You shouldn’t have to justify your work unless it’s intrinsic to yourself or your thought process. Often work is lead by serendipity, emotion, feeling, and operating in the arts – that’s something you’re completely allowed to do. Be fearless with your ideas. Ensure that, within yourself, there’s an emotional pull behind the work you wish to produce. Even if you don’t know what that work is, there has to be an emotional pull and it has to come from the people. You have to think, whether you are producing content that is artistically led or end up in high fashion it is part of the apex of creativity.”