This interview features Joshua James Small - a 23 year old womenswear designer who avidly advocates for sustainability. We first came across his work on Instagram and we immediately fell in love with his idea of creating conscious fashion that is not boring or cliché. From listening to some of his previous interviews (e.g. Fashion Originators Podcast), we gathered that Joshua holds strong opinions on the meaning of 'sustainable fashion'. At THE FASHION BLUEPRINT, we believe in opening up the conversation so that we can all expand our mindsets and think of possible solutions as a collective industry. We could not wait to ask Joshua a few questions and discuss his journey so far.
University of the Arts London
TFB: How did you get into the fashion industry?
Joshua: I had always been interested in fashion, but it wasn’t until I started applying to universities that I fully considered a career in this industry. I used to work in a newsagent when I was younger, and would buy up a vast amount of printed publications. I was obsessed with creative visual matter. In my eyes, there is nothing better than an intelligently styled, well-executed editorial. It is images by photographers such as Steven Klein, Tim Walker, Nick Knight, and David LaChapelle that formed my early interest in fashion.
TFB: What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into fashion?
Joshua: Make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. If you want to work as designer, you should be motivated by craft. There are so many people disillusioned into thinking that working in this industry is easy. The disconnect of awareness between the work that goes into manufacturing a garment, and the act of purchasing clothing, has misled many into thinking it’s an easy job sector. Well-made luxury garments take time and incredible levels of skill. An astronomical amount of people study fashion design every year, but generally you find a split between the students that want to create, and those who want to shop. Make sure you’re going into the industry for the right reasons. Yes, there are perks, and yes it can look luxurious to the oblivious observer, but it is hard work and graft, and it never ends.
TFB: What advice would you give to your younger self?
Joshua: I don’t think I would give myself any advice specifically. I’m still quite young. There’s still so much to learn before I can quantify myself as worthy enough to give advice. Hindsight can be a wonderful thing, but I believe it’s much more progressive to focus on what’s to come, as opposed to what has been. Everything happens for a reason.
TFB: If you could start all over again, is there anything you wish you could have changed?
Joshua: No, I don’t think so. I’m extremely motivated and driven, and I have a large amount of goals I want to achieve. I’m a firm believer that hard work pays off eventually; this mentality has ultimately got me to where I am today, so I wouldn’t necessarily change anything. There’s always things that could have turned out differently, but it’s not very progressive to ponder on past eventualities. It’s also worth bearing in mind that I’m nowhere near set. There’s still so much I want to do, including further study. Education is key, and I want to continuously learn.
TFB: As an entrepreneur, what struggles do you face and how do you overcome them?
Joshua: I’m normally working on a vast variety of projects, which can sometimes be difficult to balance. My biggest problem is I always want to run before I can walk, so I have a tendency to take on more projects than time permits. Everything always gets done in the end though, so it’s never been a massive issue, however it can be rather stressful in the process from start to finish. I understand that I’m only one person, and that I can only produce as much as is humanly possible. As of recent, I have developed a more realistic mindset towards work, and I’ve become better at acknowledging what is actually achievable.
TFB: What has been your greatest achievement so far?
Joshua: Being asked to present work at LFW under the British Fashion Council. Also being invited to 10 Downing Street for a reception to celebrate British Fashion and Sustainability. Both those events are up there as markers of achievements; especially considering the fact that both took place less than a year post graduation. As mentioned though, there is still so much that I want to achieve. In my opinion, when I look around at the work of my peers, I think I have barely touched the surface.
TFB: Where do you see the fashion industry in the next 5 years? (What specific changes would you make if you could?)
Joshua: Less is more. I think that through the combination of the impending recession, and a more acute awareness of socioenvironmental issues, the collective society will consume less. Through localisation, there will be a refuelled interest in repairing garments. Pre-collections, cruise collections, and diffusion lines, will have less relevance. Showcases will be condensed, with a more considered output. You only have to look at recent announcements from the BFC, advocating for slower fashion and less product, to realise that conversation on such topics by myself and other sustainable advocates, is having a real influence.
TFB: What is your stance on sustainability and how do you incorporate it in what you do?
Joshua: Sustainability is such a broad term. It has devolved from the original definition so much in the past year, through greenwashing and misinterpretation, that there’s a real disconnect to the true meaning. It’s worth acknowledging that the term ‘sustainable fashion’ is essentially an oxymoron. Many, including myself, use the term because it’s easily understood by the mass as design that has a conscious production chain. For fashion to truly be sustainable however, it would require nothing to be made at all. We live in a world of over consumption, where there is more than enough clothing for the 7 billion inhabitants. This is my craft however, so it’s a matter of balance and considered choices. I must make conscious considered choices to reduce the environmental impact of what I make.
I also think transparency is key to producing a sustainable output. For this reason, all components of each garment I make, are listed through my website at date of release. My work is created from a combination of organic fibres and ethically produced material, along with deadstock and reclaimed fabric. I work frequently with companies including sponsors Swarovski and Sophie Hallette. All garments are designed and made in England, and my pieces are produced on a made-to-order basis, ensuring that each garment is responsibly manufactured.
TFB: If you weren’t in the career you’re in now, what would you be? And why?
Joshua: I would like to think if I wasn’t working as a designer, that I would still be working in a creative job. Other than that though, I have always loved the idea of teaching.
TFB: Who or what inspires/motivates you?
Joshua: Inspiration differs seasonally. I think some of the most admirable traits in a person are determination and focus. I’m mostly motivated by driven people, and I thrive in an environment around likeminded individuals.
TFB: What is one rule you live by?
Joshua: Work hard and be nice.
TFB: Any last words?
Joshua: Thank you so much for the interview, and I look forward to seeing how your platform progresses. Take care and speak soon.
Discover Joshua's collections: www.joshuajamessmall.com
Interviewed by Giovanna Vieira Co, 2020