Robert Burr, MA Strategic Fashion Marketing 2011 at London College of Fashion and Tim Smart, MA Illustration 2013, Camberwell College of Art met through UAL’s ShowTime website, when Rob wanted to find an illustrator to collaborate with for his menswear brand, NOMOI. A year later they have just launched a line of T-shirts, all hand printed in London, featuring Tim’s illustrations.
We met with Tim and Rob to talk about how the collaboration came about, and how it has benefitted them in ways they didn’t expect…
What made you both want to study at UAL?
Rob: I have always been very fond of clothing and fashion growing up, I wanted to do something that was really focussed on my own interests, so I applied to do an MA in Strategic Fashion marketing at LCF.
LCF and UAL’s brand precedes them, and I was really thrilled to be offered a place, as it was my first choice.
I really enjoyed the course. I had never studied fashion before, and so everything was new and really exciting for me. An element of the course was also in partnership with the London Business School, which was a fantastic experience. I couldn’t speak highly enough of the course, I had a great time.
The reason I did the course was because my ultimate goal was to set up my own brand, and I have been working towards the position I am in ever since I finished my undergrad. I started the brand when I was working at Pentland Brands. I began to write a business plan and figure out what the brand stood for. I had always worked within clothing and I wanted to create something that was not necessarily focussed on trends, but was more timeless in its approach. I wanted to produce the garments locally, with a bit of honesty and soul. All the materials are sourced from Britain and Europe.
I launched the brand with a small but concise collection in early 2014. The clothes are based on timeless classics but with a little bit of individuality. What started as 3 pieces has grown and will continue to do so. New products are added to the collection as and when, but I currently have around 20 pieces. It’s still small but growing steadily with everything currently sold through the NOMOI website.
Tim: I spent a year after my BA in Illustration not really knowing what to do, and so I don’t feel like it was a conscious decision to apply, it was more something on my mind that I wanted to do at some point in the future. But I remember meeting Jan Woolley, the course director at the open day and instantly knowing I was doing the right thing.
I did the course part time over two years while I was working full time, which was quite difficult. But it was absolutely the right way to do it for me. I had the benefit of meeting two entirely different year groups (three if you consider there were part-timers in their second year), so I now have double the friends I would have had if I’d done a single year. I feel as though I was just as productive as the people on my course who were studying full time and not working – having a limited time allowed me to be more focussed.
I was living in Hackney, and so there were days when I wouldn’t go in because I didn’t have to, I wish I’d spent a bit more time going into the campus and using that resource.
I went to Japan towards the end of my second year as a part of the UAL’s international residency program. Someone from the previous year’s cohort had gone and told me what an amazing time they’d had, and so I decided it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I was there for almost a month and spent a lot of time on my own, which was very new for me as I’m quite a social person. I spent pretty much every day cycling around Tokyo with little scraps of paper. I’d bought with me some of the paper that I was working on, and as the time went by I kept using the paper, I had to cut it up into smaller and smaller pieces so that I didn’t run out of materials to work with. Because of this, my drawings became much smaller. I had always worked on a relatively large scale, so it was a major shift in how I worked, which was forced by the circumstances. Also, I had to have everything I needed on my person rather than having access to a studio’s worth of materials, it definitely helped me. You can fall into habits when you’re sat at your desk and actually going out and about and doing stuff really helped shake things up.
The first thing I did when I graduated was to quit my job (I was selling furniture at Habitat during my degree). I got a job for Wholefoods market, as their graphic artist. I now do that four days a week, and then spend a couple of days focused on my own illustration projects. I have always been choosy about what I spend my time doing; I am not focussed on trying to make it work commercially right away, it just needs to be really fun.
How did your collaboration come about?
Rob: I am always looking for ways to introduce the brand to like-minded customers; a nice t-shirt didn’t currently feature in the range so it made sense to have something. I also wanted to do something with a point of difference and a reason behind it, I started exploring illustration and I finally found Tim on UAL’s ShowTime. One of the things that took me about Tim’s work is that it had a human element to it, it was quite real in a way, and it is also quite fun as well.
Tim: Rob got in touch with me and said that he wanted an element of storytelling and something that expressed some of the ethics of the brand. The whole process was kind of a casual back and forth where I would sketch some ideas and we’d meet up and talk about them and I’d go away and work on them a bit more. It was a really nice process.
From the beginning Rob was really honest and open about not knowing how we were going to manage the collaboration, but we were both happy to just go with it and see how it worked out. This is quite an unusual approach – most people would come with a certain agenda. Rob did come with certain ideas that he wanted to express but I felt like he wanted for me to have creative freedom. I didn’t feel like I was hired as a freelancer to hash out Rob’s ideas; it was a partnership and collaboration. I had never experienced that before.
Even though Rob said from the beginning that he wanted it to be collaboration throughout, I didn’t anticipate that I would be so involved all throughout the process and that it would be a long term thing. It has been a really valuable experience being involved all the way through.
What are the main benefits you found through your collaboration?
Tim: One of the biggest benefits of collaboration is that you gain all this new experience and insight that you don’t expect. I really enjoyed it, which has been the main thing. I choose what I do because I enjoy it. To work on something that is a joy to do really is the main thing.
Rob: When you work with other people, whatever comes out is always going to be greater than what you could have produced alone. Also it gives you a new perspective on what you’re doing – much more than I had realised.
Advice to other alumni wanting to collaborate:
- Do your research
- Approach it gradually – our collaboration felt right from the first couple of meetings, but that won’t always be the case
- Go into it with an open mind, but also trust your gut and your instincts
- Be structured
- Acknowledge that it might go wrong, but there will still be things you will learn from it
Rob and Tim will be speaking at the upcoming alumni event ‘Meet your new business partner’ on Wednesday 18 November, at Blueprint Bar, 272 High Holborn, London WC1V 7EW from 6pm. The event is free for all UAL alumni and students, and you can register here.