We Interview The Founder Of Creative Streetwear Brand Pilot Apparel
Art meets cloth.
If convention were a half-pipe, British streetwear brand Pilot Apparel would be riding, and painting, all over it with its own individual flair. Jazz Graham started the brand in 2017 when her lifelong passion for streetwear boiled over into an insatiable urge to channel a vision of her own. Her influences – street style, skate culture and modern art – are plain to see in the unisex range of tees and hoodies, all of which incorporate her own hand-drawn abstract designs. It's contemplative, characterful craft in the drop-driven age of commercialized streetwear.
Following the release of Pilot Apparel's Fall/Winter 2018 lookbook, we caught up with Jazz to learn more about the up-and-coming 'art meets cloth' brand.
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When did your love of streetwear begin?
It’s hard to say when exactly I started getting into streetwear brands, but I am not surprised that it went that way. I grew up in Hackney and, from a young age, dressed as a bit of a tomboy – I always rated the skateboarder look and loved street style I saw in Shoreditch. I remember going into a Carhartt store when I was visiting my sister; the look of the store was so clean and crisp, I loved it. I remember thinking how much I loved the vibe and, after a few more experiences like that, I just fell for the culture. I’m sure that a lot of readers who share a passion for streetwear will resonate with that.
How did you go from making T-shirts for friends to starting your own brand?
One summer, I had some graphics I thought would look sick on T-shirts so I printed some tees; I ended up selling out, which was a great feeling. Selling garms had to take a back seat after that while I focused on uni work. I had a taste of running a clothing brand and I wasn’t sure if doing it for real was just a pipe dream or if I could turn it into a reality. Whilst studying Printed Textiles at University, I did a placement year where I worked for a variety of brands; I loved it, but I kept thinking how I wanted to do what the owner had done. My parents are business owners and seeing them create a company from scratch gave me the confidence that it was possible.
What drew you to Copenhagen?
I moved there for work, to a print company called Fusion Copenhagen. I had a friend that had recently worked for them and came back raving about her time there. I think her exact words were, “The people are just as breathtaking as the buildings.”
How did the Copenhagen vibe rub off on your designs?
Whilst I was in Copenhagen, I was so impressed by the quality level that goes into everything. The style of design is really minimalistic there, not just for fashion, but homeware and everyday items. One thing that really took inspiration from Scandi vibes is the colors I chose for the first collection. They have a really fresh take on color and I wanted to bring that back home.
What's behind the name Pilot Apparel?
Great question! I had all these fresh designs and was ready to sell them, but I couldn’t settle on a name. I was telling this to my friend after a heavy night at around 4am and we conjured up the name ‘Pilot.’ A Pilot episode of a series is used to test out whether a show will work, and the same thing was happening with my clothing brand; I saw it going one of two ways… and I’m still here!
Tell us about the making of your Fall/Winter 2018 lookbook.
The lookbook was a lot of fun to make. The photographer was this great guy called Josh; he really got the brand and my vision. We snooped out some cool places in London and crowdsourced a group of skaters. We dressed them in Pilot, gave them beers and told them to have fun and enjoy themselves – taking as many genuine and natural shots as we could.
As a woman, was it a conscious decision to offer a genderless range?
For sure. I’m definitely flying the flag for genderless fashion. Pretty much every essay I wrote at uni was challenging gender identities and stereotypes within fashion. It’s a really exciting time for gender and fashion right now; so many brands are lifting the labels and it’s so positive – and about time too! My model Izaak, who is soul singer Sade’s son, recently transitioned. He was great to work with and a perfect ambassador for the brand. I didn’t know he was transgender before I chose him to model and, as soon as I found out, I felt proud to be supporting his journey by using him to model.
We love your hand-drawn graphics. Describe the design process from conception to realization.
Thank you very much! I really took my time with it. I value designs that have had a journey to be where they are. I’ve always loved drawing faces and playing around with distortion. The Melancholic tee was the first design to be done and, from that, I thought it would be cool to do the whole collection as an exploration of bodies. I looked everywhere for inspiration, and had a folder where I printed off everything and anything that inspired me, looking at world famous artists like Picasso and also local artists no one had heard of. Each graphic was the result of a whole stack of predecessors. I’m, for sure, a perfectionist; I’ll draw and redraw over and over, each time improving a line curve or adding more detail.
Why is it important for you to share this process with potential customers on your website?
The main reason for ‘inside Pilot’ is because I feel like it creates a relationship with the customer before they’ve even purchased a garment. I absolutely like being transparent and it’s a great way for people to see how genuine the brand is from design to print. I was also aware, that no one else was really doing it. I always used to see clothing in shops and try to imagine how it got there, asking myself questions like, ‘How many people worked on that design?’, ‘Was it drawn freehand or have they used a computer to make the illustration?’. I really like the idea of being transparent and, as I hand draw and hand print everything myself, I thought people would be interested to see how their clothing came to be.
What's your personal favorite item in the range right now, and why?
I would have to choose the Blackout hoodie. It was a design that just sort of happened, and really worked. The graphic came together right away which was a great feeling. I like the clean edges and the little box graphic on the front. If I were looking at the collection from the outside, that would be the one I would have to buy.
What's next for Pilot Apparel?
We are really excited to see where things go. There are some exciting pieces for our summer collection. I want to keep sharing the behind-the-scenes process with customers, and create unique and fresh clothing that’s on the cutting edge.
Shop the range at Pilot Apparel, starting from around $35.