Representing the creative future

Menswear designer Ben Osborn on following his own pace

The Royal College of Art graduate shares the organic process of starting his brand

Ben Osborn is an emerging menswear designer taking a decidedly hands-on approach to creating, following an intimate and thorough process which is evident in the polished designs that comprise his eponymous brand. We sat down with the Royal College of Art graduate to discuss everything from his Brighton roots to his advice for current fashion students.

To start off with, could you tell us a bit about your background?

I am from Brighton originally, on the south coast – I studied my art foundation there, and it was around that time that I was beginning to become interested in fashion. I moved to London and did my BA degree at the London College of Fashion and then I spent a couple of years in Belgium after my degree, where I worked for a big clothing company. I then returned to London and did my MA at the Royal College of Art, from which I graduated about a year and a half ago.

“You quickly realise the ideas that are important to you and find a pure version of what your design identity is.” – Ben Osborn

What was your experience like at the RCA? 

It was incredible. Because I had that little period away from education, coming back initially was a bit of a surprise. You know, in that sense that you’re thinking about working on personal projects as opposed to something a bit more industrial. But I felt pretty comfortable quite quickly and the people around me felt quite similar, in terms of how we were thinking about similar ideas. It was a quite intensive period – you will create quite a lot of work in quite a short space of time and it really finetunes your approach to design. You quickly realise the ideas that are important to you and find a pure version of what your design identity is.

“My only advice would be to not have the pressure of thinking that if you want to continue working on your own projects it has to straightaway become a brand or a company. ” – Ben Osborn

What advice would you give to a fashion student beginning their journey?

I really hate giving advice! I guess I just feel like I am also still in that process of starting out. But, while you are studying, it is this sort of useful bubble. The hardest part is that period after you graduate, you are a little bit on your own. My only advice would be to not have the pressure of thinking that if you want to continue working on your own projects it has to straightaway become a brand or a company. You can still create work and it can be something that you maybe only show to friends, it is still relevant. It doesn’t have to be something that becomes very big or a particular model of working. I don’t think that there is this learning period and then suddenly it finishes and then becomes work. You can still have this kind of period in between and that can be really hard for a lot of graduates.

How did you decide to start your brand after graduation?

At the beginning of studying it wasn’t really something that was on my mind – it was more in the second year, where you work on a collection. I started talking with some people who I respected that were coming in from outside of the college, and they were suggesting that in the future I could potentially be creating collections that had potential to sell in stores. Honestly, it’s just following the momentum. I thought that maybe I will take a period where I try it, but as I said before, without thinking of it straightway as a brand. Just continuing with that process in the MA where you’re working day-to-day. I created a couple of collections that were more about continuing to create new work. I would say that more recently I have started to feel more comfortable about the commercial aspect and maybe thinking of it as a brand. With the season I did most recently I also started to sell to wholesale.

“The thing I really like about fashion is that you have this dialogue that doesn’t have to be verbal. ” – Ben Osborn

What is your work about at its core?

Even though it has my name on it, it’s not an autobiographical thing. The key ideas for me are a certain approach to materiality, to proportion, to form. The thing I really like about fashion is that you have this dialogue that doesn’t have to be verbal. It is something that you can feed onto an abstract idea and then you can formalise that. That is what draws me to fashion and not another kind of creative medium.

What are the difficulties that come with having your own brand?

It becomes quite difficult quite quickly! I don’t want to sound too negative, no one forces you to do it and it is something that you follow yourself. In the beginning, everyone experiences the same sort of problems with cash flow and finding the right people to work with. They are probably problems that don’t just come with starting a fashion company, but with starting any sort of small company, and then on top of that, you have had COVID and Brexit. You have to learn really quickly that if you do want to do this, then a lot of it is admin, emails, and that side of things which isn’t always that fun but it is the reality of it.

“At a certain point, you stop idolising big companies and form your own identity. You still respect designers, but it is no longer the case that they are something that you are trying to become. ” – Ben Osborn

Are there any particular menswear brands or designers that you look up to and why?

I guess more so when you are starting out, you have people that you look up to. When I was growing up in Brighton it wasn’t really a fashion city and so you would learn more about fashion through magazines. I remember we had one store that was selling Japanese designers and you are picking up on little fragments. It is more exciting. At a certain point, you stop idolising big companies and form your own identity. You still respect designers, but it is no longer the case that they are something that you are trying to become. You start to come into your own and let go of that idea.

What is your design process like? 

I would say that day to day I work pretty much on my own except for certain times when I need to rely on people around me to help. I am quite hands-on, so the day-to-day involves a lot of pattern cutting. I am not someone that would sit down and draw something and then hand it over to be made. It is really designing through making. I wouldn’t be comfortable with presenting something unless I fully understood that, so I really need to understand all of the elements myself. So, the process is quite intensive but it also focuses you to not include too many things that feel kind of peripheral.

Do you have a team that assists you with designing and producing garments or do you do this on your own? 

It is a bit of both! Day-to-day it’s a lot of stuff on my own. I am quite comfortable with that as it is something that you choose to do. I definitely rely on people. For example, someone that I met at the Royal College of Arts, who I live with, will help with a lot of elements. She studied jewellery so she will create a lot of the hardware that I use. And then my sister, who comes from a fine art background, helps with a lot of different aspects. Even if you want to do it on your own, you still at some point realise that an idea can only go so far, and then once you start to collaborate you let go a bit and it becomes something that you never thought it could become.

“It is important that you maintain some momentum but I don’t think that necessarily means that it needs to become bigger and bigger and become about gaining more sales.” – Ben Osborn

If you could give your younger self any advice regarding your brand and fashion, what would it be? 

It’s difficult! You need a period of freedom, of not necessarily thinking of what the result might be and just being in the moment and enjoying the process. When you need to take that next step you don’t need to force it, it kind of comes to you. I started with photography and then it felt like maybe something was missing for me there and then I realised the tactility that comes with working with fabric, and having something more to do with my hands. So, maybe allowing yourself to try different mediums, letting go a bit, and not holding on too much to an idea of what you think something will be and just seeing where it goes.

What are your hopes and plans for the future of your brand? 

It is important that you maintain some momentum but I don’t think that necessarily means that it needs to become bigger and bigger and become about gaining more sales. You need to find this nice balance where it feels quite satisfying creatively and not taking on so much that it starts to damage other aspects. You need to always question what that feeling was that brought you to it in the first place and hold onto that and protect it.

1 Granary

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With unprecedented honesty and depth, 1 Granary Issue 6 dives into the work and lives of fashion designers today. As a response to the construction of desire and personality cults that govern our industry, the magazine steps away from the conventional profiles and editorials, focussing instead on raw work and anonymous, unfiltered testimonies. For the first time ever, readers are given a truthful insight into the process, dreams, fears, hardships, and struggles of today’s creatives.

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