Creative director Luke Radloff had been honing his skills for several years before founding the South African fashion label UNÍ FORM two years ago. As creative director of his brand, he combines the contemporary with the familiar, drawing references from its location, Johannesburg, South Africa and translating that into ultra-contemporary silhouettes. He has recently worked on collaborations with Barrydale Weavers and The Wren Design, exploring sustainable production in South Africa. The Wren X UNI FORM / Experimental Paper Fashion Capsule, consisting of an oversized jacket and a skirt, made from metallic paper, and a white lab coat made from Wren’s fabric-like, white paper.
We sent Luke some questions.
Where did your story as a designer begin?
I started experimenting with clothing and fashion at a very young age, influenced by my mother’s style and the way she would dress me up. Later, I realised that clothing can express deep, personal beliefs which is when I decided to pursue fashion as a career. I studied at the LISOF institute in Johannesburg at a time when sustainability was not discussed and the environmental impact of fashion was not yet understood. I worked for Black Coffee after my studies, then ventured out on my own spending some time in London working for brands including Marni. After moving back to Johannesburg seven years ago, I worked for Kisua before launching my brand two years ago.
What was your first piece as a designer?
A traditional men’s shirt, which is also the basis for a lot of my collection. I like the idea of starting with something pure and then deconstructing and reconstructing it in a contextualised way.
Which one of your collections best describes the situation the world is in today?
I’d have to say my latest collection, I’m always influenced by my environment, and it always enters my work, whether subconsciously or not. and this is the first time that soft, delicate pieces emerged. I generally like to explore structure and architecture within the collection, which I still managed to introduce this season alongside the new soft pieces. The effects of the pandemic have been so universally felt and my work has definitely been influenced by the lockdown and uncertainty of this time. What I ended up with are pieces that speak to imagination and the desire to dress up again and the need to invest in items that feel special and somewhat collectable. I do like to think that my pieces reflect something deeper than just fashion and I want to create garments that outlive trends and hopefully become ‘timeless’ in that way.
Tell us more about your collaborations with the Barrydale Weavers and The Wren Design.
I started collaborating with Barrydale Hand Weavers last season after a trip through the Karoo desert left me completely inspired. They create textiles using looms which require no electricity. The raw fibres they weave are also from the continent, so the product has a 100% African lifecycle. This season we created pieces using one of their signature weaves which has a beautiful, variegated stripe woven into it, the end result being garments which have sustainability at their core. The Wren Design collaboration focuses on the experimental use of paper as a vehicle to further the conversation of sustainability. By combining Wren’s responsibly sourced and specially engineered paper, with the contemporary aesthetic of UNI FORM’s luxury ready to wear collection, a new, conceptual idea of apparel emerges. These experimental pieces become more art than product and fuel the greater contribution to a sustainable future.
Where does your inspiration come from when you create?
It’s a very organic process for me, I’m not a designer who chooses a starting point and builds around it, rather I build on previous work and constantly develop and redevelop. I’m inspired to create garments that are considered and have a solid context within the world today.
What types of fibres do you use and from where are they sourced?
Most of the collection is made up of natural fibres due to their feel, handle and longevity. I also use some tech fabrics and sustainable manmade cellulose fibres. My goal is to keep everything 100% locally sourced, but that is not always possible currently, especially when trying to find sustainable options.
What dyes and dyeing methods are you using?
I have not explored dyes yet, most of the collection is neutrals for now. The dying process can be so toxic and harsh on the environment that I want to take my time exploring the most responsible ways first.
What is most important about sustainable fashion?
Sustainable fashion is the result of considered choices and continuous learning and that all takes time, which is today’s real luxury. Sustainability is a continuous journey for me. No matter how conscious we are, there will always be new ways in which we can adapt and new opportunities to create sustainable options where they once did not exist. I do not call my brand ‘sustainable’ but rather a brand that has sustainability as a goal.
What influence do culture and heritage have on the fashion world?
Undoubtedly, culture and heritage are how we got to where we are today and what will be passed on to future generations. I do however believe culture and heritage can change and adapt, and changing culture has always had a strong influence on clothing.
What’s your favourite part about being a creative?
Seeing someone wearing something from one of my collections is always my favourite part.
For more information
- @uniformza / www.uniformza.com
- @thewrendesign / ww.thewrendesign.com/https://w
- @barrydale_hand_weavers /www.barrydaleweavers.co.za
- Photographer : Zander Opperman (@uglybruv)
- Creative Direction : Bee Diamondhead (@bee_diamondhead) & Luke Radloff
- Assistant Creative Direction : Lethabo Motlatle (@styledbylthiiz)
- Beauty : Tammi Mbambo (@artfortammi)
- Assistant Beauty : Natalie Paneng (@nataliepaneng_)
- Hair : Khomotšo Moloto (@missmoloto)
- Hair Assistant : @the_4thdimention
- Model : Lindiwe Dim (@lindiwedim) and Lulama Wolf Mlambo (@lulamawolf)