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Challenging Conformity & The Uniform Revamp: Chatting with Olivia from Renmei
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N: Olivia, I am happy to have you here today! For our readers who may not be familiar with you, could you please share a brief introduction? Tell us where you're from and what your life looks like currently.

O: I’m a clothing designer living in Chicago, Illinois. I moved here after graduating undergrad, and have been here for about four years. My undergrad was in sculpture, but since graduating I’ve been focused on clothing.

My life is in a moment of change. I’m reworking a lot of the structure around my business and hope to move soon. Most days I work out of my studio making a small batch of orders from the last pieces I released.

N: Your collection is an intriguing exploration of the concept of uniform so let's start with that. In some cultures, such as Japan, young people actually enjoy wearing uniforms to school because it paradoxically grants them the freedom and enjoyment of self-expression within the uniform's constraints, allowing them to customize their attire to reflect their personalities. In the West, however, uniforms are often perceived as symbols of conformity and a lack of individual expression. What is your perspective on this? Especially in your experience as a designer, do constraints and limitations actually enhance creativity?

O: Uniforms have been an interesting subject in fashion for a long time. Personally, I’m interested in uniforms because they are full of very easily identifiable visual cues.

Uniforms have their own format of communication through the strength of the shoulders, color, symbols, collars, etc.

This “language” I find is pretty easily understood by most people—maybe not the nuances of military uniform rules and regulations, but is very easily perceived as powerful in some capacity.

I like pulling for those details to create my own empowerment. Whether that be through rule following or breaking. Working within a restraint, I feel is just a part of making things—setting your framework. It helps create something that’s more specific within its vision and is more impactful. Without restraint, things become very general and lose impact.

N: Your designs seem to emphasize practicality and functionality. How do these aspects influence your work?

O: Yes, definitely. I previously struggled when I was making sculpture, the waste of materials, and inherent lack of function with the things I was making. I moved into making clothing because clothing has a very specific job. Think this also plays into the idea of uniforms. Not that I was to create clothes that people have to wear every single day, but the idea that clothing and expression through dressing can be more honed in and focused practice. These ideas also encompass a level of pushback from the trend cycle and fast fashion.

I love clothing that is more focused on the artful impact of a design, but within my designs, it's really important to make things with utility and its life beyond me in mind. This affects how I work in pretty much all aspects. My consideration of fabrics, the pattern-making, and the designs themselves.

All these elements coming together to hopefully just become a part of someone’s life and be there for a really long time.

N: Your latest collection, "Uniform Three," delves into tailoring and various garment construction methods. It's refreshing to see a designer who concentrates on construction. Many contemporary fashion trends appear to prioritize what "looks good on Instagram", neglecting the importance of quality construction and long-lasting, well-made garments – it's almost as if "fabric-styling" has replaced true fashion design... How do you feel about this cultural shift?

O: I don’t think it’s necessarily replacing true fashion design. I think it’s perhaps just a new way of creating visuals with clothing as a reaction to our new technology. Though I’m happy to create a spot for myself that is focused on construction. I was trained in bespoke tailoring, and there is definitely a loss of knowledge within the area.

Hopefully, as we focus on becoming more eco-friendly within fashion, these skills will be more exciting for more people to explore in the future. I believe it’s an avenue that can change how we interact with fashion overall. I also feel like the ideas I’m interested in can be reinterpreted with more modern technology, and that would be a very exciting new frontier of fashion design.

N: Lastly, what do you envision and hope for your future? How would you define success and happiness in your life and career?

O: Really, I don’t have a clear vision of what I want my future to be like, and I’m pretty open about what success may find me. Currently, I’m planning on moving to a new city to hopefully direct myself into a community that I can find a stronger career path within. So just making moves to direct myself to the kind of life I want to live long term. Ideally, that’ll include sewing and making clothes.

I’d define success within my life as a balancing act. Always changing and growing and being reassessed. Happiness I find within the people in my life, and in trusting myself.

All images courtesy of Renmei.
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