Featured in Issue Two of NRTH LASS, Formes is a modern and artistic brand with a focus on the wearable everyday white tee. The brand’s Leeds-based Founder, Designer and Maker, Clemency Jones doesn’t believe in fast fashion; instead, she concludes that clothes should take time to make and be timeless to wear. From an environmentally progressive supplier and solvent free ink to zero waste, Formes is in-house, local and kind to our planet. It’s also extremely kind to our bodies – the iconic tees are comfortable to boot.
Sharing those initial steps in the pursuit of an ethical brand, from the conception and design, to the development she hopes to journey on for her brand, Clemency Jones proves why she’s one to watch, and one to get behind.
NRTH LASS: Why did you decide to set up your own business?
Clemency: It actually started from the products – I was drawing on t-shirts for myself before I thought of it as a business. I only started selling them because there was an art fair coming up that my friends run in Leeds – A Print Fair Called Skint Fair. They’d put me down to have a stall, so I needed something to sell! I made a batch of 12 t-shirts, all hand-drawn with fabric markers, and they sold pretty well. This gave me the confidence to try and pursue it a bit more properly; I decided to create a whole brand around the t-shirts, started screen-printing, and it grew from there. In a more personal respect, this all started while I was off work due to stress and family issues. Having a creative outlet was vital for me; a project that was totally mine and that I could work on steadily was immensely beneficial to my mental health during a really difficult period.
NRTH LASS: What was your background before Formes?
Clemency: At university I studied History of Art with Museum Studies, but had also worked as a stylist and in the wardrobe department for TV and commercials, I really loved both but couldn’t see myself pursuing either long term. Post-Uni I had the common ‘what now?!’ crisis, and I worked in retail for a bit. I think this mix of experiences was quite educational; even though at the time I felt a bit lost and unable to stick to one thing, in hindsight I’ve been able to see how both large businesses are run and how independent creatives make a name for themselves.
NRTH LASS: Why have you chosen to focus on plain white t-shirts?
Clemency: White t-shirts can be worn by anyone – I think they’re the antithesis of elitist clothing. They are practical and easy to wear, for many different people in many different contexts. For me, there seemed to be no point in creating something that was aesthetically pleasing but that people wouldn’t wear again and again. It’s also about using a known favourite to create something different, infusing an artistic element into an everyday item. I was fed up with high-street fashion, but can’t deny its widespread appeal and popularity. I wanted to harness the adaptability of high-street fashion, the fact that items are easy to wear and designed for the everyday, but also create something with a bit more personality and individuality. But unlike most high-street items I intended to make something sustainable, ethical and long-lasting.
It also boils down to practicality for me as the maker; plain white t-shirts are a great canvas to work on, perfect for screen-printing, and it’s now easy enough to source good quality organic cotton t-shirts that are ethically produced.
The combination of an artistic sensibility and a commitment to functionality is at the heart of Formes; I consider my products to be creative workwear.
NRTH LASS: Where do you draw inspiration from when creating your designs?
Clemency: My love of modern art feeds into Formes a lot. Originally my designs were inspired solely by the works of Matisse – I think his ability to create astoundingly evocative images with such simplicity is incredible. Now my designs are inspired by modern artists of the 20th century more broadly, in both concept and formal result. For example, I looked at the sculptural forms of Barbara Hepworth and her use of negative space, which resulted in my Empty Spaces t-shirt, while the inspiration for my Brushstrokes tee was the creative process itself, and the irony of replicating the unique marks of a brush through the repetitive medium of screen-printing.
I am constantly referring back to art history books for inspiration, but tend to sit down with nothing in front of me and try to fill pages of a sketch book with rough drawings. Influences come through organically, and often it is only once I have picked out my favourite rough designs and refined them that I realise what has particularly inspired me.
NRTH LASS: Who is your favourite designer and how have they inspired you?
Clemency: I don’t think I have one favourite designer, my wardrobe has always been mostly made up of second-hand items – I think it’s the God of Jumble Sales that I look up to most! Second-hand clothing has definitely influenced my brand as I’m used to adapting pieces and fitting them into my everyday – which is essentially what Formes does with the plain white t-shirt.
NRTH LASS: How would you like Formes to progress in the future?
Clemency: I want it to grow organically; Formes is very much a slow-fashion brand and I really take it at my own pace. Sustainability and ethics are at the heart of Formes and any progression needs to be based around that. I’ve recently branched out from t-shirts to produce some multi-purpose pouches with our signature Eyes motif screen-printed on, and with these I’ve also experimented a bit with colour, using techniques like a split fountain and some neon inks. I mainly chose to do this because I found some gorgeous natural organic cotton pouches from a great supplier, and there were some interesting pots of neon ink leftover in the studio. Using stuff that would otherwise be thrown away and combining it with high-quality, sustainable goods really appeals to me.
I’m thinking of doing some long-sleeved t-shirts next, and maybe some other colours. I’m also hoping to have a couple of new stockists in the UK and abroad soon, which would be really exciting.
NRTH LASS: Why have you chosen to stay local to develop your business?
Clemency: Keeping everything local has been an incidental consequence of doing almost everything myself and needing to keep costs down. I became a member of Leeds Print Workshop when I wanted to get back into screen-printing, and the support I found there was brilliant. I now print all of my products at my mate Joe’s studio in Hope House. He runs No Brand, an independent screen-printing service from his studio, as well as a brilliant t-shirt shop in the Corn Exchange. He’s taught me so much.
Leeds has an amazing sense of community, and it has been integral to the starting of my business – I owe a lot to the city and all the creatives in it!
NRTH LASS: What’s the best advice you’ve received during the setting up and running of your business?
Clemency: It’s not so much advice, but I have frequent reminders from the people closest to me that this is my own project and I can take it at whatever pace I want. I’m working to my own deadlines and there is absolutely no reason to get stressed about things. As soon as I start to feel stressed I take a step back and remind myself why I started Formes and what it means to me. I’m the boss and if things take a little longer than planned, that’s ok.
NRTH LASS: What would your advice be for anyone looking to set up a similar venture?
Clemency: To just start creating and test out ideas on your friends and family, listen to their feedback and start small – at first I had ideas of doing a crazy amount of designs and products, but honing my ideas down to one collection of four designs really helped me to forge my brand’s identity. Similarly, right at the beginning I filled a page with words associated with the brand I wanted to create, before doing anything else. This made me feel really confident in knowing what Formes is and what it stands for.
Also, lead with your strengths and work on everything else in due course; I love designing and making, and that’s what fills me with joy and excitement. The business side of things has always been a bit daunting, and if I’d focused on that I would have stopped before I’d even started. I made sure I was proud of my products first, and now the rest of it doesn’t feel like such hard work. I’m currently taking an online business course so that I can do myself and my products justice.
Image credit: Jo Crawford and Bean Studios