Aloof aims to shine a light on the best brands and companies operating in the independent market right now, from all over the world. Those under the radar of the wider consciousness but with great stories to tell and a unique perspective on the nuts and bolts of building a brand.
It's been a long time since we've seen a new brand in an established space, like denim, doing something so refreshing, something so different and so unique to themselves. That's down to Founder & Creative Director Pete Hellyer, whose vision for non was to create a brand around the time-tested fabric, but with a different viewpoint, putting ethical production and transparency front and centre. We'll let Pete tell you all the rest, because quite frankly, he's much better talking about non than we could ever be.
Aloof Studio (AS): Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?
Pete Hellyer (PH): My name is Pete Hellyer and I’m the Founder & Creative Director of non. I have been in the industry for over 15 years and was previously Creative Director of SSENSE and Totokaelo before going freelance.
AS: Denim is a niche market with some very serious heads and collectors. How does non approach becoming an important brand in the minds of denim heads?
PH: People tend to invest or collect because of the story and the provenance - who made an item and how they made it. For example, we only use vintage shuttle looms for our selvedge denim which is what these ‘denim heads’ expect and honestly creates the best results.
What makes non’s selvedge different is our focus on sustainability; we use 50% recycled cotton and 50% organic cotton and reclaim cutting wastes to make new yarn. Our goal is to be the most sustainable selvedge brand — an area previously not of real focus for denim brands.
AS: For those not in the know, you work with ISKO in Turkey, one of the great Denim manufacturers operating today. What makes them so good and do you feel like people hold something against denim not from the USA or Japan?
PH: ISKO are an area leader in responsible denim production with the highest environmental standards, safe production methods and regard for their staff. They're at the forefront of denim innovation in general and especially sustainable practises - our 50:50 recycled and organic cotton selvedge pushes the possibilities of selvedge with the highest percentage of recycled content possible (without losing quality). We proudly cut and sew our pieces in Turkey - helping to lower our carbon footprint - and believe the quality matches the best of Japan or the US.
AS: Nudie Jeans are perhaps considered to be the most eco-conscious option for denim fans, using organic cotton and recycled polyester, regulation of product components to ensure quality and transparency and repairs through their shops. How does non set itself apart from a brand like Nudie and take things further?
PH: Nudie has been a leader in denim and sustainability for some time. What makes non different is firstly our aesthetic - I started the brand as I wanted something more minimal and forward looking, rather than a heritage brand. Secondly, we are much smaller and that means we can be agile; adopting new technology and process quickly and freely experimenting which is more difficult for any large brand.
I also want to push the boundaries in terms of product - in my mind, we are a design brand working with denim.
AS: How did you end up working on non? Were you involved in fashion/ menswear/textiles before?
PH: I've worked in fashion for around 15 years and started out in menswear at oki-ni before becoming creative director at SSENSE. I founded non on the second day of lockdown in London; like many freelancers, work dried up, projects were paused indefinitely and everything was uncertain, so I thought: ‘what can I do with this time?' From there it grew and has been great to find a sense of purpose with the brand.
AS: The selection on your website is minimal and the denim is only available in a few washes. Going forward, will you stick to this method of having a refined selection or will you look to expand it to include more cuts and styles?
PH: The collection will definitely grow over time and we are introducing a new ‘organic acid wash’ which gives the same effect as bleach without
any chemicals - it's 100% compostable and non-toxic.
The next drop is more sportswear focused, late 80s inspired and something totally new for selvedge denim... watch this space!
AS: non is recognisable for a distinct lack of branding. It’s unusual for a denim brand to not use a patch, tag or arcuate to identify their offering. Is it more a case of stripping denim back to its necessities or is there another reason you don’t use branding?
PH: The name non means a few things... non-waste, non-gender and also non-branded.
It was simple decision for me as I don’t like ‘branded’ clothes and all of these elements felt too heritage.
AS: With non being a relatively new brand, have you seen any customer progress photos of the denim looking really well worn in?
PH: Not yet but looking forward to seeing how the jeans do develop!
AS: Being totally gender neutral is no small task when it comes to design. How did you find it to make something that is inclusive to all shapes and sizes?
PH: During the design stage we did fittings with a wide range of body types, regardless of gender, to ensure the best fit possible for each style.
One practical challenge with selvedge is the outseam is straight, as it's two edges of fabric meeting, which makes smaller sizes and curvier fits more difficult as we can’t curve the outseam to fit the body.
AS: Like aloof, non also started in the first lockdown, where we were given time to reassess our priorities and explore creative projects we might not have done otherwise. Would non exist without a lockdown?
PH: That is a good question and the answer is maybe... definitely the time and space to explore helped me invest the time and energy needed.
AS: You’ve teamed up with Awaykin, who represent a number of our absolute favourite brands. Does it feel validating to have established yourself as a fully fledged brand and gained retail and wholesale backing within a year of starting? Any regrets over the past year or things you’d like to have done differently?
PH: Picking up the stores we did for the first collection was overwhelming and really validating, and working with Awaykin has been amazing as well.
No regrets, but we definitely could have done some things differently! every mistake is part of the (so steep!) learning curve, so I try to take something from each of them.
AS: What can we expect to see in the near future from non?
PH: Our next collection is definitely new territory for selvedge denim and I'm excited to see how people react. We will continue to push that boundary whilst always improving our environmental impact and innovation in that space.