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Interview: Xenia Telunts

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.

Xenia Telunts is, in so many ways, a match made in heaven for Aloof. Made in England, focused on sustainability and natural fabrics, and most importantly, helmed by a designer keen to share their passion for clothing. It didn't take us long to get behind what Xenia Telunts do, and it only took a little longer to rustle up the courage to ask for an interview. We took a deep dive into the inspirations, principles and support systems that make Xenia Telunts the brand it is today.

Aloof Studio (AS): Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about what you do?

Xenia Telunts (XT): I am the founder and designer of my eponymous brand Xenia Telunts. The brand is a combination of my love for vintage workwear, sustainable materials and slow processes. My pieces are unisex and many of them are one-size-fits-all. Everything is made here in England.

AS: Using your own name for a brand can be quite daunting as your label becomes a representation of yourself. Did you always want to have your name on the label or did you toy with names that would allow you more anonymity?

XT: The brand appeared organically through the interest I received with my graduation collection from London College of Fashion, so the name was really a consequence of that. The pieces I design and make have always been a direct reflection of my aesthetic and core values. These are slow and sustainable processes, the use of clean organic materials and trying to be as responsible as possible using what is already out there, for example upcycling old jeans into the Patchwork Pants and Anorak from our AW20 collection. The brand is all about being transparent and I am proud to share my name with it.

AS: Transparency throughout the supply chain is key to the Xenia Telunts business. When you started out, did you find it difficult to source makers and suppliers that fit with your values?

XT: It certainly took some time, but I'm very lucky to have found the makers that share my values. Over the years I have learned that having the right team is the most pivotal factor to the success of the brand, without my makers I wouldn’t have been able to create the pieces that I am so proud of. I always want to make sure that my makers get the credit they deserve as they work so hard to help me achieve the perfect shape, colour, zero-waste pattern and so on! My knitter, Bryan, is based in Grimsby where he works from an old Royal Mail building, his yarn suppliers are based in England and Scotland. My mainline is produced by Olga and her colleagues in Kent. We’ve worked together for a while now and she completely understands how I like to do things, she saves every offcut, every spare button. Nothing is ever wasted. She also brings a critical technical knowledge as she is an incredibly experienced maker. Poppy from London is my go-to troubleshooter when it comes to developing brand new patterns and trying to achieve the perfect fit. I am so incredibly privileged to be surrounded by people that love the brand as much as I do and care for it deeply. We're a tiny team and I still do a lot of sewing myself, especially all of the initial developments and samples but I definitely couldn’t do it without them!

AS: You’re part of the Awaykin family alongside some other incredibly talented designers and brands including Story MFG, Carne Bollente and Shrimps. Could you speak about that relationship and how it’s helped Xenia Telunts grow?

XT: Story Mfg’s Katy and Saeed actually introduced me to Awaykin and it turned out to be the perfect fit. Paul-Anthony and his team take a very personal approach with each brand and their support over the past year has been key to the brand’s development. We share the same opinion that the brand should grow organically. Together we noticed that the stores that carry Xenia Telunts take pride in it and stock similar brands to mine and this is how I want it to carry on. I don’t want to be promoted and pushed in the wrong direction just for the sake of it and Awaykin are absolutely on the same page in that respect.

AS: How does being based in North Yorkshire influence the brand, if at all?

XT: I was actually reflecting the other day on how much my colour palette is influenced by the local landscapes! Moving up North was a decision that was made for my brand. I needed the space to work and store all the fabrics & patterns and London was just too expensive to try and do that in. I wanted to invest in high-quality materials and pay my makers a good wage, not spend all of our income on rent! Being here is also very grounding, the strength of fashion culture in London can be very leading and weigh heavily on the work you do and who you try and appeal to. Here, I am able to focus and not worry about any of that. I don’t think I follow many trends as a result, and if I do, it's purely coincidental. Since the brand has grown and I needed even more space, I've moved my studio to Leeds where I work with my husband side-by-side which is another thing I value dearly from being here. He is a massive support system to me and often helps with things like my website, graphic design and figuring out logistics!

AS: You’re not averse to sharing inspiration on your feed and there’s a notable interest in Soviet Art & Design. Besides the use of Cyrillic lettering on previous designs, do you feel that Soviet art has a direct impact on your design process?

XT: Having grown up in Moscow, I love the art and design of the Soviet era and often look there for inspiration; but mainly it's the every day objects and clothing that I find fascinating. I was born shortly after the USSR collapsed and throughout my childhood I would hear stories from my parents and grandparents about certain objects they used to have or certain pieces of clothing they kept and valued.

A big part of it is how those pieces were made and treated, people had so little and shops were empty– they had to innovate, upcycle, mend and pass pieces down to someone who needed them, things were naturally sustainable as so little new stuff was being produced and virgin materials were scarce. I love photographs of women wearing the Army 'Fufaika' jacket– these were given out during and after the war to help keep the nation warm. It is also about how people treated each other with love and care, sticking together through one of the toughest periods in Russian history.

AS: The fabric selection for SS21 features Indian Cottons and Irish Linens, whilst you explore some alternate techniques in production including hand stitching. How do you think these choices reflect our current climate?

XT: SS21 was designed during the first national lockdown in the UK and I was very lucky to be able to design it from the comfort of our home whilst looking after my 1-year old daughter. My brand always had a focus on comfort, but spending so much time at home moved me even more to look at materials that are soft and easy to care for, and silhouettes which are adaptable for both at home and outdoor use. I always loved hand stitching and quilting and during lockdown I would find pockets of time to experiment with different techniques which resulted in the creation of the Kimono Jacket. Alongside hand stitching, it also features visuals that surrounded me during that time: a coffee cup, a potted plant and our house. It became a sort of a souvenir of that time for me.

AS: Could you talk us through how undyed wool can still result in having the variance of colour that your knitwear does?

XT: The Organic undyed wool can differ in colour due to it being from different breeds of sheep. For example, the dark grey colour yarn comes from Black Welsh Mountain sheep, brown yarn comes from Shetland sheep. I learned everything about the yarn and the processes of it being spun from my knitter who has been knitting for over 60 years. Wool is one of the most amazing materials out there. It grows on the sheep whether we would like to use it or not and for the health benefit of the sheep they need to be sheered, making it a by-product of looking after the animals. We use yarn that isn’t chemically treated or dyed and we know exactly where it comes from to be sure it's as ethical as possible.

AS: Back in May 2017, you shared a series of texts by Miranda Tsui about designing for a non-gender specific audience, where the body’s size and shape is unimportant as the garments accommodate all silhouettes. Are there any other pieces of writing, or indeed writers, that have influenced what you do?

XT: Flatness Folded by Miranda Tsui is the single most influential book for me when it comes to designing new shapes and silhouettes. I completely share the same approach as Tsui, I almost never think of the person when I design new pieces, I think of a garment as a flat shape first with all its details and finishings. I never drape, I always start my design process by flat pattern cutting, so when we later do a fitting it's always a nice surprise to see how it actually sits on the body. I also love the collection of artworks produced by Vera Mukhina based on Nadejda Lamanova’s clothing design, I suppose it connects my love of Soviet art and minimal flat shapes together!

AS: Your stockist list is small and based entirely out in Asia. What do you think it is about your clothes that resonate with that audience? Will we see an expansion to Europe and America in the future?

XT: The reasoning for this is multi-faceted, my designs are a more natural fit for sensibilities of Asian customers, but there is also more of an appetite there for discovering lesser known names, an open-mindedness and an appreciation for detail that is rarer in Europe & the U.S.A. I am currently talking to a few stores over here in the UK which may result in a partnership in the future.

I want my brand to be carried by a store that likes and shares the same values as I do. My pieces are not show stoppers, but in my opinion they are timeless and of high quality and I think the right customer appreciates that.

AS: What are the biggest challenges facing Xenia Telunts as you become more recognisable and the label grows?

XT: I think the main challenge is finding ways to make the business profitable without compromising on quality, the approach to making and brand values.

AS: What can we expect to see in the future from Xenia Telunts?

More organic knitwear, more hand stitching and more experimentation with zero-waste pattern cutting.

Head over to the Xenia Telunts website here to view the full AW 20 collection. You can keep up with the latest from the brand on their Instagram page here.


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