On paper Richard Quinn comes across as the ultimate fashion rule breaker. He is completely unconcerned about matters, such as whether or not it’s a particularly good idea to print onto Mylar foil (“I just tried it,” he says) or how to find the funds to deal with expensive sample-makers (he just makes his own), or how to play politics with rival retailers (he can produce his clothes in small runs and on-demand, so he can give them all something unique if they want it).
But when you spend time with him at his print studio under the railway arches in Peckham, South London, UK you realise quickly that he’s not a rebel for the sake of being a rebel, but he is, in fact, just the ultimate practical problem solver. And besides, he’s “always liked working with my hands”.
Richard has come into fashion without any pre-conceived ideas about how it should be done and when he’s encountered any barriers to achieving his goal of establishing his own fashion label and print studio, he’s simply found a way past them or over them by thinking creatively and being unafraid to ask questions.
“Today people are reacting against everything; the systems in place are there to be broken,” Richard says of the new crop of designers. “There is also this spirit of doing it yourself – it’s nice to think there are people out there who want to change things.”
For evidence of that DIY spirit, just look at his print studio. He set it up himself because finding one to produce his samples was proving too expensive. “I went to one studio at the end of my MA and it cost £400 to print 5m [of fabric]. And I did it myself and they were trying to hurry me up to get me out,” he says. Indignant at the experience, he decided to set up his own print studio equipped with an Epson SureColor SC-F dye sublimation digital textile printer, an Epson SureColor SC-S wallpaper and vinyl printer and screen printer. Here, Richard and his small team research and develop his signature prints, experiment with fabrics, print textiles, create patterns and produce finished pieces – all in-house. For high-volume orders he also works with a couple of London-based fabrication companies that take his printed textiles and finishes them for him.
Richard offers his print service to other designers too. Fellow up-and-coming names, such as Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, use his studio and he has also produced samples for big names such as JW Anderson and Burberry. The advantage that the Epson digital printer has over, say, screen printing, is its ability to product vibrant colours with high definition black which designers love, he says. However, he is sole of discretion and will never show another designer or brand what the other might be working on (an issue, apparently, that can arise with other studios).
If all that sounds like a lot of hard work on top of trying to establish a brand, Richard says the opposite. “If anything, the print studio makes building my brand easier,” he says.
In the short time since he graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2016 he has been tipped as “one to watch” by the likes of LOVE magazine and The Sunday Times Style, Dazed, i-D and The New York Times to name a few. And his vivid prints (florals in saturated colours are a speciality) have adorned the likes of likes of Adwoa Aboah, Rita Ora and Lady Gaga.
Fashion giant H&M awarded him its Design Award in 2017 and his collection for the chain sold out when it hit shop floors in October. Essentially the collection was a commercial version of his MA show with standout items including floral dresses with 50s-style full skirts, floral over-the-knee sock boots, and a floral mac printed onto silver foil. This being H&M and mass production, however, the collection was made in China and not in Richard’s studio, but it was proof that his designs could easily translate commercially.
It’s his use of unexpected fabric (he sources his fabrics from Premier Textiles) and his fearless head-to-toe prints that help Richard stand out and lend his collections a distinct brand language. “It’s a subversive take on the familiar; I take the textile design and put it in lots of different contexts,” he explains of his technique of finding traditional prints, adapting them and using them in unexpected ways to bring them bang up to date.
It is perhaps somewhat unsurprising that Britain’s most famous fabric house, Liberty of London, sat up and took notice and hosted his London Fashion Week show in September 2017, commissioning him to “show re-interpretations of their prints in a new way” and a bag collection on sale this Spring. Plus, Debenhams has just signed him to its ‘Designers at Debenhams’ initiative which makes high fashion accessible on the High Street. Twelve affordable dresses will be available in May, with a second collection planned for 2019.
Richard’s follow-up Autumn/Winter 18 collection featuring vibrant florals teamed with dots and stripes collection ended London fashion Week to international acclaim. His mix of fabrics and effects, including flowing pleated dresses, foil ball gowns and customised motorbike helmets – again all printed using Epson technology – shows how Richard is exploring the huge potential of new digital techniques and materials.
In a surprise appearance, Her Majesty The Queen attended his show after which she presented him with the inaugural Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design which recognises the role the fashion industry plays in society and diplomacy and will be awarded annually to an emerging British fashion designer.
Even before the Award, the fashion industry was beating a path to Richard’s print studio, and not just for his dresses. Dover Street Market Ginza has commissioned him to deck out their iconic store in his prints (an honour usually afforded to more established designers). Although Richard seems less surprised, or at least he’s taking it in his stride. “I can put my designs on almost anything,” he says of his prints, “and offer an experience.”
In fact, DSM Ginza, Matchesfashion.com, Liberty, H&M et al are not the only ones who have sat up and taken notice of Quinn. Other equally iconic stores such as Milan’s Corso Como and L’Eclaireur in Paris have snapped up his collections and, since Quinn is producing his own prints, he can give them each something different, such as a unique colourway. This ability neatly sidesteps the issue of Quinn having to commit to exclusive retailer arrangements that can sometimes curtail designers’ potential in the early days.
Ethical & sustainable production
But Richard’s ability to produce his designs on demand, not only gives him the ability to please retailers by offering exclusives. It also means he’s not over-producing product, which is a huge issue in fashion. Brands – designer brands and High Street brands included – will often produce far more product than they can ever sell, which clearly has a negative environmental impact and leads to the downward spiral of constant discounting in a bid to shift stock.
On top of which, when you have this much control there are always areas you can find to be more environmentally friendly, such as reusing pattern papers, which he does. “It all cuts down your carbon footprint,” he says. “The value of our brand and the ethical nature was a part of why we won the H&M Award.”
Ultimately, it’s innovators, and practical problem solvers, like Richard Quinn that offer hope that fashion can move to a more profitable and more sustainable model in the future.