Ruthless X Hedi Jónsdóttir: On fish skin, sustainable fashion and making it big.

Daughter of Jón was founded by Hedi Jónsdóttir in 2013 on the premise of designing contemporary accessories with a modern aesthetic that are sustainable yet stylish. Most of her bags are locally made in Hackney, London – though some orders are outsourced to a small family business in Andalucia, Spain – and all are made of vegan leather under fair working conditions. We caught up with Jónsdóttir for a brief chat – and it turns out ethical fashion isn’t quite as unattainable as some people make it out to be.

Your collections experiment with different materials, what was it about these fabrics that appeal to you?

I mostly find my inspiration through the fabrics I discover, the cities I explore and the people I meet. I think fashion’s responsibility is to give people the means to express themselves. So if you want people to wear your creations you need to be relevant to who they are, their environment and more than anything their aspirations. For fashion to be relevant and for my brand to be relevant it is essential to root the entire creative process in real life. At the same time, it can transcend current reality into something bigger – a direction, a trajectory, an aspiration, all of which, however, have to start in the here and
now. That’s why for me, cities and people are key to start any creative process and I see fabrics as a catalyst than can express on another level the intuitions and the insights we can draw from real-life. I often use fabrics that I’ve collected for my collections e.g. fabrics from various markets around the world for my Market Collectables collection and the NY collectables. But I don’t do that for all my collections. For the latest collection I just had a concrete vision and collected the fabrics and items I needed to support the final ‘picture’ I had in mind.

I noticed one of your prints in your latest collection mimics snake skin, is that something you would ever incorporate, animal skin?

No, I’d never use snake skin. The most exotic material I get is fish skin and it’s a 100%
sustainable material. It’s also my absolute favourite – it’s unique, sustainable and it come from my homeland Iceland. I like the idea of using a byproduct of another process which would be wasted otherwise. Instead, I’m giving it another life and creating value out something that’s worth nothing at that point. The production process of this leather also makes use of renewable hydro and geothermal energy which adds to its value and sustainability.

Tell us a bit more about the sustainable ethos behind Daughter of Jon.

DOJ stands for handmade sustainable production. We produce everything in the UK and in Spain and we hope to be able to keep it like that. Competing with high street prices is very challenging for young brands, and even though more and more people  support sustainability they are not always willing to pay the price. There’s a lot of education to be done to get people to buy into the values of sustainability.

One of the most important aspects for us is that everything is handmade in close contact with the manufacturer. Our manufacturing happens in London, Hackney and in a small village in the south of Spain, which has a long tradition in leather manufacturing, we’re talking over a hundred years. I’m proud to support that tradition and I hope I’ll be able to help them carry it forward. We mostly use sustainable materials and we’re constantly looking into more options to widen our range. We’re currently looking at this amazing pineapple fabric…

The shapes of the bags have remained quite traditional, will you maintain these in future collections or experiment?

I like keeping the shape design to be minimalistic and almost invisible and I think it has become a bit of a signature for Daughter of Jon. One reason is that it just comes out naturally when I design.  I like to keep things simple, but I do like contrasts so I play with that in my designs. Most times a minimalistic design ends up being a necessity to support a flamboyant fabric, print or texture – or the other way around. I always tend to go wilder when it comes to the fabrics and I like the type of balance it creates with the minimalistic designs.

Is collection No. 5 intentionally minimalist?

Yes, I wanted to create a functional and minimal collection – geometry, light reflections and structure were key themes. It all started when I spent some time in the US and ended up in LA for a while during the summer. LA is such a interesting place right now, with the art scene booming, interesting artists from all over the world converging there and trying to make it happen. But what really struck me there was the power of light and the force of nature exploding all around the urban sprawl. When I left I wanted to bring some of that raw energy back to London. Not being able to count on the sunrays and the lush vegetation I turned to the fabrics and I found some pretty interesting ones.

But trying to bring that energy back to London also means converting it into something that fits into the idea and the culture of London. I had a strong sense that geometry would be something that could help me channel the energy into a shape that would click with London where you don’t have the same types of freedom, physical space, personal space but also cultural space. So the idea of structure became one of the keys of this collection. I see fashion as a lens to give a complex, chaotic and sometimes overwhelming reality a shape, something to help us focus our senses and makes sense of what’s around us.

What’s your favourite piece?

That kind of changes on a weekly basis!  I love the metallic fish leather items. The purse I use for my make up and the card holder for my oyster car  shine out of my bag so I always find them!

In your NY collectables I love your blue backpack, will you be making any more bags like
that?

There is nothing more rewarding for a designer and crucial for a brand than listening to what resonates with the people who pay attention to your creations. I think I should be developing in that direction, I get asked quite often about that backpack.

Which accessory designers do you look up to?

They are so many! From Myriam Schaefer, Lauren Geoghegan, Sophie Hulme, Oh My Bag to Danielle Foster and these are just a few. I respect so many brands for different aspects, whether it’s for the brand ethos, the designs, the branding or the brand communication.

Your collection is extremely affordable, yet your products feel very high end – why did you
choose not to match the price with comparable products?

When I started with Daughter of Jon I was testing my brand and my first collections on street markets. I had to come up with ideas on how to lower the prices. No one spends a lot on markets but markets are the best place to get your product research done and meet your customers face to face. So, I decided to create two product ranges: a more affordable range called Collectables, with simple but more trendy designs and mostly made of vegan fabrics and then a higher priced range called DOJ with more sophisticated and classic designs and materials, with bags meant to last and grow with the customer.

I want to approach a wider audience with these two price ranges and I like my customers to be able to mix and match between more classic or trend focussed designs whether it’s a wardrobe or a wallet decision. So for the markets I started working on Collectables collections, using for example upcycled fabrics or fabrics that I had been collecting over the years from all sorts of street markets and leather that had small imperfections, tiny natural stains or scars, materials that suppliers tend to give away for a lower price. But I think it gives the product a lot of character, I like these small imperfections. Another factor helping to keep the production costs down is the minimalistic design – one of those rare cases when less is actually less, not more!

You’re being stocked in Topshop now, how did come about?

That was (and is) very exciting! It was a big step for us. They saw me trading on my local street market on Chatsworth Road in Hackney and approached me – as simple and crazy as that! I will be forever grateful to them to believe in my products and my brand and for giving me this great opportunity. I’ve learned a lot from it and it has been an amazing journey!

And, finally, where does the name Daughter of Jon come from?

I’m Icelandic and, as you might know, in Iceland last names are patronymics – so your last name is usually daughter or son of your father. And that’s how the brand name came about, a literal translation of my surname. I wanted to communicate authenticity, something tangible, real, down to earth, and also something that connects the business directly to me, to make the brand personal and human. I think people appreciate both authenticity and personality, especially in a fashion brand.

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