The Positive Fashion Exhibition Places Sustainable Fashion at the Heart of London Fashion Week

by Christina Kapourtzoudi on 17 February 2020

Designer Joshua James Small talks about his participation in The Positive Fashion Exhibition, an initiative that places sustainability at the centre of London Fashion Week.

Designer Joshua James Small talks about his participation in The Positive Fashion Exhibition, an initiative that places sustainability at the centre of London Fashion Week.

Located at The Store X, 180 Strand London Fashion Week in February will be the first of the four global Fashion Week’s to embrace inclusivity, opening the doors to both trade and the public in order to celebrate and explore the 'positive' aspects of the industry. The Positive Fashion Exhibition will be the place for guests to discover new brands, designers and immersive experiences that enlighten the most compelling stories around sustainability, craftsmanship and ethics; an interesting and educational initiative that highlights the importance of sustainable fashion.

Joshua James Small is a womenswear designer whose work is sustainably conscious in the manufacture, but couture in their craft and presentation. Here, the emerging creative talks about his participation at The Positive Fashion Exhibition, how he became interested in sustainable fashion and the inspirations behind his new collection titled Ethereal Desiderium.

Joshua James Small, 'Ethereal Desiderium' S/S 20 collection.

Christina Kapourtzoudi: Let's take the story from the beginning. What made you want to become a fashion designer?

Joshua James Small: I was interested in fashion but I can't pinpoint entirely where that came from. I think it was just organic. When I got my first job in a newsagent they used to sell lots of different fashion magazines and I became so absolutely infatuated with all these visuals that I thought I’d end up doing more of an editorial role, but then I did my art foundation. My college is a textile specialist, and they encouraged me to make a dress and that's what I did. I posted it on Instagram and got quite a lot of attention and some serious people started asking me things and my tutors were basically telling me that I should be making clothing. I ended up going to university to study womenswear and I guess the rest is history.

CK: You are holding your first public showcase of work under the British Fashion Council’s Positive Fashion Exhibition. How did it come up and what does it mean to you?

JJS: The Positive Fashion Exhibition is a way of showcasing sustainable designers and people that are pushing the conversation in sustainability. The British Fashion Council approached me just before Christmas and asked if I wanted to be part of this, which I was very grateful for and obviously said yes straight away. The Positive Fashion Exhibition is like a showroom, with buyers and sellers, but there's a lot of emphasis on educating the buyers, the stylists, the people that have been in the industry for years, about what you're doing and what they can do. It encourages new ways of working which enables sustainability to have prominence without feeling like a gimmick. As sustainability becomes more prominent, people will only want to see pieces that are art-like, intricately made, that are one-offs. I think that The Positive Fashion Exhibition is a wonderful starting point. We showcase designers that are sustainable motivators and eventually the industry will change.

CK: What is your favourite creative process and how would you describe your aesthetic?

JJS: I've come to the realisation that I'm more of a pattern maker, I am very meticulous in the way that I like things to be made, which is why I focus a lot on tailoring as well. I do like the research, as everyone does, and I'm fueled by imagery. My room literally looks like a press office for the number of books and magazines I happen to slice! I don't think I have a favourite process, but obviously, as with anything, we want to get to the end result. It's kind of a lot of stress masquerading as fun until you get a wonderful piece. My work is more like couture, they are not throwaway pieces, they need to be delicately handled. There is an element of romanticism in them. It’s like McQueen, Galliano; pieces that are the heightened beauty, like art. I know it sounds semi-narcissistic but that's what I would aim for.

'Unbelievable Fashion', British Vogue December 2008. Photographer: Nick Knight, Styling: Kate Phelan, Make Up: Val Garland. Hair: Sam McKnight.

CK: What does your collection Ethereal Desiderium symbolise for you?

JJS: I wanted to try to be more personal. My mother was a catalyst for this collection. For a lot of my projects, I always end up wanting to elevate this delicate or fragile woman, and I'm very aware from reading different essays that is a very atypical way of working as a gay man. I read an essay about how queer designers always want to elevate the woman from a place of fragility to a place of power. And I think I unintentionally fit that realm. I was fascinated by ethereality but I don't really know what triggered it. I was watching an interview with Charlie XCX, she was talking about what she considers to be ethereal and mentioned different songwriters and I guess that triggered a lot of different thought processes. On my press release, all around the outside there are the lyrics from Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap, which I think is one of the most ethereal songs and the visuals are absolutely beautiful. Ethereality is a very broad term, but essentially, it's a heightened beauty. My mother is a very important woman in my life, and because she was the catalyst for this delicate character, it was important to credit her and make the consumer aware that this is where that came from.

CK: What other references did you use for this collection?

JJS: The collection is essentially a blend between different references. One of them is my favourite photograph of Nick Knight, the one of Lily Donaldson dressed in John Galliano for Dior. That is what I would consider as ethereal, it is a heightened being, someone that is larger than life, heavenly. I would look to images like that, not just for design inspiration but more in terms of the feel I wanted to create. I would also look at office women, pre-millennium because the person I was making this project around was my mother. I got a lot of references from Purple magazine from 1999; these office women are sitting normcore tailoring and I just thought it was a really nice editorial. Those two images, the office look and Nick Knight’s shot, create a combination of the feel and silhouette I wanted to create with this collection.

Joshua James Small, Ethereal Desiderium S/S 20 collection.

CK: You have been invited to showcase internationally later in the year. How does that feel for you and can you share any details with us?

JJS: I can’t tell you what it is exactly. All I can say is that there are a couple of sustainable conventions that go on in different places around the world, and I am in discussions to showcase my work in a couple of these places. I think it’s great because it is a similar platform to Positive Fashion Exhibition because it's promoting people who are making pieces that are sustainably conscious.

Joshua James Small, Ethereal Desiderium S/S 20 colelction.

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Joshua James Small

Joshua James Small is a designer, stylist and model.
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