Meet The Designer, Jesse Lee

Jesse’s Denim Reimagined collection saw him transform Levi’s® aged inventory and irregular and leftover samples in our creative design effort to prolong denim’s lifespan and inspire consumers about how #WearAndCare for clothes. Our denim poster boy - who fancies himself as an original subtropical, sea-loving Hong Kong kid - tells us why he is putting surplus denim back into action and cleaning up fashion’s act. 

You and denim go back a long time! Tell us how... 

Jesse: If there is a fairy of denim, I think she loves me! My first fashion item I bought - without my parents’ input! - was a pair of black Levi’s® 501 jeans when I was 13, when my friends and I wore the same iconic Levi’s® jeans on our school’s highly-anticipated Dress Casual Day. Needless to say, we thought we were the coolest denim gang. Ever since then, I’ve been a denim-fan, and so working with this iconic material feels natural to me. 

Designer Jesse Lee sorting through Levi’s® aged surplus.

What was it like creating Denim Reimagined and #WearAndCare?

Jesse: It was a total dream come true to collaborate with The R Collective, supported by Levi’s®, so that I could couple my life-long love of denim and execute my creative thoughts on a bigger scale. As an emerging designer, it’s like a creative and career life-line to collaborate with other industry leaders. Fashion is also a teamwork experience, and the team behind Denim Reimagined - Levi’s®, Avery Dennison, EVRYTHNG, Crystal Group International, Electrolux and Redress - made it feel like working with a big family! Whilst it was fun - it was also an extremely demanding process that required a lot of thought and innovation.

Your raw materials were iconic materials in their own right. What was your design process?

Jesse: For Denim Reimagined,  I was inspired by the organic forms of the ocean, like waves and marine life. We then only used Levi’s® aged inventory and irregular and leftover samples, which were unsewn and remade by eco denim manufacturers, under Crystal Group International. 

Whilst this was a dream raw material for me to work with, I needed to be a mathematician to work out how to reconstruct them! I had to work out a unique system of disassembling and then redesigning them - thinking about different fits and sizes and maneuvering a way to stitch multiple pieces together. It was almost like working with a jig-saw puzzle.

Despite the design and production complexity, my ultimate intention was to create simple, casual silhouettes that people can wear easily, and yet, due to their extraordinary engineered details, they can still stand out from the crowd.

A deconstructed version of the Dore Dress vs the final product.

You are passionate about climate change and oceans play an important inspiring role in your work. Why is our #WearAndCare sustainable consumer campaign important to you?

Jesse: Being an original subtropical (denim-clad!) boy from Hong Kong, I spent a lot of time with my family and friends by the sea. Today, it’s not that hard to see and feel the impacts of climate change, which is occurring not only in Hong Kong but also around the rest of the world. Sometimes the big picture of climate change can feel overwhelming, but the reality is that we can all do our bit to fight it.

We need to remind ourselves that we, and our wardrobes, are big parts of the fashion system and nature. The better we treat our clothes, the better we treat nature.

I hope people who wear my designs, which were inspired by the oceans, will think of the pieces as their very own slice of the ocean and will maintain them with a #WearAndCare attitude at heart. And of course, I hope my designs will be worn every day - and live forever, one day even being passed on to their children! 

Jesse Lee with DJ & TV Presenter, Fabienne Hebrard, (left) wearing the Port Jumpsuit and Sustainable Blogger, Victoria Onken, (right) wearing the Saltburn Skirt.

How was your shoot in London? 

Jesse: We had so much fun and I received so much love from the shoot in London! It was magical to see the influencers put on my designs and express their joy. We shot in one of my favourite places in East London, called Brick Lane. This place is full of vintage shops for treasure hunting. People on the street are styled in their coolest outfits, and there is a celebration of each individual style around every corner. 

What’s next for you? London? Hong Kong? The moon? 

Jesse: I’m not planning to leave Mother Earth, although a trip to the moon sounds good! At present, I am pursuing my MA in Menswear at the University of Westminster, in London. This will allow me to dig deeper into my creative process and cultural studies. Hopefully, I will do some exciting collaborations and showcase my upcoming collection during London Menswear Fashion Week in June 2021! Stay tuned!

Jesse Lee with The Redress Design Award's host Cara G McIlroy during the shoot of Frontline Fashion 3 at the designer's home. 

From moons to stars! You’re a winner of The Redress Design Award 2018 and a star in Frontline Fashion. What’s it like being such a well-loved poster boy for sustainable design? 

Jesse: I love Frontline Fashion, Redress’ documentary about sustainable fashion, which shows The Redress Design Award finalists’ stories behind their sustainable collections in this huge competition. Instead of the busy, sometimes bickering happenings backstage that sometimes happens in other TV fashion-shows, Frontline Fashion shows designers’ own fresh ideas and techniques. So watching it, I believe, gives everyone an understanding of sustainable and circular design - no matter if they are experts or beginners. Personally - and I’m biased - but I think it’s the best fashion reality show ever, especially Season 3, which I am part of!

Denim Reimagined is available for Pre-Order now! 

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