As part of our HUCK Indies 2013 exhibition, we peep into the boy-meets-girl skate-wear label, Man Up Girl!.
The tumblr for new girls’ streetwear brand Man Up Girl! is a melting pot of PVC snapbacks, Nathalie Du Pasquier patterns, Versace-style bling, Havana Cultura, palm-tree bucket hats, old school hip hop mixtapes, Dogtown decks, pre-crack Whitney Houston and technicolour street art. One scroll through the hyper melange and it’s easy to see a strong aesthetic emerging.
According to founder and designer Jessica Piper, their aesthetic was first inspired by “The Memphis Group and Hugh Holland”, but Man Up Girl! has come a long way since their inception just a year ago during London Graduate Fashion Week 2012.
“It was something that we’d been thinking about for years,” says Jessica from the brand’s base in London. “But fashion week provided a perfect excuse to realise our ideas, and it was here that the brand was unveiled. We’ve since created our first collection of skate and street-wear for women that treads the line between style and function.”
Together with partner Ryan Perks, Jessica founded Man Up Girl! to redress the ‘style over substance’ attitude in women’s fashion. “We felt that some integrity was missing and our friends seemed to share our opinion,” says Jessica. “Instead of following suit and using feminine prints and fabrics, we have taken it back to basics and redesigned the collection from the ground up.”
The process is all about observation. The Man Up Girl! team film and photograph friends skating to capture any irregular movements that skateboarding demands and take note of every hole, rip and fault in the clothes they wear. “We are constantly evolving and taking inspiration from lots of different sources,” says Jessica. “Our visual inspiration mostly comes from compulsively watching skate edits and interviews. We trawl the internet for photosets as well, so we share everything that we find interesting. The blog is a great platform for the members of the team to contribute to the visual identity of the brand and help carve out a unique style.”
Man Up Girl! borrows heavily from guys’ skate-wear hence the name, which Jessica has described as “unapologetic, bold, not too serious”. In fact, the creative brains behind the brand have been appropriating guys’ skate-wear for years. So why launch a gender-specific brand now?
“Our lot have been wearing men’s pieces for as long as we can remember,” Jessica admits. “Sometimes, though, this means that our choice feels a bit restricted, so we thought it was about time to create an alternative option. As much as anything, Man Up Girl! is an expression of ourselves and our style. We use men’s skate-wear staples as a starting point and reinvent them for our friends. But, in turn, we don’t want to limit ourselves at all, and that’s why we do some unisex pieces as well. Who knows, hopefully the guys will want to steal our stuff for a change!”
Do they think more female-focused brands in the industry could help bolster participation in male-dominated cultures like skate and boxing (which is the backdrop in a recent lookbook shoot for the brand)?
“Participation is all up to you,” affirms Jessica. “We are providing a collection for women that can stand up to the tests of an active lifestyle and we hope that creating a brand focused on producing quality clothing is enough to encourage you. We’re not trying to push anything on people; it’s all about fun and well-designed clothing that’s adaptable and robust.”
With the current recession biting at people’s wallets, it’s a tough out there for any business. So what are the main challenges facing a start-up brand?
“We have encountered a few different problems along the way but these have never been enough to knock us off course,” says Jessica. “Our main concern has always been quality, so sourcing the right fabrics and manufacturers has been tough. Everyone is feeling the pinch at the moment, so it makes it that much more important to source quality materials that will perform whilst still being affordable. I think that the main problem is standing out and doing something different, though. We feel that the collaboration with a variety of creatives gives us the upper hand.”
So what does the future hold? “A five-year plan? You’ve got me there!” says Jessica. “If I’m honest, we take and enjoy every day as it comes. So, for the South Coast collective [a group of designers, artists, illustrators, musicians, videographers and writers who all contribute to the brand], as long as we’re working together and having fun, the future looks good. We’ve got tons of aspirations and goals but trust that we’re going to come up with something that will surprise people, something that’s fresh.”