Even if you don’t recognise the name, you’ve probably seen their singularly quirky designs—whether it was on the rack at prestigious retailers like Lane Crawford, BoontheShop, Galeries Lafayette and I.T., or via high-profile collaborations with MINI and Onitsuka Tiger. Established in London in 2015, STAFFONLY is a forward-thinking creative union founded by its two lead designers and self-professed geeks, Une Yea and Shimo Zhou, Best known for fresh and witty designs that draw on everything from Chinese wuxia and Japanese shonen comic genres, to the much-debated relationship between masculinity and being the breadwinner, STAFFONLY aims to offer a fresh and witty take on traditional menswear by harnessing sharp concepts and incorporating innovative materials to create both provocative and functional pieces every season.
Their designs have been embraced by Chinese consumers as well as across Asia and Europe, thanks to the humour and slick design elements that Yea and Zhou seamlessly incorporate. In the process, STAFFONLY has been nominated by the likes of Vogue Talents, the Woolmark Prize and BOF China prize.
Ahead of their showcase at the 10 Asian Designers To Watch exhibition taking place this month in Shanghai, read on to find out more about the designer duo’s thoughts on the multiplicity of creativity, how COVID-19 affected their designs, and how sound and serve as a substitute for fashion when it comes to emotions.
Q: Why fashion? What made you want to be a designer?
It happened to be fashion [laughs]. We actually believe that creativity can be applied to any form of design. To correspond with that, we also enrich our form of fashion presentation by writing novels and programming games, etc. We think that STAFFONLY is a container that allows us to put different sauces and creative materials in it, and fashion is one of the more convenient ways to communicate with our audience.
Q: If your teenage self could see you now as a fashion designer, what would he/she think?
It would completely turn my teenage expectations on their head. The fact is that our natural curiosity towards many different areas during our childhood and teenage years had already moulded us towards becoming the design duo that we are today, as well as determining our interest in various subjects and fields.
Q: In fashion, a muse not only serves as an inspiration for designers, but also urges them to continue creating. Who is your muse, and how does he/she continue to drive your ambition?
We don’t have any certain person as a muse for our designs. Our “muse”, if you could call it that, comes from observations from our daily life, or blossoms from the earth of our debates on the nature of contemporary life. For instance, the equity of both genders and the social expectations of them contributed to our Spring/Summer 2020 collection, and during Spring/Summer 2021 collection, COVID-19 pushed us to re-think the relationship between employees and the office, as well as the relationship between scenery, work, and creativity.
Q: Why menswear? How does STAFFONLY break the mould of existing perceptions towards menswear?
It was a spontaneous choice, which also allows us to design without the consideration of our own bodies. It is designed for the ideal “STAFFONLY man”. The identity of STAFFONLY more or less is likely to be a group identity, which means it illustrates the different aspects of a certain group of people.
Q: You use unique, sustainable materials like Ultrasuede in your designs. How do you think the future of materials in fashion will change?
More and more suppliers are putting their effort into the development of sustainable materials. We are not able to develop any environmentally friendly garments without the invention of these materials and the recognition from customers. It is a revolution of consumption, in which we are becoming more concerned about organic, sustainable and humanistic concepts. Change won’t happen very quickly, but we know that this is our common mission to achieve.
Q: Music is a large part of the runway experience. How does sound/music influence the way you view fashion?
I wouldn’t say that sound and music affects the way I view fashion—music is a self-contained world, and so is fashion. At some point the two worlds intersect and influence each other, but it doesn't change my perception of clothing.
Q: From the punk-inspired revolution of Vivienne Westwood to the Indie-rock androgyny of Hedi Slimane, the world of fashion is filled with music references. Why do you think that is?
Sound evokes emotion and imagination, while clothing works on the surface of the body. For fashion, there will always be a barrier to conveying a message into the world of thought, so music is a good substitute in that sense.
Q: What is your all-time favourite track that inspires you?
We love the soundtrack that Eric Serra did for the 2014 movie, Lucy.
Q: Total silence when you design, yes or no? Why?
It depends on whether I'm spreading my imagination or narrowing my focus. During the research and sketching stage I like to have sound to help me find the corresponding emotion, while when it comes to developing the details I enjoy concentrating on what’s in front of me.
Q: If your designs could sing, speak, call out to you or make any sort of sound, what would you be hearing and why?
I imagine it would be a whisper that seems to be communicating with you in a language we cannot understand, that is full of emotions.
Held in collaboration between KEF and Lane Crawford, the 10 Asian Designers To Watch exhibition will be held in Shanghai from March 31 to April 11 in an effort to spotlight the most promising young talents in fashion across Asia. Highlighting the role of sound and music both to inspire and bolster the power of fashion, the KEF Experience Zone will allow attendees to engage with the latest cutting-edge audio technology to transport the mind within the headspace of the designers. Find out more online here.
Cover Image: Une Yea and Shimo Zhou / STAFFONLY