Sustainability at Pitti:
Monad London
Edition 100
Monad is More Than a Brand, It’s a Community

Sustainability at Pitti is a series of interviews that celebrate fashion’s climate-conscious innovators. By providing a platform for the designers that put sustainability at the core of their brand, we hope to inspire and lead a wave of change within our industry, helping us all to push for a better future together.

Daniel Olatunji’s collections aren’t perfect, but that’s kind of the whole point. He launched his label Monad in 2016 as a response to what he saw as commercial fashion’s hollow drive for “perfection” and the damage it causes.
“I saw how much waste was being created,” he tells us, “and that there were unrealistic expectations of consistency and uniformity. Profit was prioritized over the product and the people who make it and buy it.” Yet rather than getting swept up in the feeling of impending doom, Olatunji had his a-ha moment. “These weren’t things I wanted to represent and I didn’t see any improvement on the horizon. I realized I wanted to make garments in a more responsible way, driven by my love for craft.” 

Olatunji’s appreciation of craft is visible the minute you look at his work. But there are a multitude of stories hiding with his creations, too. Born in Nigeria and raised in England, the designer’s work is directly influenced by his heritage and experiences — but he doesn’t just draw on his own narratives, community is what truly lies at the heart of his brand. Each individual garment that Monad produces is created in collaboration with artisans and brought to life slowly, with respect and attention given to the people he works with and to the planet. 

Ahead of his SS22 collection reveal at Pitti, we sat down with Olatunji to discover more about his creative practice and what makes him tick. You can find our conversation below. 
Tell us about your latest collection, “Orowa.” What’s the story there?

I was initially intrigued by ecosystems and how they work and was thinking of a way I could bring this to my practice when I came across “The Orowa House” in a research paper by Cynthia Adeokun. It's a traditional, pre-colonial Yoruba architectural design. 

The key distinguishing feature of the Orowa house is that spaces are linked to each other through the Orowa — a large central hall that serves as the main, communal activity space for each dwelling. The main entrance into the building is usually directly into the Orowa or a small lobby connected to the Orowa. The Orowa connects all of the structures around it and the people who live in them. This is how I see Monad, as the Orowa connecting all these amazing artisans and weavers to the present through my work.  

I'm of Yoruba ethnicity and growing up in England you learn this idea of African technology, [the myth] that it didn't even exist before colonization. But here was pre-modern architecture by my people that resonated deeply and felt relevant. Today there is a lot of division between people but the Orowa places an emphasis on community. 
You speak of clothing as a form of resistance. What does this mean to you?

It means resistance to conformity and preconceived notions of how people should dress. When I was young, I was always expected to dress a certain way or to have my hair cut to look "prim and proper."
I've always resisted this view of what is an acceptable way to present myself. This is a driving force in Monad and how I approach the pieces I make — subverting the idea of prim and proper. 

I have a deep love for tailoring but I don't like the stiffness of tailored suits, so I use tailoring techniques but break a few rules here and there to create something that has the elements of a tailored piece but is transformed into something relaxed and “approachable.” One feature that reappears often in my work is raw, seemingly unfinished edges on handmade pieces that are created with a high level of craftsmanship. I enjoy the juxtaposition. 
Why do you choose to deconstruct familiar silhouettes?

I guess this relates back to the idea of clothing as a form of resistance, I create pieces that are timeless and not driven by trends [but rather by] a sense of individuality.  I might take an Edwardian tailored jacket as a starting point but then mix it with details from modern military wear. I enjoy creating something that you can recognize but at the same time has this unfamiliarity because the details are out of place. I really like that tension between the expected and the unexpected. 

Can you explain the concept of Wabi-Sabi and how it relates to your work? 

Wabi-Sabi is a Japanese philosophy and centers on appreciating beauty in nature that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete." It's a guiding principle of how I approach my work and blends naturally with my love for handcraft. I like that the idea that, when making things by hand, no matter how many times you've made something there is always a slight difference in each piece. It gives each a certain individuality. That is a characteristic of every Monad piece we make. This is also why I like working with natural fibers and hand-dyed fabrics. These pieces will change over time according to how you wear them and you end up with something that is totally unique to you. My most prized garments are the ones that I've owned for a long time and I've had to repair them as they wear. Some of these garments may have been mass-produced originally but they are now unique to me because of these repairs. I hope to launch a repair service for Monad pieces later in the year.
Can you tell us about the artisan textile artists, weavers, and dyers that you collaborate with? 

The dyers at the Kofar Mata dye pits in Kano, northern Nigeria have been dyeing indigo in the same way for over 600 years; their method has been passed down through generations. The entire process is natural as it existed long before most chemicals were introduced into fabric production. The solution in each pit lasts about a year. Similarly, the Fulani tribesmen in Kano, northern Nigeria, spin and weave cotton by hand by the same method used for over 600 years. They also grow the cotton they weave, which I think is truly amazing. 

London-based Hollie Ward is a handweaver, spinner, and knitter. She operates in the most ethical way possible working with mostly surplus stock yarns and small production British and Icelandic wool. She hand-crocheted a vest and cardigan for the SS22 collection using deadstock linen yarns, which she spun by hand. 

Catarina Riccabona makes one-off pieces for interiors, mainly throws and blankets, using selected natural yarns. Each piece is highly individual. She has a very intuitive and observant way of working, allowing the design to form spontaneously while she weaves at the loom. Each piece also has slight irregularities typical of making by hand. She wove a natural undyed linen warp using yarns that were  “waste” or remnants, the waste product [that’s] created at the end of each weave project when the finished work is cut off the loom — the final stretch of warp can't be woven and is generally considered useless because it's made up of hundreds of short bits of yarn. Rather than throwing them away, she keeps the remnants from many past projects and also those of her colleagues and knots them together by hand. As she weaves the yarn, the little knots appear randomly across the cloth and the small yarn ends stick out. These little tufts create visual and physical texture and because the process is done by hand from start to finish the fabric is full of these irregularities that are so beautiful.
Where do you source your fabric? What’s important to you when choosing to work with a particular supplier?

Wherever I can find it!  Sourcing is a huge part of my process and every fabric is sourced from wholesalers that sell deadstock or surplus fabrics, antique dealers, or the weaver who made it by hand. I rarely source new fabrics, unless they are handwoven. When choosing a weaver or artisan to work with I usually look at how they work and if I feel it’s responsible in relation to the carbon footprint etc. I also try to work mainly with natural fibers.

How do you pair your awareness about the fashion industry’s climate impact with designing and creating new products? 

It's pretty straightforward and one of the reasons Monad was birthed. There is an element of handwork that goes into every piece we make, which puts a limit on how many pieces we can produce. Working with hand weavers also means they have a lower carbon emission than an industrial textile mill it also cuts down over-production. Working with deadstock, surplus, and antique textiles also puts a limitation on the [number] of pieces we can produce in a collection. 
What are the biggest obstacles you face as a designer in regards to creating responsible collections? 

Making enough profit so that the entire project is sustainable but I can still insist on the values of integrity and craftsmanship that are vital to the brand.

How do you feel about the industry’s current sustainability efforts? What change do you hope to see?  

I'm very skeptical, I don't feel any real impactful changes are being made. It seems that brands are releasing diffusion lines that are “sustainable” to meet some sort of market demand but they are not really addressing the problems of overproduction because they are ultimately in pursuit of better margins. 

I'd like to see the industry challenge their production companies to work in a way that's better for the environment with lower carbon emissions and has better pay and standards for garment workers. I'd also like manufacturers to be empowered to challenge brands for better margins so that they can adapt in this way. And brands have to produce less generally. And ultimately the consumer will have to change too, buying less product but of better quality. 
Do you have any top tips or words of advice for brands and designers looking to be more responsible in their work? 

Research! And being clear on how they want to work in a more responsible way. It's one thing to want to work responsibly but then saying you'd only work with organic cotton is not enough as this only describes the seed the cotton is grown from. It doesn't address the labor practices of the cotton farmers or the carbon footprint of the mill that turns that cotton into fabric. Working in a sustainable way is incredibly complex and requires commitment. 
Explore the collections, contact the brand, request an online appointment, and much more.