Creative director and interview: Marne Schwartz
Photographer: Myles Pritchard
Fashion Director: Kim Payne
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I’m Roman, and I have a label called Jody Just that takes up most of my time but I also work as a freelance creative strategist, designer, and model. My week is spread across different companies doing different work for each of them. About a year ago a friend and I launched a suiting atelier in Sydney CBD called Umi Nori, so there’s that too.
What lead you to establish Jody Just?
I started Jody Just because I wanted something creative to do that was separate from uni and work. I thought that if I could create a brand and design the clothes, website, shoot everything, market products etc. that it’d look good on my CV when I was applying for an actual job. I wanted to show my capability as well as channel my artistic output in one place… I really had no expectations whatsoever.
The first release was a bunch of hats with patches on them that were nods to rave and drug culture in Sydney, it was also right around the 2016 Olympics and selling hats that said Chemist Athletics and Amphetamine Track Team poked fun at the doping scandal. Jody Just was the third brand I started but it was the first one that actually generated interest outside of my friend group and that I made more than one drop for. The first ‘brand’ I made was called Brink Co. when I was 14 or 15 and I sold baseball tees with some embroidery on them, the second was called Zsiga when I was 19 and I made prayer candles.
Four years later on from launching Jody Just and I’m working on a full cut & sew collection with the majority of production in Sydney, Australia. The collection is based around the rave and nightlife scenes that I found myself a part of over the last few years in New York.
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Where do you get your ideas? Tell me about growing up.
I grew up with parents who were basically goths and had a profound appreciation for design and art. My house growing up was filled with art, relics and enough skulls and crosses to fill a graveyard. Even so, I was a pretty normal kid in the burbs who loved my footy and thought that I’d be playing in the NRL someday despite my mediocre ability. When I started high school, everything changed. I got into skateboarding, hardcore music and graffiti, which shaped my identity and laid the foundation for my artistic endeavours.
For years I was convinced that I was going to become a tattoo artist but the idea of doing just one thing forever made me reconsider. I spent my teenage years loitering at the skatepark and painting/writing my name on every and any surface I came across. There was a period where all my school pants and shorts had an ink stained crotch because I would hide my markers in my pants on the way home. My mum actually drove me a few times at 4am to spots to go paint because she didn’t want me walking around that late by myself. I’m very privileged to have parents like I do who have trusted my lifestyle choices, share the same creatively rebellious spirit as me and let me choose my own path. Of course, if I did something stupid, I’d get pulled up on it and let’s be honest I did a lot of stupid shit.
What are some of your design signatures?
I like to think of my design signature as more of an underlying aggressive aesthetic and energy of the clothes rather than singular designs elements, that being said, the custom jeans have become a signature for sure, with the arching JODY JUST across the crotch in old English script. I’ve also started making a lot of pieces that have a crown of thorns motif.
Are you possessive of your designs? Of your signatures?
I used to really care about that stuff because I’ve had a bunch of instances where people directly copied a design or blatantly ripped off my style when it’s not natural for them to do it, often brands or people that had hit me up or followed me. I’d say I’m as possessive as the next guy. I don’t pay any attention to it anymore unless it’s a big brand or person that will make a significant sum of money off of it. At the end of the day I have to be confident with what I’m making and that it’s authentic to who I am and my brand because that’s what people identify with.
Let’s talk about the “why” of your work.
My personal work is about storytelling and communicating my world view: messy; filled with anxiety; a fuck you to authority and having a lot of fun along the way. There’s an element of humour that runs through everything I make because it lets certain topics be more approachable and digestible. I think that there’s an attitude and realness that’s lost with most commercial brands, especially in Australia, where brands try to tap into the culture but can’t do it authentically or just do it in a watered-down way. The storytelling component has been a bit lost with the amount of custom pieces I’ve been doing lately and why I’m moving to designing collections rather than singular releases. My design principle is to make something that is going to provoke thought, whether the thought is negative or positive or purely based on an aesthetic level, I just want to make work that actually says something rather than just trying to look pretty.
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You’ve had commercial success designing the cowboy hat line. Do you distinguish between crafting for business and for pleasure?
There’s definitely a distinction between designing for pleasure and designing for business. I don’t see Jody Just as designing for business even though it is a business, I really enjoy the process and results of what I do. If something stops becoming fun to make or I lose interest, I’ll stop doing it. The reason I moved into the customisation space was because using traditional methods for clothing production wasn’t fulfilling anymore. As for the cowboy hats I’m not sure how much longer they’ll be available for… I do love them but they’ll most likely just be made for private commissions in the future.
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Image 2: Cowboy Hat, Model’s Own
When you shop for yourself, what do you look for?
I shop for things that are good quality and will retain value over time. A large portion of my clothes are vintage pieces that I think belong in a museum or have some sentimental value.
How do you source your pieces, specifically vintage?
At the moment I get the majority of my vintage from a couple stores in Sydney or online. I prefer to get vintage in person so that I can really see the condition and the sizing. The two stores in Sydney I frequent are Storeroom Vintage and Route 66 who stock totally different styles, both with the best quality hand-picked stuff. When I was living in New York I’d source from about 10 different places.
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Vintage is not only an aesthetic and cultural choice, but a sustainable one as well. What is the importance of your role in promoting sustainability?
For the last couple years, I’ve been doing a lot of releases that are custom vintage pieces, this happened because I got tired of doing mass produced stuff and I’ve been interested in the life cycle of different clothes. I did a series called BioCamo where I spray painted cells onto US army uniforms from the Gulf war as a representation of a product’s life, death and rebirth that reflected the life of the wearer.
The sustainability factor is a really big part of vintage and it’s important in the fashion industry, which is insanely unsustainable. If I could only make tees that were re printed over vintage tees or reworked jeans etc. I probably would but there’s an ongoing issue of product consistency. It’s so hard to find two pairs of identical vintage jeans and if you want to start being featured in stores or online, it can get tricky with either having to upload every item as a different line product or let people know that it probably won’t be the exact same as the picture.
When you work on vintage you also have to deal with the fact that the clothes are another brand, which is something I’ve been having an internal conflict about. I know exactly what I want jeans to be in terms of the quality, cut and the wash. I’m at the point where I want that quality control and consistency so for Jody Just I’m transitioning into fully cut & sew original products where I can manage the entire process and output.
How do you choose which projects you’ll work on? What’s your criteria?
1 – What’s the rate/budget? 2 – Will this be fun or will I be able to learn something, if neither, refer back to 1.
When you’re collaborating with a lot of people on a project, how much of your energy are you preserving for when you go away and actually have to do your thing? Is your process more about volleying ideas back and forth and working at the last, last minute?
Every project is different, but I always put in a lot of my own energy to whatever it is. When I do corporate work, everyone in the team has an outline of their deliverables, there’s a clear set of design criteria and there’s a hierarchy in the decision-making process. It’s very different to smaller scale projects like collabs with other brands or with musicians because that really depends on who I’m doing it with. Sometimes everyone involved will have an input and sometimes it’ll just be me doing everything in my own style. I’ve been in situations where I’ve said something out loud or done things for other people and been like oh, I should’ve just done that myself but at the end of the day it came up because we would’ve been bouncing ideas off each other and in a collaborative environment. It really depends on who and what we’re doing the project around whether it’s a product release, music video, brand strategy plans etc.
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How do you predict when a certain style or clothing item is going to come back around?
When a few big brands start putting out the same style of clothes at their shows then you know whatever it is will be an upcoming or a continued trend. It’s super important to be on top of what’s coming in and out of style for context but not so much that you cater exclusively to that or start jacking someone else’s work just because what they’re doing is getting attention. Cultural figures in music and sports also have a huge impact on what’s happening with certain styles or items, look at the impact basketball players and rappers have on a brand’s success and their influence on what kids start wearing. I remember when Drake became involved with the grime scene in the UK and started dressing like a roadman it was like ok, I guess everyone in the States is gonna start rocking TNs and Stone Island now.
There are going to be a lot of challenges ahead for any independent designers—do you feel like some positives could emerge creatively?
Consumer behaviour is changing and people are less attached to mainstream brands and mass produced products, there’s a growing appreciation for non-mainstream products and brands that are personalised or unique so I think that if you’re an independent designer and don’t have to answer to anyone, you’re able to create your own lane and that’s an advantage. There’s nothing wrong with a challenge, it just means that there’s an opportunity to solve a problem and make it better. Life is just one challenge after the other but that’s what makes it interesting!
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How do you feel now that a certain era of retail has diminished?
I think of the retail sector in the fashion industry similar to that of the record labels in the music industry. Like most artists my goal has been to get that third-party representation under an established name that also distributes my idols. That’s still something I want to eventually do and aspire to but it’s no longer as critical for success. This is the best time in history to be a creative, across all industries, because we have access to a global network of people and the ability to distribute and market products ourselves, without the need for a third-party organisation to do it for us. I still and will always love retail stores and I think that having products in stores is a big factor for brands blowing up. I think that the new era of retail will weed out stores that don’t deliver and they’ll need to have great service, products, experiences etc. I just opened an appointment only suiting atelier because there’s an immense brand value that you get from a physical retail experience and amazing service that you don’t get from shopping online.
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Is there any one designer you’d like to see make a comeback or collaborate with?
I would love for Ed Hardy to make an official comeback, that would be sick. They still make clothes, but they aren’t bedazzled and there aren’t any truckers so not sure what’s going on there. If I was to choose someone to collaborate with, I would want it to be with a super big brand or designer, purely for the sake of incorporating innovative production methods and materials that I don’t currently have access to.
Follow Roman on Instagram below.