CATHERINE TEATUM - how teatum jones emotionally connect to design socially conscious fashion

CATHERINE TEATUM - how teatum jones emotionally connect to design socially conscious fashion

Catherine Teatum and Rob Jones graduated from Ravensbourne University and Central St Martins respectively. They met in Italy whilst working for British fashion brand, John Richmond, and since founding Teatum Jones in 2010 have been recognised worldwide for their emotionally connected approach to fashion. An approach that respects people and their ‘Human Stories’ demonstrating our uniqueness and similarities through a poetic design narrative. They use their platform to create dialogue and support campaigns such as ’16 Days Of Activism’, a United Nations Women International campaign to end violence against women and girls. Teatum Jones believe in the power of fashion to present a pro-social message of inclusivity and positive identity. They believe in creating socially conscious fashion that puts the craftspeople and the customer at the heart of their creations.  

In this podcast Catherine Teatum and Black Neon Digital’s founder, Jodi Muter-Hamilton discuss:

  • Fashion education and creative freedom

  • The importance of approaching research from a place of true connection and how that has resulted in Teatum Jones becoming British Library Designer in Residence and British Fashion Council Positive Fashion Representatives

  • How ‘Human Stories’ have led to the Global Womanhood Part Part One & Part Two and creative homage to Natasha Baker, GB Paralympic dressage eleven-time gold medalist

  • What it means to be Woolmark Prize Winners and to be recognised as textile innovators pushing the boundaries of traditional practices

  • The joy of working with companies such as John Smedley

  • Using your voice and platform to a create a positive impact and how recent motherhood has made issues such as sustainability even more imminent 

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Catherine Teatum in Teatum Jones’ studio photo by Bec O’Conner for Black Neon Digital

Catherine Teatum in Teatum Jones’ studio photo by Bec O’Conner for Black Neon Digital

The importance of designing from a place of true connection

As designers we research a lot. Visiting libraries, galleries, looking at past and present people, art forms and movements we submerge ourselves in to other worlds. It can be fascinating and exhilarating to learn about new cultures or see things in a different light. Through the design process researched references are distilled and guide creative expression. The key to being a good designer is to not just cherry pick visually appealing references, but respect and honour the source of your research. If this is not done in the right way, it can have a huge negative impact. 

Examples of cultural appropriation, such as Gucci’s AW18 show where models, the majority of which were white, wore a Shik Turban created media headlines.  The Sikh Turban is an article of faith for practising Sikhs, showing honour, self-respect, courage, spirituality, and piety. To culturally appropriate something means to exert power over a less dominant person/culture, and in this case with the aim to make a financial gain. This could have been a very different story if Gucci had used Sihk models and had a different company culture with a more diverse design team, c-suite and board members.

Creating a true connection and deep understanding of the people and culture you reference as a designer is something that Teatum Jones consider invaluable. Named as British Library Designer in Residence and referred to as method designers (likened to method actors who aspire to complete emotional identification with a part), Teatum Jones submerge themselves in to the lives of the people they dedicate their collections to. This has resulted in Teatum Jones using their platform to create a positive impact. Wonderful examples of this which we discussed in the podcast include:

The Body | Part 2, a creative homage to Natasha Baker the “Horse Whisperer.” Natasha is a GB Paralympic dressage eleven-time gold medalist who suffers from Transverse Myelitis.

Global Womanhood Part One brought together 25 women in spite of their different backgrounds, ethnicities and ages, were united by their moments of intense joy, sadness and hope.

Global Womanhood Part Two, 16 Days Of Activism partnered with Youtube, Google and The British Fashion Council in support of 16 Days Of Activism, a United Nations Women International campaign to end violence against women and girls. Teatum Jones created a space for discussion, bringing the conversation to fashion by asking: What is fashion’s responsibility and role in the protection, unification, inclusion and equality of women? The ROUND TABLE not RUNWAY film with key industry leaders and activists was presented alongside their SS19 collection.

Whoever we are looking at or group of people that we are looking at we have to get under the skin. We have to understand what drives them, or drove them to do something in particular. And to do that you really need to understand their psyche.
— Catherine Teatum, Black Neon Digital Podcast Episode 21
The Body | Part 2, a creative homage to Natasha Baker the ‘Horse Whisperer’

The Body | Part 2, a creative homage to Natasha Baker the ‘Horse Whisperer’

By forming genuine connections and creating shared experiences we understand people and our surroundings in a way in which is honest and respectful. Fashion is an extremely powerful medium by which we can create change. Emotional connection enables empathy and that empathy allows us to see things through new eyes. If all brands approached design the way in which Teatum Jones does we would certainly see fewer instances of cultural appropriation and sustainability issues would be less likely because we are at one with each other and the planet. 

Every time we do a collection, a lookbook, a show, I think we approach it as if it’s our last. And with that, you think what can I say. Because there is nothing worse than having a voice and not using it.
— Catherine Teatum, Black Neon Digital Podcast Episode 21

photos taken by bec o'conner for black neon digital

podcast recorded at teatum jones’ studio, south london

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