Written by Dan Hampson
09 Sunday 09th October 2011

Who is Kara Messina?

Your regular geek with a slight obsession for subcultures & branding. I’ve spent the last six years of my life working in high fashion and I’ve recently moved into streetwear to start my own menswear label Y’OH.

You’ve spoke often about Y'OHs intrinsic links to London’s Grime scene - is this more of a personal influence on you or does it visually translate to your designs?

It’s not so much an aesthetic link, more so an empathy for the subculture. Hip Hop has had so much impact on culture in general, not just music, maybe Grime has a similar potential..

Much has been made of the brilliant use of African prints on the pieces we’ve seen so far, where did you go to source your material?

Sourcing the material has been the part I have found most difficult. Out of the hundreds of African fabrics available very few are suited to Y’OH and even then sometimes you can only find one length (they are sold in 5.5 meter lengths, not on a roll) which is equivalent to two shirts. I don’t get it from one specific place, just wherever I can find it.

Where else do you take influence from?

Mainly people and books. Most of my ideas start with a concept, usually related to social studies and then I translate that aesthetically in the design. For example the first collection was inspired by youth transition into manhood; how whether you’re 20 or 40 what you wear isn’t really that different any more. I suppose Y’OH achieved that considering I get emails from 15 year-old through to 40 year-olds.

How long does it take you to put each piece together?

It all depends. The first season always takes the longest because you start everything from scratch. I used to be a pattern cutter so I cut everything myself. Each piece literally started with a pencil, ruler and a set of measurements. I wanted to create a cut that is unique to Y’OH. More loose than what’s out there at the moment. Trial and error is part of that so the existing pieces might change slightly in accordance to the feedback I get from my customers but as a whole I’ve got something to build on so next season it will take less time. On average though I tend to make two to three prototypes plus sourcing fabric and trims, the pattern grading and then the final make. I’d say two months minimum.


What were your aspirations five years ago and how do they compare now, with your own clothing line on the verge of being launched?

Back then I thought I wanted to work in high fashion but after five years at that level it all felt quite forced. £600 sweaters, fashion shows and all that hype, I get it but it’s just not for me. Last year I was close to leaving the industry altogether then it just clicked one day that my approach was more suited to streetwear. So over the years my aspirations have changed considerably. I’m really hyped that Y’OH is seen as a specifically UK brand. I really do see clothing as a language and I guess that’s what I still aim to keep doing, translating the UK’s lingo so to speak.

How hard have you found it to compete with the huge dominance of high street brands?  Does the ubiquitous nature of commercial 'streetwear' annoy you?

It’s great that you mention that. No, not really, because I’m not trying to compete with them and I do take consumerism into consideration when I’m doing my research. The thing is, when I was a kid stuff was a lot more expensive. So you would save up and every purchase was seen as an investment. I know that sounds very boring but I would like to see fashion slowing down a bit. Allow the wearer time to enjoy their purchase without feeling like they need the next best thing. That’s why I want all my stuff to have a classic feel to it and as mad as the African fabric is I genuinely believe it won’t go out of fashion in the way camouflage hasn’t.

Look at Giorgio Armani in the 90s. He made his business bigger (and contributed to big changes in the rest of high-fashion) by adding the Emporio Armani diffusion line. He said “I thought about people. I thought about those women who cannot afford my dresses, but would like to own them, because they feel right for them; and I thought about a form of education of taste" I think that’s similar to where decent streetwear brands sit now. It’s not for the masses but it’s not exclusive to those high earners. Yeah it’s pricey but not beyond reach. You can save up for it. I hope that makes sense?

Where/what next for Y'OH?

Get the E-store launched. Everything has been VERY slow. I can’t lie I’m at a point where I feel embarrassed when people ask about when the store is going live. I do see the brand's potential to be big so it’s taken a bit longer to set everything up, mostly the legal side and all that. So thank you so much for holding tight so far.

On a creative tip, the new season will probably have a more collection feel to it. I am thinking of it as a whole as opposed to separate pieces. I’m also in the process of designing some prints with my in-house print designer. I’ve no plans to come out with a whole new look each season, my objective is to just make subtle changes, improvements and add new pieces. Definitely making a puffa jacket though!

You can see more of Kara's work and keep up on Y'OH news and announcements on the Y'OH Tumblr here.

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