In conversation with: YOJO

8 min read

Yojo Limited | Working with ceramic


YOJO

Est. 2017 - London

"When you buy something from an artist you’re buying more than an object. You’re buying hundreds of hours of errors and experimentation. You’re buying years of frustration and moments of pure joy. You’re not buying just one thing, you are buying a piece of a soul… a small piece of someone else’s life."
- Joe Sorrentino



A fascinating interview with YOJO's Creative Director Joe Sorrentino. He talks about the inspiration behind the brand, why he chose ceramic as his material of choice, his commitment to sustainability and his desire to design accessories that tell the world how remarkable and individual we all are.
 
Jeya Narrative: You started YOJO in 2017. What brought you to start your own business, how did it begin and how has it evolved since?

Joe Sorrentino: YOJO started with a pinch of madness and the belief that freedom doesn’t reside in an office routine. It kicked it off as a side project to escape my everyday jungle and re-discover my love for art and culture. I always say that it’s been and probably still is the extension of a journey of self-discovery that I embraced when I moved from Naples, in Italy, to London. For the first year, it was me and my mum (exceptionally good with threads and needles) going through a number of experiments and design iterations but we have now evolved to a team of 5 with Jack and Claudio – my partners in crime for life – jumping on board to help with growth and brand direction.

Yojo Limited | Mould for ceramic

You studied technology management and worked in experience design. Starting a fashion brand might not be the most obvious change of career. What made you want to start a line of accessories (and altogether rethink them) and how did your previous experiences help in the process?

Well my real area of expertise is experience design and is something I still freelance and consult on. Being a creator at the heart I find super intriguing designing end-to-end customer experiences from UX to CX and everything in between. It might not be the most obvious move in career, but for me designing a piece of clothing today is much more than sketching up a drawing on a board and making swatches – you have to know your persona, understand their desire and then design a garment or accessory that provides a fulfilling experience for that particular type of client. This whole process is essentially what people call “design thinking” and I have found it in fashion as much as in any other creative sector. On the other hand, I have to admit that being an outsider always helps. When you are too bogged down and overloaded with information you become obsessed for perfection and risk to lose focus on what really matters. It’s also true that when this whole idea of creating my own brand with its own cultural twist on the world popped up my mind I was so excited that I hadn’t even thought if it was the right move for my career, it made sense to me… and that’s all I wanted. As John Lennon says ‘life is what happens to you whilst you are busy making other plan’.  

Your brand is built on a multidisciplinary approach to fashion. Could you tell us a little more on which disciplines you drew upon and why this was so key to you?

As a lateral and holistic thinking, I love looking at things from different perspectives and questioning the overlaps between different realms. Being particularly passionate about architecture and style, I was intrigued by the growing retail movement of merging interior design with fashion and so set out on the mission to explore the intersections between these two worlds in a more harmonised and wearable way. From here, the need to embrace a multidisciplinary approach and combine different materials to recall the authentic traits of both industries whilst challenging their status quo. 
 

Yojo Limited | Blue ceramic bow tie


Using ceramic in the fashion industry is incredibly unique and has quickly become your signature material. What drew you to select ceramic as your material of choice?

Ceramic is an incredibly beautiful material. The endless list of positive properties makes it one of the most authentic and versatile material in design. It promotes craftsmanship and it has an intrinsic relevance on culture as it served for years to archeologists to learn more about the people of the past, their behaviours and values. Amongst all the different materials that I considered, to me ceramic was the best compromise between aesthetics, heritage and sustainability.

Can you tell us more on where the ceramic components of your accessories are made and the history of ceramic-making there?

All our accessories are sustainably handmade in Italy. We have a studio in Naples where we create the first ceramic prototypes for our designs. We then work with a community of artists near Naples and Sorrento to manufacture the pieces. The process is always the same, repetitive and patient, but at the same time-accurate and controlled. The whole process from start to completion can take up to 4 days. The ceramic tradition in Napoli and Sorrento still wants for the artwork to be assessed against a single parameter: the work itself. The ceramic tradition in Naples dates back to 1743 with the grand opening of the royal ceramic lab under King Carlo Borbone. Since then, ceramics has become a symbol of pride for the city of Naples and its surroundings that became renowned and recognised in the whole Mediterranean for their premium techniques and materials.

Yojo Limited | Silk and ceramic accessories

You went through many prototypes to be able to achieve wearable ceramic, combine it with silk and make each component modular. Can you tell us more about that journey, the main lessons learnt and how long it took you from the vision of the first accessory to the final set of prototypes ready for manufacturing?

I started my first experiments towards the end of 2015 and spent a full year before launching OXYMORON – our F/W18 collection and first style expression. It’s difficult to mention one lesson learnt above all; as always, it’s a process of trial and errors, discoveries and improvements. Different thing for the modularity as a recurring theme of our designs… that has a lot more to do with design values and as a creator I recognise the functionality and meaning of creating pieces that clients can customise themselves whilst reducing the amount of materials needed with you introduce with set in stone variants. I try and embed modularity in each one of my designs; sometimes it works sometimes it’s doesn’t but overall it’s something I always value and think about.

Customers often query the weight of the ceramic bow tie and whether it will not be too heavy to wear. From a technical point of view, how did you achieve such a light ceramic?

We know! It’s a very common misconception. And it’s always amusing to see how surprised people are when they realise that our pieces are actually lighter than some of their textile equivalents. Technically speaking, ceramics comes from a combination of several compounds and water so playing around with compositions and experimenting with injection-mould and firing techniques we managed to obtain a material that was lighter and stronger than traditional ceramics. 
 

Yojo Limited | All black silk and ceramic tie

Sustainability is a major concern to you and you seek to minimise the impact of your manufacturing processes, and your products of course, on the environment. How do you achieve that?

To me, sustainability is more a value than anything else. As human beings we should all learn to try and do everything we can towards sustainability. Sometimes people mistakenly believe that sustainability is just about materials. Truth is that material is just the tipping point of a much bigger iceberg and sustainability mainly resides in the sourcing and manufacturing processes, from energy consumption to the working conditions of the makers and everything in between. We are proud to have a number of measures in place to ensure the lowest possible impact on the planet. We strive to only buy from certified suppliers and reduce the amount of waste as much as we can, we also leverage solar power in our ceramic studios to reduce the time of the ceramic firing process and we work with recognised artists and seamstresses to finish our pieces in our studio in Napoli.

You are on a mission to show that with the right attitude and change in processes, sustainable fashion does exist. Do you campaign for this and spread the word in any other way than through your products?

Yes! We are currently part of a collective of designers all focused on demonstrating the world that beautiful designs can also be meaningful. Under the direction of the Lone Design Club (aka LDC), we also organise events and workshops to create awareness around sustainable and independent fashion.

Yojo Limited | Making of ceramic bow ties

How do you see the movement for sustainability in fashion evolve and move forward?

I love this question. And the answer for me is that we don’t really have a choice. We either embrace the change or we accept that in a few years time our planet will collapse. According to studies and reports, the fashion industry is the second most polluting industry in the world, after oil. A quarter of the world’s chemicals are used for textile production and the industry uses more water than any other industry except agriculture. Many scandals got reported on exploited workers in garment factories of low- and middle-income countries. Basically, this is a big industry with big problems, and that means we have a big opportunity to make big changes. By buying less and buying from brands making a positive impact on people and planet, we can all make a difference. If this message becomes mainstream and we – as designers – continue to offer more and more alternatives, then I think we will all be moving in the right direction.  

Your brand name YOJO and your second collection have strong reference to Japan. Why is Japan such a source of inspiration to you and why was it important to embed it within your brand?

Yes, Japanese culture has a strong influence on my design direction. At the time we picked YOJO to identify our brand concept I was only intrigued by the Japanese origins of ceramics. However, the more I read about it and the more I got inspired by their life philosophy and so ended up putting Japan at the very centre of my thinking process for our SS19 collection. AESTHETICS (美学) is currently on tour around the world available at selected showrooms only, and will finally be available online in February 2019.  
 

Your brand is also about making a creative personal statement, which suits the discerning man to perfection. How is style a medium for self-expression in your opinion?

To me, fashion continues to thrive because beyond labels and commercial advertising, clothing remains a key cultural element to express our inner self without the need for words. For this very same reason, I believe that dressing is not just about wearing aesthetically pleasant garments but it’s a whole experience of feeling connected to a product through its story and heritage. When I started working on the brand concept, it was clear to me that we wanted to talk to the discerning man and woman who want to reinforce their strong personalities with a creative twist. We aim to be their mean for telling the world how remarkable and different they are.

Visit YOJO's website. 

Lastly…

Place you call home: Napoli 
A colour: Black 

A movie or book: Jonathan Livingstone
A sound:'Shine on you crazy diamond' - Pink Floyd 
A place: Antibes (a village in the South of France)

Moment of fame:
The launch of YOJO 
Style icon:
Alessandro Michele 
Go-to accessory to dress to impress:
Bow tie
Most coveted item in your wardrobe: 
Shirt from Salvatore Ferragamo
Favourite tool to work with:
Clay Wheel
Favourite inspirational quotes: “Let’s stay human." - Roger Waters
Why Jeya Narrative? Because we share same vision for the industry. We talk to the same audience and we do it with similar tones. We tend to be fairly selective with our client base because mass distribution is not our thing and we believe that it’s better to produce less and sell to the right consumer rather than overproducing to feed an unsustainable distribution chain. With Jeya Narrative, we knew we were talking to people with a concept and a direction so we really look forward to doing more together.  







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