Spencer Badu’s long awaited 008 collection is out today. For this collection he has kept his minimalist and modernistic design palate, while adding in subtle references to his personal history. This utilitarian ware is much less inspired by a futuristic ideal than it is a nod to the culture of the past and present he lives in. Inside the monochromatic colourscapes and sharp lines is a romance with his home and community. We see a more personal side of Badu emerge in 008 as he has had time to reflect over 2020, through the pandemic, and use a more internal compass to guide his designs. In 008 Badu took time to consider his personal mantras that have attached themselves to the brand in order to keep it authentic and true to the designer himself. Through that meditation, he kept coming back to the same intention: the uniform.
“The term uniform makes you think of conformity; makes you think of everyone looking the same, but for me it is more of challenging that term. What is a modern uniform for someone who maybe doesn’t want to look the same as everyone, but their clothing represents a shared value or a shared mission? And also, uniform in the idea of consistency, something that works for you on a daily basis. So that is where we started with this collection and looking at that as the building blocks.”
He continues by examining – surprisingly – not the future of uniforms as we would expect from the modern brand, but instead, the past that invigorated his thoughts on the term.
“We were looking at uniforms that have translated into hip hop culture. I was doing a lot of reflecting through COVID and I was thinking of companies like Carhartt or Dickies that started as one thing but because of price point, durability, and function, in the neighbours that I grew up in, those were staples. Someone always had a Carhartt winter hoodie or a Dickies button up and it’s not like they were mechanics, but they wore those things proudly and they wore them all the time because they were durable. So, I started to look at more personal things, on a background level, being African and the different intricacies of that and the different layers of that. Then music and movies I gravitated to. Then I tried to put all of those references in there so it’s not just like boring minimal clothes that aren’t referential to someone’s personal uniform.”
Badu’s brand is noteworthy for many reasons but being an expert in minimalism is top of the list. He has the ability to give you the exact thing you need, without any extra adornments, in a way you would never have expected. Though the process of creating clothes that are stripped down to their most functional purpose seems like it would be a simple task, it does pose its unique challenges to the designer.
“The challenge for someone like me that does something minimal is you have one time to say something and you kind of have to be very precise when you present pieces. You know if I made clothes that were super loud and they had a lot of embellishments and stuff like that, it would be easier because you can distract from everything else, but for me, there isn’t a lot of that, so its kind of like, what you see is what you get and so I have to make sure everything I do is intentional.”
Though precision is key, Badu is not afraid of challenging his ideas of minimalism. When it comes to future collections, he wants to continue to dive into the personal and experiment more with print elements and colour, while toeing the line of representing his references accurately without embellishing his experiences. He talks about wanting to acknowledge his heritage and his culture growing up in a Ghanaian household in Canada, while understanding his own experience is as a Canadian and strongly influenced by modern and euro designs.
“I was born in Canada not Ghana, so it’s important for me to be authentic about that representation of my heritage. I wouldn’t necessarily take a print and make it in one of my designs. I would like to challenge those elements. I would like to see what an African print would look like from someone like me who also has other references.”
Not only is Badu conscious of his job to create without appropriating, he is also pushing to be a revelation to fashion as Tesla is to design. With a similar motive as the tech giant, he constantly revisits utility and focuses on functionality in a modern world. Not a button is placed or seam stitched without purpose. He comments, “The design is one thing, and then there is the function. When there is a pocket, or whatever kind of detail, the function is emphasized. There is never just a button there for no reason.” That objective is moving him forward to push the boundaries of what it means to be an intentional designer, past functionality, and deeper into sustainability so that positive intention can ingrain itself into his supply chain.
Talking about sustainability, the designer says, “We talk about challenging things and I think at some point it has to be more than just challenging clothes. It has to be challenging the process and how things are made.”
To honour that motive of the brand, Badu is looking into unique changes for his collections to be more sustainable. By using more natural fibres rather than plastics for new pieces, like eyewear, and using ethical and organic cotton for shirts, he is once again looking into the past to create a more sustainable future. He is even dabbling in repurposing secondhand clothing to do his part in helping to stop clothes dumping onto developing nations (a practice that undercuts local textile markets and puts small clothing shops out of business), but true to the brand, Badu is interested in technological advances to help in creating a more ethical brand as well. We may see 3D printed boots in the future of the Spencer Badu brand - a modern solution to overstocking by having clothes made to order.
Every collection promises to be more modern than the last, while being firmly rooted in the past. Badu understands that nothing can move forward without understanding where it has come from. That simple wisdom, apparent in the brand, comes directly from the artist whose authentic and humble mind is sure to continue to ethically push boundaries and create every success for the Spencer Badu brand.
[All photo material is sourced from Spencer Badu's Instagram page, where all credits can be found]