In a time full of uncertainty, it’s clear to see that the UK’s arts and entertainment sector has been one of the areas worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
While the odds have seemingly been stacked against our creatives, some have not been deterred.
At 21 years-old Olly Simpson is the owner of the small, upcoming clothing brand PBY.OJS who has gone from printing jeans in his tiny south London flat, to moving in to his first ever print studio in Elephant and Castle in the middle of a global pandemic.
“At the beginning it all seemed so ridiculous to start a brand during a pandemic. It was always something I’d dreamt of doing after graduating but never before as university had always been my main focus.”
With funds low and unable to get work as a photographer due to the UK going into it’s first national lockdown back in March 2020; Olly took a risk and made the decision to invest the last £100 of his student overdraft into purchasing seven pairs of jeans, as well as printing ink in order to start selling his own designs on the app Depop. He hasn’t looked back since.
“My interest in fashion started when I was in my first year of college around five years ago,” Olly told us. “While I was there I was studying graphic design which jump started my interest in fashion. I began designing digital artwork and putting it onto t-shirts and jumpers as the style of designs I was interested in and created were not available to purchase, I also liked the idea of being able to wear my work.”PBY.OJS designs are created from Olly’s array of photography work that he’s collected over his time living in London, where he’s currently studying fashion textiles and print design at London College of Fashion.
Since his move to the capital back in 2018, he took an interest in photography and documenting live events and parties across London.
“Coming from a small town in the UK, I had never been exposed to such a wide range of diverse subcultures and individuals. My print designs are all created from my photos of people who I have met at events or in passing that have caught my attention.”
Having regularly worn his own designs prior to selling online, the reaction to his work was substantial and Olly would regularly get asked where he’d brought his designs at events or out and about by members of the public.
“Like my graphic work at college, I always wanted a way of wearing my work, and my prints are my way of wearing my photography.”
With limited space and the motivation to make some extra cash, Olly began printing multiple pairs of denim jeans from his bedroom in his south London flat.
“There would be jeans on the living room, kitchen, bathroom floor; you name it. If there was space, I would leave my jeans there to dry.”
Despite his limitations, the first launch of his lip printed jeans was a success and sold out within the first hour of launch which provided Olly with enough turn over to keep investing and slowly grow his business.Having established his brand through Depop, Olly turned to the use of Instagram as a way of marketing his products back in July 2020, despite growing a following across both platforms Olly told Artefact: “I never expected it to take off as much as it has and it still baffles me that people all over the world want to wear and buy my clothing designs.”
With most creatives having to move their work online during these unprecedented times, Olly reflects on the impact social media has had on the success of his business so far. “At first i didn’t comprehend the importance of social media for a successful business. However, now I’ve realised that without social media and an online presence it’s practically impossible to launch a new business, especially in the current circumstances of Covid-19.”
The thought of single-handedly managing a small business along side studying at one of the world’s best fashion schools during the height of a global pandemic seems completely overwhelming.
Olly sees it differently: “It gives me something to work on and be proud of during a time which is full of sadness and negativity, and for that i am very grateful. Even though it wasn’t in the plan i’m so glad i launched PBY.OJS when i did. Everyday i’m learning something new and it’s very rewarding.”Rewarding indeed, as last year American rapper Quavo was spotted wearing a pair of PBY.OJS original lip print jeans on Malibu Beach alongside Travis Scott, Diddy, Nas and Swizz Beatz. “It still feels surreal to me that Quavo, one of the world’s most famous rappers has a pair of my jeans, that I printed at the end of my bed in my south London flat, in his wardrobe,” Olly admitted.
“Since he acquired the jeans through his stylist, he has reached out to me directly to show support for my brand and we speak on a regular basis to discuss my upcoming releases.”
With the business expanding and without the facilities to hold the growing number of orders coming in, Olly soon outgrew his flat and realised that to keep the business venture going that he’d have to go invest in a print studio.
After months of searching, he now finds himself situated in Elephant and Castle where his new space has allowed him to increase production, and hire his first employees, which he describes as being a massive weight off his shoulders.
Set with his own space and a growing team behind him, Olly continues to set goals and break boundaries for the year ahead.
He currently has a new design in the pipeline which is suitably named “good times, bad decisions,” set to be released later this year which has been created from a series of photographs taken at what Olly describes as “very strange points in my life.”
This is a print personal to Olly’s life experiences and he can’t wait to share it with you all in the upcoming months.
You can check out Olly’s instagram @pby.ojs for future updates and to see who will be sporting the new release.
Featured image courtesy of Olly Simpson.
Edited by Betty Wales-Hulbert and Vanessa Richter.