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Kelly Harrington: 100% Denim

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Photo: Lisa Kato

From high-street to heritage to high-fashion, denim is everywhere. It’s timeless, classic and is everyone’s blank canvas. We’ve covered our fair share of denim here at Heddels by bringing you the latest offerings and the history of this humble fabric. But arguably, what gives denim its credentials are the people. The people who make it, wear it, design it and develop it. Although names like Levi Strauss, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein are synonymous with the fabric and have made the industry what it is today, what really shapes the direction of the discipline is those close to the ground. One of those people, who is continuing to make a mark on the industry due to her unique approach and passion for all things blue, is Kelly Harrington.

Between her day job as a print designer/trend-forecaster/vintage archivist for global giant H&M and working as a brand consultant/denim specialist/stylist in her spare time, Kelly lives and breathes denim. We sat down with her to understand what keeps her inspired, what brands she’s wearing and what destinations are the best for street style. We quiz her on sustainability and the future of denim production, as well as her personal history and journey into this world of indigo.

Heddels (H): Tell us how you entered the industry and what led you here?

Kelly Harrington (KH): I guess you could say I have always been passionate about fashion. Growing up, I saved all my Saturday job money to buy the latest fashion trends. I was quite fashion forward and experimental in my youth: I spent every weekend window shopping and flicking through the pages of magazines and idolizing pop culture. Looking back in retrospect, it was always clear that I would do something in the world of art, creativity or fashion. The passion I had led me to study a degree in printed textiles and I graduated in the early 2000s. I was always a little off beat and often chose quirky designs over the everyday. I even wrote my dissertation about the Levi’s brand, solidifying my passion for denim way back then.

After graduating I worked as a freelance print designer and juggled jobs before moving to Stockholm to work for H&M as a print designer. I initially started by designing the graphics on clothing for all departments within the brand. After moving back to London, my role became more multifaceted and involved designing, trend-forecasting, managing street style, buying and coordinating our vintage archive.

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Photo: Lisa Kato

H: You have a unique approach to the world of denim and fashion. From attending fashion weeks, to visiting fabric mills, picking at vintage flea markets and collaborating with brands and designers on collections, you must have a busy schedule.

KH: One of my passions is traveling and I’m lucky enough to say my job has taken me to many places. From the far-flung corners of Brazil to LA, Tokyo, Nashville, Texas, and Paris.  I feel extremely lucky. I find that traveling feeds my mind with so many ideas, especially cities like Seoul and Tokyo. I love seeking out the next new trend or people watching and picking up new street style inspiration. I like to think outside the box and I’m always keen to push boundaries. So finding the next new city to scout in is always fun. My schedule is always busy but I wouldn’t have it any other way!

H: A quick glance at your Instagram feed (@kellouhar) hints that you live and breath indigo. There is a clear enthusiasm and excitement to your work and the world of denim. Does it feel like work?

KH: I do live and breath indigo! I feel incredibly lucky to work with something that I’m passionate about every day. It has become part of my life and I’m one of those people that likes to take grab opportunities by the hand, so my work feels fun every day.

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Photo: Kim Geronimo

H: Denim is clearly a passion of yours – from attending trade shows and events to collecting vintage denim pieces and even designing a collection. What attracts you to denim?

KH: Denim is a humble fabric that’s been around for many, many years. I love the fact that it can be used in both heritage and fashion-forward contexts. Denim, for me, has always been a blank canvas. It can be worn by anyone at any age, of any gender, and in any place. I find this unique fabric to be one of the few products in fashion that is truly timeless.

H: Where is denim heading at the moment?

KH: These days, repurposing vintage and used denim has been born from innovation and a need to address the fact that we send millions of clothes to landfill every year. At the moment, I love to learn about new technology in denim production. With so many new and positive innovations that are kinder to our planet, we can only hope that these practices will become a permanent legislation. The future of denim has to be sustainable and friendly to our planet.

H: Your experience within the industry and the world of denim is varied and far-reaching. Do you find inspiration from different areas of the fashion world and culture?

KH: I find inspiration in so many different aspects of life; from travel and music to street style and popular culture. I think my unique mixture of experiences gives me a different outlook when I create and design. I’m very grateful for this and in a unique position to be able to draw inspiration from so many areas.

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Photo: Kim Geronimo

H: A large portion of your work is taken up by trend forecasting and finding out ‘what’s next’. Talk us through this work and how you manage to stay ahead of the curve.

KH: I spend a lot of my time involved with trend forecasting. It’s more and more difficult to stay ahead of the curve with so many micro-trends that can be turned over as frequently as every few weeks. I’m constantly absorbing information from magazines, street style photography, music, festivals, websites, Tumblr, Pinterest, Instagram, influencers, and trade shows. Traveling plays an important part of trend forecasting by learning what’s popular in different areas around the world. Japan and South Korea are always ahead of the game when it comes to trends!

H: In a trend-driven fashion world, is there still a place for classic and timeless garments or silhouettes?

KH: Yes, there will always be a place for classic garments as they go way beyond trends. For instance, the 501 will never lose its allure. This is particularly relevant now that consumers,  Gen Z designers, and creators are thinking about the future of our planet. Classic and timeless garments hold longevity and we as consumers should buy less, buy better, choose wisely and make those choices last.

H: You’re also passionate about vintage and an avid collector. What is it that fascinates you about vintage clothing and how does this relate to the work you do?

KH: I adore vintage clothing and my passion for it grew from necessity. I wanted to dress differently and couldn’t afford designer price tags, so I tried to find affordable alternatives. From 1960s dresses to Victorian capes, my wardrobe is like Pandora’s box. I love the story that vintage clothing can tell about the wearer and its past. Every piece is unique and individual. Vintage clothing shows that, with age, a piece of clothing can become more and more beautiful over time. The imperfections you find in vintage pieces make them desirable and unique.

For my personal collection, I buy items which give me joy, not necessarily ones that are ‘collectable’ or expensive. One of my most treasured pieces is my first ever Levi’s jacket that my parents bought me for my 17th birthday. I still wear it today! I now shop for vintage inspiration as part of my day job, so you’ll find me searching through thrift stores in London and rummaging through flea markets from LA to Tokyo. I use vintage to get inspired and to inform trend forecasting; it’s necessary to look back to go forwards. Clothing now is not made like it used to be and the details you find on an original piece can inform future designs.

Photo: Kip Photography

H: You’re fascinated with Japanese culture and a self-confessed ‘Japanophile’. What started this interest and what is it about Japan that keeps you going back?

KH: I’ve been going to Japan for 17 years and I love everything about the country and culture, from the food to their incredible style. I’ve been interested in Japan since I was young and my first trip to Japan is something that I will never forget. It is a place which is so full of energy and inspiration. I wander the tiny streets in Nakameguro to the bustling streets of Shibuya, spending my jet-lagged evenings in Tsutaya bookstores and getting lost in the backstreets trying to find vintage shops or new designer boutiques. I love to visit flea markets and pick up antique indigo textiles and kimonos. During my last trip to Tokyo, I attended Amazon Tokyo Fashion Week and took a trip to the secret (Levi’s) Haus of Strauss, which was an incredible experience.

H: How would you define Japanese denim style?

KH: Japanese denim style is particularly unique. It’s experimental yet authentic in a way which references the past in order to create new styles and trends. I love the baggy wide cut denim styles you see on the Shibuya streets and repurposed denim made from vintage pieces. The Japanese are also able to mix vintage pieces with trendy designer items so well and in ways which other cultures can’t. Japanese style can be quite excessive and oversized where no detail is left untouched. I love the small details which bring a look together. I’m always inspired by it and will continue to be for many years.

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Photo: Lisa Kato

H: What denim brands are you wearing at the moment?

KH: I’ve been wearing and collecting Kapital for a number of years and always shop for it in Japan. I also really like Needles, Visvim, LVC and Beams Boy for classic, heritage-inspired denim. Some more fashion-forward and innovative brands I like are Children of the Discordance, Ksenia Schneider, 77 Circa, and Tokonikomu.

H: What projects you have lined up for 2019 and where can we find out more about your life in denim?

KH: I have a few projects lined up that you’ll hear more about in the future on my social platforms @kellouhar and website www.trademarkblue.com. They are a bit of a secret right now!