In conversation with Erik Yvon
I spoke to Melbourne-based designer Erik Yvon about his passion for local manufacturing, and his work with The Social Studio.
Having come a long way since his boyhood days of wearing denim shorts and Ninja Turtle t-shirts, Erik Yvon is one of Australia’s top young designers to watch. Raised in Mauritius, based in Melbourne, and formally educated at RMIT University, the designer’s homegrown collections are proof that fashion and sustainability don’t have to be such strange bedfellows after all.
Known for his vibrant and playful aesthetic, Yvon produces collections that are as bold as they are functional, characterized by equal measures of wildness and wearability. Drawing inspiration from the characters he creates at the beginning of each collection, Yvon is not afraid of experimenting with print, texture and colour.
His recent Mercury 15 collection, for example, included fitted sweaters in psychedelic prints, full body suits with striking geometrics, and funnel necked, cocoon-esque coats in dark jet black. The pieces paid homage to childhood memories, depicting the influence of super heroes and the impact of unbridled imagination.
KATHRYN CARTER: Where were you born and raised?
ERIK YVON: I was born in Mauritius—a tiny island in the Indian Ocean in between Africa and Australia. I grew up in a town a couple of miles from the coast, with crystal clear water just like the kind you see on postcards. I left the island when I was eighteen, to move to Australia by myself with a couple of suitcases. Even though I learned English at school, we did not use the language [in Mauritius] very often. I remember I could barely put a sentence in English together when I first got here.
KC: How did you dress when you were a kid?
EY: Green was my favourite colour. I had my signature green Hawaiian shirt, and I would accessorise with a white coral necklace. I was always wearing denim shorts with a printed tee of Dragon Ball Z, Jurassic Park, Ninja Turtle or Sailor moon. Dragon Ball Z t-shirts were definitely my favourite. I remember getting a new one every single birthday.
KC: What made you decide to study fashion in Melbourne?
EY: I didn’t come to Melbourne to study fashion originally. I dappled in the culinary arts for a while, until finally I realised it didn’t feel right. By the time I got my head around studying fashion I already loved the city, and RMIT wasn’t too shabby.
KC: What’s the most rewarding thing about being a designer and manufacturing garments locally?
EY: It’s the fact that I know who has been involved in every single step of the process. There are so many different stages that are important when designing a collection. By keeping everything within Melbourne I get to meet the printers, knitters, makers. I personally see them to drop off fabrics, or to pick up trims. I get to see the environment in which they work, but more importantly, I get to put a face to a name. I truly believe that this shows in my work—there’s definitely a piece of Melbourne in every single garment.
KC: You’ve said that it is almost impossible to find local fabric manufacturers, why do you think that is?
EY: Globalisation has definitely played a big role in not being able to find local fabrics. The local manufacturers can no longer compete with the fact that other countries can produce fabrics at a fraction of the price—it is hard to compete with countries like China. It’s quite sad looking back, knowing that what used to be a buzzing hub for textiles no longer exists. It was a drastic shift, one that also created bad consequences for wages and working conditions. There are still a handful of knitters, makers, printers and spinners in Victoria, so I try to work with them as much as possible.
KC: Why is sustainability so important to you?
EY: Sustainability is definitely the way of the future—there is only so much our planet can take. The fashion industry is accountable for more than 50% of pollution. There are different ways of being sustainable; some labels are eco friendly, some are animal friendly. My approach to sustainability is to be transparent, and to only produce and consume what I need—I’m very mindful of the footprint of my designs. [This is why] my collections are trans-seasonal, featuring elements of trends that appeal to today. I’ve embraced sustainability by keeping my production on a very low scale, and by using local resources as much as possible.
I also remain ethically responsible by maintaining connections with the people involved in the printing and manufacturing process. Engaging with local family operated traders is an ongoing practice of the label. To be sustainable is to be aware of your choices, and to take responsibility for them. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a sustainable/eco guru… but I’m always looking for ways to improve.
KC: How do you begin a collection? Do you start with a theme, a colour, a fabric?
EY: I usually start a collection by creating a character… I build a story about where he or she is going. Then I go on a fabric hunt and select [materials] according to the mood I want to portray in the collection. Selecting the right colours is always tough… very often I end up using all of them. I love working with bold, fluid, colourful graphic prints, which are the signature of the label.
KC: How did you come to be involved with The Social Studio?
EY: The Social Studio and I just happened to click. I went and checked them out one day with a friend who used to work there, and I’ve been going back ever since. The Social Studio is unreal, they’ve created a real sense of community and are all for supporting all kinds of creatives. They also nurture other independent Melbourne designers like Shio, SZN and Atong Omoli.
KC: In your own words, what is the point of fashion?
EY: Fashion is more than pretty clothes; it is a reflection of your choices and your ethics.
KC: What really inspires you?
EY: There is a lot of my cultural background that shines through my work. Illustration and art are real sources of inspiration. It could be a drawing or a mural I come across, or an image I see online. I used to draw a lot when I was a child; clothes are just a different medium.
KC: Do you have any muses?
EY: I am really digging Solange Knowles… Damn that woman is switched on.
This interview was first published in HESSIAN Magazine, Melbourne, in 2015.