How do they see?
Simeon Bird is a maker and founder of the clothing and lifestyle brand, Fundamentals. Reflective and pragmatic, Simeon combines his creativity with an action-oriented approach. I find it fascinating how Simeon can make an idea scribbled in his notebook spring to life, and as he has many notebooks and many ideas, let's all be on the look out for what he puts his hand to next.
GM How do you come up with ideas?
SB I’m writing a lot of things down and spending a lot of time not looking at the internet! I’m walking a lot as well and thinking more deeply. I’m writing about ideas. I have a grand idea at the moment, it’s been forming over a long period of time.
I have about eight notebooks at any one time. I try to be organised by calling each a different thing, so I have different notebooks for different projects. One is for scrappy writing and one is neat, and then sometimes I combine them all to come up with a more formulated plan of what I’m doing. I like to scribble things down. I’ve been writing down what things mean as well, because I possibly have an issue with words, translating what creatively is in my head and putting it on paper.
GM It would be great to hear about your brand, Fundamentals.
SB It’s gone through some thoughtful stages recently, but originally Fundamentals was started because I had been doing a lot of work where I made products of quite a high standard for a billionaire. I would see a lot of really expensive products, especially things like tracksuits that would cost thousands of pounds. Very basic stuff that cost a lot of money. A lot of the time it would be from big brands, and not necessarily should have cost anywhere near as much as it did, it was just because of the brand on top of it.
Fundamentals was a way to use my skills and my passion. I saw myself going towards wearing very monochrome clothes. Basically I wanted to make some clothes for myself, but then I thought I should probably make more than just clothes for me. So I made Fundamentals. It’s currently out as a set of chill, casual wear. I like to think of it more as loungewear, because having worn it a lot, I lounge in it more than anything else!
GM Could you say a bit more about the products themselves?
SB I developed all the products myself, and they’re all made in England. All the material is woven in England from organic cotton, on these big vintage circular knitting machines. They’re very old but they work well - I’ve been up to the factory and someone’s always repairing one of the machines! All the materials are pre-shrunk, tested and dyed all in England. There are nice stories behind the clothes, where instead of just a t-shirt, you’re getting a t-shirt with at least a bit of truth in it. I’m into ecological clothes, although I do sympathise with the customer because actually it’s not very easy to get clothes which are ethical and nice. But I don’t want to promote Fundamentals as ethical clothing because I don’t want to put it in one box.
I’ve also been working on a concept of it being an all-encompassing lifestyle brand. Fundamentals 2.0 is nearly finished, and it’s going to be more content based. Not only nice, authentic loungewear but also some stuff to get your teeth into, or to inspire you. General culture and lifestyle, with input from my travels. There are some more products coming in the future too. I’m wanting to build more of a community, so that’s why I’m using content and hopefully working with people to bring a nicer family feel to it. At the moment it’s just me working on it, and for me there’s no pressure on it. I’m doing it because I enjoy it. I’m not trying to make a gazillion dollars! I want to enjoy the creative process.
GM When you’re talking about the different aspects built into the clothing, there are quite a few components there to pull together. How did it go from just being an idea you had when working for someone, to being clothes on people’s backs?
SB I’ve done quite a lot of it in the past. I’ve got clothes made for people in bulk and as custom products. For me, as I developed it I found the most important thing is material. I saw a t-shirt a while ago, maybe three years back. It was on an old man who was a surfer from LA. He was very tanned, just a cool old guy. He was wearing this t-shirt that was maybe thirty years old. It held together, apart from at the seams, but the material was this heavyweight cotton. It still looked lovely and would have felt lovely, but was obviously very old. So I was inspired to make a t-shirt that might not be the smartest t-shirt ever, but the material is there and it will always be that comfortable t-shirt you can chuck on and sleep in, or go on a run in.
It’s not the best idea ever to go get material made in England - in fact that’s close to the worst idea ever! Since the big manufacturing move to the far east, English manufacturing has really diminished. But I think it may be coming back and hopefully I can assist with that. The place I got it done is probably the best you can get in England, and they use certified organic cotton from India. I went to the factory, met them, saw the machines in action. I ordered some sample material to be made, then made the samples. I made a first prototype, just to see how it washes and feels as it gets used and sewn together. I gave them feedback as I went.
I went to a pattern cutter who I’d worked with before, and brought together a collection of t-shirts I really liked and picked out the good things I liked about them. I tested two patterns I think, then got them scaled so that you can make the different sizes. Then I ordered the bulk fabric and had it dyed and washed, then sent to the factory in east London and they made it. Production actually is the shortest bit - it takes ten days. Once it’s on the line they just whizz it through. The factory employees have been there for years, and they’re nice people.
GM That’s a huge process! It’s also very involved, and involves a lot of other people.
SB Not many clothing brands would do it that way. In fact, if I were to do it again I probably wouldn’t do it that way because it was a nightmare!
GM (laughs) But learning how each stage of the process works would have been valuable.
SB It’s fun. A fun, interesting process. Probably not the most reliable and convenient process ever! But it was nice for me to do it all myself, particularly for the first batch ever. It’s a passion project.
GM Are there particular designers or schools of design that you identify with most?
SB I take my inspiration for design and the whole essence behind it from a variety of design areas, like architecture, furniture design, interiors, art, all of that. Especially with the clothing and the whole concept of what it is, it is just basics. I like a lot of designers, but I don’t really see it as clothing design.
GM What do you see it as?
SB Just making clothes. It’s design for function, and quality of material for function. Putting care into that. I guess it pulls from minimalist theories, in a way - less is more.
GM Yes, and an emphasis on functionality.
SB I could probably find some Dieter Rams quotes I’ve read at some point that have influenced me, but actually it’s just that I wanted to make some clothes so I made some clothes. There’s no trend to them. I don’t know if that’s a bad thing or not, it’s just honest clothes.
GM When do you feel like you’re most in your element?
SB For the last five years, all work I’ve been doing, the time when I’m most happy is to do with work and my day to day. I’m happiest when I’m doing work where I can see a reward, or to do work where I can see something behind it that’s more than just doing a process. I like doing Fundamentals because I came up with everything to do with it. That’s maybe an egotistical thing to want to be in your element. When I’m behind the idea of what I’m working on, then I am in my element, I think. When I’m working on my own ideas and using my initiative to get things done, then I am. I like to surround myself with people who are doing stuff that’s interesting, which helps me be in my element too.
GM Talking about community then, people around you in your life, how do they influence what you do?
SB I say they don’t at all, but subconsciously I know they do - they get into my head without me knowing! I’d probably like to say that they’re not influencing me but they certainly are. So it helps to be around people I respect in that way otherwise it would be a disaster. People do influence me more than I thought, which is a hard thing because I always thought I was so independent. But I need these people to keep me on the straight and narrow.
Community’s a hard one, because it’s a buzz word for the world at the moment, the world of people doing things, and I kind of don’t like the word. I see the ‘community’ thing as the corporations being on the decline in some ways, as people around the world are doing things, like craftspeople making pottery, me making my clothes; more and more people doing stuff that they’re passionate about. Instead of these big brands having all this influence over people, I see smaller communities getting together and having more like-minded people around them where actually they’re more accepted and it’s closer. I see it as a happier place. But the big brands will still have their way, which is my worry. But who knows what is going to happen. Build your own communities.
GM How do you form community?
SB I wouldn’t have a clue, but I’m trying to do that at the moment so ask me in a few months! I want Fundamentals to be something inspiring, bringing together people who care more about products, art and culture. It’s quite a broad group in that sense. I like the idea of a global community. With the internet as it is now, we can do that. On my travels, for example, there are people I met in Australia where if ever they’re in London I’d hang out with them. That’s a start of a global community for me, in a way.
GM The whole world’s opened up.
SB I even have people who don’t speak English, people in Japan who are interested in what I’m doing.
GM That’s amazing. You’ve recently been travelling around the world for a few months. Was there a particular place that you felt most at home in, or that set some ideas off for you?
SB Japan set off some ideas for me. Thirty-two percent of homes in Japan are single occupancy. That set my idea off about hub living slash co-living. Similar to the Barbican in England, how you have everything you need around you. You don’t live in huge places, but you have everything to hand. Communal living, in a sense. It’s an interesting concept. Some of the apartments we went to in Japan are so amazingly simple, you never have more than you need. That applies throughout Fundamentals’ principles.
GM What other principles or values are present in what you want to do?
SB I’m very fortunate to be well-travelled in my life, and it means that I can take stuff from a variety of places. I’ve seen a lot of art and design, the creative world. I’ve worked with designers and all sorts of people. I don’t really want to have a design principle or a strong aesthetic as such. It’s more about an ethos of living a balanced life, that’s the only thing I want to push, really. A balanced life, without too much excess.
Images supplied by Simeon Bird
Illustration by Gillian Madden