Dear Chictopians, if you’re not familiar with The Orphan’s Arms, you should be, because they make super cool and chic screen printed tees and sweatshirts, all while referencing Lewis Caroll, Oscar Wilde, and other haunting fairytales. I found out about The Orphan’s Arms when I saw blogger Alyssa Lau wearing their printed sweatsuit with the words “FOLLOW” written below a white rabbit (as a fairytale and lit nerd, this caught my attention for sure— who doesn’t love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland?). I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Joshua Wilks (one of The Orphan’s Arms co-founders along with Jay Shipley) about the shop and how they got their start in the business, which you can read below.
Where are you guys based?
“Hackney in East London, UK.”
If your store could be described through music, what would be playing?
“The sound of rutting deer.”
What is The Orphan’s Arms all about?
“To quote our about us section: The Orphan’s Arms is underpinned by its sense of place, seeking through poignant and reactionary motifs to capture a little of the English spirit that it feels is succumbing to a global culture of blanket homogeneity. Every The Orphan’s Arms garment strives to be well made and to imbue an authentic hue of context and personality.”
Tell us about yourself. What did you do prior to The Orphan’s Arms?
“Jay’s dad and grandad were in the Royal Navy so it was really important to them that Jay followed the family tradition and pursued a career in the armed forces too. At the same time my late aunt owned a bar in Gibraltar and from the age of about 16 I’d go there every summer as a kind of work holiday: tanning in the day, serving cocktails in the evening. We met when Jay’s unit was posted to Gibraltar and he and the other seamen would come into the bar for a drink. Soon Jay and I struck up a friendship when we discovered that we both had an interest in fashion and an art college education in common (Jay had done about a year at one before signing up). Then 18 months or so later Jay quit the navy for good, I finished art college, and we both got jobs working for the same East London-based clothing label with plans of one day mutinying and starting up on our own.”
How long have you been in the biz and how did your shop get its start?
“The Orphan’s Arms started by selling screen printed t-shirts at a market stall every Sunday. It was at times a tedious job but by saving up a bit of money from the weekly takings, and not blowing it all in the pub, we had the chance to present our stuff at a London Fashion Week event where we managed to pick up a few good stockists and a sales agent. This meant we were able to dedicate ourselves full time to the label and happily retire from the market for good. All that was only about two and a half years ago, so we’re relatively still quite young as a brand.”
What are the inspirations behind your designs?
“Narratives mainly. We like to think our prints are saying something to people. So many of our ideas come from books we’ve read, places we’ve been to, or things we’ve seen.”
Do you have any prints that have a cool story behind them?
“Perhaps not a cool story but when I was at school I was in love with a girl I had never spoken to. I had seen her once from the classroom window when she was walking alone across the empty playground, and being an inherent romantic, that sad scene was enough to make me love her intensely. The fact that none of my classmates had noticed her and had no idea of who I was talking about only added to my passion, for it felt like this girl was a vision to me alone. However, before I could uncover her name through my own endeavours it was announced publically a few weeks later. She had been hit and killed by a car at the zebra crossing outside the school. In fact, she was the second pupil in four years to be killed there. The school mourned naturally, and the council took action and built speed bumps on the approach, but within myself there arose a private torment, for how could I tell people, or even explain to myself, that I suffered for the loss of a lover I’d never met? Anyway, that was about 13 years ago now and many of The Orphan’s Arms prints are probably inspired by that tragedy.”
What’s your favorite Orphan’s Arms piece?
“They’re not for sale yet but we’ve done a range of hand made duffel bags out of materials like quilted lambskin, aviator-style sheepskin, tweed, and this stripy hand-loomed wool that we got from India.”
What are the most rewarding and challenging aspects of owning an online shop?
“We can get up whenever we feel like in the morning. But conversely we might be working through the night to complete an order for a 9am pick up.”
Have any tips of the trade for people looking to start an online store?
“Have a good relationship with bloggers.”
Have anything exciting planned with your shop?
“We’ve got a new online store launching at the end of the month where all our bags and collection pieces will be available. At the same time we’ll be keeping the current site as a sort of outlet store where people can pick up sale items and end-of-line styles for discount prices.”