Journeys in colour
Updated: Mar 23, 2021
– with Cor fashion designer and owner Jaz Hunt
As someone who has often felt I don’t fit the ‘9 to 5, Monday to Friday' manifesto, and who frequently seeks out new creative outlets and projects to be involved in, I have found myself seeking like-minded individuals, spaces and communities to connect with – but also to learn from.
Beyond networking, or connecting online and drawing inspiration from Instagram posts (which has its place), I’m talking about the stories and encounters that stay with you. Stories you’re told that spark something in you that you can relate to. Often, for me, the most memorable are about strange or difficult experiences, or contrarily, the mundanities of life. (Mind you, at times these categories certainly overlap). To me, this is where so much of our growth as humans happens, whether or not we realise it at the time.
In these stories I am taken to places that lack any loud, glossy filter, and instead, feel quietly authentic. Places that you leave feeling lighter, understood, and better for in your own creative projects or personal and professional pursuits.
It's that feeling of reassurance we all need at some point or another. Often the story’s take-away is nothing particularly ground-breaking or of epic proportion – it’s small. An internal realisation or reminder that all kinds of shapes and spaces are filled in life, and that there's a spot just for you that you alone can carve out and sculpt.
I learnt such a story recently, interviewing Jaz, creator and owner of Cor. Our conversation flowed. Creativity, fear, inspiration, highs and lows. This is the magic of peoples' stories – the connection and the learning that come from them.
Cor is a fashion label. But I know to you it is much more than that. From what you’ve told me, Cor is also, naturally, a reflection of parts of you. How are you reflected in the garments and the general Cor philosophy?
Cor’s philosophy is one of connection, slowing down and tuning in. For me, creating it has been a journey – to trust myself, believe in what I’m doing and enjoy creating pieces that I myself love to wear. As I’ve traversed my mid-twenties, I’ve come to understand how Cor represents a lot of my ideals and values.
Not many people know this, but Cor is linked to my Portuguese roots. The name means ‘colour’ in Portuguese.
My first memories are of growing up and going to school on the coast in Portugal, where my parents had renovated a farmhouse amongst the Algarve orange groves. Nature was literally our playground – we’d explore ruins barefoot, collecting fallen oranges and making bow and arrows.
I spent the rest of my childhood and teenage years growing up in Byron Bay, a beachside town in Australia, and I’ve been living in London for the past 7 years. It has really surprised me just how deeply Australian I am. I consider my home to be in Byron Bay.
The Australian lifestyle definitely resonates deeply within me and is reflected in Cor. It’s about a relaxed way of living that is intrinsically connected to nature. Growing up, we never wore shoes, were always in our swimmers and clothing was just something you threw over you bikini.
Cor is very much a sustainable brand, and I feel fundamentally that each garment I make should bring its wearer joy, connection, comfort and longevity.
It’s funny, I always felt (arguably) most inspired in nature back home, in Australia. I’ve come to know that more than ever since moving abroad. I guess I didn’t realise how deep my own roots go, grounded in my own barefoot memories. Humid, salty air clinging to me as I’d run over smoothed rocks and little rock pools by the ocean; juicy mangoes straight from the tree, and later, crisp, early morning bush walks during winter, fallen leaves crunching under my feet.
Do we all have those early barefoot memories?
You call each Cor collection a Journey, and you’re now at Journey Five, which draws inspiration from Islay, a tiny Island in the Scottish Hebrides. There’s a strong link to travel – how does it influence you and the artwork you create for Cor?
I find endless inspiration in the colours I see when I travel. Mainly it’s natural surroundings that inspire me, but also the buildings and feel of a place. I hand paint all of the artwork for the fabrics I use in each collection and my experiences travelling usually inspire the subjects and colour palette I use in these.
I think no matter where you live, it’s important to travel to find perspective and appreciate the world outside of what you know, but travel also makes you appreciate home.
Aside from often forming the themes of my collections, travel is a bit of a lifeline for me and balances out running a small business and busy city life. I pour so much into each collection and feel burnt out and emotionally drained at the end of a season.
After each one I try to get away for two weeks with my partner to somewhere completely isolated out in nature. It’s often a Greek Island where we camp just off the beach. Initially, it usually feels uncomfortable coming from London, completely over stimulated; but after a few days you start to feel the edges of yourself relax, feeling those deep belly breaths. And it’s wonderful to just ‘be’. I tend to formulate my ideas when I’m away and then get excited to create again.
Are there particular elements or places in Australia that especially bring you inspiration?
Definitely my childhood home in Byron Bay. I have a favourite beach there where I’ve always gone. You can swim naked, be completely alone, especially in winter and everywhere you look there is untouched beauty. I love being on this beach and looking out to sea feeling tiny and insignificant. Makes one feel at peace, centred.
I find Byron such an inspiring place in general. There are so many creatives there and a lot of small business. Whenever I’m home there’s this feeling that you don’t have to fit into the 9-5 model, there’s fluidity to life and connecting with nature and each other is key for everyone.
I find the element of wildness in Australia so inspiring. I love seeing places in their raw state with no buildings or concrete or rubbish. And all of nature’s noises and animals; you’ve just got to stop and listen to see and appreciate.
Whenever I’m home visiting my parents I’ll be working and take a break. In London I’d need to walk half an hour along a concrete pavement to get to a park but in Byron I can walk outside to beautiful views, to the sound of kookaburras. And usually I’ll make a challenge of spotting koalas (they are along our road but so hard to spot!)
You’ve lived abroad for years. How does living and working in London influence your work, given it’s such a different and somewhat ‘concrete’ environment?
I think living in London has helped me refine what I do. It’s been tough but I think living here has forced me to improve fast. The modern, refined edge that Cor has might not have happened had I stayed in Byron.
Also I think that my desire to travel and use travel as an inspiration for collections is a result of living in London. Collections, especially in winter, are such escapism… It’s so much fun to create because I can become completely immersed in another world while it’s freezing and dark outside! I find the mix of cultures in London so exciting and refreshing, there are people from everywhere all making their lives in this crazy city.
I have to echo this sentiment – moving to a bigger, more bustling city has pushed me creatively and professionally. You can be forced out on a limb, but ultimately you end up grateful to be there, because the outcome is always growth. Good lessons, hard lessons.
How do you deal with feeling homesick? Have you had a particular bout of feeling out of place or that it was all too hard since being abroad? Tell me about it, how did you get through it?
More times than I can count… about every winter! Feeling homesick hit me really hard after about six months in moving to London. I literally felt like I couldn’t breathe, I felt so claustrophobic with no beach or wild nature to retreat to. This coincided with me being in my early 20’s and a lot of who I am was tied up in being this arty, beachy, happy girl and suddenly I was in a massive city with no friends or family and trying to start a fashion label from my home. It was a lot all at once.
How did I get through it? I reasoned that I should be able to feel at home and happy anywhere because I am my ‘home’. I don’t even know if that makes sense anymore but it worked.
To help with the feeling of being out of place – try talking daily to your friends and family to remain connected to the little things in each other’s lives. I also run every weekday morning, which works as mediation for me.
And it sounds cheesy, but taking note of the fundamental things that are important to you and making sure you do them while you’re abroad helps too. I think about what I’m grateful for so I’m more resilient to little stresses of the day.
There’s no doubt that it is an on and off challenge for me though. But ultimately, the biggest ongoing learning for me is to trust myself and listen to my gut.
I think it is important to challenge yourself in new environments – and if at the end of the day, it doesn’t feel right you can always go home.
What challenges have you come across with your work and art? Do you get “creative blocks” or “inspiration blocks”? If so, how do you remedy them?
When I’m struggling to be creative, it is usually because I need a break. Every time I have finished a collection, I need to refresh and have a change of scene before the next. But sometimes that’s not possible, like after my most recent collection… In this case I go the opposite way and try to completely immerse myself in the project.
What I do is quite varied – there’s the fashion design side and the running-a-business side. So immersing myself in all this can work well when I have a block. Whenever I work on any one part for a few weeks, I find myself itching for a change which I try to embrace. Like if I’m pattern cutting and toiling for several weeks I use print painting as a refreshing treat in between.
I sometimes get nervous about putting my creative writing and work ‘out there’. Do you struggle with this? Why do you think that is?
I think putting something creative out there can feel really vulnerable. It takes a lot of bravery and belief in yourself to create, and we fear how it might be received.
My worry is whether or not people will like what I create. And will they buy my clothes? I struggled with this a lot with my first collection – it was never good enough. I kept on reworking it again and again for maybe over a year! I may never have put it out there had my mum not booked us both tickets to India to produce my first collection.
I still get nervous every single time I make a collection. And I don’t think there’s so much fear of putting it out there anymore, but maybe there’s fear of having completely “magic’d” something up entirely from nothing. I had a thought recently like: “how the hell did I think I could start a fashion label?” “What gave me this authority?”
Maybe what we are afraid of is this? In putting our creative endeavours out there we are saying we believe we are good enough… Maybe we are worried that this comes off cocky or self-important, and that others might not agree?
But I think that if we get too caught up in what people think, it makes it so hard, cripplingly hard to actually create anything. You can’t please everyone and you can only be true to yourself.
If someone doesn’t like your work, that’s fine. It hurts so much the first time but after that, you can take it as feedback and learn, completely disregard it if you don’t agree and then keep on going anyway – because so many people never have the bravery to do so.
Jaz's words make me think of a quote from Big Magic by Liz Gilbert – she recalls writing a story she’d worked on for many years, and when she felt it was ‘done’, and it was time for feedback, what people had to say wasn’t what she expected or wanted to hear.
In particular, more than one person said they felt a certain character was underdeveloped and needed work. But this would essentially mean rewriting the book, which could take a long time. She grappled with the idea of doing so, but ultimately decided that it felt done to her, and that nothing will ever be perfect, or everyone’s cup of tea.
“Done is better than good, and nobody’s thinking about you.”
Liz puts the book out there, and she does get a few less-than-rave-worthy reviews, but she also receives praise. And in the end, it’s not long before nobody really cares or has an opinion. She felt the story, the creative project, was complete – and I’d say she was right to let go and keep moving, unnerving as it can be.
Are there any particular communities that you feel really supported in and understood – as an artist, as a fashion designer, as a woman, or perhaps all of the above?
I definitely feel understanding from other creative people working for themselves. It can be quite isolating and takes a lot of belief and madness to work creatively for yourself and I’ve found that talking to others who get that is very assuring.
I find the sustainable fashion community in London really supportive. There are so many challenges to operating a fashion label using only sustainable materials and it is so reassuring and inspiring to speak with other women who are navigating these challenges alongside me.
This is one of the reasons I created The Unfoldment. It is reassuring and uplifting to hear other stories that resonate with your own experiences, highs and lows. For me, sometimes it has made all the difference in my week – putting a spring in my step, where I was lacking one and feeling unmotivated.
For someone starting a fashion label, what 3 top tips or pieces of advice would you offer them? Perhaps things you wish someone had told you then?
You will need a lot more money than you think. Photos sell the clothes so do make sure you have the funds to pay a model and photographer. Make sure your production methods are the right scale for your projected sales. And always design several collections ahead – sampling and bringing a collection to market always takes longer than you think so take the stress away and work ahead of schedule.
Lastly, do you have a mentor? If so, who and why?
My mum. My mum had a fashion label when I was small. She designed and produced for her own five shops in England, and has worked as a designer and also has managed her own production. I often call her up to discuss designs or patterns I am struggling with.
And my friends. I have several besties who work for big fashion brands and I rely on them a lot for anything from design feedback, commercial advise, look book shooting help, and modelling. I am SO SO SO lucky to have these women by my side and so many people – my partner, my brother, my family – supporting me because though I run the label alone in theory, I couldn’t do it alone.
– thank you for reading