Daniel Olatunji is the founder, designer and creative director behind London based menswear label Monad London. Considered 'slow fashion', Monad is centred around celebrating craftsmanship, thoughtfully sourced materials and integrating the work of artists and artisans through each collection.
Monad London's well tailored garments feature visual texture as a result of soft raw edges and mindfully sourced natural materials, often using French Antique Linens, Homespun Handwoven Nigerian Cotton and in a collaboration with textile artist Hollie Ward for Monad's A/W 20 collection a hand knitted jumper was made from natural un-dyed Black Welsh mountain sheep yarn.
Made by hand in London, the combination of repurposing antique fabrics and consciously creating new materials in partnership with textile artisans, means garments are produced exclusively in limited numbers.
Daniel Olatunji wearing Monad London A/W 20 Block printed Surplus Washed Silk Shirt ‘Ode to the Ash’ in collaboration with Cameron Short & Janet Tristram @bonfieldblockprinters using a hand-cranked press from 1904.
In collaboration for S/S '20 Monad partnered with London based loom weaver Catarina Riccabona. A tailored jacket was created from a fabric handwoven by Catarina using natural un-dyed linen 'waste' yarn remnants knotted together by hand.
During weaving the little knots appear randomly across the cloth and the small yarn ends stick out. These little tufts create a visual and physical texture and are evidence of an entirely hand-made process.
In an excerpt from an interview featured on Denim Dudes, founder of Monad London Daniel Olatunji shares the story behind Monad, honouring his African heritage and the process behind the collection 'BLUES'.
What is the concept of Monad?
Monad makes meticulously imperfect, tailored garments. Meticulous because they are made by hand, often down to the very fibre. For the same reason every Monad piece is individual. It’s a celebration of craft and process.
Can you tell us about the process of Monad’s creations?
Everything starts with the cloth. Sourcing is a huge part of my process and every fabric is sourced either from an antique dealer or the weaver who made it by hand. How the cloth has been made and what it was made for then inform the piece that it will become. When I start thinking of silhouette I often deconstruct vintage tailored garments and old workwear pieces, mixing these together with new forms to create something familiar but original.
Monad London Dalton Pieces Shirt in traditional handwoven Fulani blanket cloth. Woven by hand using a 5” strip-weave horizontal loom. Photograph by Daniel Obasi.
What regions and indigo specialists do you work with in Africa?
I work with artisans at the ancient Kofar Mata dye pits in Kano, in the north of Nigeria. What’s so unique about the weaving and indigo dyeing in Africa compared to other indigo cultures around the world? The Kofar Mata dye pits have been around for over 500 years – the sign over the gate says 1498 but the artisans claim the pits had been going long before the signs were put up! They’ve passed the skill on from father to son for hundreds of years. The cotton that I used was farmed and picked by hand and then woven by hand on small hand-made, unmechanised looms in the rural villages just outside Kano city. It’s amazing to think that kings (or Emirs as they are known in northern Nigeria) were wearing this exact same fabric in the Middle Ages, made by the very same technique and process. There is something magical in that. And because the process is done by hand from start to finish the fabric is full of these irregularities that are so beautiful. Also, the entire process is natural as it existed long before most chemicals were introduced into fabric production.
A short video directed by Daniel Obasi documenting the indigo dye process at Kofar Mata dye pits. All of the ingredients are local to the region of Nigeria. Each pit holds the indigo solution for a year, the sediment is then dug out and recycled to make potash for the next solution.
What are some of the challenges you face while working with these artisans?
Because it’s hand-farmed, spun and woven there is a lot of coordination involved in the process. And I’m dealing with a rural village that is pretty hard to reach – they don’t speak English and I don’t speak their language Hausa, so I rely on the head of Kofar Mata dye pits to help. Also they are not used to dealing with strict deadlines or working to a fashion schedule. And there are also serious issues with quality control, supply and consistency. More than once I’ve been sent orders that are different to what I asked for. Trying to explain just how much of a challenge that is to buyers and stockists is difficult.
What do customers love most about Monad London?
I think they appreciate our interesting use of fabrics and the intricate details in every piece. Also the fact that it’s made by hand and in limited quantities.
You recently showed at LCM in London for the first time. How was that experience?
I showed as part of a collective, 419 – a group of designers, all of us with origins in Africa who are trying to subvert all the usual terrible stereotypes about what it means to be African. There was a great buzz around the collective which was really amazing to see. I didn’t want to do a fashion show per se because Monad is not a fashion label. I wanted people to be able to see the clothes in detail, to get a chance to examine the fabrication and the craft, rather than be taken in by a “look”. So I chose to do an exhibition instead. That collection was heavily inspired by the surplus fabrics that had been found in a disused factory. So I showed the pieces alongside a kind of museum of repurposed artefacts.
Monad London Behrens DB Blazer and Tapered Pant constructed in London studio using 100% Nigerian cotton. Photograph by Daniel Obasi
Where does your inspiration come from for your collections?
Anywhere and everywhere. Firstly, from the fabrics themselves and those who make them. The blues collection was heavily inspired by my trip back to Nigeria. It was the first time I’d been in 20 years, since I was a child. A lot of the shapes are inspired by traditional dress in Nigeria but not those that are typical or cliche. They’re mixed with influences from my British upbringing too and my training as a tailor. Another collection was inspired by a book I was reading about shepherds in northern England and another by a sci-fi podcast I’ve been listening to. Those references may not be as literal as the Nigerian ones but they’re there! What are some of the standout pieces we can expect from the collection? A blazer and trouser made from hand-woven Donegal tweed, which is woven by Eddie Doherty who has been weaving on handloom in the north of Ireland for over 60 years. A pinstripe suit made from surplus British wool that I mentioned above. The details of the fabric are warped giving it a really interesting texture. I also had the chance to rework a staple classic Converse using off-cuts from previous collections and old pairs of Converses. Where does Monad go from here?
At the moment I’m trying to expand my team so that we can manage higher levels of production and enable me to spend more time sourcing more interesting textiles. I’m also setting up a made to measure/bespoke service and more one off projects via the website, and thinking of how to expand that outside of the UK. Read the full Denim Dudes article HERE
1/ https://www.anothermanmag.com/style-grooming/11146/daniel-olatunji-monad-aw20-autumn-winter-20-collection-interview 2/ https://www.anothermanmag.com/style-grooming/10886/monad-london-slow-daniel-olatunji-fashion-label-beautiful-imperfect-clothes 3/ https://denimdudes.co/the-magical-art-of-african-indigo-dyeing-with-monad-london/ 4/ https://www.wallpaper.com/fashion/four-menswear-designers-craft