In Process: A Conversation with G E O
“We wanted to design a communal space where everyone can come in and see the development of the collection, from sketch to final product”, says Geo Owen, as he walks us through the “G E O Hyper-Graphical Studio HK” Pop-Sp Space. From dropping out of school, to creating album cover artwork for the likes of 2 Chainz and Pusha T, to developing his namesake label, G E O, the multi-faceted designer has come a long way since the earlier heydays of making socks for friends.
These days, Geo operates in full-scale collections, oftentimes presenting in complex garments made up of distinctive functional elements. Each piece tells a story of its own, a deeply textured synthesis of modern utility and nostalgia. A jacket can take as long as up to 5 months to create, meticulously crafted to meet a specific vision and tone. The label’s attention to detail is often what makes G E O special in the end. The Ex-DONDA graphic artist is not just a fashion luminary, but a music-curator and furniture designer. Geo has been living a rapid path of progression and his expansive interests are a testament to his creative tenacity.
We sat down with Geo to talk about his early life and career, design ethos, current collections and the cultural shifts that have been shaping today’s digitally-driven world.
HBX/HYPEBEAST: Can you tell us a bit about the idea behind the exclusive collection and the moodboard that’s displayed on the wall here?
Geo Owen: What we have here is all of the workings of sketch and development, for what we first designed initially to finished products. People can see some of the fabrics, accessories and some of the webbing that we’ve been using across the collection, and to just bring you into the space to have a conversation about it, too. I want people to understand how our products are made. How it gets to the stage for people to actually wear it.
H: You’ve had two collections previously, would you be able to tell us about Collection One and Collection Two?
G: There’s a recurring photo of a globe in Collection One, It was a photo called the “Blue Marble” taken from Apollo 17 in 1982. That graphic kind of stood out to me because the way I see it, this is all we know. Like nothing outside of this. With that said, the inspiration point for that was a bit industrial, but part of it was NASA and space, and Earth orientated as a whole. Collection Two was my understanding of where I was standing in this kind of space. You know just the message of “GODSPEED” which is like wishing someone good luck in their journey. So I wanted to put some good luck into the mission that we were about to go on.
H: What was the first type of clothing or silhouette you experimented with?
H: Why socks?
G: I don’t know. I just like socks [ laughs ]. Everyone’s making T-shirts. Everyone can make a T-shirt. I was like “let me try some socks”. And then I made them. After that I started giving them to people and we were like “oh you know socks are cool”. That’s how it started progressing and now we’re here. There’s still a lot that I want to try out. It’s all an elevation process anyways. Still a lot more development to be done.
H: How old were you when you first started graphic design?
G: I started when I was 18. I joined DONDA when I was 20, stayed there for like 3 years, then G E O merch. Evolved it to ready-to-wear, and now we’re here. Now the next step for me is to take it up a notch, but I want to get into the music space as well. I’d make the sonics on my laptop and tie it all into one. So I’ll have the graphics, clothes, music and the visuals, smash it all into one. Somehow if I can make it tied from digital to physical, I’d do it because I come from a digital space. So I want to like weave it all into one and make it something new that people haven’t seen before.
H: You’ve mentioned before that while there’s the internet, it’s also really important to be getting inspiration away from the screen.
G: Of course. Getting inspiration from digital is fine as long as you take it for like surface level, but subconsciously, you know you’re always scrolling and stuff. Then later on, you might see in your work something that isn’t what you wanted. Someone might call you out for it, looking too similar to something else. That’s what I’m trying to avoid. So offline definitely is better. Go to a museum or a gallery: I think that’s better inspiration than going on Instagram, bookmarking everything you see. Like we all do it, and that’s cool [laughs], like let me save that for later, you know, but we should take a different viewpoint to switch things up.
H: With that said, to what extent do you think geography dictates creativity?
G: I think a lot, because if you think about it, the environmental changes that we’re in, if there’s something crazy going on, for example, a big hurricane, you’re going to have to vacate and move somewhere else. So I think in that respect, the geography is always changing the mood, you know? Even in London, if it’s raining, you get that feeling. If you’re in London during summer and its super hot, you get a different feeling. So its two different inspiration points and two different outcomes as well. What I can design in a moody, more colder environment versus a hot environment: two totally different things then. That’s just the weather and climate aspect of it, but actually geography and being in different locations, I think that you can draw so many different things out of yourself. For example, when I was in Paris, it was good to design some stuff out there like in a nice little courtyard and its very quiet and you just smell the fresh bakery. It all kind of just comes as one and you can see how it translates into the designs.
H: Its like a multi-sensory experience that you can’t find just from scrolling online.
G: Exactly. You have to physically step in it. You have to go out and go look, smell and see. You know, you can do everything from home nowadays, there’s not even any need for a lot of the stuff. The physical world is on the decline. Like there’s no more pubs in the UK, no more youth centers; everything’s getting shut down due to whatever reason. Everyone’s staying at home, going on Amazon and Netflix. What’s next? [laughs].
H: How do you feel about this growing change?
G: I mean, I feel like we’re the last generation of people who appreciate the physical experiences in life. I think that we need to start getting back to the physical aspect of life itself. It’s too short to be sitting in at home all day. I think that we need to spend some time outside.
H: So how was that transition from Collection Two to what we have here, Collection Three?
G: In Collection Three, I realized that I could start incorporating more elements and details. So you start seeing like 3D elements and textures even with this jacket with all of the dye on it. You know even bringing that into production was a serious level of dedication by the workers to get that like hand-done.
H: So each one is unique?
G: Yeah, like this one for example.
First its bleached, its washed and its dried at high temperature. Then it’s dyed. You wash it again at low temperature, then you dry it at high temperature, and any parts that need to be redone, we re-dye them and then we do the wash process again. So all in all, a jacket could have like, minimum, 3 processes. So that’s like 3 rounds of dye, dry and washing. We’ve done about 30-40 this season, which was probably a lot for production to handle [laughs], but it was cool. But yeah, just seeing where I could take it… This was like the original nylon that we had for this jacket, but if you feel the difference, its like trash compared to the one we have now. It’s still nylon, but we just found a better supplier. So all of this on here are all different types of nylon and you go through about 10-20 swatches just to get the perfect one. And then you have to make sure it’s sustainable.
H: On average, how long does it take to develop a piece?
G: Probably like 4-5 months? From sketch to physical. Proofing things – for instance, like with the denim the patterns, grain and sizes all got to be correct. These things all come in blank so they need to be washed at a certain formula. That’s why this one has sort of a dusty feel to it. And then even sourcing the denim took months. They first had to wash this jacket, and then remove the back panels, and then sew these ones back in because when you wash the jacket, the wash is so harsh that it rips a lot of the pockets. We have to re-sew the pockets in after and stuff like that. Even finding that out myself, is an entire process [ laughs ].
H: It’s a lot of trial and error.
G: Exactly, I have like a whole rack of denim jackets that are like just attempts. Its like trying stuff out.
H: So most of all this is Collection Three and we’ve got the GEOgraphics “Hyper-Graphical Studio HK” Collection here as well, too. How would you differentiate the two?
G: I feel that with these ones, these are “hyper-graphical”. Those are just graphical. When I say hyper-graphical I mean like “hyper” as in all over the place, whereas these are stripped back. Its got like the VHS kind of graphics where it kind of looks vintage in its feel. But I mean like, with GEOgraphics, I just want to take it to like this hyper-graphical level and just like go crazy with the graphics. Not everyone likes busy graphics you know, and I think that as G E O goes on, I want it to be more mature, minimalistic, and work with more like fabric based cuts and different silhouettes. Those with graphics, I want to save for some other projects.
H: Would you be able to touch a bit on the childhood photo here on this hoodie, around the top?
G: I mean honestly; I mean this picture was taken by me when I was like 3 or 4 years old. It was a flat that me, my mom and my dad first had. This was like a little bar set up. We had like a little lava lamp right here, a drink set up here. This was another photo, but you can’t really see it. It’s kind of like a close up of a table. We had a phone here and some ornaments there. Also, I grew up on Chadwell Heath, right here. And then if you go this way, you’re going to London. I just wanted to include this map because this was a super old document that I found when I was researching the area to see what I could find. You also get some nature vibes in it, but also some concrete. This was a VHS cover that I found and got my friends to remake it. Here, there’s a reference to like credit cards with the punctured elements. And then this part is like the continuation of the GEO motif, but flipping the E on its side; Collection Three in a sense. There’s some textured foil here, too.
H: You mentioned you grew in Chadwell Heath? Were you still living in that area when you discovered graphic design for the first time?
G: Yeah, I’ve been living there for a while now. My whole life. Grew up in East London, Stratford. It has something there that you can’t really replicate anywhere else. There’s an energy to London where I can design a collection in London, but if I go and stay in Miami for like a month, there’s no way it’s happening you know? I need that sort of energy from London. My whole art situation kind of started from there. Like first I was doing sketches, hand-drawn stuff. That’s what I learned in school. And then when I left school, a friend of mine just randomly showed me Photoshop and I was like, “what’s photoshop?” [ laughs ]. So I bootlegged it. I got it from a torrent and then I just started looking at tutorials and learned how to do like graphic design. I went to college for like 2 years, and then after that, I went to Uni for 2 years, dropped out 3rd year, and that’s when I went to DONDA. Then did about 3 years there, then left there. Afterward, I just went into clothing. That’s my journey in short.
H: What was it like dropping out of college to pursue more of a professional career?
G: It’s fine. Didn’t really want to be there anyway, and I’m not really that type of person. Life experience is more valuable to me than a piece of paper that tells you about your grade, you know? Save that stuff for people who want to do banking, lawyer and being a doctor and all that. But for creative aspects, like you can go and you can get the gist of things, but going and finding your own inspiration, and learning about yourself and developing your own style instead of having a style forced upon you. I think you have to just go out and find yourself. And I’m still finding myself. I’m still finding out about what GEO is.
H: That must’ve been an important turning point for you.
G: Yeah I mean, when I did my first collection, I probably had like 10 products. Now, people are asking for like 50-75 products. And it’s been like “Okay, how do I make each and every one of these speak its own tone without it just being filler pieces”. I want each one to have like its own kind of position. Like this is the first time I’ve ever tried out doing leather products. 100% leather, sourcing the leather for myself. Taking it to where it needs to be manufactured, sending it to Scotland. I have someone in Scotland who makes this stuff. You know, just finding out about the process. Even, it took us 4-5 months to get a hold of just that particular black skin. That quality and that thickness and that different grain as well. They’re often short in the middle of the year. It’s all part of the process. And then I can learn from that situation and apply my knowledge to other things.
H: Would you say that you have the same approach when it comes to music?
G: Yeah, its all layer based. All of this is like layers to me. What’s the base layer, what’s do we add on to it? Music is the same. Instruments. Composition. Same with clothing. So it’s just like all kind of about arranging things to get what you want. When I look at all this stuff, coming from a graphic design background, I just see it as photoshop layers. So what are the layers that we need to use to get this piece to the level it needs to get to?
H: Can you tell us a bit about the graphics and materials used in this collection.
G: We’ve taken some textbook imagery from high school and old school geography textbooks and reincorporated and redesigned it as the screen print on the back of this long-sleeve here. Also, we started a nylon tracksuit that we didn’t quite put into production for this collection, but we used a lot of the same nylon that we used in a lot of the other pieces for the jeans as well. We’ve also incorporated some adjustments on the back of this jacket so you can adjust it so it doesn’t crease up the artwork on the back. We designed this clear bag, too just for the beach really.
H: You mentioned earlier that a lot of your work is inspired by cubism.
G: Yeah, I really like doing that style of artwork, and I’m getting into it more now. Cubism is really hard to articulate and kind of visualize in general because you look at it from so many different points of views. I come from like designing by hand first and then went over to the computer. Now I’m trying to go back into like hand-drawn stuff. That’s why you get a lot of mixed media pieces that incorporate scans and real-life imagery and stuff. I’m really into how the globe and the world have sort of worn away because it reflects the kind of the times we’re living in now. If you look at my Collection One, I had a full globe, but now as I’ve realized, and get more and more into it, it gets more distressed each time. Even with like this here, this distressed globe I think speaks more than the full globe because of so many situations of political and religious, and of anything, you know? That’s kind of the idea behind it.
H: Can you tell us a bit about your concept of human geography and physical geography?
G: So human geography: we look at the types of people, what they’re wearing, what they need to use on a day-to-day basis, depending on what area and stuff like that. The physical geography is like the built, man-made stuff. The built environments, the buildings, the concrete and stuff like that. So that’s why you kind of get the globe graphic and get like the plants and stuff like that ties in. Combining the two together is the outcome. The outcome is the collection. So each collection, we choose from a list of subjects that we have on human geography, physical geography, pick any of them. That is the outcome and that’s our collection essentially. So it’s kind of like a formula, you know? It all connects and ties into one. You know especially nowadays, I feel like a lot of people are just pushing out collections, but what’s the actual story behind it? I feel that with human and physical geography, there are so many different topics, that you could pick. Like for example, religion from human geography and, I don’t know, let’s just go with nature, for physical geography. So how do we link nature and religion in one? And then the result is what we work towards.
H: What’s next for GEO?
G: I still want to make sure that people understand what G E O is. First is getting the message out correctly. How I want it to come out and make sure people know that this is a situation for the people. And what I mean by that is that human and physical geography: people should understand that it’s very basic. I want to continue developing the story behind G E O and the progression of the GEOgraphics line, too. Because GEOgraphics is like a collaboration segment of the brand where we can bring in some friends to design some elements. That’s kind of being pushed out as GEOgraphics and that’s the hyper-graphical situation. So I wanna push that as well. Also, I want to evolve and do a lot more physical spaces like this and just bring in people to have experiences to understand the narrative of the brand. And then Just working more into the music situation – I’ve done mixes before. Like on Soundcloud and whatever, we’ve done Spotify playlists where me and my designers, we pick 15 songs each. That’s what we’re listening to in the studio and then we put it in a playlist and then put it on Spotify for people if they want to vibe out and get inspiration and tune in. We’re dropping a playlist with HYPEBEAST, its going to be our 6th playlist. So yeah, that will be interesting.
H: Would you say you want to venture more into something that’s not just clothing. For example, furniture?
G: We started furniture. I have a new brand that’s going to be dropping next year. We’re working on some furniture for that. And household objects – cups, ashtrays and some other stuff as well. Also, I want to go into food as well. There are a few products that I think are lacking in some places so I think that will be cool. And I also want to do a food fan situation for London because after hours, I think there’s a lack of good food. So I’d like to supply it. I have a plan that I’m going to try. If it works, it works, but that won’t come anytime soon. It’ll take a while to research first. But yeah, food would be really cool. You know everyone’s trying to do fashion or music and it’s oversaturated to be honest with you. I want to try my hands in something where not everyone’s at.
Scroll below to see more from G E O Collection Three, and click here to read more about G E O.