Jess Piper, Man Up Girl!

We spoke to the designer and founder behind the south coast label.

If you make your way through the photos on Man Up Girl!'s Facebook page you'll come across a screen grab from a 1999 episode of Man O Man, complete with three links to watch the full episode.

For those unaware, Man O Man was an ITV show hosted by Chris Tarrant on Monday evenings, sort of like Take Me Out but with a stage full of men and not one girl. The audience – all female – voted for their favourite 'lad'. As kids we were hooked, though primarily for the fantastic turquoise pool that dominated the set than the guys with oily pecs.

For that single flash of nostalgia alone we knew we had to talk to Jess Piper, designer and founder behind the streetwear brand. Add to her hot TV taste her close friendships with musicians Chris Ward and Will Ozanne – Tropics and Gang Colours, respectively – and the fact her label spells MUG!, and you almost needn't look at her clothes. They're pretty bangin' though, so it would be in your interest to take a peek.

She gave us five minutes of her time to talk Asda, flick books and the SouthCoast Collective.

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So how did Man Up Girl! come about?

It started because we felt there was something not quite right about women’s skatewear, the durability and the fun had been lost somewhere along the way and we really wanted to revive that. Initially, we took inspiration from some classic skate designs from the heyday, redesigned them completely and added some interesting twists and new functionality. The designs took shape from some hard graft and support from our SouthCoast Collective who are churning out some exciting new stuff as we speak.

Have you always been interested in bright colours and print?
Yeah, bold is where it’s at for us. Print is always something I’ve experimented with, so with Man Up Girl! it’s good to go all out and not be constrained by briefs or superiors. The colour and prints are something that we’ve really spent a lot of time on with Man Up Girl!. It’s all about wavy hands and coastline views, so keep up with our new line on the website. 

You showed at Graduate Fashion Week last year. How did you find the experience?
Relaxing, stress-free and easy… is not the way to describe that week, ha. It was challenging for sure, but it was also a great way to showcase the clothes on such an immense scale. At the time it was pretty difficult to take it all in, it only really started to be fun when it was all over and I could properly appreciate the mad amount of effort everyone had put in. Big shout out to the M.U.G! lot, you know who you are.

Do you have a favourite piece from the collection?
That’s a tough one to answer! I’ve got a soft spot for all of the pieces because they all represent a part of the idea that was being shaped into M.U.G! at the time. For a summery vibe the Oi twisted back top is rad. But damn, if I could only wear one it would be the “Duck-Back Jacket” for straight up purpose, it’s a waterproof windbreaker with a dope cut.

What are your inspirations for the clothes and prints?
Initially the cut and style came from the grass roots of skateboarding, like Dog-Town, Alva and Zephyr, when things were really heating up. Hugh Holland’s photography really focused on the movement and shapes which tearing up a pool required and this was something we just fell for. The prints took shape after diving into the Memphis group's work, the colour and pop just dragged us in. Most of the inspiration these days is from out in the field! I skate with some humbly talented riders who give a solid insight into what works and what fails in clothing, so we take note and add to our new designs and our prints and graphics are all hand drawn and developed by people in the collective.

And what are your aspirations for the label?
Everything we produce is handmade in the UK so we are really hoping to get a firm grip here at home! Our SouthCoast Collective is pushing us forward, keeping all the design and manufacturing in house. We’re working towards making quality over quantity at the moment, we want to stay true to the original idea of keeping our friends close and the product even closer. The lines we are releasing are all limited runs! So be quick.

We love your flick book. What made you decide to produce a look book that way?
Thanks! We wanted something a bit different and had the idea for a flick book that looked rad and served a purpose. It was a great way to translate our love for all things GIF into a physical form. We wanted to give people the choice to look at our Flick Book for as long as they liked 16 seconds or three minutes you flick as many times as you want, no rules. And it’s just nice to have a chunky, tactile-look book thats fun! 

How did the Asda line come about?
Asda have sponsored G.F.W for a few years now and they select a few designers to work with them on their G21 range. I learnt a lot there! It was a manic few weeks but now the designs are going to be available in store on the 20th May, so you can grab some milk, bread and G21 M.U.G!

You've recently launched your first .com. Big moment?
Huge moment! It’s been a long time coming but it's finally live. Our eyes have been square for the last few months as we have been slogging away at creating the online content for you guys. It’s so good to have a platform to shout about what we're up to and to push the brand forward.

And what's next for Man Up Girl!?
We're putting everything we have into launching the online store coming very soon, a lot of commotion, a lot of making sure we get everyone involved and onboard, so all fun really! Its the beauty of doing the majority of your workload in house; we test sample, decide and then print/ embroider etc on our terms.

Finally, what's on the Man Up Girl! stereo right now?
Ahhh tough question, we kick our TOTD every other day with a lot of variety. But right now on this sunny Monday morning Stanton Davis' 'Ghetto/Mysticism' is coming through loud. it's just unmistakably jazzy.

Words: Zoe Whitfield

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