It’s been 20 years since Gemma Shiel started printing T-shirt designs in the garage of her dad’s north London home. What started out as a post-uni side hustle is today better known as Lazy Oaf, a clothing and lifestyle brand that is instantly recognisable for its colourful aesthetic, offbeat creative collaborations and easy ability not to take itself too seriously – a refreshing change in the world of fashion. As a result, it has amassed a devoted global community of wearers, collectors and followers over the last two decades.
Shiel started out doing a foundation year at Chelsea College of Art before studying textile design at Nottingham Trent, where she specialised in printing. This led her to start printing T-shirts, and after graduating she quickly found an outlet for her burgeoning business by renting a stall at Spitalfields Market. “I started off selling vintage magazines alongside a couple of T-shirts that I printed, then my magazine stock depleted and all of that helped me fund the T-shirts,” Shiel tells CR.
At the same time, she was also balancing a retail job at Urban Outfitters and a part-time gig as a graphic designer, and it took a good while before Lazy Oaf as we know it today began to take shape. “I never at any point had grand plans, it was always ‘I want to try doing this’, or ‘maybe I’m going do this’. This was pre-ecommerce shopping, pre-social, all of that, so your route into building a brand was partnering with stores and trying to convince people to buy into your brand face-to-face, which was terrifying.”