You might have seen the IIA logo, on snapbacks, beanies and T-shirts worn by students, or on stickers slapped on lampposts around town. The distinctive black on white, or white on black, sharp streetwear featured in the Dont Walk fashion show last week is not part of a larger fashion brand or chain, as you may have thought, but in fact the creative ambitions of two St Andrews students.
Milo Nauseef and Maxi Uhlmann, both from Hamburg, are postgraduates in the School of Management. Milo founded the label in New York a year ago and since September, Maxi has been his chief wingman for operations in St Andrews, working in marketing, design, procurement and promotion. The pair have been best friends since their school days in Germany. They both have business and psychology degrees and are spending their year at St Andrews working hard to establish IIA.
Maxi and Milo did not expect the brand to have such success in St Andrews. “It’s going well,” Milo says. “You can see a lot of people wearing our stuff, but also St Andrews is a less traditional market; because of it’s small scale you can really notice the impact. If we had sold 200 snapbacks or handed out 300 stickers in New York, you would never notice the brand, you would likely never see anyone wearing your label again, but in a small town like St Andrews you’re aware of that presence.”
The Dont Walk fashion show has been instrumental in providing IIA with a platform where people can see the label featured alongside other designers. It has also given them an online platform that has allowed orders to be generated locally and internationally via the Dont Walk online shop.
Other creative collaborations from St Andrews students have boosted IIA’s local profile too, notably with Lightbox, who have been involved in photo shoots along with St Andrews students modelling their clothes. “I think the kind of community support that you can find here is almost unique,” says Maxi. “Everyone is so supportive and on board with our ideas and projects. The international aspect of St Andrews has also been great for spreading our stuff. Just having people from different nationalities wearing IIA, then instagraming, facebooking or tweeting pictures is generating global interest, spreading the word.”
IIA has an interesting backstory and attached concept. IIA is an abbreviation of “Insomnia” which comes from the time when Milo and his co-founder Angie (a stylist and fashion PR who is still based in the US) were starting out in New York, working on developing their project by night after their day jobs. “We were happy working our regular jobs in fashion and start ups, but our true passion was to start something of our own, with it’s own culture,” says Milo. As far as a culture goes, Milo feels quite strongly, “The IIA culture is a collective of young individuals that follow something that they are passionate about, and I think that’s how you can describe everyone in the past that has helped us out. We have had photo shoots done, have have had two videos made, we’re also in the process of having a website and a look book created. All of those things happened with different designers, different cinematographers and different photographers who were all excited and enthusiastic to be part of the project and that is what makes the brand, having creative people working with us, doing what they love and what they follow, and that’s what we do.”
“We were happy working our regular jobs in fashion and startups, but our true passion was to start something of our own, with its own culture,” says Milo.
As far as a culture goes, Milo feels quite strongly: “The IIA culture is a collective of young individuals that follow something that they are passionate about, and I think that’s cinematographers and different photographers who were all excited and enthusiastic to be part of the project and that is what makes the brand – having creative people working with us, doing what they love and what they follow, and that’s what we do.”
The brand’s style is unisex street wear, which Maxi and Milo insist is up-and-coming in high fashion. Do they think that street style brands have been overdone? Both insist that it can’t be and won’t be any time soon.
“Street style developed in the 80s and went through stages and phases,” Milo explains. “If you look at the New York fashion scene, it wasn’t imaginable, say five years ago, that guys with braids and gold teeth were going to be wearing street wear in the biggest fashion shows as they are now, so I think in terms of high fashion, it’s just starting.”
“Street brands would always be in skate shops where you could get your oversized sloppy t-shirt, but now they’re starting to combine high-end fashion with street wear, and it’s becoming more aesthetic.”
You can certainly see the aesthetics in IIA products, which are more attractive in an artful kind of way, appealing to the fashion conscious rather than the more edgy underground street brands. They stick strictly to a classic black and white colour scheme. The boys have experimented with different colours, sampling snapbacks in bright jeweled greens and reds, but the colourful additions deviate away from what is already a strong motif and possibly the strongest defining element of the IIA brand. The monochrome products, promotional videos, photo shoots and Facebook page are strong identifiers of IIA.
Of course, Maxi and Milo wear their own designs; it’s one of their main sources of feedback. “People ask a lot,” Maxi tells me, “which is great because it gives you the opportunity to tell people about the brand and where they can get it.” They’re usually dressed in sneakers, skinny jeans, t-shirts and hats; lederhosen for Oktoberfest; and in Maxi’s case, bright purple joggers when lazing around at home. You have to be able to represent your own brand.
IIA has been a fun project for the boys. They have enjoyed their collaboration and support from the most creative minds in St Andrews, the feedback has been positive and the ideas keep blossoming.
“I know it sounds kind of cheesy,” Maxi says cautiously, “but I really believe that you can achieve anything if you’re passionate about it. I really think so.”