Ahead of its appearance at Innersect 2021, the creatives behind the new design practice talk balancing talent, ideas, and personality

“Balance is integral to how we work here,” co-founder Taro Ray tells us from a quiet corner of AFFXWRKS’ Wood Green-based studio. What began as a show on pirate radio station Know Wave in 2016 has evolved into a medium-blurring design practice powered by new utility. Working across fashion, music, and art, AFFXWRKS is continually furthered through collaboration. While originally founded by Gimme Five’s Michael Kopelman, stylist and creative consultant Stephen Mann, then-Mackintosh project designer Taro Ray, and Kiko Kostadinov (who stepped away from the label to focus on his eponymous line and ASICS collaboration), it remains a collective. “We’re about thinking as a group, as opposed to thinking as one,” Ray adds. Fittingly, since its brand mark update for AW21, there is no ‘I’ in AFFXWRKS. As it reimagines specificity for a wider, more utilitarian application, it is only interested in us, we, and them.

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Balance is currently on AFFXWRKS’ mind, as it plans its upcoming installation at East Asia’s leading street culture event, Innersect. From mixes to club nights, art-performance retail installations to re-working products and end-of-life materials, there’s an infectious openness to discovery, fluidity, and rare sense of democracy throughout the soft-power evolution of the collective. Innersect, which this year highlights the theme of balance under the creative direction of Jerry Lorenzo, is the next agreed step as it enables the team to create a Shanghai-based space and open its world up to a wider audience.

While the team’s focus is on form, function and process, change feels organic. AFFXWRKS has evolved from a creative endeavour into a multi-faceted business with the team following their instincts, interests, and connections. “It has always been about taking elements we want to play with and using our resources to create something exciting,” Ray says. The energy that saw the group utilise a Handjet portable printer to splash bold graphics and text slogans across branded apparel at their first pop-up at Dover Street Market back in 2017 remains. “We’re having fun now just looking at modern technology methods to fulfil cultural needs,” Ray explains.

From shifting trends to industry-wide introspection, AFFXWRKS has navigated countless industry changes by focusing on new utility. “I was raised on the idea that if there’s one thing that everyone else is doing, you should push in a different direction,” Ray says. At a time of logomania 2.0, AFFXWRKS’ standardised logo is blocked out. “We want people to focus more on what we find most important; the design,” he adds. This is a wider message that every creative talent should listen to. “Rather than compete in a crowded market, the only way to survive is difference.” Ignore the noise, create what feels true to you. “Good designers should follow their beliefs and react to the cultural issues around them to find ways to innovate. Exciting design is about cultural reactions, making people feel special, appreciated, or making situations clearer and adapting.”

More than anything, AFFXWRKS is intent on improving everyday life. “If we wear things to the office and see how our designs influence our lives for the better, we know we’ve done a good job,” Ray explains. “It’s exciting to know that you’ve made something that makes someone’s life more enjoyable, but also baffles and bewilders them too,” he adds with a laugh. Since joining the team in 2019, brand manager Hugo Edwards has seen how their contemporary utility wardrobe can help transform day-to-day lives. “I like that side of AFFXWRKS – even the most directional stuff has a reason to be beyond something that stands out,” he explains.

As a brand grounded in reality, the AFFXWRKS team crave physical interactions after the global pandemic cancelled real-world plans. “Innersect is one of the first meetings between AFFiX and the consumer for some time and we can’t wait to return to physical world interaction,” Hugo notes. As they re-enter the physical, they’re bringing the technological with them. Alongside an AW21 edit and exclusive styles to buy at the event, the Innersect stand will showcase the AI software that creates the AI Standardised Logo t-shirt, and hoodies. The immersive installation will utilise the programme to recreate community portraits in a 2x2m video and all-over floor graphic. Videos from the AFFXWRKS BROADCAST NETWORK 45 Series, which uses the same concept, will be on display at the Style In Revolt exhibition opening in Beijing on December 8.