Beautifully Efficient: LifeLabs' designer JJ Collier on Sustainable Design

18 October 2021

Tess Weaver

Designer JJ Collier believes that innovative textile technology, elegant design, true sustainability, and authentic consumer engagement are central to the future success of the apparel industry. As LifeLabs’ Global VP of Product Design, JJ brings a deep understanding and studied execution of technical and lifestyle apparel creation to LifeLabs. Over the past 20 years, JJ has led teams at The North Face, Ralph Lauren, Spyder, Salomon and Triple Aught Design, driving compelling design, development, and modern storytelling.

A former professional snowboarder, JJ’s design approach is rooted in authentic functionality. With an eye for proportion and style, JJ acquired a sewing machine in 1997 and set out to apply his ideas and concepts to tangible products. In between snowboard contests and training, he began constructing highly conceptual outerwear garments. After launching a small custom clothing studio, he was hired by Salomon to design the company’s first apparel collection from its headquarters in Annecy, France. He was later recruited by Ralph Lauren as RLX Outerwear Design Director in New York City and went on to lead the product team at Spyder Active Sports, in Boulder, Colorado, as Senior VP of Design. Recently, as Senior Director of Apparel Innovation Concepts at VF Corp, JJ led charges into long-term sustainability.

Here, we dive into JJ’s design inspiration, approach to working with LifeLabs materials and focus on beautiful functionality.

TW: Why were you compelled to design for LifeLabs?

JJ: It was the idea that we had textiles that actually amounted to something. I mean that from the perspective of experience, but also because these goods were born from science and sustainable from the front end and through a much longer story. I was fascinated by the idea that we can impact global energy reduction through textile innovation. We start by making people more comfortable.

Scott's original brief was clear: modern, futuristic and elegant, let the fabrics shine. It’s a dream to have a ground-floor brand and very open leadership that gives you a brief and lets you run with it.

TW: Who did you design the initial collection for?

JJ: We designed for a modern, urban person who wants to do the most with the least. They might think, what’s the smallest bag I can travel with? They live in a smaller, energy-efficient house with solar panels that might not have a giant walk in-closet.

That was the impetus of the 72-hour collection. What’s the fewest number of things I can own, wear, travel with?

It aligns with my personal philosophy. I buy few things and hold on to them for 10 years.

TW: What drives the LifeLabs look?

JJ: We are driven by silhouette. It’s about the whole outfit rather than a single item. From the ball cap, to the jacket to the pants, everything layers beautifully. You can look great and feel great anywhere in the world—whether you’re in Stockholm or Sapporo or San Francisco, you have style because of silhouette and proportion. If I was walking around Oslo, I’d wear my LifeLabs kit and not feel out of place or overly trendy. It’s a classical kit. The tailoring is perfect, it’s a minimalist palette, and everything goes together. It’s a reductionist mentality. You can pack light, look great and never worry about it.

TW: What doesn’t drive the LifeLabs look?

JJ: There’s no embellishment; nothing superfluous. We aren’t minimal for the sake of being minimal. Because we use less material than our competitors, we have  physically lighter garments. And because our garments are physically lighter, we design them to be visually lighter as well.

Our aesthetic is driven by that principle. We are continuing to lead with, ‘What else can be removed?', instead of what can be added. And that’s without ever taking away from performance.

Take for instance, our shorts. We eliminated zippers, hard spots and anything distracting on the inside.

TW: Describe LifeLabs’ design ethos.

JJ: The collision of reductionism and essentialism, yielding a modern aesthetic.

TW: What do you love about your role?

JJ: I get to be a part of something that elevates people’s experience and is meaningfully sustainable.

TW: How was the design process different than other past projects?

JJ: All the materials are new. It’s not the usual toolbox. There were challenges that arose right away. PE is our primary cooling fiber, and it has a low melt rate. That means we couldn’t always apply the usual treatments like heat transferring or laser cutting. Gluing either wasn’t possible, or it required more care. There have been moments where we have had to step back and reimagine how we brand things from the perspective of logos, etc.

TW: In an industry famous for waste, how do you focus on waste reduction?

JJ: One example is how we studied our pattern work. When you lay out patterns, you do so for the best possible yield and the fewest scraps. Simultaneously, we also want to position our seams to maximize comfort.

I wanted the fewest pattern pieces possible, but with articulation, and modern Japanese-style tailoring that looked cool and was super functional.

TW: What’s next?

JJ: We are exploring how to apply these textiles in sport. We believe in the textiles from a performance standpoint and will design technical apparel in the same aesthetic as the everyday garments. That consistency and interchangeability is core to our essentialist mentality.