MEET THE KING OF OAF, GEMMA SHIEL
Not that she needs an introduction, but in case you don’t know her, meet Gemma Shiel, the reigning King of Oaf. Back in 2001, in a garage in North London, Gemma created Lazy Oaf which started as screen-printed graphic tees, sold at Spitalfields Market amongst nudie mags and other trinkets. Flash forward to now and she has grown a business which houses two London stores, has collaborated with some of her most cherished brands and has harboured a community of like-minded creatives. We sat down together to chat about all things Gemma, LO and what can be expected in the near and far future.
Hey Gemma, how are you doing?
I’m good (honest answer, I’m medium/fine) thank you
Glad you’re doing alright! Okay, for those who don’t know you, tell us a little bit about who you are?
I’m 5 ft 2, I have 2 dogs, a hairy chef as a husband/feeder/carer, a daily ailment list longer than me (should have answered these after snacks) and I’m the human that created Lazy Oaf and run’s the mothership. Also, I watch way too much TV.
What were your biggest inspirations growing up?
Well, growing up in the 80s/90s was a point of inspiration for me from early on. I've got a special place in my heart for 80s TV, the trashsier it was the better, as that’s what helped kill time with my parents working every hour at their pub. The riot grrrl movement has been an inspiration since my teens; I was an indie girl in awe of raw bands, fronted by women who gave zero fucks. To list a few more…I’d have to say Japan, in particular Tokyo (which is my favourite place on earth), cartoons, packaging, music videos, Madonna. I think I could go on forever, but in summation, anything that didn’t try to be perfect would inspire me.
When you’re taking a break from the Oaf throne, what do you like to get up to?
I’ve got two dogs, Bob and Barbara, so I spend a lot of time with them walking through woods and fields. If the motivation strikes, I might try to paint, draw or make wobbly pottery. Eating is one of my favourite pastimes and if it’s accompanied by a questionable reality show, it’s a bloody good day.
Highly important question, what came first, the chicken or the egg?
Mind fuck - does it matter? My body hates eggs and I love a roast chicken dinner, that is what is important.
What Lazy Oaf piece are you living in at the moment??
I live in our Big Square tee’s or my other staple, a golden oldie, is the Ricardo Passaporte Kitty Bowling Shirt. Also, our socks - they are the best god damn socks ever, fact.
Let’s take it back to the start (if that made you hum ‘Fight For This Love’, brownie points), how did the name Lazy Oaf arise?
It was a 5 minute decision in 2001 when I was getting my print screens made. The most affordable way for me to print labels was to get the name on my screen, as well as my artwork at the time. There were two names that I felt suited my style of drawing and general interests, Lazy Oaf or Fat Trucker. Let’s just say out of the two, I made the right choice, as 22 years later it still sums up my love of Lo-Fi and fuck pretension.
What’s wicked about how you created Lazy Oaf is its self-funded journey, can you talk about what that’s been like?
A slow ride! I think outsiders assume we are always a lot bigger than we are, but we’re a small team and always have been. It’s important for me that we remain independent in our journey, I always want to have that level of control over the brand. I’ve said no to so many commercial opportunities, way more than I have said yes too. My aim is to reinvest back into my business, which means we may not suddenly go massive ‘cause we can’t fund that without mega $$. But instead we have sustainable, incremental growth and that suits us just fine; we love what we do, who we do it for and will always remain oaf-thentic. I am not answerable to grey-suited men.
Lazy Oaf will be 23 this October, and over the years you’ve worked with incredible brands and artists, creating everything from homeware to clothes, even dogwear! What have been some of your proudest achievements?
Damn, there are so many to choose from, let me think…ok, to start off, I’ve got to say working with the Tate. I was creating art in the Turbine Hall and designing products for their store, it’s such a creative institution and was a massive honour. I’ll always love working with Dr Martens, because I think my teenage self would die knowing that it would happen one day. I always pick projects and collaborations that feel right for LO, and want them all to do something different and have a unique point of view. A recent achievement has to be working with Ohne to create a series of period pants. I loved the charity aspect and the education pieces we created, we are all so proud of that one.
Then on the other end, what has been an Oaf learning curve?
Oh, so many fuck ups and fails, too many to mention, from warehouses burning down, misprints, floods and pandemics. But all of these events have just made us resilient, a value we hold near to our Oaf heart. All of the hell fires and down times have provided way more learning and growth opportunities than when it is all going peachy. I don’t enjoy them but it is always important to flip it, acknowledge the shitness and then work out what the challenges can create for you. You’re never gonna know all the answers without them.
Looking to the future, what are your dreams and aspirations for Oaf?
I’d love to continue building our community of Oafs, not in a twisted corporate way, but to really get stuck into our creative community. We always want to amplify those who relate to our creative roots in the best ways we can ‘cause at the end of the day, we aren’t anything without them! Along with continually striving to create the best products, I would love to do more unexpected projects and collaborations. I love the way these push and challenge us, these are the ventures that keep the creative heartbeat at the centre of everything.
For anyone reading who might be wanting to start their own brand, what are three pieces of advice you’d give?
Resilience and determination - There’s no quick win, it’s gonna be hard work and you will need to commit to seeing it through the good, and the bad.
Be authentic and unique - Apply both to anything you create and offer
Support System - Have a good one and use your friends and family for feedback and advice. You don’t need to launch in a big way from the get go; have a small VIP group that can champion you and give insights on how you can develop and improve.
What exciting things can we expect from Lazy Oaf in the near future?
Well, as someone who is shoe obsessed, I’m so excited to be developing and working on our footwear range (with our next shoe coming sooner than you think!!). We’re gonna be hosting more IRL stuff to see all your faces, plus we’ve got some wicked pieces/collections coming in 2024…think animals.
Any last words?
Nah, I always immediately regret what I say!