Gerard Smith

Being a twin is a hard life, especially when Russel Smith is your brother but Gerard Smith has managed to make a name for himself despite the handicap. We chat to the ‘cleaner looking’ twin about life in apparel design and the pros and cons of being a Jack-of-all-trades.

DIY: Who is Gerard Smith, what do you do and where can we find you between 8 and 5 on weekdays?

Gerard: Gerard is Russel’s ‘cleaner looking’ twin brother, whom you sometimes see standing behind him at a bar or club. I currently work for a local clothing brand, but next month I am making my way to bigger clothing company.

If you’re going to work for a company it is best to leave your fickle design principals at home for personal projects


DIY: What does a typical day look like for you?

Gerard: I guess a typical day starts with browsing my particular favorite picture and design blogs, seeing what has gone up since the day before. We usually have a couple of themes within the range that we have to work around, I usually try keep an eye out for stuff that can be used as reference or inspiration. Apart from trying to get stuff out and approved, I listen to a lot of the Ricky Gervais show, drink a fair amount of coffee and call my HOD a dick, while he insults me relentlessly. He can be quite abusive. Apart from that there is a bunch of stuff that gets thrown at me during the day, posters, light-boxes, general retail stuff.


DIY: What elements of design do you think you need to master before going into apparel design? Was it something you took to naturally or was their a steep learning curve?

Gerard: Like most things you learn as you go, but an understanding of printing methods on fabric and a little bit of fashion is pretty key. When I got into the industry 3 years ago, there was that huge trend of ‘Iron Fist’esque, full front panel, over the top illustration, colour that made your eyes bleed, very ‘hardcore metal vibes’, I really liked that stuff, I can’t stand it now. But yeah it was all about the illustration, that’s how I landed my first job in clothing. Learning about the industry and adjusting my idealistic views on how things ‘should’ be done was far more of a learning curve than anything I did in terms of design. Designers are very different to Salesmen and CEOs. Design integrity very seldom plays its part in a company’s modes operandi, at least not in my experience anyway.


DIY: Is keeping tabs on current trends/looks a major part of your work? Designs that are ‘influenced’, how difficult is it to make sure they have their own stamp or identity?

Gerard: Well it is probably the most important part of the job really, our whole process starts with that, looking at trends and  then trying to interpret them into the South African Market, we use trend forecast sites, and people are sent overseas to do research and buying. In terms of trying to keep stuff original, it is tough. Generally, in a smaller company that isn’t about being a market leader, who don’t have the time and budget to push boundaries, you’re usually stuck with what is tried and tested. A lot of the more original stuff is generally pushed aside for stuff that will most likely sell. I really struggled with trying to stay true to my own ideas when I first got into the industry, a lot of the time my more original work was overlooked, for stuff that others had done, that were damn near complete rip offs. The industry is full of copycats, I don’t necessarily agree with it, but it happens a lot. It also doesn’t help that all the companies, from the the intentional and local guys, are all looking at the same stuff, and following the same trends. Even I’ve had couple of occasions where I’ve done something and a couple months later you see something that looks way too similar, of course it wasn’t a case of copying, cause my design hadn’t even gone into full production yet.


DIY: You’re in an industry that relies on quick turn around time in regards to the output of your work, are you still “precious” about your designs? How do you combat that need to make sure it’s perfect? What tricks do you have that help you cut down your time spent on a design?

Gerard: I am still ‘precious’ about stuff, but I don’t have the final say. There are a couple people, and a chinese factory between me and the final product, so often something will come back in that I designed, and I can barely recognize it. It can be frustrating, but yeah, if you’re going to work for a company it is best to leave your fickle design principals at home for personal projects. I’m not great at pumping designs out, it basically comes down to prioritizing what needs to be done, and trying to work around that, I generally don’t like letting stuff suffer because of  time constraints, but sometimes its necessary. I’m also not one of those designers that can spend days, even weeks on one thing, I get bored of stuff pretty easily and also I’m pretty quick to abandon stuff if I feel like its not going my way after a few tries at it.



DIY: What’s your opinion on trendy and current design/looks vs say more ‘timeless’ designs? What do you think makes a great shirt design?

Gerard: Fashion and trends are fleeting, what’s wicked cool today will be super shit tomorrow, its just the nature of the beast, and things go around in roundabouts. I don’t know if there is such a thing as a timeless tee shirt graphic. Maybe in different subcultures, like metal-heads must own a ‘metal up your ass’ metallica tee shirt, or a surfer must wear his surf brand of choice’s logo tee. Maybe it’s the classic plain white tee shirt. I don’t know. Tee shirts are pretty disposable in terms of fashion items, they aren’t a classic cut of jeans, or a leather jacket. I kind of love that about tee-shirt design



DIY: You have a few different styles in your portfolio, what is your go to flavour for a new brief? Do you think it is necessary for an illustrator to have a few styles under their belt in order to be successful and versatile? Do you ever worry about a ‘jack of all trades/master of none’ tag by having different ‘styles’ of design/illustration?

Gerard: Usually a brief will come with an outline of a particular style or aesthetic, so my go to flavour is whatever the brief entails, like the CEO says he likes hand drawn skulls, and then I’ll go about drawing and doodling skulls till I get something I’m happy with that is as close to the brief as possible, and then it goes up the chain for approval.

The versatility in my case is more out of necessity and my own indecision, in a small company, where you are asked to mimic and ‘speak’ to different types of people you don’t really get the opportunity to design in your own ‘style’. I don’t know if too many designers in Durban are afforded the luxury of developing and getting to work in their ‘own style’, there are a couple, but not many. Plus I like a lot of different stuff. there is a lot of diversity out there, spice of life and all that shit.

I have often worried about my own status as a bit of jack of all trades… I guess when pushed I do sort of have my own style, in terms of the illustration it is more of cartoonish very vector kind of illustration, I loved cartoon strips, comics and cartoons growing up, like most 80’s kids and always thought I would one day write and draw my own syndicated strip, I just never grew out of that stuff. In terms of design more and more I’m leaning towards and really loving the cleaner, very simple aesthetic. Kind of goes in hand with the simple cartoon vibe in a way.



DIY: Is apparel design something you see yourself doing for the foreseeable future or are there other avenues of art and design you want to starting exploring soon?

Gerard: I like design, I like illustration, and I’m quite fond of fashion. I will be doing one or more of those in the foreseeable future, will it be apparel as such, I don’t know. My one ‘problem’ as a designer is that i feel spoilt for choice, there are, for me, too many awesome avenues to go down. even within the apparel/clothing industry, I haven’t found the one field that I could sit and say okay I’m happy here, when there are so many awesome aspect of it still to be explored. Going back to that question before, i will probably never be a master of any one aspect of design, purely because I just dig it all, and really want to try my hand at everything I get the opportunity to work on.


DIY: Finally, what you got planned for the rest of 2012 and into 2013?

Gerard: As I mentioned, I’ll be moving on to bigger and better things hopefully, climbing that particular ladder, and also hopefully getting on with a few personal projects.



Like what you see? check out more of Gerard’s work on his website.

2 Responses to “Gerard Smith”
  1. Dazla says:

    Nice work G!

  2. twakie says:

    you way cooler than Russel

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