You might not know him by name, but you’ve almost certainly seen Jaffa Saba’s wild denim creations floating around the internet. The London-based DIY upcycler’s Instagram account is loaded with offbeat designs that he’s crafted out of scraps from world’s famous denim labels, as well as other items of cobbled-together clothing and accessories.

While DIY fashion has been catching on in the past few years, the young designer takes customization to a whole new level, artfully reworking denim and sportswear with unexpected constructions that promote both sustainable credentials alongside functional, utilitarian design. Forget about standard reconstructed jeans – Saba’s one-of-a-kind, experimental creations redefine the possibilities of upcycling.

On his feed, styles range from a 5-pocket jean patchworked from True Religion jean back pockets to a Nike sneaker formed from deconstructed Levi’s jeans with backpatches, belt loops and buttons strategically placed around the shoe. Denim isn’t the only material Saba works with. Some of the most-hyped-about product on his page include curiosities like a set of AirMax sparing helmet & gloves or a Raf Simon’s x Adidas Ozweego sneakers with fully functional pop out roller skates. 

Saba’s ambitious approach to design is part of a wider micro maker movement thats currently impacting fashion from a grass roots level. Across the world, an increasing number of young creatives are applying ingenuity and resourcefulness coupled with the global reach of social platforms like Instagram and Depop to build their own micro business’ or simply to flex their creative flare. Its no wonder that Saba and many of his contemporaries are already on the radar’s of the brands they choose to subvert.

This year Saba has already hosted a special denim showcase at London Fashion Week Mens with London retailer Edjer, he’s set to host a series of deconstruction workshops with Nike. It’s fair to say Jaffa Saba is on the rise and definitely one to watch. To hear more behind his creative process and how he brings new life to vintage garments, we sat down with the creator to talk:

What inspired you to start working with denim?

I love denim. I’ve always worn denim. Weirdly enough I didn’t wear my first pair of jeans until I was 12. Since then though they have always been in my rotation. I love the material, the texture, the heaviness. It unifies all cultures in a sense because we all wear jeans. Denim comes from a working class place, which I love. I love the rawness of it, especially when its distressed.

There’s a lot of young creatives using and being resourceful with denim. What makes it such a great material to work with?

It’s Versatile, you can dye it, distress it, layer it, print on it, draw on it, stain it, embroid it and it’s very sturdy and easy to work with in my opinion. It’s also accessible & cheap for me to get ahold of compared to other woven fabrics.

Levi’s is prominent in your creations. Why are they so appealing to you?

It’s a staple, they have the nostalgia and they have the legacy. Levi’s is way more than just a pair of jeans. They were the staple for the people who built America – all the miners and working class people. There is so much more depth and message behind it that I wouldn’t want to align myself with anyone else besides Levi’s and True religion. And it’s also guaranteed quality. I’ve never had a problem with Levis denim. I’ve had problems with other brands but not them. It has a certain stitch, fabric, texture thats better compared to other brands. Wrangler is ok, but I wouldn’t wear a pair of Wranglers. I only wear Levi’s or True religion. I would much prefer to stick to a motif with the same brand than consistently switch. So all my denim is sourced from True Religion or Levi’s.

True Religion isn’t a typical brand for most people. Why do you rate them so much?

True Religion, because its OG. They are the ones that pioneered denim within hip-hop culture. I’m naturally drawn to their aesthetic out of all the older denim brands. They’re fire. I fuck with it. Everything I do, make, film, dicatate is just because I fuck with it. I just wanna make stuff into physical products through my lens.

How do the brands you’re upcycling react to your creations?

A lot of brands are enjoying it. They’re just curious about what it is. I see what I do as innovative marketing. Regardless of how much budget a company puts into its campaigns and marketing, its numbers still get beaten by young people who are just having fun. Kids on Instagram can gain traction from just a picture of themselves whereas brands are trying so hard by pouring huge budgets into creating advertisements, but they’re obviously just not communicating the same way that simple videos and photos can. They’re starting to recognise that we, the youth possess something they can’t replicate and starting to see the potential it holds.

I checked your page and you get crazy view. Whats the secret?

One thing I can kill is marketing. I know how instagram works. Unfortunately this is what a lot of brands don’t have advantage of. We grew up on social media and we know all the ins and outs, we know tricks. I’ve been on Instagram since I was 13. You guys don’t know how it works, we know all the algorithms, we know how to video and what angles you need to make things work. There’s a hidden criteria for the explore page. We know what makes things tick for social content and viral videos.

Whats been one of the biggest posts?

The ashtray rig, was 400,000 views, but it was like 750,000 impressions. I create all my own content on my page, I don’t advertise my posts, but I’ve still created a couple of million impressions around my work. And that’s just off my own back. We’re being resourceful and we have to make our money somehow. We know our shit. 

What do you think makes your designs stand-out online?

I won’t lie, It’s because I make cool shit. The main purpose of everything I do is that I like making things that will provoke opinion. I don’t make things that will get a mediocre response, I want people to be thrown off – “Holy shit why haven’t I thought of that”. I want to put out not necessarily new ideas but new concepts out there for people to realise its possible. And just spark that mentality for a lot of people to just do or make something. I don’t give a shit what you do, just do something. I do this for fun at the end of the day. I don’t get paid for most of the stuff on Instagram.

I hide a lot of my commission work because its not truly stuff that I want to present, its an idea of someone else. I just bring it to reality. My stuff is what I’ve thought of, I’ve written down, I’ve cut a pattern for and produced. I make what I fuck with, and if you fuck with it cool but at the end of the day I made it for myself.

Have platforms like Instagram helped you build your business? 

It’s benefited some people and it’s also the same reason why some people are in that space. The internet and social media has its pros and cons of course, as with everything , but it’s up to you how you use it correctly. That’s on you if you want to use it in a positive way. I can’t speak for anyone else but in my experience its been a great resource as its helped me get to where I want to. It’s also just a bank of some of the greatest creators and it’s very easy to find incredible people, whether it’s through mutuals or recommended posts. It’s become this incredible research pool. Brands, corporations can find it really easy to find people they’re interested in.

Streetwear is now become pop-culture and there’s definitely a climate for more homogenous design. Whats your opinion on this?

Yeah people are capping off of other people because it’s trending and it gets them likes. That’s why there’s so much neon shit. I hate neon with such a passion. All the snake prints, dragon hawaiian shirts, drawing on Air Force’s, full neon outfits, tie dying were trends and its capping culture where people are stealing ideas off each other so they can get more exposure based on what’s trending, new age hypebeasts. They just pick off what’s popular and if you become whats trendy then so be it, but as long as your inspiration isn’t coming off someone else and its solely coming from your own sources then its alright. For me it has to have something personal about it for it to be yours. That’s just the way that I approach it.

What’s your design background?

I taught myself everything. I did Fine Art in college before dropping out after my first year. I think I was 15 and there were some boys in the older year who were doing fashion and they taught me how to loosely use domestic sewing machines. I went out, saved up, bought one, and started pushing buttons. I spent hours, days, months just trying to immerse myself within the craft. I dropped out of school at 16 because this is what I wanted to do. I sat at home making stuff and seeing how far I could go.

I’ve always been into the concept of handmade. Most of my reconstruction comes from my roots in Sardinia, a small island in Italy. In the small villages on the island, they hand sew everything. They have markets in the summer months where they sell all the handmade products they make. I just draw from that. I take those skills and use them for my own work. A lot of what I learnt stems from them as well as a mentor I had who worked on Saville Row.

What inspires your designs?

Life and nature. I take a lot of inspiration from my garden and the plants there. My first collection is based around the mountains in Sardinia, I went hiking and just looked at plants, landscapes and textures. Putting a piece of scrap paper to a piece of bark and sketching out the patterns and then using that to lino print.

I spend hours creating references using circuit boards, or studying old japanese fireman suits with the sashiko. I love hand embroidery and weaving. I love playing around with latex glue, super glue, polymers, materials that shouldn’t typically be used as textiles. Even industrial things like rubber and isoflex for roofs I experiment with. Clamps as belt loops. Anything I can get my hands on. In the same way Virgil used ratchet clamp buckles as belts. If I see someone do something a little bit innovative it inspires me to push further. I love Samuel Ross and that’s the stage I would personally like to get to within the next couple years. There’s loads of paths that I could go down right now.

Talk me through the process of how you create a piece like the Nike Denim Force 1?

The panels for this shoe were cut using leftovers from a denim wall I created for pop-up recently. I picked what looked nice within the shapes, started cutting out patterns and then I just plastered it onto the shoe. I use a compound made up of mostly industrial carpet glue, which is a latex based glue used to keep carpets down for a very long time. It’s even stronger than thread – if prepared correctly. Then it’s just about looking at the details of the shoe and figuring out what looks good to wrap – like the swoosh.

You do have to deconstruct the shoe and remove stitching, but it’s just trying to put details within the shoe. Instead of just using plain flat pieces of denim, it’s more about holding the original character. I’m not trying to reinvent it and create my own product. It’s more about thinking: this is an old pair of denim, what can I change about its form or silhouette to make it a functional piece of equipment. It’s not just clothing, it’s how can I utilise everything and being as productive as I can.

What’s the purpose behind your upcycling?

It’s almost always spontaneous. The ideas come whenever wherever so it’s all a matter of making notes and piecing everything together. Its very much utility based. There’s innovation but it’s also about making it useful. It doesn’t just contribute to the look of it, it also considers the usage and utility of the product. That’s what the future of upcycling is to me.

Where are do you work from?

I’m based relatively central and have access to studio spaces in shoreditch and soho. One of my favourite places to work is On Road, which is a creative community space run by two guys called Tarik and Taro, who I look up to greatly. I’ve been involved with them for about a year and a half.

I wouldn’t say that this community hubs is exclusive, but they want you to be doing something individually so that they can recognise you’ve got a driving force of some kind. Then they’re going to help you push that and help you get to where you want to get. It’s not just about them giving you money. They’ll support you by giving you a space to work and place the focus around people of a similar mindset. We all kind of go off each other as a whole rather than them just putting people on, as they don’t have that power – yet. But that’s where they will soon get to.

It’s inspiring to see this happening independently, especially with government funding cuts for youth clubs. 

A lot of the youth clubs i went to and worked at have been shut down. They were the haven and sanctuary as kids. And now they’re gone and a lot of kids don’t have anywhere to go now. That’s part of the reason why I’m running my workshop. I’m trying to encourage young kids and house someone for some time so that it gives them another insight into what they could be doing. Alot of these kids just generally don’t know what’s up. They just sleep and fuck about which is unfortunately sad. But that is a lot of what youth do. Uninspired, Lazy, Unproductive, Lost, and someone needs to something.

How are you working with the community to help spread the message of what you do?

Im starting a school essentially. A crash course in concept design and visualising and manifesting ideas. You don’t have to be anyone special to sign up. I’m looking for people who are just enthusiastic about making. I’ll be helping them to deconstruct and make stuff by giving them the basic tools, knowledge, technical skills and mentor them in how to make their drawings into actual products. The goal is to eventually expand to redesigning a whole education board around the creative arts. Workshops are very soon. Keep an eye out.

What’s next for Jaffa Saba?

There’s some fire shit coming with a lot of fire people. What I want to stress though is that Jaffa Saba is a public service, I’m not here to just make clothing. The purpose of it is greater than that. In the future I want to work with charities, and bring awareness to them. For an example Better health bakery employ ex-convicts and people who used to be insane or recovering drugs addicts that struggle to get jobs. They provide it for them. I’d like to work with organisations like that where I could create some products and bring their name up in the industry where they wouldn’t usually get awareness. I want to be a global solutions service which is why I’m doing a lot of these workshops. I eventually want to pay people to house these workshops and create a global school around that.

How would you encourage other people to follow your lead?

There are ways of learning how to do things. The internet is a great resource for learning especially things like tutorials, simply learning how to do something. Knowledge is out there it’s just up to you to just go out there to learn in your own free time to learn something new.