Meet the Designers Behind Collective Closets

Laurinda and Fatuma are the two sisters behind the new label, Collective Closets. African born and Melbourne raised, their label encapsulates both the vibrant colours and wild prints of Africa and the modern silhouette of Melbourne.

I interviewed the designers to find out more about the label, their creative process and their inspiration drawn from the city of Nairobi where a new African fashion renaissance is fast emerging.

How did you get into fashion design? Have you both always been creative?

Design and creativity is something that we have naturally gravitated towards for as long as we can both remember. In our younger years I think we just didn’t know how to channel this creative flare, or even quite understand in what capacity we would later use it. It’s taken a while for us to let go of certain fears associated with fulfilling careers/dreams in the design and creative world.

We’ve wanted to start our own business for such a long time, we always knew that this was the path we would go down, we were just fearful of taking the plunge. Starting our own business really came about for our love for fashion, knowing that we wanted to build something that was our own from the ground up, creating something that was personal, and not wanting to look back in our later years with the regret that we didn’t just go for it!

How do you work together to create your collections? Do you collaborate on each design or do you have separate roles within the business?

We collaborate from top to bottom, throughout the entire design process but also have separate roles based on our individual strengths. The general collaborative process for us looks like this: we each are mood boarding constantly and creating ideas and conceptions that inspire us for that particular collection. Every moment of every day we try hard to stay in the present where we can be inspired by our surroundings from an unforgettable bit of street art to what’s trending on social media. We then come together for brainstorming sessions where we share ideas and try our best to merge each of our separate visions together. We love exploring the deep and dark depths of each other's creative fantasies.

The culling stage we also do together, it's a little less fun because we have to stay cut-throat and definitely don't always agree but there's an honesty and sincerity to sisterhood that helps the process. We've learnt to trust each other's creative instincts, which has been a beautiful gift.

Collaborating with another person can seem overwhelming but staying focused on the big picture and our philosophy keeps us united and on track.

Tell us about the different interests each of you have, whether it be play or personal development; do they have any impact on your designs?

We like to keep ourselves curious and open because we try to find inspiration in everything. Our interests are pretty broad and diverse and differ between us. It’s likely you’ll find Fatuma at a gallery or show of some sort in her free time. We both love to travel and having the opportunity to see the world has really impacted our designs and inspired our current collections.

Tell us about the new African fashion renaissance emerging in Nairobi.

It's exciting because the fashion renaissance, being experienced all over Africa in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa, is making lots of noise in the fashion world. We think the spirit that really captures the mood at the moment is pride.

There is a new-found pride sweeping across the continent, and it's a pride in what unique gifts Africa has to offer the world.  There is such an eclectic mix of amazing creatives showcasing their talents in a variety of ways that are making waves across the fashion world. There is desire to look away from European standards and trends in preference for celebrating our own countries and what we have. It's such an amazing buzz!

How has Melbourne and Africa shaped your individual styles?

We love combining the clean-cut and refined silhouettes of this city with the fabrics and patterns of African textiles that we grew up with. Our dual cultures have played a massive role in the aesthetic and inspiration for our individual styles. We were raised to be proud of our heritage and it’s played a strong part of who we are today, we want this to reflect in our designs and overall story of our label.

It's been really important for us to try and marry our two cultures and strike a balance between both, even in our individual styles. We want to share our story of our influences and upbringing through our designs and the textiles that we’ve grown up with. We have fond memories of our mother and aunties dressing in traditional Angolan and African attire for celebrations that marked milestones through our lives, till this day these memories remain some of our favourites.

Tell us about your latest collection, Luanda 1975: Winter Collection inspired by your mother.

This collection is quite personal to us as it is inspired by and dedicated to the sass, strength and spirit of our mother. We want to transport people to our mother’s native Angola, during time of liberation. A moment in history re-imagined through our pieces, guided by our mother’s lens and her experiences. She was such a creative individual who has nurtured our talents since we were little, so when we were brainstorming inspiration for our next collection she was the obvious choice.

With this collection we want to pay homage to the unapologetic confidence and attitude that defined our mother and women around the world in the 1970s, when women’s fashion broke free from restraint. Luanda 1975 is a stylistic mix of fresh colour combinations with modern tweaks that push individualism and promote self-expression, keeping in line with our philosophy of well-made trans- seasonal pieces.

Shati Shirt Dress in navy linen

Shati Shirt Dress in navy linen

Tell us about your collaboration with ANPPCAN?

From the conception of Collective Closets it was important for us to collaborate with an NGO that we believed in. This collaboration with ANPPCAN (The African Network for the Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect) had been in the pipe works since our trip to Nairobi almost 4 years ago. Having the opportunity to meet Wambui, one of the directors at ANPPCAN, was really the turning point and cemented the capacity in which we as a brand wanted to get involved in. ANPPCAN is the organization at the forefront of child trafficking prevention in Kenya, providing education to eliminate urban child trafficking through provision of education, research, community awareness and advocating for those who don't have a voice.

Through us learning the impact and prevalence of child abuse and neglect in Nairobi, getting involved with ANPPCAN was a no-brainer. It has been an eye opening, enlightening process that has taught us the importance of giving back, the power of education and the power a community can posses when given the tools to have its own voice.


What’s next for Collective Closets?

Returning back to the Mathare Outreach School this July to deliver the school packs is top of the list. We are currently putting the final touches to our Summer 2016 collection. We are looking forward to teaming up with other amazing creatives to push our brand and work on new content that is original and aims at pushing us creatively. On a personal note Fatuma is getting married in Tasmania in November, so it’s nice to have that to look forward to and take a little time off.

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Lei xx