Angolan sisters Laurinda and Fatuma birthed their label Collective Closet to reflect their love for Africa. Having lived in Melbourne almost all their lives, a trip to Nairobi, Kenya brought them nostalgia, and a zeal to clothe women in rich African pieces.
We both remember landing in Nairobi for the first time all that time ago- From the minute you land the city sweeps you away, takes your breath and engulfs you on a journey of this eclectic, colourful and culturally enriched world. We wanted our label to reflect our love for Africa- but specifically the Masai tribe, from the check fabric we chose for our first collection (it’s become our signature for our Winter collection) to the eclectic vibrant prints we knew we wanted to incorporate/inject our child hold memories of these textiles into our clothing and storytelling. This trip all those years ago was really the catalyst + the inspiration behind Collective Closets.
Although they had always wanted to start their own brand, that trip gave them the much-needed fuel and nourishment to achieve their dreams.
Now, their brand Collective Closets is one of the top brands in Australia promoting Africa. According to them:
Our label draws heavily on our ferocious appetite for individuality, boldness, self-expression, and comfort. The result has been the creation of a line that will suit the woman who wants to be herself.
For this week’s Millennial Designer Spotlight BellaNaija Style‘s Mary Edoro talks with Laurinda and Fatuma about their brand and personal style.
The Design Process
We’re both so heavily involved in the design process. So much about our brand is about designing wardrobe staples and timeless pieces that the woman we are dressing for has in her wardrobe on rotation for years to come. We design with the thought process that every woman should have go-to key pieces like an amazing pair of pants in a classic cut that fits like a glove and pieces that really compliment her shape.
We’re all about embracing the female form and not being apologetic by bold fabric choices. We live by the notion that woman should dress for themselves and what makes them feel comfortable. During the design process, we look at previous pieces that have become a favourite by our customers- we really like to listen to them, but we also design pieces and clothes that we ourselves want to wear. We don’t design based on the latest trends- if we love something that’s happening in the fashion world we’ll try to find a way to put our own spin and make it our own. During the design process, we spend quite a bit of time thinking about what our inspiration is for that collection and what the story behind each collection is. We really want to share our stories and create positive conversations- we want our label to be more than just about the clothes, we really take this into consideration during the design process- for us the theme and what inspires us makes up a huge part for each collection.
Favourite Part of Being Fashion Designers
We definitely love seeing the satisfied look on our customers when they find a piece they really love that compliments their figure. We love how clothes make a woman feel, the story they tell about an individual. We love that we’ve been able to use our platform to tell our story and stories that matter to us. We love that we get to highlight our Africa in such a positive light and share with so many that really don’t know about all the talent that comes from our continent.
The Collective Closets Woman
The Collective Closets woman is in her mid-twenties to late thirties. She’s aware and conscience, she’s ambitious, smart and a worldly woman that isn’t afraid to stand out and speak up. Our label draws heavily on our ferocious appetite for individuality, boldness, self-expression, and comfort. The result has been the creation of a line that will suit the woman who wants to be herself, who is subconsciously aware of the trends but is not dictated by them. Our label allows for personal interpretation, where the individual is at the centre, and the clothing remains secondary, compliments the mood and lifestyle of the individual. It is really important for us to create pieces that evoke something personal, an intimacy between the garment and its wearer.
Inspiration Behind Designs
Our personal journey’s and dual cultures have played a massive role in the aesthetic and inspiration of our brand. As Angolan’s that migrated to Australia 30+ years ago it has really been important for us to tell our story through our own experiences, our upbringing and memories that we hold very dear to us. We are so proud of our background and it’s been an integral part of our storytelling. We’ve grown up with these African print textiles, watching our mother and our auntie’s dress in traditional Angolan/African attire for celebrations to this day remains one of our favourite childhood memories. As adults it’s something that we appreciate on a different scale- far more then we did as young girls. Collective Closets is an extension of these memories and is an amazing way for us to celebrate the marriage of our two cultures.
Notable African Influences
The music we grew up on- The likes of Kanda Bongo Man, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Brenda Fassi, Koffi Olomide– the list is endless. African influences also come from the pride that African women take on their appearance and their love for fashion. We all have that Aunty in the family that’s always dressed to the nines at every family function- whether she’s just going to the local store or a wedding, she’s always looking her best. This is something that we’ve grown up seeing with our mothers and aunties. This pride plays a big role in our label.
We’d probably have to say our second collection- Luanda 1975. It’s inspired by our mother and her native Angola, this collection was a salute and our interpretation of fashion inspired by our late mother.
The Story Behind This Collection
The Luanda 1975 was a dynamic melting pot of political and social ideology that would revolutionize the country and the dreams and aspirations of its youth. While also fulfilling the prophecy of the previous generation, whose fight and sacrifice had led to the end of colonization. Luanda 1975 was about hope, freedom, enlightenment, living in the moment and looking to the future. As well as being the revolutionary centre of the country, Luanda was the backdrop to our mother’s early twenties where she experimented with a style that was fearless, bold and unapologetic – a style that mirrored the spirit of Luanda at the time. We see this collection as a time capsule in which we embody the lost archives of modern Africa. We want to transport you to a recently liberated Angola, a moment in history re-imagined through our pieces, guided by our mother’s lens and her experiences. With this collection, we want to pay homage to the unapologetic confidence and attitude that defined 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 (tailored) trans-seasonal pieces. The pieces in this collection evoke strength and confidence in spite of the monotony of the daily grind just like the woman who expressed these qualities in her style. Do you consider trends first when designing a new collection? We don’t actually! We do our homework and have a vague idea about whats ͞trending͟ but it’s not something that we take heavily into consideration when designing. We only make 2 collections a year- we design clothes that we like and what we think other women would like.
The Important Qualities a Fashion Designer Needs
You really need to be determined and willing to work really hard. You need to have the persistence and patience to keep pushing through, even when things aren’t going smoothly. Regardless of how many NO’s you hear… you have to push through! You’re going to hear a lot of no’s and come across people that won’t like your label as much as you, you just need to pick yourself up when things aren’t going so well and keep moving forward! And don’t take yourself or fashion too seriously, fashion is supposed to be fun!
Hardest Part of Running an African based Fashion Brand in Australia
The sourcing of our textiles- not being based in Kenya where our staple/signature fabrics come from makes our production and design process really difficult and challenging at times! We’ve had a few nightmares where fabrics we’ve shipped from Kenya have taken months to arrive or have been held up in customs- this has lead to delayed production and a few tears!
So hard to narrow down, most of the woman we admire are in our circle of friends or regular woman we see walking down the street. But we really admire the following women- –Solange, Diana Ross, Kwena Baloyi, Amanda of London, Girl In NYC.
Memorable Fashion Moment
We’d both have to say our weddings! Your go-to style uniform? Laurinda- Our Jasari Jumpsuit and Wrap dress Fatuma- Right now I’m living in our Amani Culotte pants and a classic shirt- As a mum on the run, I find it easy to throw on, but also dress up easily for meetings in between the day.
When They aren’t Designing…
Laurinda: Sometimes just throwing on some sweats and laying on the couch with some Netflix can really do the trick. Switching off my phone and closing my laptop!
Fatuma: I’m really big on turning up the music, pouring myself a glass of prosecco and just dancing around the living room- sounds a little crazy but you should try it! It’s a quick fix to when your stressed and things aren’t going your way.
Laurinda: Long hot showers (like really long) and anything fried
Fatuma: Trashy T.V
Be fearfulness in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire – Not sure who this quote is from, but it really sums up how we like to live our lives.
Read more inspiring interviews with other young African designers on the Millennial Designer Spotlight.