BEHIND THE BRAND: WE INTERVIEW LEILANI FONOTI, DESIGNER OF UNISEX LABEL BLACK MOB
The Dress Collective is proud of its growing Australian made fashion family and our most recent addition is a testament to our ethical fashion ethos. Below, Leilani Fonoti shares her inspiration, her personal story and her passion for her Australian owned, designed and made unisex fashion label, Black Mob.
Who or what influenced your relationship with fashion growing up?
Fashion, music and art were always a huge part of my life growing up and my personal style has always been heavily influenced by music, especially hip hop.
Did you study fashion or are you self-taught?
Both; I graduated with a Bachelor Degree in Branded Fashion in 2016 but before that, my skills were all self-taught and I was always researching. There are also a lot of things about the fashion industry that you can’t ever be taught, you have to learn a lot with practical experience.
What led you to launching a brand and when did you launch?
I was frustrated with the lack of diversity in Australian fashion, particularly streetwear. I felt there was a gap in the market for ethically produced and edgy streetwear that was actually unisex (not just male clothing marketed as 'unisex') and that stood for something other than making money. We launched in 2015 and since then we have used Black Mob as a vehicle to start a dialogue on important social issues like racial and gender equality. Most brands don't get involved with or comment on controversial or political issues because the don’t want to offend current or potential customers, but I think it is important to know where a brand stands when it comes to issues like sustainability, marriage equality and racial discrimination.
Describe your brand to our readers?
Black Mob offers an edgy alternative to unisex street wear with bold silhouettes and prints that reflect the social consciousness of our generation.
Where are your garments designed and made?
All Black Mob pieces are designed and custom-made right here in Australia.
What does a week in your shoes look like?
I’m sure it probably looks crazy from the outside looking in! It’s a constant balancing act with a young family, a day job and Black Mob; it usually means I’m bouncing between various unrelated things throughout the day. There’s definitely a lack of sleep and plenty of long hours to ensure everything gets done!
Why are you passionate about manufacturing your brand in Australia?
I manufacture in Australia because it’s important, and fast-fashion is unsustainable and unethical in so many ways - for the environment, for workers in developing countries, for emerging designers, for large brands and for consumers. For things to change, there needs to be other options for consumers and there needs to be a shift in focus from short-term gratification to long-term sustainability.
Explain the process of one of your garments?
I don't have a structured or traditional design process and I don't follow trends or design specifically for a season. Inspiration is the most important thing for me and that comes in many forms from music, dance, protests, people watching, conversations and collaborations. From there, it's all feeling and vibes. I think to myself, 'If I wear this, what am I saying? What statement am I making?’, and it evolves from there.
How do you define ethics and how do you apply ethics to your business?
I would define ethics as the principals and morals that dictate your actions in life. Caring is what dictates my actions and this filters into what we do at Black Mob. If we care about sustainability and the environment, then we will want to create or buy sustainable fashion. If we care about ethically produced clothing, then we will want to create or buy clothing that is made in an ethical environment. If we care about people, we will stand up when there is injustice. At Black Mob, we let this be the motivating force behind what we do and what we create.
How do you define sustainability and how do you apply sustainability to your business?
Sustainability is if something can be sustained at a certain level. For example, fast-fashion is not sustainable at its current speed. At Black Mob, we support slow-fashion by creating custom made, hand-crafted garments in small runs, we use sustainable printing methods on durable fabrics and we always operate by our ethos, ‘Quality over quantity’.
What challenges do you face as an Australian made brand?
There are cost challenges when producing in Australia, especially Brisbane, but there is also a lack of collaborative opportunities and resources for emerging designers. However, working and collaborating with organisations like The Dress Collective and The New Garde in Brisbane are a huge help for anyone starting out.
Brand highlights or achievements to date?
Being able to show Black Mob at The Dress Collective Runway, Melbourne Fashion Week Plus, Undress Runways and Pacific Runway were great highlights of 2016. We also accomplished a group photoshoot with 12 models from Indigenous, Asian and Pacific backgrounds, and seeing the many beautiful and diverse models in one place, in one photoshoot for an Australian brand, has been a major highlight.
Support Australian made fashion and shop the full range from Black Mob The Label here.