Paying homage to their late mother and talented seamstress Stella, Melbourne-based clothing brand Collective Closets was founded in 2016 by sister duo Fatuma and Laurinda Ndenzako. Connecting to the talent, beauty and rich history of the African continent through their unique, hand-selected fabrics, Collective Closets designs clothing with intention, and aims to empower women to feel good in the way they dress. Collaborating with ACMI on an exclusive range of bomber jackets, totes and headbands for the blockbuster Goddess: Power, Glamour, Rebellion exhibition, Laurinda Ndenzako spoke to us about her creative process, Whoopi Goldberg and the importance of the brand’s season-less collections.
Jayden Masciulli: Tell us about your creative practice – what motivates and inspires you?
Laurinda Ndenzako: Our creative process typically begins with us mapping out the overall feel and vibe for the collection. For instance, when designing the hero piece for Goddess – the bomber – we really wanted to play into the title of the exhibition. When we think about words associated with ‘goddess’ – 'strength', 'power', 'beauty', 'love' and 'celestial' were what came to mind right away.
We’re inspired and motivated by our late mother Stella, who was a seamstress and, in our eyes, the real definition of a goddess. Collective Closets was born to celebrate the people in our community, and our late mother has played a huge role in reminding us of that, as well as taking pride in what you wear and how you show up in the world.
It's important for us that each collection is a celebration – of both the incredible artisans who make our threads and the beautiful people who wear them. We’re truly inspired by designing clothing with intention and seeing our customers wear our clothes with so much joy and happiness continues to motivate us.
JM: What was the design process in creating the pieces for Goddess?
LN: For each collection we design, we create pieces for the mood we want to evoke, how we envision the wearer feeling, and the persona we want them to embody when they wear one of our garments. We’re well-known for our bold use of colour and the richness of the Maasai Shuka (our check fabric), which is the hero textile for each collection.
For this collaboration however, we wanted to stretch ourselves and introduce a textile that we don’t typically work with – satin. We love the juxtaposition of these two textiles and colours – the boldness and fierceness of the red and the more muted tones of the darker toned bomber, but also the softness and the luxuriousness of the satin.
JM: Your use of colour and pattern is bold, timeless, and invigorating – how does that influence your collection, especially for Goddess?
LN: The heart and soul of Collective Closets is all about colour! Our bold use of colour evokes positivity, boosts your mood, and uplifts your spirits, even when you don’t know you need it. It influenced us more so for Goddess as we really wanted to dial things up a notch – we went full throttle with our use of colour for this collection. When we first met with the team at ACMI and were briefed about the exhibition we came away knowing that we wanted the pieces for this collection to play into what the exhibition was about, celebrating the trailblazers, nonconformists, rebels, agitators and instigators on screen. We feel like this collection does a great job of representing power, glamour, and that hint of rebellion.
JM: Who are some of the most inspiring women on screen to you?
LN: Oh wow! This is a hard one as there’s been a long list of women that have inspired us for different reasons and at different times in our lives. But one woman on screen that we both agree on is Whoopi Goldberg – her resume is incredible! You can’t go past The Color Purple, Ghosts of Mississippi, Sister Act, Boys on the Side, Corrina Corrina… she’s left a huge imprint on us and is truly an important part of film history. Especially as a black woman in film, plus her lasting legacy and humanitarian efforts over the span of her career – it’s beyond impressive and very admirable.
JM: Sustainability and ‘slow-fashion’ are key aspects of your business – tell us about the interaction between your creativity and environmental consciousness.
LN: As a small business we’re doing our best to play our part and aid in looking after mother earth with small, achievable, and sustainable practices. This year we’re opting to create seasonless collections, with a strong emphasis on quality, intentional and timeless design. We want our customers to truly love what they purchase from us and so we’re improving communication on the care of your garment, and how you can get the most wear out of our pieces.
We love creating clothing with a story; pieces you’ll want to wear over and over again, and in small, limited collections throughout the year. We design compatible collections – pieces that work together and apart, and that fit into your already-existing wardrobe. Our promise every season is to sell through all our stock. We don’t like the culture that surrounds sales and try to avoid them unless completely necessary.
We really want to help change the way people purchase fashion, and help customers build conscious, timeless wardrobes. We're doing our best to be thoughtful and kind to the earth by working to reduce our carbon footprint in every aspect of our business, from biodegradable postage bags to paperless POS systems, and will continue to listen, learn and improve.
JM: What is your favourite use of costuming in film or television?
LN: Mad Max: Fury Road – the costuming was amazing! Oh, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – jaw dropping, so clever and beautiful.
JM: Is there a favourite exhibition or film from ACMI you remember?
LN: We recently went to Light: Works from Tate's Collection. WOW! WOW! WOW! So beautiful and breathtaking. This was definitely a highlight of what we got to experience last year.
JM: What are you currently watching, playing, streaming?
LN: The White Lotus – we’re jumping on the bandwagon and seeing what the hype is about. Our African Roots – author and dear friend Santilla Chingaipe explores Australia’s forgotten Black African history and shows the role people of African descent played in events that shaped the nation, from the first fleet to the Eureka Stockdale and beyond – a must watch! And we’re playing Sampa the Great – a goddess and visionary in every sense of the word! A Zambian-born, Australian-based rapper and songwriter – she truly embodies the power, rebellion, and glamour of a Goddess.