Safia Minney, Founder and CEO of People Tree, chats with emerging designer Tola Mohiki about Fair Trade fashion design.
Tola Mohiki recently worked with People Tree as a Design Intern after graduating from the renowned BA (Hons) Fashion Design course at UCA Rochester. He’s about to start working on a project with the fashion charity FARA, a foundation whose charitable work provides care services for disadvantaged children and families in Romania. This week on The Thread, he chats to People Tree’s Safia Minney about Fair Trade fashion production, and what really makes him tick as a designer.
Safia Minney: So Tola, tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do.
Tola Mohiki: I’m a Fashion Design graduate with a particular passion for craft. I’m a complex character trying to make a living from what I enjoy, and what I feel I am good at.
Safia: You had the chance to work with the People Tree Design team. What kind of things did you consider during the design process? For example, did you think about craft skills, fashion trends, Fair Trade groups and their skills…or what guys actually want to wear?
Tola: During my time with People Tree I worked mostly on the technical side of things, but I also had an exciting chance to design some of the Menswear. On both sides of my work, I always tried to think outside the box. When designing, I considered trends in contemporary Menswear and aimed for simple classic pieces with a sporty, modern edge.
More importantly though, I thought about designs that would push the producers. I like a challenge myself and I’m of the ‘old school’ opinion that if you don’t push yourself, you won’t learn new things. I think a lot of people these days (especially at my age) are too laid back in their approach, and too often play it safe with their goals and expectations. There were so many things that I designed, or ideas I had, that got the response: “that’s too difficult for the producers!” So I made sure it was possible myself and then I was able to show the producers. The results were excellent! Although one particular piece got dropped from the collection, it was still great to see that they could do it. The challenge was a positive one for them.
Safia: Why do you care whether fashion is ethical, sustainable and Fair Trade? Or not?
Tola: I was brought up in rural England, Dorset to be precise. I was a vegetarian kid with ‘hippie’ roots. My upbringing has undoubtedly molded my opinions. Having worked in various fashion businesses and seen the waste – not to mention living in the ‘fast-fashion’ generation…seeing all these “Primark Churches” popping up on the same street, the frenzied buying…and the spending hangover that involves people vomiting their purchases into the bin within weeks or months of buying… I could go on and on.
It’s all about awareness. My eyes and my mind are open to see the negatives of the fast fashion world, and I realise there needs to be serious change. It’s not so much that I choose to care – it’s just a part of who I am and what I already know.
Safia: How would you describe your own personal style? You wow us every time you come into People Tree!
Tola: My own personal style is like…imagine a car carrying clothes from every stage of your life and then some bits falling out along the road and those bits becoming an outfit…I still wear band tee’s and skateboard brands from my teen skater days, but I also wish I was a Savile Row mannequin. So I guess what you get in my style is a mix of youth culture and an appreciation for tailoring, as well as a sense of aspiration. I think if I had the money I would wear beautiful tailored pieces all the time, but I’d probably still want to wear Vans with holes in them! I don’t consider my outfits as much as people might think I do. I just aim to feel a certain way, and look like nobody else. I have fun and I like to be comfortable.
Safia: Tell us what you’re doing career-wise now, and how that fits with your vision of fashion?
Tola: I’m about to start working for the charity FARA. They certainly stand for what I believe in with regards to fashion. I suppose their vision of fashion equates to the China’s vision of overpopulation in the world: the one baby policy. We don’t really need any more new clothes. Maybe we do, but I guess that’s people’s own choice, and it all depends on their awareness of the effects that fast fashion has on the people that make it.
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Want to read more from Tola? Tola has a lovely blog with his photography, illustrations and fashion designs. Discover Tola’s blog here.
FARA set up its first charity shop in London in 1992, and now has over 50 shops across London to support orphaned and abandoned children in Romania. The word ‘Fara’ in Romanian means ‘without’; the charity gives children living in extreme poverty access to complete their education and break the poverty cycle. Their work includes setting up children’s homes, childcare services, rehabilitation centres and vocational training. Recently, they have also been able to establish an Organic Farm, providing employment and training for 100 disadvantaged young people. You can find out more about FARA’s work and their London shops by visiting their website here: The FARA Foundation.
To shop our stylish new AW13 Menswear collection – as worn by Tola – click HERE. Thanks to Tola for chatting with us on The Thread this week! We look forward to seeing what he’ll go on to design in the future.