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Justine Kelly Brown

Fresh Meat: Justine Kelly Brown

In our interview about Hi-Fashion, Cape Town College Design’s top fashion graduate Justine Kelly Brown revealed that she’s influenced by all things Japanese. Her final year project took inspiration from hand gestures known as Kuri Kuji, which are used during ninja assassin meditation. Qualities of wreckage, grace, peace and beauty inform her designs which are underpinned by vital philosophies of environmental and economic sustainability. For our graduate series, she shares with us lessons learnt as a student, her working process and community building aspirations.

Justine Kelly Brown

What has your experience as a student been like? What valuable lessons did you learn along the way?

My experience as a student was an enjoyable one. I love learning, being inspired and growing. I have learnt a lot over the years, as any student would say, but I think there is something special about being a student in a creative capacity. Being a creative student provided me with the opportunity to grow and develop as an individual because creativity is such a personal thing.

The most important thing I have learnt over the years, despite the fact that many may disagree, is that as important as taking advice and following guidelines is, you should always trust your gut. It was your gut that brought about the awareness of your passion for design, or whatever you’re passionate about, and it’s that same gut that will bring out the ideas and potential you have. I cannot count the amount of times I have sat for hours trying to ‘perfect’ my sketches, or adjusting my way of thinking or styling to be like someone else’s, only to be horrified by how much of a failure that body of work was at the end of the day.

The truth is, people aren’t really mysterious, we’re all insecure, we all care what people think of our work, and we instinctively adjust ourselves accordingly. But no one can create what the next person can, and the constant struggle to be like the next person robs the world of whatever we can add to it.

What role does fashion play in society?

Fashion is important to an extent, clothing can boost one’s entire persona, make someone feel like a million bucks and could even get them a job. Everyone loves a well-groomed man in a tailored suit. But, I do believe that in today’s society one cannot rely solely on the fashion trend forecasts of the chosen few in the industry and must have the ability to design above what is expected commercially. Design should always rule over fashion. Fashion is a seemingly eternal box. It is but a cycle that repeats itself over time, with slight alterations or developments based on circumstances of the time. We can, therefore, not base our way of thinking on what is fashionable, but we can base it on design, which is constantly changing in parallel to the world we live in. I believe this is a philosophy that one can hold onto forever, simply because of the fact that humans will never stop thinking and being curious.

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How would you describe your design style?

I think my designs are different; this could be a negative or positive. I have been told my clothing is quite intimidating, which I have to agree with to some degree. In a nutshell, I’d describe them as a mental mash up of Japanese Goth, hip hop street style and ninja drapery. There should always be a strong sense of balance in everything that one designs. It should be a reflection of the designer, as well as the wearer, and should never be whole in one aspect of itself, but a combination of all values; fluid and soft yet assertive, and reckless yet in control.

I enjoy being defiant in creativity and in some ways even ignoring expectations. I love creating pieces that challenge mainstream thinking or the ‘norm’, or even the natural shape of the human body. This is referred to as ‘deconstruction’ in design, often associated with surreal art as opposed to fashion of today, and refers to the taking apart of something and putting it back together in a unique way.

Please tell us about some of the themes and ideas you’ve been exploring in your student work…

Recently, I have been exploring more economical and environmentally friendly ways of making high quality, interesting clothing. I am quite passionate about the planet and its health – or lack thereof. The planet provides us with everything; food, water, air; it literally gives us life, not the other way around. I do feel we have a responsibility to create a bright future for generations to come by setting the development of a positive culture in motion.

Some examples of this in design would be recycling, reducing, etc. Personally, I love the idea of going back to our roots, back to the beginning, before things were about materialism, speed and money; using natural fibres, God-given tools and materials. Why not just dye fabric with tea? Or berries? Or wine? Why not just make the whole thing yourself? Beauty, quality and more importantly, health, takes time. The more society continues to greedily rush every little process, the less chance we’ll have of actually achieving anything significant.

I’d want to be in a position where I can cause a culture shift in society, people should care more – about themselves, about health, about the world, and each other.

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How did this feed into your final project?

For my end of year range, I made use of more natural fibers and blends such as cottons and wool blends and dyed some of the fabric myself. The model also wore a gas mask during the photoshoot, which was appropriate not only because of the graffiti gas, but as a reference to the pollution rates in Asia. It did not feed in successfully as I would have liked, but did feed well into my proposal for what would have been my thesis. It was based on the upcycling of blue jeans, as they’re unbelievably bad for the environment, and the health of humans as well.

What are some of the other projects you’ve enjoyed working on and why?

I enjoy working on a lot of projects for myself – graffiti, painting, making myself clothing. I feel a lot freer creatively. It’s just a lot simpler – ‘I like it’ – and that’s all that matters in the moment and not what the specs say or what the client would think. I also enjoy freelancing, I’ve recently started freelancing costume and mascot making, which I’ve come to love. Every project is different for each company, for each event, and you can enter a new world with new possibilities every single time. I never get bored because it’s a challenge mentally. And, why do something if you’re not learning from it?

Please tell us about your creative process…

My creative process has been challenged many times, as I don’t really work in the same way as most people, I think. I tend to work based on where I am within my own creativity, with no specific order, and no one understanding what exactly is going on except for myself. At times I draw an idea, create the pattern and make the garment, but this is very rare. Most times it’s simply an idea. I’ll test it on a scrap piece of fabric, end up falling in love with that scrap piece and somehow it becomes something special. Other times, my starting point is just a huge piece of unwanted fabric on a dummy, with no specific plan or just a pair of scissors and some pins, and I’ll just jump in. I’m not saying systematic thinking is bad; on the contrary, it’s an art form in its own way, and everything one does should be intentional. I believe there can be precision and order within chaos, if you know what you’re doing. That’s what works for me.

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Where do you see yourself in 1, 5, and 10 years from now?

There are many things I’d like in life. I’d like get on my own two feet and become self-providing in the next year, I’d like to get married, live on a farm and have kids in 5-10 years, and have my own brand; one that stands for more than just fashion. One thing I don’t want is extravagance and fame, there’s just so much more people could get out of life, and quite frankly it would be exhausting. I’d also like to travel the world, living simply, exploring different cultures and absorbing knowledge like a sponge.

There’s so much opportunity out there and so much to see and learn and achieve.

But, to be honest, I have no idea in which direction the wind will blow. I’m sure the correct answer to this question is probably one of a definite nature, as if my future was within my control alone. I do believe we are all products of occurrences and experiences, which aren’t always predictable. I have estimate plans of things I’d like to accomplish in the next few years, but, I do think it’s still important to take each day as it comes and enjoy the journey.

How would you describe your dream job?

My dream job would be something that doesn’t really seem like a job to me at the end of each day. I’d love to constantly have the ability to think and design, and create without having to think about how many likes it would get on social media – not to be ‘anti’ about it, but because materialism wouldn’t matter so much. It would be me within my company, chatting to my employees about what ideas they have, learning from them, sharing experiences and ideas. I’d want to be in a position where I can cause a culture shift in society, people should care more – about themselves, about health, about the world, and each other. I’d like to somehow create a place where this could happen, people could connect, buy clothing and tell each other they look great in that t-shirt. Ideally, my dream job would just be in a position where I could watch this happen and observe change. This may just be me being a naïve dreamer, but I do believe it’s possible.

What excites you about being a young designer in South Africa?

I think that the most exciting part of being a young designer is the fact that the harsh bubble-busting reality has not yet killed my enthusiasm, and hopefully it doesn’t, like it has with so many established designers. Someone in my position is blessed with the right to be bright and dream big with eyes full of wonder, simply because being a young designer with a dream means you’re still constantly humbled by rookie mistakes. There’s so much opportunity out there and so much to see and learn and achieve. I think that while we’re still daring enough to just go for it, we should.

Follow Justine on Instagram.

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