In times when the fashion industry is forced to change from its roots, and production chains are taking a turn into a more ethical path, designer Estelita Mendonça is determined to take a step on the matter. Outburst, his Spring/Summer 2021 collection – prophetically inspired by chaos and disorder – was designed months prior to the pandemic and just before “chaos was arriving stronger than ever.”
As a multifunctional creative, the 33-year-old Portuguese designer splits his interests as a stylist, DJ, and makeup artist while running his brand. Based in Porto, Mendonça sees fashion as an international field or language, the reason why he tries to express his ideas on society and politics through menswear. His namesake menswear brand has always worked with deadstock fabrics and other materials, apart from the conventional ones: “They present a major challenge to work with, and I like challenges.” In this opportunity, he humbly shares with us some of his thoughts on the current state of the industry, the effects of the Covid-19 crisis, and the cerebral process of his designs.
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As a graduated designer from the Academia de Moda do Porto and having an extensive background in menswear, what do your designs provide to the Portuguese fashion scene? How was the process to become the renowned designer you are today?
I hope my designs are not only providing something to the Portuguese fashion scene but for the fashion scene in general. I think that fashion is an international field. I'm just trying to express my ideas on menswear, on society and politics. I don't know if I'm renowned, I do have a name and an identity and for me, that's the most important thing a designer can have. The search for an identity is an ever-evolving path and I'm hoping I'm still in it!
You recently launched the Spring/Summer 2021 collection titled Outburst, which has a deep and poetic meaning related to chaos and the current global pandemic situation. Besides the state of the world, where did you get the inspiration from?
Actually, the collection was designed before the pandemic. We work with the international schedule so, to present the Spring/Summer 2021 menswear collection. it was ready in February 2020. The idea of chaos as a primitive God of creation was something I wanted to reimagine having the socio-political moment of the world as a context. It looks like we were right on doing it as chaos was arriving stronger than ever. The Donald Trump Administration in the United States, the Jair Bolsonaro situation in Brasil and the growing of the right-wing extremism in Europe are some of the things that are really upsetting us, so we are trying to work on a more positive view of all of this chaos that is already established.
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We’ve all been influenced by the situation. How has the Covid-19 crisis affected your creativity and creation process?
It affected the way we presented the collection, but we are feeling this influence now that I'm designing the new collection. The production channels as a whole are different, slower, and more conscious. Our brand was always a conscious one, we always worked with locally sourced materials and local manufacturers. We have a really strong recycling and upcycling concept behind the brand. But yes, of course, the way we think fashion nowadays is different. I think we should all have more responsibility in our process. Sometimes little things make the difference.
This brings me to the next question, how do you think the current crisis will change the fashion industry and its production chain? Do you think consumers are buying smarter or fewer clothes?
I think the fashion industry is now being forced to change on its own. It's not all about the customer making smarter decisions. The industry understood that it can't be working in the same way it was until now! There is too much waste, too much dead stock. And it has its value, that we can work with it to create new products in a lot of interesting ways.
I think the final consumer is finally more aware of what's going on with the clothes that are being bought but at the same time we know the major companies are always manipulating the customer in amazing ways to maximize profit. Maybe we will reach a moment of balance, and I would like to be more optimistic regarding this matter.
What are the current challenges of designing sustainably?
The production, this is the major challenge. Sometimes we need to buy in advance all of the materials that we are working on, so when we have orders we can have the quantities required, this is always an investment. We are always trying to work in other ways to avoid not being able to fulfil the orders. Until today we’ve been successful, but it’s always a challenge.
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Some years ago, sustainability wasn’t a priority when it came to designing and producing clothes. How long do you think it will take the fashion industry to achieve a more ethical and conscious production chain?
I think the fashion industry is in the moment where it is finally understanding that it can be profitable and conscious together! I don't think it will be a quick change, but the pandemic was for sure a good eye-opening for the production chain.
Considering the constant evolution of the fashion industry and that your brand is mainly directed to men, how do Estelita Mendonça's garments portray gender? What are your thoughts on non-binary fashion?
My brand is presented in men models, I like to work the male body and the male aesthetics and codes, but I don't think that the brand is exclusively menswear. We design and produce clothes that everyone can wear and we actually have a lot of women customers. I believe that clothes are all non-binary, after all, they are just fabrics cut and stitched so they can fit the body of humans, right?
What do you want people to feel when they wear Estelita Mendonça clothes?
The brand concept was always trying to express our points of view regarding the ideas each collection was about. For the customer this should be an important point, wearing a piece that has a meaning, that speaks to them. I think that meaning is the most luxurious part of a garment. Of course, we aim that all the pieces are made with the best materials and the best quality regarding pattern making and production. So, ultimately, who wears Estelita Mendonça clothes should feel the quality of the material, the comfort and ease that comes from good production and that the message is clear for them and for others: every design choice is something I have to say.
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Your collections come from thinking outside of the box. What does it mean for a design to be "more cerebral and free of rules", as you have described your brand before?
The true meaning of that expression is that we try to dissect the process of design fashion, we give huge attention to detail on the 'why' we are wearing this pattern or this fabric. It's a cerebral process. In the same way, we try to forget any type of rules and conventions that we have about clothes and concepts so the final products can be true to the ideas behind them.
After the successful launch of Outburst at Porto Fashion Week, could you tell us some of the future plans for your brand? What do you wish to achieve in the next years?
For now we are trying to understand what's going to happen after this pandemic situation. We are much more focused on our e-commerce but still trying to captivate multibrand stores around the world. The idea is to grow our market in the business to business as well as business to consumer sectors.
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