From giant leaves to tree bark and vines, Labo Young manipulates these resources to fit the human silhouette. His main source of materials is the Amazonian rainforest, a vast area for him to work out what his new collection will be. His initial creations were in the form of masks, a way for him to translate his outlook on a darker period of time for him. Now, they symbolize his healing. Although he’d like to explore new territories to see what materials they have to offer, it’s important for him to stick to his roots. After all, they are what inspired him to connect with nature in such a literal way.
You have a strong attachment to your ancestral roots. Can you tell us more about the story of your family and how they inspired you?
My family comes from different places in the state of Pará, but they are connected by the same riverside experience of the islands that surround the city. My mother comes from the island of Marajó, where she always took me on trips on my grandfather's boat, a fisherman and great storyteller, stories that always fascinated me and made me travel. Marajó is an enchanted island and its folklore is one of my inspirations, along with riverside technology.
Have you always wanted to work through creative means and expression? Did you face any challenges getting into the fashion industry, especially considering the unfamiliar tools you use in your work, such as giant tree leaves and twigs?
I always felt like a very creative child, I used all the materials possible to build my toys and my garden was this space where I could play and invent. I grew up and this creative instinct remained and I realised that it was something serious and very intimate. Today I understand that it is precisely this way of creating that helped me to be in places where I never imagined myself to be. The forest will always be my source of inspiration and fashion or clothing here has a very strong identity and I hope it is on the right path to strengthen and encourage other people to understand the depths of our technology to create things that tell us more about ourselves.
Although you have a very distinct style in your fashion and art, you also have a connection with sound. I read that music, especially that from Parà, had a big impact on your childhood and your understanding of your culture. How does this translate into your design concepts?
Music for me is something that reconnects me to moments, stories and takes me to unimaginable places. The way we treat music here is very affective, they carry a lot of strength, local cultural identity and music is also a way of marking our territory. The lyrics alone say it all, when we form teams or name equipment and animals that represent it, all of this is connected with my work, I believe. My references are beyond the visual, all things pulsate here. Our music is very futuristic and unique, even difficult to understand for someone who comes from another place but I love it, creating our own codes.
Your work connects art and fashion with nature. When you design a particular piece, how do you know where to find the natural material with that specific shape and size from places like the Amazon? It can’t be easy relying only on what mother nature has to offer you in that particular moment in time, right?
When I do an experiment where I'm just in my backyard and I feel like I need to do something right there and now, or anywhere else, I just use things that are there at that moment. But for the use of some specific work I study and prepare myself beforehand, I know where to find what I need for that situation. I am always full of materials.
A part from the Amazon, is there any other place in the world where you would like to get your materials from and experiment with?
Yes of course. There are other states in Brazil that I would love to visit as well, Brazil is very big, almost a continent. It would be amazing to be able to meet other countries and artists that I could collaborate with, India and Thailand are on my wish list.
The way that your fashion pieces are woven together with elements from nature such as huge tree leaves and tree bark is done so seamlessly. How did you learn to create these garments using such unconventional materials? What is the biggest challenge regarding the process of reframing these natural elements to fit a human body?
I think it's instinct. Playing with these subjects in my backyard when I was a kid was always fun and an exercise for my imagination and it just flowed. I used to build dolls and my mother would tell me how she used to play in childhood and that fascinated me, even as a child. Imagining that I could build clothes was a little while ago and I learned that everything needs to be done with great care and precision, as I don't usually use other types of materials to make the lashings, unless some look needs to be used for a long time. But I usually tie leaf to leaf. There is maths for everything to be well aligned and asymmetrical is not so easy.
Your work goes beyond the idea of fashion being about clothing. What is the concept behind your mask creations? Do you have a particular relationship with the mask?
I started making masks first rather than wearing a full body. And the creation process was a very difficult time for me, the mask was almost like a shield where I felt protected and more comfortable to register. Although the creations took place from that dark moment, I believe today that the leaves cured me of this feeling and made me understand the real meaning of my work, which for me is healing.
The pieces you make are obviously not for people to wear and go out with, mostly because of the durability issue. Do you think you would ever consider creating ready-to-wear garments, even if it means not being able to use fresh plants and natural materials?
Yes! I think the forest is an inspiration beyond just using its materials. But everything is fascinating, colours, shapes and textures. I really want to be able to reproduce this in future works, I still don't know what the right material would be. I think 3D pieces are the future of fashion and I also love creating virtual pieces.
Where would you like to travel to next? Do you use these outside experiences to get inspiration or do you prefer sticking to your roots?
I prefer to focus on what nourishes me here, there is still so much to learn and understand. The Brazilian Amazon is very large and there is enormous diversity within it. I want to travel but always understand that I need to go back. I hope to be able to fulfill my dream of getting to know other countries that are part of the Amazon, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. I prefer to collaborate with artists from other regions so that we can join forces. We have already suffered a lot from these types of aggressions here, cultural appropriation, theft of our ideas and our lives.
What are your future plans? Do you have any goals you would like to accomplish?
I really want to travel the world and have the opportunity to work with other artists, get back into music and delve deeper into photography. My goal is to be able to give my family a more comfortable life, but I already feel a blessed person for working doing what I love.