Fashion and politics have long shared a symbiotic bond, fostering dialogue and catalysing social change. This relationship is layered with complexity and nuance, and right at its epicentre stands the Palestinian fashion house Trashy Clothing, asserting its influence in a way our times so desperately need. Their garments are both edgy and provocative, yet their significance lies in their ability to covey deep-seated messages about social and political realities.
Every detail of each garment contributes to an overarching message, echoing the sentiment of the brand founders: “We treat our garments as physical documentation of a story or experience” they explain. Through the unravelling of this interview, we illuminate the minds of Omar Braika and Shukri Lawrence, the innovators behind the brand who bridge social consciousness with sartorial. We urge you to follow along!
Can you tell us a bit more about Trashy Clothing’s philosophy regarding the intersection of fashion and politics? In what ways do you believe fashion can contribute to political and social discourse and do you find this approach influencing broader conversations in the industry?
We see fashion as our trojan horse to start conversations. For our debut collection runway back in 2018, we built a replica of the West Bank occupation wall on one side of the runway, blocking the view of the audience behind it. When the show started, the people behind the wall moved to the other side of the runway because they couldn’t’t see the pieces behind the wall. After the show, people came up to us shocked about the existence of an actual wall in Palestine, as they had no idea about it.
What would you say drives your brand, what is your mission?
Documenting our stories and culture drives us. Living under occupation, there is a great deal of irony in our lives. We often find irony in many aspects of our reality. Our goal is to highlight these ironies to start a discourse around them.
The crux of Trashy Clothing seems to centre around storytelling, presenting deeper stories, “resilience in the face of difficult political circumstances” through the lens of satire. To name a few, the inspection trousers bring forth issues of pink washing, Identity Hood Jacket of art washing, Tourist Wrap skirt of cultural appropriation. Was it ever challenging for you to translate complex political themes into garments, and do you approach designing in a specific way to ensure your pieces effectively convey the intended message?
We treat our garments as a physical documentation of a story or experience. Palestinian traditional embroidery motifs are all about storytelling aspects of life in Palestinian villages, we are inspired by that concept for our garments. Every design element, stitch, pattern, or print has a purpose story-wise, and the individual garment makes up the full story of the collection. This approach comes from both of our filmmaking backgrounds; symbolism is a big part of our artistic expression.
Sometimes people catch the story of a piece as soon as they look at it and sometimes it needs context, but for us what’s most important is that the piece itself holds the documentation we intended it to have, even if it is misinterpreted.
Following on the previous question, given how striking and beautiful your garments are, many wearers appreciate them for their sheer aesthetics. Do you feel it’s important that the seriousness of the underlying issue isn’t lost on your audience?
We’ve constructed each garment with a story in mind, but we know once it is out in the world it is no longer ours to narrate. Every wearer gives the piece their own, and sometimes it is complimentary and sometimes it is contradictory (which we love).
In championing narratives of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and race, were there any moments from those who have engaged with your clothing that stand out as affirmation of your brands impact beyond aesthetics?
For us, any engagement with the clothing and brand is an affirmation, whether it is positive or negative, it means it is serving the brand’s purpose of sounding alarms.
Your SS24 collection Bourgeois, Mufflers and Oil spotlights corruption, greed, resistance, betrayal, imperialism and American terrorism, influenced by the satirical works of Palestinian cartoonist Naji al-Ali. Could you walk us through the collection and your choice for these specific themes?
When researching the collection, we focused a lot on Naji al-Ali’s work. We’ve been inspired by his political satire throughout our collection, and we decided to dedicate a collection to his work. We pinpointed themes of corruption, imperialism, and resistance throughout his work. We wanted to focus on the bourgeoisie's complicity, through loungewear elements and pieces symbolising oil's exploitation and greed. Design choices symbolise the exploitation of Arab identity by Arab leaders, with prints and embellishments inspired by capitalist distractions. When looking at images from the US invasion of Iraq, we came across a picture of US soldiers setting palm trees on fire. We have introduced a print of a burning American flag, symbolising the empire's destruction of the global south. The collection's colours hold significant representations, with black symbolising oil, gloves dripping in oil mimicking Henna tattoos, and caps styled after Trump and Biden caps in blue and red, emphasising the message of two sides of the same coin supporting the genocide of our people.
Given that your collections, including the recent S/S 2024, address politically charged themes, are you ever concerned about potential controversy or feel pressure to uphold your artistic expression and ideals?
Everything is political and everything is affected by politics. Our identity is political by itself, and as we design with a storytelling approach, our work will naturally reflect that. We don’t self-censor ourselves, we believe our cause is just and we use our abilities to contribute to it, no matter what it takes.
In drawing inspiration from Arab music icons and aspects of life in the Middle East, has the balance of maintaining cultural authenticity while ensuring your designs resonate with a global audience ever felt difficult to navigate?
It's not something we specifically think about while designing. Ultimately, what resonates with our global audience is their own interpretation of the message behind a design or collection.
Recently, you don’t see many brands jointly led by two designers concurrently. Perhaps this is due to the tendency of harbouring individual visions that may clash and result in potential conflicts when it comes to creative direction and generally running the brand. With this in mind, I’m curious on what that was like for you at the outset of your brand back in, if I recall correctly, 2018. Did you find that your individual mindsets were able to naturally blend together to form a cohesive approach in running Trashy Clothing?
We’re both very similar in our ideas and found a way to make our differences complement each other. Ever since we started the label, we’ve always had the same goal, which has evolved in many ways, but at its core, it remains the same. When we started the label, we had to learn everything from experience since we did not study fashion, and doing so taught us a lot through trial and error, which eventually helped us find ourselves. Now we have our designing rituals that we do with every collection, by immersing our work environment into the world we’re narrating. We understand that collaboration could be hard for some; however, we find it a beautiful process where we can grow our ideas together and narrate a story from two perspectives; two minds are always more powerful together.
How does it feel to see your creations embraced by influential personalities like Julia Fox, especially as an independent brand that is relatively new to the fashion industry?
It is exciting because it also gives new meanings to the garments they wear through the context. A lot of our work revolves around satire and context, and these moments where personalities like Julia Fox are dressed in our pieces, it narrates a story in a performance art sort of way, and it is very on-brand for us.
What do you hope for the future of Trashy Clothing?
A proudly Palestinian Fashion house in the industry.