Sequins on sequins, lavish silk letting off a sparkle here and there—Fashion, dearest, we’d be fools to say the glam doesn’t hook us up as well. But once you step off the runway, unravel all the sequins and your silk falls down, creativity shines through and artistry becomes a transformative force.
Electrifying the fashion scene with sequins that shine light on issues of sexuality and false perceptions in, and of, the Middle East is tRASHY CLOTHING—the Palestinian design collective that uses creative language as a tool to transcend and transform borders, prejudice and fear. Founder Shukri Lawrence and team-essential Omar Braika may seem like drops in the rain of influencers and fashionistas, but the two young artists have impeding issues on their brains that they communicate through fashion and art, actively taking one bold step after another. Daring garments and discernible imagery tackle misperceptions around refugees, Arab culture and the LGBTQ+ community, turning your common stereotypes on their heads. And beyond enthusing discussion through provocative imagery and revolutionary ways of showcasing a collection, such as their recent Berlin show where a wall split the audience apart, tRASHY CLOTHING donates a quarter of its profits to Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps throughout Jordan—giving tangibility to fashion’s transformative power.
Anyway, we’ll let you hear more yourself as we chatted with Shukri and Omar just days after their presentation at the Cultural Arcade event of Amsterdam’s Prince Claus Fund.
Hey guys! Let’s skip the introductory niceties and dive in deep waters from the get-go. Is art always political to you?
Shukri: Everything around us is political, whether we want it to be or not.
Do you find that there’s a fine line between fashion as art and activism? Are you able to separate the two, do you believe a designer can ever do that?
S: I don’t think you can separate the two. There is no fine line. Fashion is always art, and it can also subconsciously be activist.
You’re studying filmmaking at the moment, am I right? How has your interest and academic experience in that medium defined your design process, style, and way of creating garments?
Omar: Both mediums are visual, which ties them together quite strongly. With tRASHY CLOTHING, we try to showcase the clothes in a real, honest way—a documentary approach that lacks any filters or Photoshop.
S: I think the basics of filmmaking are similar to those of fashion; you study shapes, lines, back-stories. It’s research. Studying film has helped me especially with the pre-production process in fashion. Before you start with the patterns, you do the same kind of research you might do when working in film.
Is there a film you’d love to have been the costume designer for?
S: Persepolis! Its story inspires me, and I find a similarity between the main character’s coming-of-age tale and the essence of tRASHY CLOTHING. She is different, she isn’t afraid to explore and swing from the West to the East, and vice versa. If there’s a feature film made of it, I’d definitely love to be the costume designer.
How do you think the Internet has altered the ways in which people get hold of information?
S: The way I see it, everything is in front of us, nothing is hidden. All the information is around us.
O: Also, people that were not given a voice before can have one now. For instance, I’m working on a project now in Jordan, in Al-Azraq—it’s called Media Club—and we’re teaching people there how to do filmmaking.
S: And this is small city in Jordan that no one even really knows about.
O: Yes, it’s not widely known that there are people there; it’s like a desert.
S: And had the Internet not existed, it would have been extremely hard for those people there to share their story. So, we try and give them a voice through the filmmaking club.
What about social media and censorship?
S: Before going to film school, I made a few music videos with rapper Candy Ken. He plays with gender stereotypes, wears pink nail polish effortlessly, and that experience with him showed me a way to express how I felt about my life in a censored and conservative environment. Because living in Jerusalem, you have to deal with a lot of censorship, and so, through going to an extreme with the videos and then sharing them on social media, I learned how to share my art, work, feelings.
O: Social media has made it super easy for people to tell their stories, it’s a tool for creative expression. For instance, I’m doing workshops in refugee camps too, teaching the people there how to share their story via Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. Some refugees don’t know what they want to do with their lives, but a girl once realized, through the social media workshop, that she could actually go study media, because those platforms showed her that it’s not only men that do that.
In what ways does the transmission of information inspire you to create, too?
S: With images and videos I post on Instagram, people are getting to know a side of the Middle East they did not necessarily know much about. And people may get excited and shocked when they see it, but they can also be inspired. This process inspires me to create more. Because there are a lot of creative people living in the Middle East, yet the rest of the world doesn’t notice it so much, and I think it’s important to showcase that.
You’ve mentioned that you like to play with raw honesty and superficiality, with high-end brands and streetwear. How do opposites inspire you?
O: Personally, working in documentary has shown me that fashion is everywhere, for everyone—even if people have their own style that others don’t believe in, it can still be art.
S: I like to have a balance of the two, and tRASHY CLOTHING is all about mixing and playing with the opposites of rawness and superficiality, one making fun of the other and vice versa. A thing that fascinates us is the way some people in refugee camps dress, with their unique style, with their fake Adidas and so on, and we definitely wanted to showcase that in an honest, documentary manner. It’s really interesting to explore the dynamic between the fake and the real, the high and the low—like tRASHY CLOTHING being shown on a runway in Berlin, for example. Controversial yet inspirational.
If you had the super power to erase stuff from people’s minds with just one magic move, which commonly held stereotype would you delete without thinking twice?
S: With regards to the Middle East specifically, I’d want to erase the idea of us being backward, that terrorism is all around us, that the Middle East is unsafe—that’s simply not true. It’s all news and fabrication. It’s this wrong image and idea of the Middle East that we’re trying to eradicate through our work. Everyone and everything involved in tRASHY CLOTHING, from all the shoots to each single garment, is rooted in the Middle East. That’s a side of the world that is still not really visible, but things are changing, and we try and hope to contribute to that transformation.