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Melbourne label Wackie Ju is creating a non-binary utopia

PHOTOGRAPHY BY MYLES PEDLAR, MICHELLE LI, NATHALIE SCARLETTE AND HECTOR CLARK

WORDS BY NATASHA SCHAPOVA

“I deny the binary social construct.”

Like many of us, Melbourne-based designer Jackie Wu dabbled in countless fantasies as a child, fantasies that have travelled with them right into their adulthood. Inspired by a world of dark fairytales and limitless possibilities, Jackie has projected their wacky idea of the universe into their label, Wackie Ju.

Free of social constructs, the label represents an immersive non-binary utopia, a safe space for the queer POC community. Known for styles that defy the norms, Wackie Ju is rebellious but elegant and incorporates political and social commentary within each design.


For more on gender-inclusive designs, head to our Fashion vertical.


To find out more about the origins of Wackie Ju and to discover the face behind the brand, I spoke to the creator, Jackie Wu.

Hi Jackie, can you introduce yourself?

My name is Jackie Wu. I am a millennial who grew up in Beijing, China. [I was] raised in a fairly serious academic family, where I got introduced to the cyborg/grungy early 2000 aesthetics, especially in gaming and computer programs by my IT father. This is probably the reason why I am drawn to the ‘Dennis Rodman’ type of aesthetic – I love that era and all the sci-fi and lo-fi image making.

Different to my entire family in IT and business background[s], I was quite a black sheep for being majorly attracted to creativity and art… I remember when I was so little, my biggest passion was to draw daring (almost too daring) outfits, then one day I saw Lee McQueen’s kingdom which completely blew my mind. I have never witnessed such theatrical but liberated sassiness on [a] ‘catwalk’, and quite frankly, it is moreover performance art than the so-called ‘catwalk’.

 

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How has moving to Australia impacted your career?

With my background as a person of colour who barely spoke English coming to Australia six years ago… I/we have faced severe micro-aggressions. The most significant one is that [Australian society] is naturally silencing our voice[s], in other words, there is ignorance in social interactions. As foreigners to this stolen land, we always felt our voices and our political stances were unheard as soon as people start linking the dot with our identities… the space was never (and is still not) created to include most of us.

Though my actual voice is low by social oppression, it does not stop people [like me] from having a genuine love for fashion… fashion, my practice, is the voice I have. Under the magnificent otherworldly fantasy facade of the universe of Wackie Ju, what is down there is all the words [that] couldn’t be heard as a queer Asian foreigner. I remember in my graduation show Say Goodbye to the Wind, director Sam Wong and cinematographer Jesse Goheir-Fleet ran an interview and asked “What is fashion to you?” My answer was “Fashion (to me) is a weapon that I would use to articulate my identity”. Wackie Ju is that weapon… my true identity, the visionary, the utopian universe in the making.

 

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How do you feel your position as a Chinese-born and raised international student, as well as a queer POC, has intersected with your work?

This is a really interesting question, because when I first graduated with my brand, for a few months, I was in preparation mode to officially start the label. As an international student, I understand that Western society always put us in a category of ‘cultural’ designers/artists/beings, that seems to be not belonging locally. They have this almost obsessive but condescending expectation when it comes to viewing and evaluating the work of designers from other cultural backgrounds. Therefore, when I first started, I used social media platform[s] in an anonymous way [so] that my true identity was never shown, because I believe in attracting interest by presenting creativity and [the] quality of my crafts, but not by who I am as a person.

I am a Chinese person, [that’s] firmly undeniable. My cultural knowledge and philosophy are in the subconsciousness of my identity. As a designer, an individual, I believe that I do not need to directly use culturally significant silhouettes to acknowledge and celebrate my background. My culture is celebrated wherever I am/we are… in recent months I have been more vocal about my POC identity and support towards the community, [and] I see another shift in recognition where there are some true allies (instead of box tickers) who are putting in a lot of effort to support my brand values as well as my community’s values.

This is a very good sign to me that Wackie Ju is on its way to becoming a bigger and better platform, that utopian safe space I want to build for myself [and] my community which I aspire to represent and take full pride in. I hope to collect and inspire true allyship along the way. I don’t think 95 per cent of the Wackie Ju followers knows that I am an international person, or understand what international students have to go through in their life. But thanks to this interview, I hope it opens up [that world] for local communities.

In terms of queerness, I am identified as non-binary. My pronouns are he/she/they in situations. I believe that this is the best gift I have ever received – being able to present myself with the fluid freedom of gender expression. The non-binary utopia is what I strive to celebrate with my brand. My community of queerness is also what I emotionally relate to the most, therefore, all forms of queer art inspire me to create. For my upcoming first official Wackie Ju couture collection, I am deeply looking into the psychology and emotions of this genre of novel/manga called ‘boy love’, or in Chinese, ‘dan mei’.

 

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How would you describe your label to someone who’s never seen it before?

‘Nothing in this world is not non-binary’ is the motto and value that the universe of Wackie Ju holds. Wackie Ju, as a fashion-oriented multidisciplinary practice, uses couture, visual making, art curation to present an immersive and otherworldly non-binary utopia. Wackie Ju is not intending to be a clothing brand but an emotion-filled fantasy world. Clothing is the major [mode of] expression of the world view. Wackie Ju explores the definition of ‘absolute freedom’, with our current sociological dynamic as a reference.

The style of Wackie Ju is rebellious, rough around the edges but delicate and elegant in all details. It has all… wackiness and dark humour with the most loveable gorgeous facade… Wackie Ju presents my understanding of freedom. Wackie Ju is the safe space and platform to celebrate the liberation of sexuality [and the] diversity of representations of identities for the queer POC.

What about the Australian fashion industry needs to change?

Diversity. Actually having minority/marginalised group of creatives in… higher position[s] in Australian fashion. There is not enough POC in a highly recognised position to influence people, and it does cause a lot of hierarchy and single-sided information [for] one community to represent this industry. We need representation in order to [prevent] microaggressions and [address] uneven opportunities, as well as [making us] more aware of others cultures and ways of thinking. This applies to all fashion related industries from business to the education system. The European standard is [not] enough.

If it’s not for all, it’s for no one. With that said, I believe overall industry standards should be more inclusive in terms of representing sizes, models, ethnicities. But NOT tokenising or only doing the inclusivity on the surface of presentation. Industry practitioners need to research into how to make the products inclusive… not just ticking boxes [done] by [a] marketing team.

Slow down the fashion [industry] and put more support towards quality designs. Fashion, to me, is fine art. My goal is always to work the hardest to achieve the finest form of my creativity with the clothes I design and manufacture. This not only applies to my couture collections but also the every day ready to wear. I set up this business mode for my ready to wear, that there is only one full-body look of products being released at a time instead of a collection. With this structure, as a designer, I am able to keep my creative flow healthy and refreshing. It keeps the designing process exciting and flexible to respond to the customers’ preferences.

 

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Who would be your dream Australian collaborators?

Ooh, this is such a yummy question, because I deeply believe collaboration from brand to brand/artist to artist is the future of creative industries. My Libra brain is struggling right now… because I truly know there are so many amazing creatives I have always wanted to work with. Firstly I really appreciate Sofia [the designer of Sabatucci] for mentioning me in their interview with Fashion Journal. I adore her and her incredible crafts [and I] always feel so inspired talking to her about our passions! I hope we get to come up with something [together] soon!

In recent months, I had and have been building this very strong vision of this ONE photo that I want to take with Korean photographer Ted Min. For that particular imagery, I want to feature the talented Ichikawaedward’s installation art pieces. Before COVID at the end of 2019, I went to this [art] show Carrion featuring Justin Shoulder, and it was one of the most mesmerising experiences I had with the performance sound and visual.

More interesting is that, I went to look up more context of the show today, [and] it was in [the] Australian Centre for Contemporary Art’s Feedback Loops exhibition. I recently curated a live music visual performance with Michelle Li at Gallery17, featuring Ossian Shaw and Maia Kjendle, called Tunnel of Delusion which explores the feedback looping and information in transition through media. I hope to work with Justin one day for a performance art project or feature them in my couture show [at the] end of summer early next year. I am manifesting!!!

How can we buy your pieces?

All products are on my web store. And currently, I am stocking with Sucker in Melbourne and Terminal 6 in Sydney, [with] more places coming soon.

To explore Wackie Ju’s latest collection, head here

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