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How Perks and Mini grew a cult label with no business plan

IMAGES VIA P.A.M AND CHUNKY MOVE

WORDS BY MAGENTA PORTER

“It’s not about us. It’s about a voice, a voice that we think needs to contribute to a global conversation.”

With only one computer between them, no savings and no real business plan, Shauna Toohey and Misha Hollenbach began the ultimate exercise in ‘winging-it’ in early 2000, when they launched their label, Perks And Mini (P.A.M.). Twenty years on, the brand has been exhibited at The Tate Modern in London and the NGV in Melbourne and has reached cult status worldwide.  

There are few labels that value the input, opinion and creativity of other creatives as much as P.A.M. Reflecting on the brand’s unique journey, Toohey echoes this idea, citing the out-of-the-box, collaborative approach taken by the P.A.M. team. 


Head to our Fashion section for more insightful interviews with leading designers. 


From inviting designers from all over the world to be a part of their show at Paris Fashion Week, to working with the likes of Carhartt and Nike, P.A.M. has found that rare thing: success without compromising on authenticity. 

Exploring her favourite moments and collaborations over the years, Toohey is sure to emphasise one thing: the importance of community and being a part of a larger conversation. Unlike other brands, P.A.M. places art at the core of their work, breaking down the ever-increasing emphasis on the ‘self’ and ‘the individual’ encouraged by social media. 

Dipping into the past to discuss the future, P.A.M. is leading the way with upcycled, sustainable designs for its latest project with Australian contemporary dance company Chunky Move. Reflecting on her career, Toohey offers me some insight into this notoriously private brand, discussing everything from fashion shows turned street parties to her hatred of spreadsheets, and not to mention, Margiela’s sock sweater. 

Can you tell me a little bit about Perks and Mini for those who are unfamiliar with the brand?

It’s a collaboration between Misha and myself, that ended up being a much bigger collaboration. We do lots of things – we don’t just make clothing. P.A.M. isn’t a fashion brand, it’s a voice. For us, it’s a way of communicating with the rest of the world. 

What’s something that would surprise people about P.A.M.?

We started our business with just two grand. We managed to save it from the freelance work we were doing and bought a computer which was shared in the beginning. We made a business from nothing. We never had a business plan, so I hope that inspires people. It’s always been about organic growth and a response to a feeling, not a response to something that’s on an Excel spreadsheet. That’s really it. It’s not our names. It’s not about us. It’s about a voice that we think needs to contribute to a global conversation. 

What’s been your proudest moment as a brand? 

There have been lots. I feel like in the past five years, moving away from ‘self’ has been really important for us. We’ve realized how ‘community’ is the thing that really makes us tick. That’s our aim. If you have success when you’re an individual, you get joy from that. But when you have success as a community, it’s just amplified.

I think one of the highlights so far was in 2019 when we had our first fashion show in Paris, No Show Official. We were given the opportunity to do this show, and it just didn’t make sense for us that it would [soley be] a P.A.M. show. We had the concept that, like in everyday life, you don’t wear a brand head to toe, so why would a P.A.M. fashion presentation just be P.A.M. head to toe? That just didn’t make sense… it’s really self-absorbed. 

We wanted to turn the tables on that. The concept was that every look was to be mixed… just like real life. We ended up with seven brands, one from Japan, one from Italy, one from Tel Aviv… all different places. We invited different stylists to come and style on the night, we invited our friends to model and we ended up with over 100 looks and [it] turned into a street party that lasted all night, it was great. 

In light of your success, how does P.A.M. stay true to its values? Have you ever strayed from the core of the brand in any of your collections?

I feel like it’s a journey. In retrospect, there are some collections that maybe I’m not as into now. But it was important to explore that concept [at the time], to create the DNA and to continue to evolve. When we make a collection, we never make a collection based on a fashion trend. It’s not about a subculture or even a genre of music. It’s always to express an idea. The next collection that’s coming out is called Good Life. What is a good life? What is that about? That’s the catalyst. I don’t think there’s one [collection] that I didn’t want to explore.

What have been some of your favourite collaborations that you’ve done over the years?

I think we’ve been really fortunate to be able to collaborate with some amazing people like Jun Takahashi from Undercover, like Neighborhood – we’ve had people that for me, felt untouchable when I was 19, and now, are close friends and collaborators. Even collaborations with bigger brands, like Carhartt, have been really satisfying. But I think ultimately, it’s the human connection… the mutual respect and trust in each other to go somewhere that we wouldn’t go by ourselves. P.A.M. is collaboration.

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your new collaboration with Chunky Move for its upcoming performance, Yung Lung?

The piece is really immersive – the lighting, the music, the dancing, the set, it’s all full-on. So initially, our response was to do something really pared back for the costumes. Antony Hamilton [director of Yung Lung] was like, no, it needs to be strong, it needs to demand attention. We’ve been doing a lot of upcycling as part of our practice in the last few years. It’s something that we’re really interested in, and we want to continue to develop.

This project was future-facing, so upcycling made sense to him [Antony]. We were inspired by Margiela’s sock sweater. We used that as a bit of a catalyst and made some outfits out of socks, which was amazing. We also cut up T-shirts to make complex trousers and just cut holes in things. I like to think that what we’re making is really considered. We use a lot of organic cottons and recycled yarns and stuff, [and] I think we’ve got to start being more proactive.  

To check out P.A.M.’s latest collection, head here

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