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Meet the Australian project using creativity to get through 2020 

WORDS BY JASMINE WALLIS

Inspiration from isolation.

Creating is usually a solitary act. From typing away to the glow of a laptop to living in front of a sewing machine, creatives are used to making things alone. But when the COVID pandemic hit this year, many found themselves more isolated than ever before. 

When Melbourne locked down for four extra months, one creative knew he had to harness the power of community. Formerly one half of menswear label Amxander, Rong Jake Cheng is a wearer of many hats. The talented multi-hyphenate is now a consultant, designer, lecturer and exhibition curator. It was this combination of talents that helped him pull together his latest project, H-ours, despite living in one of the toughest lockdowns in the world. 

Named 02 Resistance, the second H-ours project was a physical exhibition situated in Collingwood’s Le Space gallery earlier this month. A collective of local artists, the exhibition focused on the resilience of designers as well as the fashion industry’s supply chain and sustainability issues. 

“Working as a creative you’re often really isolated and positioned in a place where you can only reflect your designs and concepts against yourself or your partner if you’re lucky. So working in isolation has been quite tough but this year has made it even more apparent that being in a bigger community is important,” Rong says. 

Recognising the way COVID has wreaked havoc on the fashion industry, Rong asked friends to think outside of their boxes and explore new ways to use the waste in their supply chains. As a result, each designer that partook created a commercial piece and an exhibition object that focused on homewares. Given the amount of time we’ve spent at home this year, Rong wanted the designers to be challenged and create a homeware piece reflective of the times. 

“I really wanted to help each of the brands into homewares because that was the category people were consuming more,” Rong says. “We consume brands and products because we want to live in a fantasy and all of these brands were selected for being diverse. I wanted to challenge them to look at their supply chain and look at what can be made from their scraps.”

With local designers including Jonathan Liang and ffixxed studios taking part, each piece explored a theme that the pandemic has brought up. For Sean Tran from Shhorn, this was the theme of sleep. Both Sean and Rong are alumni of the coveted 2016 International Woolmark Prize, and Sean says H-ours was a good opportunity to create a piece of work with Rong and round out 2020. 

I spend a lot of time in isolation at my studio, so that aspect didn’t have much effect on my mental wellbeing. Rather, I put my energy into pushing the level of craft in my pieces, which meant slowing down.” And slowing down he did. “The COVID lockdown allowed for me to catch up on sleep, so it made sense to explore this for the project.” 

Described as “contemporary dream catchers”, Sean’s homeware object is titled ‘Dream Mirrors’ and is made from off-cuts of pieces found in his studio. Each captures the dream state that was brought on by COVID lockdowns and Sean aimed for the audience to be, part frightened, and part hopeful of what they will discover when reaching out”. A fitting way to describe this year. 

Emerging designer Karla Laidlaw is another H-ours exhibitor who used the exhibition as a way to create space from her collection that she was creating during lockdown. Karla created a felt wall hanging made with remnants of her collection which is set to be released on December 22. The sun motif featured is a part of her brand logo but also represents light and warmth after Melbourne’s long, cold COVID winter. 

“For me, the struggles of 2020 were able to be explored through creating again. I had put a lot of focus on my first collection for the brand which took over six months to create because of the stop-start production of the manufacturing and accessibility to retail stores to purchase fabrics in Melbourne,” Karla says.

“Having little outbursts of leaving the collection that felt like it was honestly never going to be finished, and just using my art as a creative process to realign myself with my practice has always been a type of meditation for me.”

Rong tells me that a big part of creating the H-ours exhibition was to create hope in an industry that has seen a lot of change and devastation this year. 

That was my little contribution in the sense of hoping people will be more conscious of the supply chains and what wonderful things waste can produce. Maybe that could even ignite people to consume more independent labels for their needs,” says Rong. 

H-ours and the creatives involved cover a lot of important and timely themes and I ask Rong where he sees the fashion industry moving post-pandemic. 

“Moving forward there is going to be a reconsideration from the ‘top dogs’ in the industry. They’re really the movers of how things are done because they have the high marketing spend and are able to really dictate what consumers could be purchasing,” Rong says thoughtfully. 

“It could be a good conscious time for brands to reflect on what’s making waves. What part of your product line or designs is actually speaking to people and is core to who you are versus just making for the sake of making?”

“The industry isn’t going to recover for another year, from what I’ve heard in reports and that means we do have more time to really reflect and hold on to a sense of resilience.” 

From inspiring discussions around waste and sustainability to creating a community of talented artists and designers, H-ours has managed to capture a poignant moment in time – a snapshot of the space in between pre and post-pandemic.

“We’re all going through this together globally, even though it may come in waves there are a lot of shared themes we can rely on and hopefully these themes can be brought forward… and create change for the better.”  

h-ours.com.au

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