Meet The Designers Of MR PORTER FUTURES 2021

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Meet The Designers Of MR PORTER FUTURES 2021

Words by Mr Chris Elvidge

16 September 2021

Earlier this year, we welcomed applications for MR PORTER FUTURES, our very first mentorship programme. The goal? To find talented people with great ideas that deserve bigger audiences. It’s all part of our attempt to break down barriers, be more inclusive and improve access to the industry for those outside of the mainstream.

Fashion, after all, can be a tough place to succeed, and, if we’re being honest, isn’t quite as diverse as it could be. For all that it speaks to a global audience, the industry that drives it is largely centralised in just a handful of cities – historically New York, London, Milan and Paris – while talent is disproportionately drawn from a small number of high-profile schools.

We’re thrilled, then, that our three chosen designers, who were selected by an anonymous review process before being nominated by our mentor selection committee, represent such unique perspectives. Meet Mr Saif Ud Deen from Manchester, UK; Messrs Julian Canda and Ryan Edmonds of Oregon, US; and Ms Kat Tua, originally from Auckland, New Zealand, but now residing in Sydney, Australia.

Our applicants will now begin a year-long design programme to turn their ideas into reality. At the end of the year, they will debut their very own menswear collections exclusively on MR PORTER. Before embarking on this life-changing journey, though, they took a moment to sit down with us and share their story so far.

01.

Mr Saif Ud Deen

Mr Saif Ud Deen was born and raised in Levenshulme, a district of south Manchester. He studied menswear design, and, at 23, he’s the youngest of the MR PORTER FUTURES candidates. A third-generation British Pakistani and practising Muslim, his designs are inspired by his local community and incorporate elements of streetwear and traditional Islamic attire. He describes his collection concept as “an autobiography of sorts, a culmination of my own experiences and how faith and fashion intertwine with the urban environment”.

You graduated from Salford University with a degree in Fashion Design in 2020. What inspired you to follow this path?

Growing up, fashion was a bit like football to me. It was something I was passionate about, not a potential career path. I went to a good school – a grammar school – and I guess I was always pushed down an academic route. But I just hated it, it wasn’t for me. My dad sat me down and said, “It’s clear you don’t want to do this.” It was only once he’d encouraged me to pursue my passion that I said, right: this is what I want to do.

Could you describe your own sense of style?

I take inspiration from what’s around me. Style in Manchester is really regional; Levenshulme, where I’m from, has its own distinctive look compared to other areas of the city. It’s just like in London, where people dress differently in Soho compared to, say, Tottenham or Willesden.

Your design concept integrates streetwear with elements of your religious heritage. Where did the inspiration for that come from?

Growing up, it’s just what we did. If you go to a mosque on a Friday, you’ll see a load of people my age wearing traditional Islamic dress, but they’ll throw a Stone Island jacket on top or wear it with a pair of Jordans. There’s a big trend among young Muslims of adapting their religious clothing into something that has a sense of individuality and that expresses their personal style.

There’s a strong functional element, too.

Fashion to me has always been functional. For example, when I was a kid, I’d often go straight from the mosque to playing football in the park. We’d just pull the dress up, tuck it into our trousers and play. It’s about wearing what you need to wear, but not letting it get in the way. That’s always been my way.

What was it like graduating during a global pandemic?

My class was showing at New York Fashion Week in February 2020; by the time we got back to the UK, Covid was everywhere. Our final collections were cancelled and the rest of the course went digital. All the manufacturing side of it was gone. We’d just visited China earlier in the year to buy fabric; I had 200 metres of fabric in my bedroom. It’s still there now.

That must have felt like a big setback.

It did at the time, but looking back it had its positives. I had so much more time to focus on developing my drawing skills, which really helped me with my application for MR PORTER FUTURES. So, in a way, I guess it worked out.

02.

Ms Kat Tua

Born and raised in a small town on New Zealand’s North Island, Ms Kat Tua moved to Sydney to pursue a career in fashion and spent 10 years working for a number of retailers before quitting her job last year in order to launch her own brand. TUA is inspired by Kat’s exploration of her Maori heritage, and its first collection – “Past, Present and Future” – includes references to the Polynesian Panther Party, a social justice organisation, which protested against racial discrimination in the 1970s and 1980s, and a concert held in Auckland by Mr Bob Marley in 1979.

How would you describe your upbringing?

I was a bit of a country girl, I guess. My parents were separated and my dad lived on a farm, my mum in a small town, so I was always surrounded by the most beautiful nature – an abundance of nature – and I spent a lot of time outdoors. I think I learnt to drive a tractor when I was about 12. I’m from a large family of four brothers and two sisters, so a lot of men. I think about them a lot when I’m designing my range; I want my clothes to be something that they wouldn’t be scared of wearing.

And you have a son, too?

Yes. He’s nine years old now, so he’s just getting to the age where he’s becoming aware of his own sense of style. He’s obsessed with Nikes, although I have no idea where he learnt about them. He’ll try on samples that I bring home, even womenswear samples, and wear them around the home and somehow he’ll make them work. It sounds corny, but he’s probably my biggest inspiration outside of professional designers.

What other inspirations do you take from your surroundings?

You know, when I’m not designing I actually drive an Uber, and that actually gives me a lot of inspiration because I’m constantly outside, going to new places and meeting new people, who’ll often tell me their life story. It beats sitting at a computer and trawling the internet for inspiration.

How did you arrive at the idea for your collection?

I’ve tried to tell my own story, and the story of my Maori heritage, in a way that’s modern and interesting. I started to look back and I came across a picture of Bob Marley receiving a traditional Maori welcome, a pōwhiri, when he came to perform in 1979. As soon as I saw the picture, I thought, “That’s it”. Bob is adored in New Zealand; his birthday coincides with Waitangi Day, or Maori independence day, and there are always reggae festivals, so it’s a huge part of my heritage. The collection is also inspired by the Polynesian Panther Party, a protest group my great aunt was a part of in the late 1970s and 1980s. I found out later that she met Bob when he came to play here; she helped him to settle in when he arrived in the country and later converted to Rastafarianism. So all of these influences combine in the collection to tell my own story.

What can we, and customers, expect in the finished collection?

There’s a leather jacket – I had to have a black leather jacket, it’s my take on the Panthers jacket. It’s made up of recycled jackets, deadstock fabrics and leather offcuts, so the idea is to create almost a patchwork texture, and it’s printed black-on-black with protest messages from the placards held by the Polynesian Panther Party during demonstrations.

What are you most looking forward to about the FUTURES programme?

To be honest, I’m such a product nerd, I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into samples, fabrics, all of that.

03.

Messrs Ryan Edmonds and Julian Canda

The only design duo among the MR PORTER FUTURES finalists, Messrs Julian Canda and Ryan Edmonds hail from the Portland area of Oregon but met while they were both working in New York City. They followed different educational paths – Ryan studied apparel design while Julian studied business and marketing – but connected over a shared outlook on fashion that promotes craftsmanship, natural materials and slow, purposeful design. Their collection concept focuses on the garden as a metaphor for our individual selves: “Like a gardener, we must tend to and nurture our own gardens by providing nourishment at the source of the structure: the mind,” they say.

What was it like growing up in Oregon?

Mr Ryan Edmonds: I had a pretty typical upbringing. Even though I was interested in the arts, I played a lot of sports growing up. In a way, that’s kind of what drew me to fashion design. I was interested in studying fine art, but I didn’t want to be labelled an “art-school kid” so I switched to graphic design, which led me to designing T-shirts and eventually applying to fashion school in Portland.

Mr Julian Canda: I’m from a small farming town called Silverton about an hour south of Portland. It’s not a fashionable place, but I was raised by women and my father is a well-groomed guy, so I was always very conscious of my personal style. I guess that made me stand out. I remember in school one day, one of the girls coming up to me and saying: “You know, we notice.” It was that kind of place.

You met while working in New York but both returned to Portland. Why?

RE: I struggled while working in New York. I felt there was an elitism; since I didn’t go to school in New York, I didn’t go to FIT or Parsons, there was a sense of judgement. As soon as people found out, you could see it in their eyes.

JC: Ultimately, I think we both returned to Portland because that’s where our inspirations are. You’re a product of your environment, and although New York is a great city you can begin to feel apart from nature. Coming back to Portland, and being surrounded by nature and by trees, felt right.

What’s the working dynamic like between the two of you?

RE: Working with Julian feels very natural. Succeeding as a team is always hard, especially when you’re creatives, so it’s fortunate that our different skill sets and interests complement each other so well. It’s a wonderful energy.

JC: We share a similar aesthetic, too. It’s very smart, very sartorial. The sexiest thing to me is confidence, and the sound of confidence is leather-soled shoes on a hardwood floor. It’s the feeling of putting on a blazer or buttoning up a shirt. I learnt that from working in luxury retail, whereas Ryan got it from his background in men’s tailoring.

How did you arrive at your design concept?

JC: When we first decided to create a brand, we spent almost two months just talking about why we want to do this. Rather than deciding first what it would look like, we really wanted to start with the question of why and how. Why are you doing this? How do you want to live your life? I think Covid has brought that out for a lot of people. We have had this moment – humanity has had this moment – to take a pause and think about what we really want. And we looked to the natural world around us.

RE: The idea behind the brand is based on the idea of a garden not only as a physical space but also an internal garden of the mind, and using the metaphor of gardening as a form of meditation. A lot of our designs for clothing are inspired by the practical requirements of gardening, so they’ll include workwear details and have functional elements, but we’re also trying to create a brand that follows the principles of good gardening – taking time to prepare the soil, choosing the seeds, nourishing the plants as they grow. It’s designed for long-term legacy, rather than short-term affirmation.

Over the next 12 months, these three will receive the opportunity to build their own brand through the MR PORTER FUTURES programme. They will be guided through the process of designing, developing and delivering their very own responsible collections, which will debut exclusively on MR PORTER in September 2022