Fashion, Politics, and Pandemic - 'Staying in-SANE' with @bynikitavora

@bynikitavora, an eponymous brand created by Nikita Vora creates garments that are bold, yet conscious of their socio-political context. They take inspiration from young people who are surviving and thriving in a pandemic, whilst offering space to greater societal issues; the pitfalls of our government, dealing with one’s inner mental demons, and the unity shown by people battling systemic oppression worldwide. Their recent project ‘Staying in-SANE’ keeps this to heart, with 10% of the profits from the products going towards London Euston Foodbank and Hertford & District Foodbank, aiming to relieve the pressures of people feeling the effects of the global pandemic.


Their new collection hopes to provide a sense of community and comfort to those who have struggled most during lockdown with mental health. In today's pandemic dialogue, mental health has especially been pushed to the forefront of conversation. If our lives have drastically changed, combined with the mass closure of places that facilitate social interaction (schools, gyms, places of worship), we must then alter our approach to mental health, how to best offer support, and improve its accessibility for those who need it most. This is central to @bynikitavora's newest campaign. They envision a post-Covid society that carries a new powerful message, “we must abandon the life of the individual and lead the life of the nation.” I spoke to its creators, Nikita Vora and Nathan Shaw to learn more about the ethically minded collection, its focus on community, and why we, as young people, are a powerful source for change in the social and political sphere.


[Lookbook credit: @bynikitavora Instagram]


Q: Tell me about ‘Staying in-SANE’! What is so special about its release now, as we slowly ease out of lockdown measures in the U.K.?


N & N: ‘STAYING IN-SANE’ is a collaborative identity that illustrates the associated negative feelings with overthinking whilst ‘Staying IN’, but also the sense of peace that comes from releasing yourself from the obligation of ‘sanity’. This release is so special at this given moment because of the nostalgia element that we would like to provide people as we draw to what looks like the close of our most recent, but in our honest opinions, the hardest lockdown. Thinking back to the satirical elements like ‘The Toilet paper Chase’, where people were fighting for toilet paper as if it single handedly would save themselves from the virus, is something relevant from us all. Such relevance which is indicative of the panic and uncertainty that the pandemic brought us, personified into single rolls of bog roll; like a horcrux from Harry Potter . As we slowly ease out of lockdown, this release serves as an opportunity to reflect upon what we went through as we enter desperately back into what we took for granted as our previous normality; whilst also having a piece of memorabilia which shows the strength endured to voice our opinions of the distaste towards central government figures who have continuously failed us .



What was the creative design process like?


It was difficult at first to hone in on what we wanted to say, and then to convey that through the illustrations and then the words; we had to consider the illustration style down to the fonts. There were so many emotions from both of us, sometimes we forget that this is also a project that we personally lived, and the emotions are ones that we and our close friends that we had interviewed have personally experienced. This illustration style is something I did before my 20s then I moved onto using colour as a means to use my creative voice. Here we stripped back on colour and let the characters, actions and words convey the emotional details. The designs themselves were created through personal interviews with close friends and polls on our instagrams, so we really feel this project has that personal/original touch to it.


Sometimes I think when words are used, it can be something that we rely on as artists to convey our message and we didn’t want this, so the illustrations were done first by me (Nikita) and then Nathan used these to inspire his art form; the stanzas. It was integral that both the illustration and words stand alone as equal powerful messages. Throughout though, when we knew what we wanted to say and the style aesthetically it was so exciting because we were bouncing off each other’s ideas and really trusting each other’s creative process which was so beautiful to see.


The lookbook is so creative, as you show the different ways one can style the garments. What was your vision when styling?


In terms of style we both conducted our own photos due to Covid restrictions and I found a way to bring that together. I’ve come from a fine art background prior to uni so I love illustration and collage so I wanted to create that almost homemade and personal feel- reflecting the concept of ‘staying in-sane’. The concept is so personal to each person so the look-book had to be too. There was also a paradox between both of our shoots which ended up blending together well. Nathan’s was almost like a film set, re-creating the staying at home element; mine was a clean set but with a sinister element due to the painting I did lurking in the corner. Both encapsulated the emotions we wanted to portray, so when it came to the look-book and placing the photos together it worked out well because even though they were juxtaposing, when you strap back the thought process behind each, it taps into the feeling of isolation and insanity.


In terms of styling the items with our own clothing it was just important that the hoodies and tote were the stars of the show- I still personally kept my own personal style and how I would actually wear the hoodie but letting the garms have their own space - the protagonist, whilst Nathan and everyone at his shoot were styled in what they've become accustomed to wearing most in the last year, which is mainly comfy loungewear and sliders.



Why is it so important to raise awareness about mental health, and the collective strain we have all felt as a result of the pandemic?


Both of us have experienced one of our parents suffering severely with a mental health illness, making it a huge part of our realities. It definitely impacted us growing up, how could it not; but it also gave us resilience as individuals, allowing for us to be there for our parents. I myself (Nikita) had battled with depression for years and I feel I am at a stage in my life where I can say I have come to accept situations in my past; helping me to overcome it. I feel a sense of peace, which I haven’t before. Reflecting on this, it was integral for us to do a project on mental health; throughout previous projects there has always been a voice to speak up and raise awareness. We believe in ‘doing what you know’, especially when it comes to a topic like mental health. The pandemic allowed us and many others to stop and realise how vital it is to take care of our mental states; as cliche as it may sound the world stopping has allowed many people to realise this.


Our parents’ generation often say mental health wasn’t a topic that should or could be discussed, so there was no awareness. Especially within both of our communities (Jamaican and Indian) it definitely was not spoken about and when it was, it was usually to alienate the individual battling the illness and deeming them as “mad”. We feel that the pandemic is one of the first times that individuals from all generations can collectively start speaking about their past experiences; such as mental health struggles and/or show support for others. There is a sense of solidarity and that was exactly what we wanted this project to convey.


Again another cliche statement when people say “it’s okay not to be okay;” we cannot stress enough that it genuinely is, but what’s more important is people supporting others who need it. Whether it’s just picking up the phone or sending a message to say “I am here for you” it is so important. Highlighting how most of us have been feeling in this pandemic we hope encourages us to check in with our loved ones.


‘Staying in-SANE’ and all previous collections were created as a way to create a community.



With the recent anti-bill protests and campaigns circulating online - it’s clear to see that young people are a powerful force for change. Is this something that is central to your brand and its identity?


Of course - we are that next generation. Both Nathan and I are ethnic minorities so when we see the level of what our parents and our communities have experienced, we feel an obligation to use our voices given that we have platforms that have a large reach. Protesting is also something that isn't new to our communities, we've always had a ‘deaf ear for Babylon’. We have a voice as young people, and it is so easy to not speak up for something because it doesn’t affect us, but it definitely will affect someone you know. I think discussing and sharing knowledge is so powerful, the ability to think critically upon institutions that govern us is also central to our designs. We hope that people see the political motivations and genuinely act upon them, just like this project; it all starts from starting a conversation. We have both always been creative. I was drawing and wouldn’t stop from the age of 3 and Nathan not only coming from a musical family, grew up helping his mother grow her clothing business. It was simply a matter of time before we both dabbled into it independently ourselves, especially as a vehicle to communicate, and we want our customers to want to do the same, almost surrounding ourselves with like minded people. This is for the people.



What is your favourite piece from the collection?


We thought about this one a lot but probably ‘The Paper Chase Hoodie’. Mostly because of the juxtaposition of satirical and dark elements. We've all had the experience of wondering whether these are tears streaming down our face or the shower water, and even though we knew the toilet paper wouldn’t save us from the virus, we still have stories of trying to stock up on toilet paper and failing miserably, or succeeding and coming home to drowning in foolish regret and embarrassment. It’s also a reminder of the moments of being in the bath or shower and feeling claustrophobic in comparison to your surroundings. I guess there’s that relatability to struggling with mental health and anxiety during lockdown, but it also makes us laugh at the same time- not all doom and gloom.


Finally, when you imagine our post-Covid landscape, and particularly the fashion industry, what do you think has changed, is changing, or must be changed? Does it excite you?


It has changed and is changing beyond belief. I think in this modern-era, the speed at which fashion, music and even our beliefs are changing is both exciting and terrifying. I put a lot of that down to the internet and during Covid, the internet was the only way the fashion and creative industries could communicate with their customers. I used to LOVE when I would walk into a shop and my eyes often didn’t know where to look. I would be flooded with excitement like a child. Often, I would go just to gain inspiration from designers, touch the fabrics

and closely look at the details. That tangibility element has had to change and rightfully so for safety reasons. However, sadly, digital platforms are becoming the predominant and only form of shopping. I think post- Covid, this will increase to a point where that personal element could be lost.


There is a positive flip side which I think is an incredible way to bring multiple creatives together which is the introduction of unique collection presentations; such as look-books. By having to reduce the in-person elements of runways and shopping I think designers have created some of the moy beautiful displays such as the film by Virgil Abloh and ‘Moved by the Motion’ for the Louis Vuitton Men’s Fall/Winter 2021 Fashion Show. They used spoken word, rap and music forms, dance and more incredible artistic abilities to create this spectacle to empower the clothing designs. To have to consider how to generate that same feeling of mesmerization from a fashion show into a digital form is beyond difficult but was done by designers in a very intelligent and stunning way. I think this is something for us to all look forward to seeing more of.


Financially, I think during Covid has been and post-Covid will be a struggle for those in creative industries due to the economic climate suffering; this worries me. This and the fact that as designers we tend to gain inspiration from the world around us- whether that be cultures, people, nature etc. The element of travel being restricted prevents designers from learning craftsmanship from others or seeing the beautiful fabrics countries such as India have to offer. Essentially being excited by the beauty and quirks around the world will be limited. However travel is a privilege, so I think post- Covid hopefully these restrictions change but if they don’t I hope this encourages designers to connect on digital platforms globally. Learning is so important from one another especially in creative industries across the globe so I think doing this digitally would be positive.


Another exciting element that I think Covid has sparked and something we will now continue post-Covid is the importance of supporting small and independent businesses which I love so much. It feels like that element of hype is dying down which I think is positive. Trends are temporary; whereas creating unique pieces for longevity and people buying into your brand because they support your brand ethos and the beauty of your creations is for me anyway, why I love to design.


Lastly maybe one of the most important positive changes is our awareness of the need for sustainability- as a sustainable brand I’m proud that ‘bynikitavora’ can fall within this category selling 100% organic cotton, vegan and recyclable clothing. It’s such an exciting time as it has forced us to think in innovative ways as creatives. For me fashion is a way to creatively problem solve and invent. I believe this is the way the industry is moving again.



bynikitavora is partnering with Strand Magazine to celebrate their new collection 'Staying in-SANE', by hosting an international giveaway of a totebag, face masks, and other self-care products. The giveaway is running from 29.3 to 31.3 2021 - please check out Strand Magazine's Instagram (@strand_magazine) to enter!


You can buy their pieces from the collection through DM or store.


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