Notes from the field. Faces, Places & Spaces.
Tell us a little about your brand's aesthetic? What kind of elements are we likely to find in your collections (can be anything from types of fabric to silhouettes etc)
Chee Malabar: Essentially, we come from an immigrant background--I was raised in India, and Ali was raised in Pakistan. We came here as young people and were inspired by not only our own lineage but also by hip hop culture. Our aesthetic is a blend of our transnational experiences and unifying the whole self.
Ali Abidi: I agree. Our aesthetic is rooted in an expression of self-determination. Ultimately, what we’re trying to get at is a way of being within ourselves that feels right to us and we don’t feel like we’re compromising who we are. For this drop we referenced Nehru collars, objects such as the chillum pipe, and our choice of fabric, Japanese chambray, felt similar to khadi. These elements are at the heart of what we're getting at with Of—No Nation.
What made you decide to start a brand?
Chee Malabar: Our creative relationship started in the context of making and performing hip hop music. We are both into design and art, and expression through clothing is a huge part of the culture we are immersed in. It felt natural to step into this space.
Ali Abidi: It was a natural extension of what we were doing with our music which was home grown, rooted in who we were as people. So, I would say that it’s the next level of our collaborations, so it's really about bringing all our interests together in this type of manifestation. Who knows in five years we may want to focus our attention on another aspect of an interest that we share.
Who were your fashion inspirations: both growing up and most recently?
Chee Malabar: Oh, so many! Growing up it was Vivian Richards, Sunil Gavaskar, Marvin Gaye, Slick Rick, and a plethora of other artists. Most recently, I’d say I’ve been inspired by old sepia photographs of my grandfather and my family.
Ali Abidi: There's so much showmanship in hip hop. In terms of someone in particular, Ghostface Killah was a fashion icon for me because he wasn’t afraid to be weird and innovative. He wore terry bathrobes like cardigans, dyed his Wallabees way before sneaker customization was a thing, wore Liberace style chains so heavy that they would hurt him physically, Russian fur hats, etc.
What kind of role does sustainability play in your brand?
Ali Abidi: As immigrants, out of necessity our parents had to adapt and be resourceful. We learned to hang on to things and repurpose everyday objects without even knowing we were recycling or upcycling. I think that was a direct inspiration for making slow, thoughtfully made clothing that we want to be treated like heirloom quality pieces. We’re doing the best we can to minimize any type of carbon footprint by using deadstock fabrics, recyclable packaging and manufacturing locally, however we know there is still much more work to be done.
What kind of person do you imagine wearing your clothes?
Chee Malabar: I’d like to think that it’s a thoughtful person who thinks about their place in the world--not only in terms of their identity, but also about what they support and the role it plays in our globe with regards to climate change, sustainability and fair wage practices.
Ali Abidi: Anyone who wants to look fly! And Chee, as someone who was raised in Baroda with a love for cricket and the swagger that cricketers bring--I’m surprised he didn’t say Hardik Pandya!
What were the struggles involved in starting a brand that did streetwear?
Ali Abidi: Bootstrapping a business is always difficult. It took a lot of patience, mistakes, and adjustments. We took our time to learn the ropes and invested in the process and ourselves. Once I left my full-time job at the end of 2019, things started accelerating in terms of developing the brand.
Chee Malabar: Like most business owners there were uncertain times during the pandemic. We found that the silver lining was that the world slowed down for us to focus on building our brand slowly. Through it all we’ve found that people have been supporting our vision--not only through purchasing our clothes, but also on Instagram and social media--and sending us encouraging feedback.
What, in your opinion, is the Indian perception of streetwear?
Chee Malabar: That’s a good question--I haven’t lived in India in a long time--but to me streetwear is essentially about style--personal style. I see so much ingenuity when it comes to that when I’m in Indian cities. I’ve been really thinking about the concept of street wear or the definition of streetwear because I think in recent years it has taken on a positive connotation but in the past, it’s been dismissed. Fashion is about style and one’s inner swagger and spirit and how they choose to express that every day.
Ali Abidi: Agree with Chee. I’m not in India but I’m always inspired by street culture whether it’s in Pakistan or New York. I think a good place to consider a range of possibilities is a street fashion blog I follow called wearabout.
What's next for your brand?
Ali Abidi: Building our community through like-minded artists by creating opportunities for dialogue on social media and beyond. We’re also excited for our next drop which will feature shirts made from recyclables, recontextualizing our existing silhouettes for the winter.
Chee: We’re also deepening our connection to the sub-continent by collaborating with makers, block printers and worker collaboratives. You can find our work at ofnonation.co and @of_no_nation