While COVID changes the world we live in, designer Stefan Andre Joachim has chosen to create a different world, one governed by truth and free of bias. Thankfully veering away from his intentions of “becoming a fashionable farmer and retreating to the hills,” he has harnessed his energy and creative powers into TEAM 265, envisioning a world where politics and fashion co-exist, where equality is foremost. Following are excerpts of an interview with Stefan on his new virtual adventure:
Q: You’ve just launched TEAM 265, featuring a posse of virtual house models under your label andre estefan. What’s it all about, what was the inspiration behind it and what’s your vision for TEAM 265?
I’ve always been a comic buff and if anyone was to ask me what my true passion was, it would be that of a storyteller. I love writing and creating visuals through whatever I write. For me fashion has always been an outlet of that creativity and every collection has had a story and years of research behind it.
After my 30th year in the business my intention was to change gears and become a fashionable farmer and retreat to the hills because I was bored and tired of being a glorified English-speaking tailor with an Instagram page. There were so many unfinished fashion projects in my head and I had shelved them for another life, but then 2020 happened and here I was with all this time on my hands, a happy hermit, cut away from the rest of the world and blissfully content.
I challenged myself to create something that I always wanted to but never had the time to and now time was all I had. The numerals 265 stand for 26 May 2020, which was the day we were officially released from our COVID prisons after the very first lockdown. It was my entry into what I like to call the new world.
Q: Posting about TEAM 265 on FB, you stated that the new model-toons would take people through not only a world of fashion adventure but also be part of creating a world we should be living in and loving, a world governed by truth and free of bias. What does this mean?
In school my political science teacher used to say to me, “Forget perusing politics in a country like this because as a member of a minority you can never be president.” By this country’s beliefs I am a minority within a minority but this has never stopped me saying or doing what I have wanted to.
We live in a country where minority voices are crushed with every governance, where more money is spent on infrastructure for votes than taking care of fellow human beings by every government, where the rich grow richer by political favour through multiple governments and the poor become more destitute.
It’s an age-old story we have got comfortable with, so wiping out an entire corrupt political spectrum and replacing them with one of honour would only be possible in my virtual world.
My passion has always been politics and fashion, in that order, and so I set out to create a world where they would both exist. What is beautiful about a universe of words combined with art is that you can create anything you want to but more so to send forth a message of positivity.
Q: Can you tell us about the individual models of TEAM 265 – Rael, Qara, Rysa, Skye, Shav, Tori, Aaru and Vivi?
The concept is simple, in this country we are judged, hurt, rejected, shamed and demeaned unless we fit what has been drawn up by society to fit the lives of a few. The world of 265 is one of equality which is foremost and while the politics of anything is always debatable, the fearless truth will always be transparent. This new world is respectful of all of that. They are what we in the old world traditionally identify as body types but all eight model-toons are gender non-conforming.
I cannot go into the details of each character personality since it will keep breaking with every adventure but I will say that strapping in maybe advisable as it’s going to be an uncomfortable ride on the path of non-conformity.
Q: Digitalisation of fashion has been happening over the last few years, but the pandemic kicked it into high gear. How have you adapted? How has it changed interactions?
As mentioned, the love of storytelling, comics, art. Fashion and finding new ways to create this combination will always be a thing for me. TEAM 265 started off as a story and then went into a comic style. It’s now at discussion stage to take them virtually forward.
This virtual world is endless, but having said that, you do need to be passionate about this kind of work or it would be as bad as dumping anything on a runway and calling it a collection like we’ve seen in the recent past and even though this was birthed as a labour of love, there is still lots of work to be done.
Q: How does TEAM 265 fit into the world of sustainable fashion?
Everything about this new world is about respect and where there is respect for the world, there is no need to even mention being sustainable. This is the virtual reality of TEAM 265. Whatever is created in the physical world around their virtual world will have to be within the availability of what this country has to offer, which is not very much to tell the truth. We will however make the journey one of true learning and a teaching experience above all.
Q: What are the key lessons you’ve learned during the pandemic and what will you take forward with you into the world of design?
Cutting out the excess for everything and calling out the truth, however detrimental or painful. The pandemic has taught me that we need very little to live and to take time to create something beautiful opposed to the fast fashion were used to.
What was a true eye-opener for me was that if I were to die, I would have died not doing much in terms of my creative belief and the sadness that over the years I had shelved my true passion for creating products in order to simply make money. In terms of design I will continue to push my boundaries even harder because I’ve never believed in resting on any creative laurels but had just become complacent.
“Fashion to me in Sri Lanka is a lot like politics, we have got little or nothing right since 1948 with a chosen few monopolising the image of what represents fashion in Colombo”
Q: You’ve been in the fashion industry for 33 years now; how do you rate the local fashion industry? What are we doing right – or wrong – and what do we need to get right to stay relevant?
This question is a very important one because it’s been a question that many people have been asking me for the last two weeks, so clearly it’s on a lot of people’s minds.
Fashion to me in Sri Lanka again is a lot like politics, we have got little or nothing right since 1948 with a chosen few monopolising the image of what represents fashion in Colombo. Without any debate, fashion is subjective, but there are the basics and the fundamentals which need to be understood.
Above all, fashion is about creativity but the problem here is that the purchasing power in Sri Lanka is minuscule and so most designers seem to compete for the same credit cards, compromising on creativity to be able to sell to those who are more in need of tailoring rather than design. It’s a vicious cycle when keeping a business afloat.
We can talk the business of fashion and the importance of sustainability, but the simple bottom line remains that none of this is relevant unless we are recognised internationally on a creative platform. Creativity is just one component but innovation is the true portal to the fashion world and the simple truth is that there is zero R and D in this area to take us where we need to go.
There are academic shows in Colombo like MBFW and the Moratuwa University which have launched a few good designers and continue to assist in youth recognition, which I believe is a very good thing. Over the years CFW has helped many designers launch their way to success and has created a platform for young designers who may have never had that opportunity otherwise.
Where it starts going wrong is when we celebrate self-proclaimed people who have no idea what they are talking about. Where friends and family pat each other on the back and pass around awards like toffees and when the media is clueless about what they are writing about, here is where the industry suffers.
Q: To close, what do you predict as the top themes, trends and topics that will govern fashion in 2022?
More than a prediction, let me mention some names that I personally believe have made strides in separate areas.
Senaka De Silva
Resort: Rum Punch, Pigeon Island, Kama collection.
RTW: Maus, Louis London, Meraki, Ramona Oshini, Charini Sooriyage
Textile: Dharshi Keerthisena, Sonali Dharmawardena, Tharshana
Ground-breaking: Barbara Sansoni for Barefoot, Amesh Wijesekera for Amesh
“The numerals 265 stand for 26 May 2020, which was the day we were officially released from our COVID prisons after the very first lockdown. It was my entry into what I like to call the new world”
“We can talk the business of fashion and the importance of sustainability, but none of this is relevant unless we are recognised internationally on a creative platform”