LA-based designer, Anji Becker of the brand We Are Mortals took the time to speak with A.R.T.S.Y’s very own fashion & style editor, Monyette Miller this past week. Speaking on the journey and obstacles she’s overcome while creating her own line. We Are Mortals, a name created by Anji after losing her mom to Cancer, explores the idea of genderless apparel as a way to promote the current cultural shift towards a more open-minded society. The brand is inspired by the future, hence the futuristic designs worked into the artwork for the line. This is a new brand that represents a future in which labels don’t define people so intensely, and the clothes we wear are to simply communicate our personal style aesthetic rather than defining our gender or sexual preference. We Are Mortals shares with us a perfect blend of masculine and feminine.
Monyette: So Anji tell me a little about yourself and when you knew you wanted to become a designer and start your own brand.
Anji: I’m originally from a fairly small town in the Midwest, where having a career in fashion wasn’t really something logical or attainable. My mom sewed clothes from scratch for me when I was growing up, which was always really fun for me, but I had never been interested in learning to sew. My interests always revolved around the arts and I grew up studying dance, music, theater, etc. I moved to California as a young adult and gradually reignited my interest in fashion, which has become my current art form and an outlet for my creativity. Since then I’ve slowly turned my hand-made in my living room hobby into something legit that can become my career. Rather than taking the traditional route of spending all that time to go back to school to study fashion design, I decided to just dive in head first and learn as I go by navigating the apparel industry on my own and asking for help when I need it from those who are more experienced than me.
I also feel like I’m motivated to do this project because of my own needs as a shopper. There’s such a big gap between the expensive designer clothing market and the dirt-cheap and ethically questionable junk in huge chain stores, and most clothing is made overseas. I wanted to be one of the brands that are boldly trying to close that gap and offer something higher-quality, made 100% in Los Angeles, but keep the cost within reach.
Monyette: Describe the We Are Mortals design aesthetic.
Anji: I would describe the aesthetic as urban streetwear with an artistic sensibility and a futuristic feel. The line relies quite a bit on printed graphics, so I focused on geometric lines and shapes as well as faux textures in gray/silver to create that futuristic look. Although I like color, I always have gravitated more towards monochromatic design, which also happens to be very much in style at the moment. So, I kept everything consistent with the black/white/silver tones and tried to keep the artwork bold yet simplistic.
I wanted to make sure the designs weren’t too busy graphically so that the appeal wouldn’t be limited to just the very young demographic, but a sleeker and more sophisticated market as well. Most of the silhouettes stay true to basic streetwear that’s made for comfort, such as shorts, tees, and sweatshirts, with these I added unique details; like the cut-out sleeve detail on the tee and the side straps on the ‘Cover Piece Skirt,’ which elevates the craftsmanship and value of the line. The aesthetic is part masculine and part feminine, universal for both genders and everything in between.
Monyette: What is the inspiration behind your latest collection?
Anji: I came up with the name WE ARE MORTALS shortly after losing my mom to cancer. She was an artist, but never got to dedicate herself full-time to her art since she was diagnosed just weeks after retiring from teaching, and her battle with cancer was a very short one. She was always super healthy and youthful, so seeing her life cut short played a big role in my decision to take a risk and pursue my idea of creating a clothing brand. I learned how important it is to live life to the fullest, so the brand’s name is a reminder of that.
Another inspiration is the idea of genderless apparel. The idea has really started to gain momentum in the fashion world in the past few months, so I’m pleased to see the shift! WE ARE MORTALS signifies the importance of equality among all different gender identities, races, sexual preferences, and classes. We are all just humans, and I believe that genderless apparel will help lead the cultural shift towards a more open-minded society where labels are not so important. Personally, I’ve never struggled with gender-identity issues but I have gone through big changes in my life, like being married to a man and then all the sudden falling in love with a woman. It was new and weird for me to all the sudden have to start attaching a new label to myself and start calling myself a ‘lesbian’, and I came to the conclusion that the classifications really aren’t necessary. Labels are very limiting, and this brand is inspired by the future… the youth that is continually pushing boundaries and refusing to be categorized.
Although I think ‘gender-bending’ and androgyny has long been popular in the art world, music world, and on the runway. I know that in real-life and off the runway, people in many places are not accepted if they don’t clearly fit into a gender norm. I think that unisex apparel has the potential to help rid ourselves of stereotypical gender roles and serve as a voice for those who don’t fit into traditional ideas of gender and sexuality, but it also goes beyond that to help us all transcend traditional notions of his/hers so that the clothes we wear will simply communicate our personal style aesthetic rather than define our gender or sexual preference.
WE ARE MORTALS is still such a new name that’s about to hit the scene, so I’m just using the brand name at this point rather than a separate name for the collection itself. This launch campaign does have a slogan that we coined, though: THE FUTURE HAS NO GENDER, so that phrase will be a big part of the wording surrounding this first collection.
Monyette: How do think your designs represent your personal style and culture in today’s world?
Anji: I’ve always like the idea of balance and striving to find a ‘middle-ground.’ My personal style is usually part boyish and part feminine, part sporty and part ‘well put-together.’ It’s relevant with trends, but not too trendy. I strive to find the perfect blend of contrasting aesthetics because that’s what I think style is really all about. It’s not about dressing yourself in a theme head-to-toe like a costume, but about knowing how to craft a perfect mix of different looks in an effortless way. I design items that I would want to wear, ideally, with the fit I would want like to see out there in stores. Everything in the line is oversized and extra long, but not so drastically large that a petite girl would be drowning in it.
I had to develop a unique grading system for the sizes to try accommodate all different bodies, both male and female. I also design with practicality in mind, trying to make things that are useful, like the adjustable unisex skirt that works really well over leggings for girls to ‘cover up,’ but is also masculine enough to be a man skirt (apron-style) that can be worn over shorts. I also think that the fashion world is really seeing a shift towards more higher-end, designer streetwear looks on the runway, replacing the glamorous dresses and elegant designs of the past. Streetwear is more relevant to everyone on a much wider scale, so I love the fact that designers are infusing art into the genre and making fashion in general more relevant to a broader audience.
Monyette: What are the fabrics used in this collection?
Anji: The screenprinted designs are all done with 100% cotton, both jersey and fleece, that is power washed for a super soft touch. It was quite a challenge to source heavyweight fabrics in Los Angeles, but it was important to me to find something thick and sturdy, not only for quality reasons, but also to make sure the designs translated well to males as well as females. The ‘Liquid Silver’ print that was done in collaboration with artist Jennifer Mehigan is sublimated on recycled poly. I chose the fabrics based on comfort, but also making sure everything is machine washable and easy to take care of.
Monyette: Where do you see the We Are Mortals brand 5 years from now?
Anji: I’m aiming high and plan to turn this brand into a globally recognized name. In 5 years I hope to see We Are Mortals in highly curated stores all over the world (Tokyo, Berlin, London, etc) and successfully selling online to a wide audience. Over the past few years I’ve watched several small brands that I really loved as a consumer grow into highly recognized brands, so that’s been really inspiring. I believe that the strong brand message will help give the brand sustainability so that I can continue to invest in growing the business and evolving my designs to come out with new ideas regularly!
Monyette: What type of woman or man wears We Are Mortals?
Anji: WE ARE MORTALS is worn by males who are tired of the bland and boring choices in the men’s department and by females who aren’t into wearing miniskirts and subjectifying themselves. MORTALS are creative people who want to express themselves. They don’t like labels or stereotypes, and believe there is room to exist in a ‘gray area’ in which their identities don’t rely on their race, gender, or sexuality. They want to be bold and empowered, and they wear certain clothing items that give them a sense of purpose and power behind their steps when walking down the street. The Mortals Kimono Hoodie is the perfect example of a big, bold piece that empowers you, yet is still simplistic enough to be highly wearable for anyone. It’s also a more affordable option for fans of higher-priced brands like HBA or KTZ, for example.
Monyette: Where and when can people purchase from the collection?
Anji: The process to develop my first line from scratch has taken quite awhile, so I’m very eager to get my designs out there! Everything will be available for pre-sale orders next month [May] through the WE ARE MORTALS website and through our upcoming Kickstarter campaign that will help raise funds to produce and stock larger quantities. We’re currently in the process of approaching local [Los Angeles] boutiques as well, but for the most part online will be the best place to purchase later this Spring! In the meantime, we will definitely appreciate any form of support from people who like the designs and/or believe in the message by spreading the word.
Click above to view We Are Mortals lookbook
By: Monyette Miller
Photographer: Erada Svetlana
Models: Cerise Castle & Steven Newell