MEET LE TINGS W/ HARRIS ELLIOTT
Le Tings is an ongoing conversation that explores and celebrates African diaspora experiences by repurposing discarded packaging and ephemera into covetable contemporary designs. We talked to Harris about African and Caribbean heritage, the importance of collaboration and repurposing the meaning of waste in design.
"What we wear is often a means of communication, either from a place of how we’re feeling or a narrative that we have created".
What 2 words best describe Le Tings?
Conversation & Collaboration.
When did you start Le Tings, and what inspired you to?
Le Tings had a soft launch a year ago via a 6 Day takeover with discussions on Showstudio.com entitled Notes on Le Tings’. The conversations with 13 individuals who are a part of the fashion industry, but many of whom are not on the frontline as creative directors. Our guests were producers, academics, fashion show security, photographers and those promoting circular narratives as well as designers. Le Tings was born out of an initial desire to repurpose conversation and the disappearing oral narratives that were so omnipresent when we were children. It was then a desire to have something physical that referenced narratives, and where better to start than in the markets and streets, using discarded items that symbolise the dying traditions within language.
Tell us about the team behind Le Tings.
Le Tings is a collective a bit like Wu Tang, there are a number of members who all regularly contribute to the ’ting, but many have their own solo projects that we also support. Harris is like the RZA who brings everyone together, Bevan has shot most of our photography and contributes creatively, Julian is a poet and contributes with insight and strategic planning, Michael is our graphic designer who harnesses and implements the market style madness. Laurina is a writer and makes sure we have the backend on lock, we have Tom who designs our graphics for garments, and David, Kevin and Neha who deftly handle our production.
What’s playing on the studio stereo?
This week it is Little Simz and Dave’s new albums both of which are fire and the amazing Lila Ike who just performed at City Splash festival here in London.
The products you make are a way for you to communicate cultural narratives about the African diaspora. Do you think our clothes have a lot of potential for storytelling?
Clothing has only ever been about telling stories to us, if you look at ‘Pantsula culture’ from Soweto, Johannesburg, their utility inspired clothing and hats were designed to mimic their white oppressors who ill treated them through the apartheid years, the cultural motifs within their clothing and culture still exist today. ‘The Black Panthers’ wardrobe was about solidarity, defiance and resistance in order to reflect their values and aesthetics. What we wear is often a means of communication, either from a place of how we’re feeling or a narrative that we have created.
What’s the story behind the Scandal bags we have on PARO?
The familiar, primary coloured plastic carrier bags handed out in markets are known in Jamaica as ‘Scandal Bags’. Aptly named ‘Scandal’ because they are so thin people could see all of your ‘tings inside and you are unable to disguise your contents or your intentions. Le Tings ‘Scandal Bags’ (totes) are made from pre-used rice bags collected from markets in Ghana and Bangladesh, the rice bags are carefully preserved, cut and collaged to create new graphic textiles. These are then pieced together into eye-catching sturdy totes lined in a fine end of line cotton.
You work in partnership with The Revival Earth/Afrodistrict to source the rice bags in Accra - could you tell us a bit about the work they do and how you work together?
The Revival Earth is a community-led sustainable design initiative creating awareness, art and jobs with upcycled global textile waste coming to Ghana. Operating out of Kantamanto market, the largest second-hand clothing market in Ghana with around 30,000 traders. Over 40,000 tonnes of clothes end up in Kantamanto every year mostly coming from Western countries. An estimated 17 million items circulate weekly with 50% of clothing bales being thrown away polluting the environment. They collect second-hand clothes that have been discarded, they employ local craftsmen/women and collaborate with fashion students from local universities as well as members of the public to participate in the creation of new outfits and art to give value to items tagged as “trash”.
They source our Le Tings used rice bags from the heart of Kantamanto and help source other waste and traditional craft items that we repurpose as part of our ongoing narratives. The Revival x Afrodistrict are integral to our business, without them we would never have started Le tings and its always beautiful seeing their faces when we show them what we have made from the bags and items they send to us.
You’ve collaborated with friends and artists like Andrew Ibi, is collaboration and community important to Le Tings?
Collaboration is essential to everything we do, we use it to build supportive and inspirational networks, we are not a brand we are a conversational community of like and alternative minded individuals who all have mad respect for each other. We express that through the visual and oral conversations that we broadcast together. The meaning behind the term collaboration feels like it has been diluted with many brands utilising it purely as a marketing tool. The idea of designing in a vacuum to express one voice feels like such a dated concept, as humans and creatives we are definitely stronger together.
To us good design is about making a positive impact on people and the planet central to your design thinking. What does ‘good design’ mean to you?
Making design accessible and inclusive, for too long design has been presented with elitist and exclusive offerings. Often good design is inferred as design that emanates from the global north, therefore reducing any design integrity from those creators from the African continent and/or diaspora. The Le Tings ideology takes African waste and recreates that into desirable items to be resold to the west, usually it is the west that dumps millions of garments per week on the shores of Ghana. Enabling others to be able to see value in discarded items will hopefully allow them to realise, that there are resources in their vicinity that can be repurposed to aesthetic and financial gain.
How do you minimise or improve your impact on the environment and people when making Le Tings products?
Our environmental goals start by valuing community first. The Le Tings logo is a mash-up of the recycling symbol the ‘mobius’ and the globally recognised fist symbol of resistance, we named ours the Arrowfist’’. This hybrid symbol represents value and respect for all aspects of culture and the communities and individuals that make up that culture. Until we all start valuing all humans with the same respect that we value our own privileged selves, all of our planetary saving talk is potentially Neo liberalist proselytisation.
We think more transparency and honesty is needed the fashion industry, so we always ask designers - what would you like to do better, or are you working on improving?
We do use pvc in some of our products, some from toxic and non toxic pvc origins. We are exploring ways to create our products that means we no longer have this as part of our material library. We are working with an eco leather company to start incorporating eco leather into our goods. Our ‘Le Tings’ conversation needs to have an effect, otherwise after a while we run the risk of becoming like other companies that talk the talk but do not match it with our steps. We would like some of the effects of our sales/profits to be able to further help some of our partners in Africa in order to help them support their respective communities.
As we know, the fashion industry as a whole is responsible for huge environmental and social issues. How would you like to see the industry change and progress?
The industry is hugely responsible for many deaths, ‘Rana Plaza’ and countless other occurrences that we rarely hear about. We in the global north need to change our habits as we have blood on our hands. Many manufacturers still profit from cheap labour that exploits communities in order that we have cheap shit to wear to parties. We care not where our clothes come from and how they reach the delivery drivers’ van. We have to lobby for change, boycott the companies that continue the vicious cycle of promoting throwaway fashion and economies.
Where is Le Tings going in the future?
To the moon…nah seriously though, we are exploring furniture and installation concepts that encompass more than the bags and sweats that people covet. Developing film and audio broadcasts and continuing collaborations with Andrew Ibi and the Inoue Brothers from Japan. We will be launching our own online store ‘The Black Market’ where customers can explore a broader Le Tings offering.
You can find out more about LE TINGS and shop their collection here.