We Are Mortals are an emerging brand from Los Angeles showcasing futuristic streetwear designs ‘created for both genders and the gray area in between.‘ Founded by Anji Becker, the label has quickly risen to fame and their eye-catching unisex designs have been seen on boundary-breaking artists like Le1f, Zebra Katz, & Bia. The brand is a clear example that through hard work, a clear vision and creative designs, someone from a small town can make it in LA and then take the world by storm.
We caught up with Anji to talk about her creative vision, the secrets to her success, and what it means to be MORTAL.
Interview by Jayne Phillips
Hi Anji! I’ve read that you are a dancer, artist and formerly an elementary school teacher – so how did you get into the world of fashion design?
I do have a teaching degree and love working with kids, but after a few years of teaching I felt that it just wasn’t enough to completely fulfil me. I needed a creative outlet because I’d grown up studying dance and piano my whole life and really missed practicing that artistic part of myself everyday. I’ve always been into fashion, so that’s when I got my first sewing machine and learned to sew!
I spent some time making things like fanny packs and leggings as a little side-project, and then found out that my mom had lung cancer. She was an artist, and was just about to retire and submerse herself into her painting full-time. She never got to do that because her life was cut short, so when she passed away it made a huge impact on me and I felt compelled to move to LA and pursue fashion as a career. The name WE ARE MORTALS originated from this experience of understanding how short life is and feeling the need to live it to the fullest without holding back.
Do you feel this background in teaching and dancing has influenced your work?
Teaching has influenced the direction I’ve taken because I’ve naturally just continued along the path of trying to make a difference and impact the future generation with a meaningful message… and that message of gender-fluidity and rejecting labels is definitely inspired by today’s youth.
Dance is also a big inspiration for me, so I tend to work with dancers for my campaigns rather than using typical models. My upcoming collection will also feature a design of dancers’ bodies outlined in voguing poses. I think the idea of dance ties into the brand’s theme of fluidity and gender-free, label-free self-expression, because when you dance you have the ability to free yourself of everything except the connection you have with the music and the other dancers.
The main idea behind your brand is to promote unisex clothing and that The Future Is Genderless.
Why do you think these changes are an important step to make in the fashion industry?
Yes, our hashtag is ‘The Future Has No Gender’ because I think the current womenswear/menswear system is so outdated. It divides us, reinforces stereotypes, and doesn’t allow representation for all of the people who identify as non-binary or somewhere in-between male and female.
Gender is nothing but a social construct, so I believe that everyone, no matter how they identify, should be encouraged to explore and play with gender through their style. Fashion is a pretty powerful tool for promoting change. Not only the clothing design itself, but also the way it’s marketed and visually presented to people; we can use them as a vehicle to get people thinking and considering new perspectives. The fashion industry needs to become a lot more inclusive at this point, because more and more people are not wanting to fit into these narrow-minded boxes that clothing retailers continue to give as options to their customers.
Your designs have a very futuristic and almost sci-fi feel to them. Where do you take your inspirations from?
For the designs in my first collection I pretty much just relied on my own ideas of what a ‘futuristic’ look is for me. I thought about silver metallics, body armour, etc. and translated those ideas into wearable pieces in very subtle ways. I also was inspired quite a bit by modern architecture, so I incorporated shots of different futuristic buildings into the Lookbook.
When you’re in the zone designing your latest garments, what music is blasting in your headphones?
I’m usually either listening to old-school stuff like Bjork or Cypress Hill, or new emerging artists that aren’t really well-known yet. Some of those are LSDXOXO, Le1f, Cakes da Killa, and other friends I have who are djs and producers (like Indigo from my YEAY videos).
You just returned from your New York Fashion Week debut, and the show looked amazing. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Thanks! It felt amazing to debut the collection in front of such a huge crowd for Dapper Q’s Queer Fashion Show. It was a unique show for sure, being that it took place inside the Brooklyn Museum and also just because it was a show that incorporated a bit of an activist approach. Using the label ‘queer fashion’ doesn’t feel completely appropriate for me, but I think that over time that idea has evolved to include all different types of gender non-conforming, unisex brands and designers. So it was a mix of all different people with different approaches to style, but all with the same mission of leading change in the industry and promoting self-love.
What was it like shooting your YEAY videos? We especially love that one of your models is voguing in them. Do you have any tips you’d like to share?
It was so much fun! It felt a lot more laid back than videos we’ve shot in the past because I just invited a couple friends who I knew would be great on video. Infinite Coles is the one who is voguing in the videos. He’s actually the son of Ghostface Killah from Wu-Tang Clan. He’s working on his own music career as a singer, and since he’s got such a sweet personality he recently started calling himself “Sweetface Killah”!
The other one modelling is my friend Indigo Ford who is a music artist as well, but she raps. Both of them are still so young, so I love their energy and ambition, and I’m excited to see them grow as adults and artists!
My advice for shooting the videos is to keep it simple. As long as you have some decent lighting so that the product details are really visible, you can have fun with it and add your own personal style.
You are quite a new label, but have developed very quickly – what channels do you use to promote MORTALS and spread the word about your vision?
I’m mainly using Instagram to connect with my audience. So far the collaborations I’ve been able to make happen just by reaching out to other creatives, and this has helped me get the brand name out into the world as much as possible. Instagram has attracted the right type of people to my brand… like dancers Kanerflex and Melamurder who worked with me when they visited Los Angeles, and so many stylists who borrowed pieces over the past year. A lot of these connections also helped the brand get into editorials in different magazines like Indie Mag and Highsnobiety.
Who would be your dream person or label to collaborate with?
In the near future, I envision WE ARE MORTALS being featured on the same platforms as brands like Gypsy Sport or Hood by Air. It takes time, but eventually I see bigger name celebs like Rhianna wearing MORTALS and supporting our message. I’d also love to collaborate with Jaden and Willow Smith because they are a good representations of the new generation’s young forward-thinkers.
It’s a tough question to answer, though, because overall I feel like I’m not too interested in working with ‘big-names’. I get most excited about continuing to discover new talent and collaborating with emerging artists as much as possible. It’s less predictable and feels like I’m forging my own path rather than following in someone else’s footsteps.
What are your goals for MORTALS and what’s on the horizon for you?
I want the name MORTALS to be synonymous with the genderless fashion movement. WGSN, a major driving force behind the fashion industry, is about to hold a conference in New York to discuss the ‘Genderless Generation’ with the CEOs of huge companies… so I know it’s definitely a movement that is only going to continue growing and spreading into mainstream culture. My main goal is to make sure MORTALS is a leader in this movement and something that’s seen as a lifestyle and inspiration to a whole generation. It’s challenging to juggle those lofty goals with the day-to-day obstacles like trying to connect with stores worldwide who might start carrying the brand and focusing on producing my second collection. Every step forward is a big accomplishment for me, though, so those small successes keep me motivated!