Natasha Ovely is the founder and designer of the contemporary fashion brand, Starving Artists Fund. She created the brand in 2018 and champions an ethically, socially and environmentally conscious approach to clothing.
Ovely’s gender neutral creations explore a medley of uncommon fabrics, distinctive construction and bold cut outs. On her website, you will find a “Code of Ethics”, in which she details her progressive and inclusive vision. Ovely has embraced this not merely in writing, but also in the casting for models in seasonal campaigns and in New Zealand Fashion Week shows. Starving Artists Fund has existed for less than two years and is forging the path for forward-looking fashion in New Zealand. We had the pleasure of speaking to Ovely about her brand’s history, purpose and vision.
How did the name Starving Artists Fund come about?
When I moved into my first apartment in Berlin, I labelled a coin jar Starving Artists Fund. I had a feeling that name would represent something I built one day.
You come from a Fine Art Sculpture background, what inspired you to make the leap into fashion design?
I was always drawn to fashion as a more accessible/approachable medium of art, that allows you to carry it into every day life. I found Fine Art more alienating in a sense, but I took the tactility that I applied to my sculpture practice to the way I make clothes – letting the material dictate how far I can push it and respecting its innate character.
You have also lived all across the world, how has that affected your style of design?
I think it has informed my work heavily, I take pride in the fact that the clothing I make doesn‘t sit within one particular context or reference. Much like racial ambiguity, I think people have a certain discomfort without definitive categories to place creative work into. I’d like to pry into it deeper so that it becomes more of an approachable concept.
What do you think is the purpose of the clothing you create?
I often think my collections are posing a series of questions. The people who choose to wear my clothes are already fearless, with a strong sense of themselves and their identity. Outside of that, how people view self-expression and how much weight they place on perceived identities is something to be challenged, for a healthier, more open mentality in society.
Last year, your designs made their debut at New Zealand Fashion Week and you were back this year, how has Starving Artists Fund evolved since the debut?
I think it has become more secure and unapologetic about what it stands for and who it represents. I have also learned to become more accepting of my own creative process, knowing that it isn’t a very traditional manner of making. Taking the reins without compromising on design and moral values, equally, has been a development that’s quite liberating!
New Zealand Fashion Week has included both diversity and sustainability into its mission this year and Starving Artist Fund truly embodies both of those ideals. Why do you think that these are important in the fashion industry?
I see diversity as a reflection of reality, rather than an ideal. We live in a world full of very beautifully different people and cannot communicate with them through an invented commercially – washed, fiction – based image. It doesn‘t make any sense.
In terms of sustainability, we all have to do the very best we can and use our creativity to determine how we can reduce waste through our practice. It’s not only a responsibility, but a necessity.
Our current NZFW ’19 collection uses fabric left over from previous ones, repurposed dead stock, up cycled clothing and zero waste design. Sustainable fashion by no means has to be boring, characterless or repetitive.
As the founder and designer of a gender-neutral brand, how would you define a “socially conscious” brand?
Creatives naturally take a stance on any current socio-political climate through their work, regardless of whether it is their intent. When done purposefully and with clear direction, it makes room for people who share those values and appreciate your vision to join your brand community in a meaningful way. This doesn‘t mean agreeing on everything – it is just a baseline of rules and values, that allow people to feel safe to be themselves within this community.
What is one change that you’d like to see happen in the fashion industry?
More financial support for emerging designers in NZ and more open discourse among young designers, sharing their approaches to common problems young brands stumble upon in the first years of business.
What is your vision for Starving Artists Fund?
On a practical level, it has been my dream to collate an in house team that I trust, with various individual strengths. I would also like the brand to venture into accessories, shoes and maybe even a publication, further along the line.
Most importantly, it is about building a brand community and a safe space for people to use our clothing to explore their individuality. Finding our way of giving back to our communities is also very high on our agenda. Having a global reach, in the long run is also something I am working towards.
What is your advice to people who want to make a difference through fashion?
“Be authentic” sounds like one of those phrases that get lost in PR jargon, but it holds true. Don‘t pursue something you do not 100 percent believe in – you might be doing more damage to the cause than good, using that approach. Be honest with yourself and reflect on what truly resonates with you and why, the rest will come through in your work and the supporters you garner.
Photography by Carolyn Zou