Representing the creative future

“We are each other’s biggest fans”: Fantastic Toiles is the new fashion punk

Never heard of Fantastic Toiles? This is what it is about

It always starts in the bedroom. Young, fashion-obsessives flicking through Vogues they found and dreaming themselves into attending fashion school. They dream of creation, and access to a world that is so different from theirs. One day, they eventually get into fashion school, where the cult of individualism rules. Explore yourself, create, and, most importantly, learn how to self-promote, otherwise, you won’t survive. Once you graduate, the game of seeking funding starts. Keeping up costs money – the system, as we call it, is fuelled by wealth. “We need alternatives,” says Nazir Mazhar, designer and the founder of Fantastic Toiles.

He did the whole fashion circuit in London, from Fashion East, and NewGen to eventually selling in Paris. In the year 2017, he was “done with that business model,” he says. Describing the wholesale game in the luxury business, you produce a lot for little money, whilst the retailer, who marks the products up by 200%, ends up making a lot of profit. “I  realised there were so many problems with how the industry and this business model work that I just had to stop to save my soul,” he adds. He carried on working on his own terms, away from distressing fashion week schedules and buying contracts. In 2019, he opened Fantastic Toiles, a London-based pop-up shop that captures the work of young designers every two months.

“It is a genuine community. All those designers help each other. It is a support. That is what we need.” – Louise Gray

“Fantastic Toiles is the most important thing happening in London in terms of fashion,” says designer, educator, and participant Louise Gray. “It is a genuine community. All those designers help each other. It is a support. That is what we need,” she adds. “Nasir was someone I have always known and worked with in London. When he told me about Fantastic Toiles, he said he knew that there was something happening in London, but you could only see it on the Internet. There was no physical representation of it. He said he would do it, and I said I would help him,” she explains.

Currently, Fantastic Toiles has about 30 designers under their umbrella. It is nearly impossible to describe them all at once. They range from the OG’s, like Hermes Pikkatos and Freya Newsome, to Yaz XL, who just joined. Some, like Nasir himself, Louise Gray or Pig Ignorant are quitters of the regular fashion system, whilst others, like Leo Carlton, keep a toe in the wholesale game. Others, such as Bailey or Fred come from a fine arts background and found their voice in creating clothes. What unites them is the drive to change and their willingness to listen to the people, not the profit makers.

In November 2022, Tati, a friend from Paris is in town. On a cold Sunday morning, she tells me to come to Hackney Wick. She heard about Fantastic Toiles from another friend, whom she met at the ITS contest finals in Italy. She timed her visit to London so she could see it. Calm before the storm, she bumps into an old tutor of hers, who taught her during her fashion design bachelor’s degree in Basel. She came from Basel to buy a unique present for her son. Tati has a look around the rails of designer clothing and falls in love with a mesh top made from two different fabrics. One, black with printed cherries, and one in hot pink with ruffles and a train floating down the side. Tati buys the piece, and it was made by Pig Ignorant, the alias of Pig Ignorant.

“I make what I want to make. And that is the beauty of it. The freedom is great, Nasir does not censor our work.” – Pig Ignorant

Pig Ignorant, has been part of Fantastic Toiles for a while. Initially, he studied fashion design at Westminster, and then he went off to Paris and ended up working there for a big fashion house. After leaving his life in Paris for London, he worked on his own terms, did commissions and then Nasir contacted him. He figured that it would be a good avenue for him and started selling at Fantastic Toiles. One thing he points out about Fantastic Toiles is the freedom it gives him. “I make what I want to make. And that is the beauty of it. The freedom is great, Nasir does not censor our work,” he says. When working for a big brand, Ben worked under commercial pressure and focused on sales. “I didn’t thrive in that environment. I constantly came up with ideas that were too out there for the sales team. Whenever I suggested something different, they didn’t do it, because it wouldn’t sell,” he adds.

“Each designer receives 100% of their own profits at Fantastic Toiles. We just contribute towards the costs of putting up the shop each time, which is not too much. You couldn’t get a fairer situation, really.” – Yaz XL

Money rules the world of fashion, and whereas working for a big brand might come with financial stability, there are other ways to make it work yourself. “Each designer receives 100% of their own profits at Fantastic Toiles,” says Yaz XL, a designer who just recently graduated from Central Saint Martins. Pointing out the difference towards wholesale, all designers say that selling with a pop-up like Fantastic Toiles is lucrative since it allows them to make a profit more than selling via a big retailer. “We just contribute towards the costs of putting up the shop each time, which is not too much. You couldn’t get a fairer situation, really,” continues Yaz.

If you want to survive in the fashion system, you have to please buyers with low prices, wearable clothing and the means to have a community behind you from the start. If you want to sell with an alternative system like Fantastic Toiles, Nasir selects who gets to be in the shop. “Usually, it is many different things we are looking for, but I want someone with a clear identity, who is making interesting work, that is the most important,” he states. Then he wonders himself: Are they like-minded? Is there integrity in what they do? Are they good people? Do I want to be next to them in a room? Do they bring something to the shop? And very importantly, do they need help? Help, care and integrity are needed to build healthy communities, but at the same time, they are usually ignored by the wider system, which leads to a survival of the fittest mentality. In Fashion, survival of the fittest easily translates into the survival of the wealthiest and most exploitative.

“The shop has supported me as a working-class person. It has helped me to stabilise my life.” – Bailey

For Bailey, Fantastic Toiles did not only showcase their work, but it also helped them. Coming out of university, Bailey highlights the class struggles, which are deeply embedded in the UK. After graduating from the Chelsea College of Fine Art, they needed something to support themselves. “I come from a very working-class background, so after university, I started to curate clothes since that was a way to make visual work having to pay for a studio space. This is why I went straight into making clothes basically. The shop has supported me as a working-class person. It has helped me to stabilise my life,” Bailey says. With fashion being so exclusive to the middle class, Bailey wants to open the conversation and give their voice to people that tend to be overlooked by the system. “It is really important for me to have a product that is affordable to buy. If a working-class person walks into the Fantastic Toiles shop and they couldn’t buy anything, I would be upset by that,” they add. “Of course, it is important to have a budget, but it is equally important to price certain items so that people from different social backgrounds can afford them.”

“Creatively, it pushes you more. You are not only putting yourself on a pedestal – it’s everyone, shouting together.” – Leo Carlton

“Know your power. We are so much stronger than apart. Designers, makers and artists to the front. If we all work together, and with people from within the community, we can create magic, beautiful, thriving, and healthy environments. Don’t let middle people take unrealistic cuts from your profit,” states Nasir as the ethos of Fantastic Toiles. By creating this shop, he didn’t only create a retail model, but a whole new movement. “Creatively, it pushes you more. You are not only putting yourself on a pedestal – it’s everyone, shouting together,” says Leo Carlton, a headwear designer.

After working for Steven Jones, Leo initially put down their fashion intentions. “Working in the industry, meaning working for someone else, I was paid to make certain mistakes. That helped me to learn. The thing is, the longer I was working in the industry, the less I enjoyed it,” they say. Then lockdown hit, and Leo taught themselves how to properly do 3D modelling and how to use unusual materials such as fermented corn starch for their creations. That paved the way for their brand. “I was going to leave fashion. Then, I came back to London, and I did a pot wash job, which I really enjoyed. I just didn’t think about everything. Then I slowly started to seek out work again. I wanted to give it another go – I didn’t want to stand on the sidelines, complaining about the industry,” Leo says. They poured their energy into what felt right for them and ended up selling for Fantastic Toiles whilst getting the NEWGEN sponsorship.  “Being part of NEWGEN pushed you into much more of a business space. In Fantastic Toiles, we all are super expressive creatively, we learn a lot from each other. This model feels a lot more realistic in today’s vibe,” they add.

Besides clothing, a good atmosphere and a heartfelt community, Fantastic Toiles is also offering a catalogue, called Offerings. Leo says that it is a visual collection of everything they are inspired by. Unlike usual magazines, it depicts creativity at its bone, without having to please an advertiser. For the future, Nasir would love to have it stocked worldwide. He wants to open up the pop-up to the rest of the planet. “I also would love for us to have a permanent space in London, a proper home for us,” he adds. And for their international fans, Nasir would love to start an online shop.

For now, Fantastic Toiles is operating in London. Having recently caught the eye of Nick Knight, the universe of the initiative is growing. Fantastic Toiles is not just a shop or an opportunity to purchase garments in a more sustainable, more local way – the intention goes way beyond the notion of conscious consumerism. It is a movement, protesting against the system in a postmodern way of being punk. “The only thing that is missing is a club night,” Nasir himself says.