Representing the creative future

Randa Kherba on the beauty of creative freedom

The menswear designer is on her way to becoming a translator of aesthetics

“Wait, I don’t want to get too negative.” Randa Kherba hasn’t fully answered my question yet, and she is already correcting herself. The menswear designer was explaining how exhilarating the MA Material Futures has been, working entirely on her own projects after a year in the industry, but stopped herself right after hinting at the downside of relying on yourself during a pandemic. Like most students, isolation taught her to appreciate the importance of togetherness, with the added bonus that this MA demands its students contact craftsmen and specialists in scientific fields as wide-ranging as solar engineering and herbarium curation. She explained her love for cold things, the importance of a paint-pooping drone pigeon, and her work as a stylist for MCQ.

You just came back from class?

Yes, I’m at the lab all day, just trying to finish up a few projects for final year. Thank you for speaking this late!

That’s okay, I tend to be more active once the sun is down.

Me too! As soon as everyone else becomes inactive, as soon as my phone is not buzzing, I’m good. Then I can stick to the game plan and get it done. I recently read Alone, Together by Sherry Turkle, and I realized how caught up I am with responding immediately. With the pandemic, it has even doubled. We think we have way more time than we do because we’re at home, but it feels busier somehow, or more exhausting.

Do you find that developing your online persona, or being active online, is important to your career?

When I graduated I was very stressed about how to present myself online. But I realized that whatever I do, my work is me, the projects I do are fun to me, I don’t do them for someone else. So, maybe this separation between work and personal life isn’t that necessary?

Why is working for yourself so important to you?

Ultimately, it’s about creative freedom, and holding on to that. After doing the BA and working in the industry for a year, I realised what a privilege it is to have time and space to explore creative ideas. It’s how you continue learning. On the MA, I’m being introduced to a whole new world of design.

I really, truly believe that slow is fast. The project I did on my BA wasn’t just something I was inspired by and then dropped forever. There is a beauty in falling love with your source of inspiration. Giving it the attention that it deserves. My graduate collection was inspired by an extreme snow sports race called Arctic Man, held in Alaska. With this event, it’s about the people I met and the energy they gave me. I have pulled three different projects from this inspiration. I want to do it justice.

“You do need to remember that you are not a scientist, you are a designer. ” – Randa Kherba

What is it about Arctic Man that made you say, I want to pursue this and I want to pursue this through design?

I come from a menswear background and I would always organically shift my projects towards functionality. I remember doing a tailoring project with Margaret Howell and I created a suit that was reversible, inspired by a commuter going home from a meeting, wearing a nylon suit for cycling, then flipping it to wool once he got to the office. That is really the first time I fell in love with the properties of materials and what they can do to enhance clothing in general.

I was looking for inspiration for my final project and I was binge-watching ice road truckers. That is where my love for everything icy comes from. These men and women who were driving in these extreme conditions, all they cared about was being warm, dry, and comfortable. That to me was something fascinating from a design perspective.

MCQ Fantasma Collection, Photography by Viktor Naumovski, Styling by Randa Kherba

You mentioned that the MA expanded your understanding of what design can be. What do you mean by that?

I’ve been introduced to the world of bio-design, which comes with a whole new appreciation of aesthetics. The beauty of this MA and this design world is that we’re using what is abundant to us to create the future. You’ve got mushrooms, bacteria, virtual design, those are all ways in which we can use design to tackle environmental and problems. There is a big focus on climate change.

You do need to remember that you are not a scientist, you are a designer. Absorbing the information you need and then getting on with making this future possible. We are in the very early stages of what is bio-design and incorporating living organisms into our everyday. But there is the potential of a future where we have an entirely new way to engage with our clothes.

It sounds like you’re in a niche where there is a lot of excitement and discovery but that it can also be easy to feel discouraged.

Absolutely, it’s scary. It is discouraging. Before we can create the biofilm that will replace Gore-Tex, we will need ten years. Whereas you can just go to the shop, buy the synthetic material you need, make a collection to sell, and move on.

Have you seen any examples of design solutions that give you hope for the future?

I don’t want to be a letdown, but I haven’t really been excited for a while. My friends feel the same. Why aren’t we excited about younger designers in the same way we were a few years ago? The industry is moving at such a fast pace. There might not be enough money. Maybe it’s the difficulty of survival. As a by-product, it’s more difficult to see the love of whatever inspires us.

“It’s very easy for other designers, creatives, or even clients to just pick your ideas and run with them.” – Randa Kherba

I was actually hoping you were going to mention MCQ here. They’re the reason we’re talking since I work there as a copyeditor and you styled their latest collection, FANTASMA.

I did really enjoy my experience with MCQ. It was a rare opportunity to receive that creative freedom. They really do give you that space as a collaborator. They approached me when they saw my lookbook and I brought Viktor onboard because I liked his photography. Even though Gabber Eleganza was the main collaborator of the icon, we were given total freedom on the film and campaign. Just having that freedom in the casting, being able to pick out who we wanted, made the project so strong. Because communication goes further than the clothes. We didn’t replicate gabber culture necessarily, but did our take on new rave as well as Viktor’s personal background in Macedonia.

“Just let it go wrong and see what you can learn from that.” – Randa Kherba

Again, I’m really interested in how you define creative freedom. In this case, you found it in collaboration. So it’s not necessarily a case of being able to do whatever you want by yourself?

With creative freedom, it’s about being heard and having your ideas respected and understood as yours. It’s very easy for other designers, creatives, or even clients to just pick your ideas and run with them. As you mention, with creative freedom, it’s often being interpreted as being a dominant director, when really it’s just about a voice, being able to showcase what you want to the world. With MCQ, they allowed that in the form of collaboration, which is very rare. Having your name associated with them rather than below them.

With the MA, the main reason I did it was to learn more, going back to having that privilege of time. I’ve experimented a lot. Taking that aspect and applying it to future projects gives me a certain open-mindedness to other fields. For example, I did a project where I had to teach myself coding. Or, I did a project where I created a pigeon that shat out white paint that changed the colour of a building to control air temperatures. Both were an opportunity to play around with different crafts.

I hear playfulness, experimentation, trying different things knowing that it might be a total failure.

Exactly! If it works, great. If it doesn’t, I haven’t created more problems. It’s a continuous trial and error. Even if something hasn’t worked out, what can I do to make it better? Fear of failure is what used to hold me back the most. I’m so stuck in my head thinking, “what if it goes wrong,” rather than thinking, “just let it go wrong and see what you can learn from that.” I have learned from all my failures, garments, or silhouettes that don’t work out. Sometimes it’s about eliminating the “what if” and moving on?

Randa Kherba CSM BA Collection

“One of the main skills I developed was the need to contact experts.” – Randa Kherba

What do you think life after the MA might look like?

There is something our course leader always tells us, In this world, it’s a matter of creating your own jobs. I can’t deny that I still love fashion, but I do see it becoming more on my own terms. Holding on to that creative freedom as long as I can. It’s a matter of remolding what the current job situation is. There are friends I really admire the work of, like Deep Energies or Rosie Broadhead.

One of the main skills I developed was the need to contact experts. I would have never contacted a scientist before or a craftsman and just say, “hey, I want to know more, I have this idea, what do you think?” It’s amazing having these conversations with scientists because they don’t think in a design sense. Their brains work in a very particular way. When you share ideas with them, they’ll react to it very differently.

“We sometimes feel as if we don’t know quite enough to be part of the world of science. Whereas we are all experts in our own fields.” – Randa Kherba

This just shows how important it is to bring people with different ways of thinking together. The conclusion here is once again: togetherness. That is when the nice things happen!

Exactly! We’re stuck in these bubbles where we’re fed the same inspirational images, or we’re aware of the same topics that we see online, and being able to step out of that comfort zone is really scary. But once you say “fuck it” you realise that those scientists can actually be really interested in your work too.

I see myself coming out of this as a translator, a translator of aesthetics. When it comes to bio-aesthetics, people with a fashion background can be very overwhelmed by it, the telescopic images, and infographics. Being able to translate that world to our world, there is a need for that. There is a need for that translation. To ease everyone in.

We sometimes feel as if we don’t know quite enough to be part of the world of science. Whereas we are all experts in our own fields. You need to be confident enough to stay curious about those different worlds and to have those conversations.