Representing the creative future

StrongThe: From getting a Visa to starting a label

Menswear designer Strong Theveethivarak shares the reality of running an independent fashion brand

It is safe to say that when applying for a Visa permit or renewal, International graduates (those classified as Tier 4 by universities) are at a disadvantage compared to EU passport holders, or UK natives. Significant pressure is placed on them to make quick life decisions. Strong Theveethivarak, a Thai-born designer who deftly explores physical-impaired sensibilities in menswear, took his time after graduating from the Central Saint Martins in 2017 to launch his namesake men’s label StrongThe.

“I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Essentially, the UK wanted me to leave three months after graduating from the MA. I barely had time to pack my belongings. So I asked myself a lot of questions, including whether I should launch my own brand right away, or should I collaborate with someone else? Following that, I made the decision to relocate to Paris. It is less difficult to apply for a long-term visa there,” explained Strong in relation to the uneasiness of making hurried choices soon after graduating. Shortly after, Strong came back to the UK and was able to found his label.

“The UK wanted me to leave three months after graduating from the MA. I barely had time to pack my belongings.” – StrongThe

Design programmes do not always include a business toolbox. That, perhaps, is part of the beauty of devoting years of study to creative practices and discovering one’s own distinct voice.“Tutors were always saying you have to find yourself, you have to find your identity. That year was probably spent trying to figure out who I was,” Strong said, as he sat in a white shirt, gazing out the window of his East London flat. “Business knowledge is essential, but we had to figure it out on our own after that. During the course, you will be immersed in a different bubble. The most interesting aspect is when you interact with like-minded people so that’s what builds you up and shapes you. It’s a matter of determining what you want more than that [the business side of fashion] so it’s sort of like a survival game,” he added.

“Even though your family supports you, that is not your money. You have to make it work, and then you have to pay them back somehow. It’s hard, and I have a privilege to have that.” – StrongThe

Making a living as a self-sufficient young designer can be worrisome for fresh out of college graduates, especially for those entering such a despicable job market. So, what should be considered before starting a sole-trader business, and what are the most costly expenses? “I’m lucky enough that my family supports me. But it’s really hard because, in Asian culture, your parents want you to make it, and I made the decision of investing in something. I had to promise my dad that I’ll pay him back.  It can be stressful. Even though your family supports you, that is not your money. You have to make it work, and then you have to pay them back somehow. It’s hard, and I have a privilege to have that,” Strong said in response. “I’ve been trying to be careful about what I should spend. Even though I’m just starting out, I’m not trying to have a big team. If I can work on my own, I will work on my own. Just me and my friend who is a pattern maker and that’s it. I don’t want extra costs,” he shares over Zoom.

StrongThe Research
StrongThe Design development

For some graduates, press coverage comes naturally, and the relationships they form with journalists and editors are critical for their own debut. “After my graduate collection, I began to gain exposure in some way. You build connections, but you also need a team to do so. I have a friend who gives me marketing advice, and it is a valuable asset to have.”

Strong was a magazine fan since he was a child, and he spent most of his teenage-years years flicking through glossies before enrolling in graphic design school in Thailand. Ultimately, it was the editorials he read throughout his upbringing that influenced him to develop a critical eye for fashion. “Magazines were my starting point. I grew up a lot watching my mom shopping too. I loved critiquing her questionable fashion choices. She sometimes made these weird outfits so I was like ‘Mom can you switch to this outfit?’ She would always ask me for my opinion ever since I was a kid. I went shopping with her every weekend. She’s a shopaholic,” Strong says, reminiscing on his childhood years.

StrongThe 2021 Collection 1 "You Tell Me" Photography by Raphael Bliss, Styling by Jack Collins

“Time management is essential. You cannot accomplish everything on your own. Finding your ideal team helps you save a lot of time and money in your life.” – StrongThe

Strong’s early life, however, was not always rosy as it may sound: asthma required him to spend at least four days a week in hospital as a child. As a consequence, he developed an early fascination and an appreciation for those in the medical industry.  “Childhood really affects people in their mindsets,” he states firmly. The authenticity with which he subverts and questions disabilities in tailoring makes him live up to his own name, quite literally.

One of the most important lessons he has learned as a young designer in the last year is that no self-business can be completely successful without at least a small team of dedicated individuals. “It is necessary to collaborate with others. You must know what you are comfortable with too; if a task requires more time for you, don’t do it. Recognize your own strengths. Otherwise,  it is a waste of time and energy. Time management is essential. You cannot accomplish everything on your own. Finding your ideal team helps you save a lot of time and money in your life,” Strong explained.

“I asked myself a lot of questions on what the future holds. How’s the world going to look like after the pandemic? What about tomorrow? No one knows. My collection is about inexplicable things.” – StrongThe

“You Tell Me,” Strong’s latest collection, is an interpretation of several Thai coping mechanisms, including the belief in seeking comfort from a fortune teller and divine nature figures such as land and tree spirits. Even in the midst of darkness, an attempt to seek answers and reassurance from the psychic world may lift us up. “I asked myself a lot of questions on what the future holds. How’s the world going to look like after the pandemic? What about tomorrow? No one knows. My collection is about inexplicable things,” Strong detailed further. “This is what the core idea of this collection is: What is it? I need the answer. And then I play with the insecurity of beings, of people,” he added.

StrongThe 2021 Collection 1 "You Tell Me" Photography by Raphael Bliss, Styling by Jack Collins

“If you design wisely, it can be on any fabric.” – StrongThe

Traditional Thai tattoos and iconic talisman flags evoke these practices and can be found throughout the collection. Inspired by daily experiences and modern weaknesses that contrast his name, his work creates confined forms that accentuate the wearer’s silhouette. The designer examines how quirks like moles can take on different meanings depending on where they are on the body: stitches on a shirt appear in relation to mole’s lucky spots, those that, in Strong’s culture, are synonymous with protection, support, luck, life, and marriage. The same rationale has been carried through the designer’s research into palmistry, the practice of fortune-telling through the pseudoscience study of the palm, which was translated into the shapes of beautifully cut sleeves.

The majority of this collection is created using deadstock fabrics sourced in Italy, an aspect that Strong likes to flag to his buyers. “I want to stress that I use deadstock and that I warn customers that there may be minor colour variations in fabrics because supply is small and special. If the order quantity exceeds the amount of remaining deadstock fabric, a similar fabric will be used to complete the order for the sake of maintaining continuity” he explains about his process. In his view, after all, “If you design wisely, it can be on any fabric.”

Strong is an introspective designer, well-versed in his own culture, allowing him to see and challenge what lies under the surface. His genuine enthusiasm shines through in the way in which he conducts his research and in his ability to articulate the thought process which is free of made-up rationales. Something that modern dressmakers often cling to in the hope of giving meaning to the meaningless.

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