Yuki Haze of Sukeban Says Brands are Ripping Off POC Artists

Words: Ro Elfberg
Photgraphy: Ken Burnett

Artist, designer, photographer and magazine founder are just some of the titles you could attribute to 21-year-old Yuki Haze. From producing Dior laughing gas canisters, salvaged from the post-carnival wreckage of Notting Hill, to designing a 16-piece collection for Forever 21, wherever you look, Yuki Haze is making waves in the creative scene.

She began designing clothes three years ago, initially re-working vintage garments and eventually founding her own womenswear brand, Ezah Ikuy. Influenced by feminism and her own somewhat nomadic background, Yuki’s streetwear and accessory designs are light-hearted and humorous, often inspired by relatable issues for 20-something women – the misconceptions of girlhood, online dating, and isolation induced by our digital era. She also co-founded Sukeban magazine (a term given to delinquent girls in Japan) with Erika Bowes last year as a direct response to the alienation and disillusion they felt from the fashion industry. A non-profit online and print platform, the magazine focuses on inclusivity and diversity, not only featuring models of colour, but styled, photographed or written by women of colour too.

Back in London, after a stint living in Japan, we caught up with Yuki to talk about her latest ventures, inspirations and the Ezah Ikuy collection she’s just dropped via Everpress.

How has your mixed heritage and international upbringing affected your artistic perspective?

I mean, that’s a very difficult question. I guess you could argue that in order to continuously grow and express yourself, you need to pull from different experiences, but given that I’ve only experienced this and not anything else, I don’t know whether that was fundamental in changing or developing my vision.

In order to continuously grow and express yourself, you need to pull from different experiences

If I had to guess, I think it has, but in ways that I couldn’t really pinpoint because I’ve never known anything else. But I would say that I’m very influenced by traditional Japanese culture in my clothing. The main point of Japanese design is that it’s very simplistic and I think I bring that a lot in my work – so I think that would be the main effect of it.

— Clothing by Yuki Haze, 2017.

So there is some element of consciousness?

Yeah, for example they did this thing, I think, I may be wrong, where Yakuza members used to have really expensive silk overcoats and they wouldn’t have any embroidery on the outside, they’d only have embroidery on the inside, so that only they could see it. I really like that idea – it’s opulence, but for that person. It’s not showy. Japanese culture isn’t very showy in that aspect. Those kind of elements I bring into my work.

Aside from designing clothing and working on Sukeban, what are your other main creative pursuits?

I do a little bit of styling, but I find that it’s actually quite a stressful thing to do. If you’re doing styling, you should be doing it fulltime because it’s quite a big job if you’re working on a proper editorial shoot. I have done it a bit this year but I do try to keep it to a minimum because I want most of my attention to be directed towards clothing design and Sukeban. So I would say that’s my only thing, apart from illustrating for publications.

— Yuki Haze, for Forever 21, 2017.

Your apparel designs are not only wearable for your generation, but they’re relatable too. Why do you think young consumers are turning towards independent labels more and more these days?

I think because the internet gives access to young people, they’re too smart for the tactics that big brands use to try and influence them and pinpoint them as a possible consumer. Big brands put so much effort into doing that and appearing trendy or part of the generation, or whatever. It’s too obvious and I think that people in my generation can feel that and they can see it quite easily. People buy stuff from them, like I’d buy just basic stuff from big companies, but I wouldn’t invest money into somewhere like H&M for a statement piece that I’m going to have for a long time, because I can clearly see that they have spent a lot of time sitting with a group of people and pinpointing a demographic. They’re not really invested in making something for someone, they’re more invested in emulating whatever is popular for that moment. I think people aren’t very interested in that and the internet brings more space to be unique in your style – it sounds cliché, but you know what I mean.

And how much do you think that’s about the younger generation being really clued in, or the brands being clued in and being too specific, leaving less room for people to be creative with their purchases?

Yeah I think there’s a balance of both; I think brands are too aggressive and I also think that young people are too clued in as well. They’ve grown up with the internet. Some of the tactics that brands use to appear user friendly and whatnot are just so obvious – teens can see it and smell it straight away and they know exactly what’s going on. So I think it’s a mixture of both really.

— Yuki Haze, for Ezah Ikuy, 2017.

Was it always your plan to become a visual designer?

No, I was more interested in fine art. However, when I got into designing the first print issues for Sukeban I started to delve into graphic design, and from then on my interest in visual design broadened.

How would you describe the aesthetic of your work?

Tongue-in-cheek.

Do you think it’s important for your generation not to take themselves too seriously?

Definitely, I think too many people take themselves and their work too seriously. Not every creative result has to give a message to the audience, I think it’s isolating for work to continuously have some complex backstory. Good, or at least interesting work, is often simple or subtle. Aside from creative endeavours, there are definitely too many people on the internet who are swallowed up or absorbed by non-tangible issues.

— Erika Bowes, for Sukeban Magazine, 2017.

How did you develop your style?

I started by combining traditional illustrations with mixed media collage/Photoshop, and then from there I began to hone in on different techniques which appealed to me. I was very influenced by the ink drawings of Arthur Rackham as a child, and as a teen my abstract favourite was Cy Twombly, as well as Jenny Holzer.

When you’re in need of a hit of inspiration, where do you turn?

I watch a lot of weird short films on YouTube and I’m also constantly looking out for vintage soft porn magazines. I find that going outside and walking for hours really helps, even though it doesn’t seem to be an advantageous idea at first. Being cooped up in a single workspace is never the best idea.

What was the idea and inspiration behind the Ezah Ikuy collection you’ve released via Everpress?

I met someone wearing a Supreme denim cherub trucker jacket at a party earlier this year and it inspired me to do something with cherubs. Initially I was going to make an all-over print pair of jeans similar to Supreme’s but I didn’t like the final result, so I substituted the same graphics I used and put them on hoodies instead. I’m really happy with the result, I feel like a lot of people are into cherubs/angels at the moment and I’ve seen them pop up in really different places. I also really like the way Dolce & Gabbana did some of their cherub tees in their AW17 collection.

— Yuki Haze, for Ezah Ikuy, 2017.

What would be your dream project?

Collaborating with Gucci in some way.

What’s been your favourite commission or piece of work to date?

I love doing work for gal-dem, which is incidentally one of my favourite platforms/magazines out there; I do illustrations for them from time to time. I really believe in what they stand for and all of the articles I’ve illustrated have been so well written and informative, it’s an honour to contribute to what I feel is the best platform in the U.K.

How important do you think it is to celebrate emerging talent in the current creative climate?

If you’re not doing it, enjoy a life living under a rock.

Talk to us about Sukeban. What’s it about and where did it come from?

Sukeban is an online platform that myself and Erika founded last winter, with the aim to support and bring attention to up and coming talent, especially WOC. We didn’t feel like there were enough platforms that focused on talent regardless of their following, or whether they had any previous accolades/press. I think the current media landscape needs to take their money-making goggles off for just one second and support minorities, not because it’s fashionable and all the cool kids are loving it, but because they truly understand the greater issue of whitewashing and lack of representation. gal-dem is the number one example, as well as AZEEMA and Burnt Roti.

— Sukeban Magazine Issue 2, 2017.

With the help of these publications and groups of proactive people, grassroots fashion and culture is moving in a positive direction when it comes to representation and inclusivity, but what do you think can be done to smash the barriers of exclusivity and a lack of diversity in the wider industry?

I think they’re definitely a good place to start because their involvement with these issues is not for materialistic gain.

Brands might be including POC or trans people and bringing topics about gender into fashion, but they’re only doing it because it’s popular

Obviously they want people to know about it and obviously they want to make money to continue doing what they’re doing, but I think their main aim isn’t to, again, appeal to a wider demographic, which I think, again, a lot of brands are doing. Brands might be including POC or trans people and bringing topics about gender into fashion, but they’re only doing it because it’s popular, they don’t actually care about it. It’s disappointing, but at the same time you can’t help but argue, “well is it bringing more conversation into a wider group of people?” It’s a difficult question. I think a lot could be done, but in my opinion I think grassroots movements like these small magazines, or any grassroots thing, is the best way to go about it, whether it’s via platforms, writing, or art, whether you’re a musician or artist addressing these topics, I think that’s the best way to reach people. Build your own communities, actual natural communities instead of trying to hone in on a mass group and produce ideas via mass production. I think that’s the way that it’s really starting to get to people.

— Rosanna Jones, for Sukeban Magazine, 2017.

It’s definitely the way it has to start. If you appeal to a mass audience, you have to water down the message in order for it to relate to a broad cross-section of people.

True. But the irony is that these brands also actually rip off and take from POC artists in doing so. So they’ll copy POC artists, they will emulate them and then capitalise on it. So in essence they’re speaking for this great message, but in the process of doing so they’re actually excluding the people that they’re speaking about in the first place.

It’s not POC specific, but on a similar topic, Gay Pride was a highlight of this but for the LGBTQ community. The whole of Oxford Circus Underground Station was awash with brands advertising with the rainbow flag. A part of me thinks it’s great that they’re amplifying the conversation, but the other part of me questions what they do for the LGBTQ community during the rest of the year.

Yeah exactly. I think that brands know what they’re doing, they know exactly how to play the market and they can see that this is an opportune moment where they won’t get enough backlash to hurt their profits, so they’ll be very open with it. But I think maybe five years ago they wouldn’t have done that and it actually would have been a more radical thing to do as they would have gotten backlash. But because everybody is doing it, and they can see other big brands doing it, they know that they’re all in it together and they’re all profiting collectively. It’s a safe space for capitalist companies.

How are you planning to develop Sukeban moving forwards?

It’s certainly a conundrum, since the platform is non-profit and as it’s growing the amount of maintenance required from Erika, myself and our contributing editors increases tenfold, which can be quite hard on all of us. We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve though, so stay tuned.

What can we expect to see from you in the new year?

Hopefully a lot more clothing designed by yours truly.

— Yuki Haze, for gal-dem, 2017.

Shop the limited edition Ezah Ikuy collection now and follow Yuki on Instagram to keep up-to-date with her work.

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