The African-Australian Brand Keeping Community and Culture First

Notes on Sisterhood, Identity, and Community with the Sibling Duo Behind Melbourne’s Collective Closets
Words:
Words: Editor, in conversation with Laurinda and Fatuma Ndenzako

We are Laurinda and Fatuma, two Melbourne sisters behind the label Collective Closets. We were born in Angola and raised here in Melbourne where we currently live.

Our label was inspired by our first trip to Nairobi, Kenya about 6 years ago. From the minute we landed, the city swept us away, took our breath and engulfed us on a journey of this eclectic, colourful and culturally enriched world. This trip all those years ago was really the catalyst behind Collective Closets, we always knew that we wanted to start a womenswear clothing label that was authentic to our upbringing.

Looking back, it was Nairobi that provided us with the fuel and nourishment we needed to start fulfilling our dreams and stop allowing our fears to hold us back.

"Looking back, it was Nairobi that provided us with the fuel and nourishment we needed to start fulfilling our dreams and stop allowing our fears to hold us back."

Our past selves often become the greatest influences in shaping our work. How has your journey and dual cultures influenced your brand?

As Angolans that migrated to Australia over 30 years ago, it is important for us to tell our story through our own experiences. We are proud of our background and it has been an integral part of our storytelling. We’d grown up with these African print textiles: watching our mother and our aunties dress in traditional Angolan attire for celebrations. As adults it’s something that we now appreciate on a different scale, far more than we did as young girls. Our brand is an extension of these memories and is an amazing way for us to celebrate the marriage of our two cultures.

Each one of your collections is built on strong messages around growth, self-love, and everything we all need a little bit more of. Why did you decide to amplify these motifs through your work?

From conception, we knew that we wanted to create a label with depth. One that would allow us to share our stories and create positive conversations. It’s been such an amazing way for us to connect with our customers, to get beautiful messages from women around the world sharing their stories.

Your latest collection presents the question: "If you had the opportunity to speak with your younger self what would you say?"  — what would a letter to your younger self look like?

Laurinda - I would definitely tell my younger self to stand up for herself a lot more. I'm a vocal person by nature, but in my twenties I had the tendency to not speak up and tell those that were close to me when their actions were hurtful. I think the fear of their reaction held me back from saying — “Hold up, I’m actually not OK with you treating me this way”. Carrying around that burden is not good for the soul, and over the years I’ve gotten better at this, it's a work in progress!

The dynamic duo behind Collective Closets: Laurinda and Fatuma Ndenzako

How has working together shaped your relationship and sisterhood throughout this journey?

Fatuma - We’re lucky as we’ve always been really close growing up. It’s been such a roller coaster of building boundaries and learning when we need to switch into work mode versus sister time. I think for many people who are blessed to work with family members or partners, the lines can be easily blurred.

For us, the saving grace to our sisterhood has been setting clear roles within the business and creating the boundaries on how we communicate and respect each other’s ideas and space. We always say that if one of us couldn’t do the business anymore then we’d both walk away. Neither one of us can see the business working without the other.

Laurinda - It’s really strengthened our bond, there are days when I’m not feeling well or have a lot on my plate so Fatuma will pick up my workload with no complaints, that’s rare in a traditional workplace. I’m constantly inspired by her work ethic and resilience, most people seem to think that I’ve had to hold the fort since Fatuma has become a new mum, but if anything she’s even more determined. I’m proud to watch her balance mum life while being a business woman.

Kudos on your partnership with ANPPCAN! Tell us a little bit more about that and what building a conscious brand that contributes to the community means to you.

It has always been important to us to look for ways to be able to give back to our own community, particularly working with young girls. On our second trip to Nairobi, we were introduced to ANPPCAN (African Network for the Prevention and Protection Against Child Abuse and Neglect). Their mission is aimed at stopping all forms of child abuse and neglect throughout Africa. One of the programs they run is The Child Education Sponsorship Programme, which empowers girls through education and vocational skills training.

We were thrilled to be introduced to 14 year old Julian, who through what we call our Mission of Hope and partnership with ANPCANN, started high school last year. Julian is a student that hails from the community of Mathare in the Nairobi County. Julian comes from a single parent family, her mother passed away 5 years ago. We're glad that we are able to help sponsor Julian's education, she dreams of becoming an Agricultural Engineer, and hopes she can help other girls within her community whose dreams have been shattered by poverty to also fulfill their hopes of going to school.

Let's dive into some quick favorites: Do you have any favorite self-care practices?

Fatuma - Being a new mother, I probably don’t get to practice this as much as I would like, but leaving the house to get my nails done and a coffee on my own is pretty amazing these days.

Laurinda - Mine would have to be taking a bit of alone time, where I switch off my phone and don’t look at our emails. That’s the blessing when you work with your sister, you can tell her you need a little me time.

And how about favorite reads?

Laurinda - One of my favourites is The Alchemist. I was blown away by the messages in the book. I’m also obsessed with reading thrillers and murder mysteries, I recently finished reading a book called Let Me Lie by Clare Mackintosh and also love Gillian Flynn’s work.

Fatuma - Some of my favourites are Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks, anything by James Baldwin or Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I also love Ta-Nehisi Coates' body of work.