Recently launched but already building traction, The Uncast is an online platform that aims to promote cultural and ethnic diversity in fashion within Australia. Their first issue explores the relationship between clothing and identity and has contributions from creatives across Sydney and Melbourne. With an emphasis on collaboration, they are also set to release a clothing label, the first of which is being designed by local graphic designer and musician Joanna Frank. We had a chat with the founders as they head into issue #2.
Backyard Opera: So what brought you guys together, how did you meet?
Neil: Through advertising
Brendan: It’s not even about that. I think it’s more interesting like how we just actually just had similar tastes in things, so even though we were in advertising, I mean a lot of the people we worked with I think they’re still commercial and pretentious. But I think Neil and I kind of
got along in terms of aspects of culture, like he was in Berlin for awhile and I resonate a lot with Berlin which is probably the most creative city at the moment. I mean people from the ages of 25 to 30 is the most visited city. You know, Neil worked at Vice and I think, you know just that realism in content and stories and culture that we kind of resonated within with that kind of initiated our connection.
N: Where we physically met was at an ad agency though.
B: But I don’t think that needs to be apart of it though. What brought us together was that we had a similar vision.
BYO: What is that vision?
B: You want to speak a bit about your diversity?
N: Yeah, I mean for me there’s two things happening in terms of vision. Directly with the Uncast, I think there’s not that much options in terms of models in Sydney. I mean you can look at Melbourne and Brissy, New Zealand, they’ve all got agencies that represent people that don’t usually get represented by agencies. Not too sound too advertise-y, there’s a market for it now, here. But no one’s playing it.
B: Sounds so advertise-y.
N: Ok, to break it down, I’m business, he’s creative.
B: No man, but yeah, you have visions of content. From the discussions we’ve had, I think there are stories to be told in Australia.
BYO: What kind of stories?
B: I mean there’s like a fashion brand that’s come out called X-Infanitas(?) and they won a wall mark prize internationally. And they’ve kind of year, he’s studied overseas, he’s studied fashion and he’s come back and he’s kind of doing this new, Bondi trash course. It’s not like your typical beach Bondi, they’re wearing like gowns and they’re standing on this beach board.
BYO: Like Derelict in Zoolander?
B: Yeah, but not in a cheesy way. It takes Australian culture and spins it on its head. I think that’s what it is, it’s these stereotypical things that no one knows. Like beach culture, and outdoor culture, but then there’s this underbelly of creativeness that exists and it’s like, how do you tell a story that represents that?
N: But all those underground creativities is isolated within the other groups of people who are also doing cool things. You have these group of friends that are shooting over here, and they kind of get each other and work together, and then you have another group of friends and they do the same and etc.
B: Like it could be hip-hop, it could be music culture.
N: Yeah, and they call come together online to like each other’s stuff and say, I like what you’re doing and stuff and what I found was that there wasn’t necessarily a way for them to work together easy.
BYO: And that’s where you guys come in?
B: Yeah in a way that’s organic for them. We just offer the platform and showcase/spotlight the talents of these people and then how they decide to collaborate ...
N: It’s up to them. There’s no pressure on anyone who works with us to do a certain kind of thing. It’s not like a traditional agency where you’ve got to go to these gigs, you’ve got to do these shoots, you’ve got to go to these castings - we don’t care.
BYO: So you just bring them together and let them work on whatever?
N: Yeah and that’s how I feel that it’s organically grown to this point. We didn’t really plan any of this perse. It wasn’t like, we are going to do this shoot, it was more like let’s just connect with this person and see what they want to do and then we just pull it together for them, and
then that grows.
B: And I think that yeah, chatting to some creatives I find like they feel that they’re confined, whether it’s photographers or anyone who’s in the creative industry say that they feel confined, the agencies, the industries, it’s always a vision of whatever it is, and now it’s like OK, now you have freedom to do what you want to do.
N: And the pie in Sydney is so small as well. Like there’s so many people trying to get that much of work that exists, it just makes sense for everyone to grow the pie together.
BYO: What does diversity mean to you guys? You talk about diversity and wanting to represent the alternative but what does that mean?
B: It’s all inclusiveness and it’s just authenticness and realness.
N: Look, my background, I wasn’t even born here, I was born in India. So I’ve got immigrant background, he’s from South Africa but then you look at all the media in Australia and still, I mean I don’t want to make it a race thing - it’s not about that, but they say there’s equality and that Australia is very forward thinking but you look at all the images we have, you see all the magazines and well yeah, [BYO: racist!] you know yourself. That’s where I’m coming from when we talk about diversity. In its most simplest form.
B: It’s the realness that’s out there.
N: Its most simplest form is can we get different kinds of faces, can we get different kinds of images created and that’s really if you go down to the core of what it is. Because you get all these people who work together and create new things but when they say diversity, it’s because these people don’t usually work together or the faces that you see that don’t get shot
B: And it could be anything, even overseas you see high fashion is starting to use albinos for instance, just one example and but like, the thing is, is Australia too scared to show that? We just want to represent people for who they are and for what’s out there.
N: It’s very symbolic, like if you use another race that represents something and not because they’re them. You use an Asian [person] because it represents something rather than use them because they’re them.
B: The difference is real life.
N: And that’s where all that authenticity layer comes from. Like when you talk about subcultures there’s some racial level to it, but it’s not so much about it but it’s something we have at the back of our heads that we’re aware of. But then with subcultures, it comes back to those communities in Sydney themselves kind of connecting and all of that.
BYO: You said there’s misrepresentation and asked whether Australia was scared of diversity? and one of my questions is that, well do you think the reason for the lack of diversity in Australia is because of resistance? How do you plan on breaking that? Maybe someone else has tried this in the past and they weren’t successful because mainstream media was like, nah we don’t want that, how do you ...
N: Well, that’s the thing you just answered your own question, mainstream media.
BYO: So you don’t want to enter that?
N: Well look at the people we work with here, no one’s mainstream. I mean yeah some of the photographers are commercial photographers as well and they do their cool shit but they also have an understanding of what that subculture is.
B: There’s always going to be new and independent brands that come out, people that need to communicate, they are authentic. New brands don’t start off with wanting to make money, hey want to create something authentic then if it grows and turns into about money then -
but this is more for people who rarely believe in what they want to do and kind of connectswith something more authentic.
BYO: So your ultimate goal is not mainstream media? But don’t you think it’s important to get different people into mainstream media?
N: Ideally for us the mainstream media would want to use the people we have because that means we’re succeeding and people see the value in it. But it’s not something we’re not forcing - that’s what we talk about something organically happening.
B: Yeah we can’t challenge them, we can only bring them together and showcase it, and if mainstream media recognizes it like that ...
N: That’s the bonus and then we know that OK, we’re all on the same page. But even if the youth bowl, people our age, get together and create these images that’s still a big positive in my point of view.
BYO: Why do you think it’s so important what you guys are doing? Why does diversity need to be represented?
N: Just look at America. I mean, it’s pretty fucked. It’s funny we say that because we’ve actually had people from America starting to like us, our page, and yeah I just think it’s really interesting. Even though it’s Sydney - based, I think it resonates to people.
BYO: People are misrepresented all around the world, it’s not a local issue, it’s a global issue.
B: Definitely it’s a global issue. We just think that here maybe, well what I find coming from South Africa where everything is so diverse and Sydney too, but there’s a lot of confines. Like the laws [and policies] trying to sell property to turn into commercial, tourist hubs, like I think all of that takes away from culture and I think that, this is a way to kind of go against that and to show that it can thrive, even though the big powers are about the money.
BYO: So you’re from Sydney and you’re from outside of Sydney - I want separate answers / perspectives - does Sydney have culture?
N: [laughs] we’ve had this chat before, haven’t we?
B: There’s definitely culture, it definitely exists, it’s just not, it still feels like it’s in early days. It feels like it hasn’t all connected in a way and it hasn’t integrated. You have to go to different places to experience different elements of culture but it doesn’t feel like it’s its own Australia
culture. It still feels like Australian culture is still beach and sunshine, but I think there’s so much more and it’s hidden away and once you can bring those diversities together, yeah a new kind of culture can potentially emerge.
BYO: Cool, and now your thoughts as somebody who did grow up in Sydney?
N: Just to add to that I guess then, in Australia I feel like a lot of people, they’re kind of ashamed of Australian culture, maybe because it’s undefined that’s why there’s not really [an answer] to what Australian culture is. You always think of those TV shows where people run on
the beach and shit, and that is, when you go overseas and you ask people what they think it is, that’s what they reference, like Steve Irwin and crocodiles and shit. But then you come here and that’s not Australian culture. But then when you say what is it, you don’t know what it is. I
think maybe part of that is because people - I don’t know what it is, I don’t know why it’s happened.
B: I think it’s just early days.
N: But Australia’s not early, I mean I guess if you look at Australia as a whole, we haven’t had a war or have had that cultural unity built. I mean there are the ANZACs but Australia in the past has been built on diversity and bringing people from other countries and they bring their cultures, but yet we’ve lacked in creating something from that. It’s just like.
B: I was just chatting to some hip-hop producers, you know even though there’s not a lot of hip-hop that’s taken ground internationally, I mean the guys are saying that they’re all connected and wow, I’ve heard some amazing stuff being produced and I think that’s a sign that it’s going to take off.
N: I mean it’s not like people don’t know, they’re aware. It’s just, what do you do with it?
BYO: Australia is considered the “lucky country”, there hasn’t been struggle / tension
B: Yep, it’s the perfect, entitled city.
BYO: yeah it’s like wonderful and easy, it’s not raw or dirty - I’m assuming that’s what you guys want to achieve?
N: It’s not about manufacturing the raw and dirty, there is a level of it.
B: Creativity always comes out of ...
B: yeah struggle, call it struggle, it could be city struggle. Hollywood movies are nice and pretty and that’s what Australia culture is, like it’s served on a plate and it’s easily absorbed and everyone loves it but beneath that there are people that are writing independent stories which is the culture and I think that needs to - you know it’s not just the entitled pretty stories.
N: If I think back, our generation hasn’t really had to fight for anything.
BYO: We’re trying to fight for the lockout laws ...
N: See that’s recent, that’s only in the last couple of years. It seems like an interesting time where culture may build because we have something to fight for. And that’s where you have all of these pop up warehouses and everything, this is where you get the grunge, because it’s something to fight for.
B: Exactly, because people are still creating outside of it, like even though there’s confines on what the culture and what the music and the lockouts, there are still young creatives who are doing that.
N: That’s how something becomes popular as well, enough that people follow that movement.
B: If you look at cities that have gentrification that’s how it starts. You’ve got the young and creative who are brave enough to move there andso ten years down the line, everyone wants to move there. It’s part of the evolution.
N: You asked earlier what the goal was, I’ll say it as I want to be able to export more Australian culture than we import. At the base level, if you can do that, then you know you’re succeeding. We import shit from the US and the UK, and it doesn’t make sense because I think there is enough talent, enough labor, and enough stories to be told here in Australia, especially through our diversity. You look at the outer western suburbs as well, there are stories to be told but no one’s really trying to tell them. No, actually I think it’s wrong to say that. I think there are people trying to tell them, but it’s again, it’s the little communities.
BYO: That part always gets excluded. When people think of Sydney, they just think about the inner city - man, it’s hot.
N: I mean I grew up south west Sydney as well.
BYO: Yeah, it’s super hot. We can wrap this up.
B: Are there any other questions you have?
BYO: Where did the name come from?
N: One evening… ah, it’s your name, you tell it.
B: Well, we were discussing it and we were trying to look for a name that’s says what it is that we do and is not just, you know, a random name. The Uncast is saying you know the things that are unseen, unheard, that’s what we’re trying to shape …
N: The underground, the un-models, you can add the word un to anything …
B: Hmm… underground is quite intense. It’s like, in front of a lot of smoking mirrors, there’s always truth, and it’s always like that.
N: It’s really flexible too, I think.
BYO: At the risk of sounding like a cliche, I wanted to ask where do you draw your inspiration from?
N: Well, we both do different things for it [The Uncast agency]. He’s the creative side of the business. I’ve got my own inspiration but it’s for different things, it’s not creative.
B: Yeah for me it’s creativity, that’s my inspiration.
BYO: Care to elaborate?
N: You’re a big music person.
B: So, you want to know the specifics? I’m open to so many different things but like… You want me to say what my favourite food is?
N: What inspires you to wake up every morning?
BYO: I want to get an understanding of what the people behind the agency are like, I think most people will support a new brand if they know the brains and faces behind it.
B: Well, the personal things that inspire me are normally things that are about minimalism and wholeness. The fashion designers I like are Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garcons, then I really like techno music. Those are the kind of things that say the full circle, everything with nothing. What inspires me is the diversity of everything else.
BYO: That’s cool. See, you didn’t have to tell me what your favourite food was.
N: This is going to sound shit - can I say it and if it doesn’t sound good, can we not use it?
BYO: I’ll be sure to get your approval before publishing.
N: If you want to get real with it, what inspires me. I guess …
N: No. Not at all. Death would be one.
BYO: Death? That’s so morbid.
N: I know. Well, I mean when you look at it …
B: Live for now kind of thing?
N: No, I mean, you only get so much time to do what you want to do, and I guess, if you’re going to question what is inspiring, then, ah, I don’t know. I don’t know. I want to put out things, I don’t know. Let’s start again? I don’t know what inspires me. I mean I could go back to storytelling and advertising and all that, but that’s a whole different ball game.
BYO: Are you trying to say, perhaps, that death is very much a part of life as opposed to the end of life, or did you just say death to sound dark and mysterious?
N: No, it’s not about being dark. It’s like, you want to create something that lasts beyond.
BYO: Like a legacy?
N: Yeah, something that won’t die with you. You’ve only got this much time on earth to do something, you might as well make the most of it. You want to leave something back from when you’re dead. So, I know I’m going to die eventually, so I might as well do something that is interesting for the period that I’m alive.
B: Like, achieving timelessness through something?
N: Yeah, through something. And that’s where everything maybe starts.
BYO: OK, so what’s step one for the Uncast, you’ve launched your website, what next?
N: I don’t know, we haven’t even spoken about that. That was our next conversation. See how raw this is?
B: I think the stage we’re in now is just connecting with the people we need to. Scouting models, photographers, that kind of thing. Shooting and profiling people has given us enough material to launch our website and put the philosophy out there.
BYO: What’s the philosophy?
N: I’m looking at our website because I don’t want to say the wrong thing. Here it is, word for word, “celebrating diverse individuals and personalities that represent local youth culture.”
BYO: Sweet. OK, so, next step?
N: Building partnerships. I think that’s where it comes down to.
BYO: Dream partnership or dream collaboration?
N: I think it’s a bit early to answer that. I mean, anyone right now. We’re just going with the natural momentum and just taking things as they come.
B: Wow, it’s really hot.
N: Yeah, I’m melting.
BYO: Yeah, it’s fucking hot. Thank you for your patience and sweat. Let’s get out of here!!!