Access Exclusive: There Are No Rules with Strange Fruit
Fed up with traditional schooling, Justine Riley (Strange Fruit Founder) decided to create something different. Moving to South Africa, Justine took from the culture to inspire her e-commerce shop, Strange Fruit. Focused on three topics she cares about deeply (human welfare, animals and the environment), Strange Fruit isn't a brand that follows trends or tells consumers what they want to hear. Instead, it targets areas and people that are over-looked or misrepresented in today's society. The brand works to use fabrics/materials that are actually eco-friendly and continues to repurpose older clothing for new looks. Looking to begin a serious movement of change in the current fashion industry, Strange Fruit isn't and won't be your typical up-cycle shop.
Where do you find your vintage/ second hand pieces for Strange Fruit
I have various methods of finding my vintage pieces. One is a top secret warehouse in the outskirts of Toronto, where I get all my Levis and other denim stuff. I've also found some gems on this Toronto Facebook group called 'Bunz Trading Zone'. People post their stuff for trade and the only rule is you can't exchange for money. So I've sourced clothing in exchange for toilet paper, razors, and other shit like that.
When picking new pieces for the website, what is the criteria?
I just try to think if the garment goes with the rest of the collection I've picked. I tend to gravitate towards basic prints but play around with sizing - like some of the oversized shirts I have in my shop, for instance. I also think of stuff that looks a bit outdated as is that I could make new via upcycling.
How do you decide which pieces to upcycle?
Sometimes an item is too long and (as aforementioned) outdated, so I hem it and add some fringe. Sometimes there's a mickey mouse print on it, so I throw in an embroidered doob. Other times I think the item is a perfect blank canvas for me to splash some sequins on to it, there's no real system I have in place.
When and Why was Strange Fruit founded?
I was beyond fed up with university and the track I was setting myself up for in Toronto. So I moved to South Africa to be with a dude I had spent a few days with in Cape Town a few months prior (sounds extreme, but it all worked out!!) I had a lot of time there to think about what I really wanted to do, which all boiled down to working for myself. I decided to find a way to shape my career into all the things I'm passionate about. Eventually Strange Fruit came into "fruition" from that. I've been planning this for well over a year, but the shop officially opened on June 1st.
The name ‘Strange Fruit’ was derived from the well known Billie Holiday song and the meaning has a tie to the exploitation of people of color in the fashion industry. How important is it for the brand to fight for the protection of worker’s rights and the environment.
It's so important that it's embedded into the core of the brand. At first I thought Strange Fruit might be too heavy of a name and that it carried too much responsibility with it. But then I figured, I will never be able to stray away from the core values of fighting for women of colour's right to be paid a living wage and a sustainable environment with a name like Strange Fruit.
How does the aesthetics of the brand relate to brand’s overall concept?
I try to shape the aesthetics around what will appeal to my target audience - which are #wokebaes who care about all things under an intersectional feminist lens.
The brand is a big advocate for protecting the earth/environment, do you feel the fashion industry should work harder to make environmental protection a bigger concern or at least find a way to consistently cut down on their waste?
Don't get me started! I always see these major fashion houses advertising "Green Week" and other shit like that... which on the surface seems awesome. However, it's soooo contradictory when their entire business model is supported by the exploitation of the environment (and not to mention women and men of colour). It's not enough to donate 10% of your sales to some environmental cause, for instance, when the items you're slinging are harming the environment in the first place.
Who are your role models?
Two role models I have are Billie Holiday and Frida Kahlo.
I love the way Frida seemed to be so comfortable in her own skin. Especially with where I'm at right now with trying to accept my body hair as beautiful when it contradicts societal norms. I know she lived in a different time and a different society, but she just seemed to project this aura of not giving a fuck, and I'll bet she worked really hard to achieve that.
When it comes to Billie, sometimes the way she expresses her reliance on men through her music makes me cringe. Even still, I admire her honesty and ability to be vulnerable. Beyond that, she gets MAJOR props for speaking on the treatment black people were subjected to all the way back in the 20s. Even today, talking about things of that nature are often met with vitriol, so I recognize and respect her courageousness.
10% of all Strange Fruit sales go towards creating housing in the Attawapiskat First Nations community, what is the special connection to that community?
Canada has done, and continues to do, the First Nations community so fucking dirty. There are people in Canada living in horrendous circumstances, in places where the temperature drops below -40 (Celcius). The Attawapiskat community which resides in Northern Ontario recently made headlines after 11 people (some children as young as 9 years old) attempted suicide in a span of 24 hours. Whether we like it or not, anyone outside of the First Nations and Metis people living in Canada are supporting the colonialist powers that lead to this outcry. For that reason, I think there is a huge responsibility to do better by these people.
Do you feel like the culture of Toronto shapes the brand’s concepts at all?
Definitely. Downtown Toronto (where I live) is super walkable, which means you see a lot of amazing fashion on the streets. I'm always staring at people way longer than I should, hoping that their style will seep into my brain!
Looking forward to the remainder of 2016, what are some of the brand’s goals?
I want to start selling a lot more new items. I have a lot of denim, so naturally lapel pins would be a good fit. You may also see some chokers pop up on the shop very soon... but beyond that, I don't want to say too much!
It’s very refreshing to see brands with strong social/political messages. Are there any other issues the brand plans to address?
I want to utilize my site's blog to talk about all things intersectional feminist. I want it to be a sex positive, LGBTQIA+ friendly space to talk about anything and everything my readers are concerned with. From cultural appropriation, to confronting every-day racism, to some of my bomb-ass recipes I've been hoarding (lol), etc.
If you could pick any one in the world to style with clothing from your store, who would it be and what would they wear?
Probably Solange! Scratch that, definitely Solange. Rihanna, her style always KILLS it. FKA Twigs is cool too.
What’s one song that you feels embodies your brand?
Well... I'd definitely have to say Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday for obvious reasons! Haha.
Finish this sentence: The world is…….
The world is... filled with baby boomers trying to mess up the progress millennials are hell-bent on creating!
Interview by: NKC (@therealnkc), Creative Director