Words: Kazeem Kuteyi. Photography, Kahlil Hernandez, Nefertiti Hernandez
This interview shouldn’t have happened. Before leaving Toronto, we sent an email to Lisa and Tida’s packed email inbox only to receive an automated reply saying: “This inbox is full, message cannot send”. And not to mention the extreme exhaustion; myself, Kahlil and Nef were traveling from Paris to London after a crazy night of partying. The thought of this interview happening three hours after touching down at St Pancras train station was bleak. We didn’t even think we’d make it there on time because we were still northeast of London chowing down on a traditional English breakfast made by Kahlil’s great aunt. But then, either by a miracle or sheer determination, we made it to Lisa and Tida’s West London studio.
Lisa and Tida are twins, so it’s hard to decipher between them. I have twin uncles and it took my whole childhood to discover that one of them had a mark on the side of his face. What differentiates Lisa and Tida from my uncles is that they run their own business together. They’ve created a jewelry label that’s very distinct in its voice and branding. And whether it’s the mantras they post on Instagram with hashtag #FFMantras, or the willingness to dedicate time to helping their homeland Laos (the most bombed country per capita on earth (every purchase goes to clearing bombs)), it’s clear that they have this whole thing planned out. Fun fact: FKA twigs is a major client of theirs – and you can spot Mila Kunis wearing one of their bespoke designs in the movie Jupiter Ascending. And even with all their achievements, they’re still working and they want more.
How did you get into this?
Lisa: We both studied design, but different areas. I studied graphic and media design at university and Tida studied textile design. Even though we were at different colleges, we always collaborated on each other’s projects – and we lived together so it was inevitable that we would secretly be collaborating at home.
Tida: Yeah, Lisa was sneaking into my course. In my first year of uni I had a boyfriend who lived on the other side of the UK, so I went off to see him for a week and she came in to pretend to be me while I was gone.
Lisa: So yeah, final year was when the label was born. Tida had designed some womenswear, and in my course I was designing the branding and marketing material. When we graduated, we did the normal thing – interned at different places alongside creating the label. We put our stuff online just to see what the reaction would be. We just put the accessories first because we can didn’t have the capacity or finances to launch a whole clothing label. Next thing we knew, it was selling, and we were getting contacted by stylists! The first big thing that happened was Ashanti’s stylist contacting us after we’d only been around for a couple of months. We’ve always loved Ashanti over the years so that was really cool. After a few months of interning at a couple of places, we realized that we had to go for it because there was too much interest in what we had created to ignore it.
When you guys come together and do something, how often do you disagree on stuff? How does that dynamic work?
Tida: We disagree a lot, but in a good way, because that means you have two different perspectives. I don’t know how we have different perspectives because we were brought up the same way, but we do. And we’re both equally as passionate and determined with our brand so when you put that together it works quite well. And when we disagree on things we’re usually able to see where each other is coming from, and we take from what both of us are each thinking and it’s quite strong.
Lisa: We’ve always been really close though. When we were at school, there were five sets of twins and some of them were in the same year as us – and none of them were as close as we were. We didn’t realize how lucky we were to get on and have that bond. So it’s worked out really well for us. When you start your own label it can get really lonely and tough but we’ve got each other to support and understand each other. We’ve got a good balance.
Tida: Yeah, we can tell when each other is down or needs to go out. You know when you’re stressing and you really wanna get something finished but you just need a break? We’re really good at spotting that in each other.
Lisa: Our lives are completely intertwined. We live together, work together and have the same friends. From an outside perspective, it could seem really intense, but it works for us.
And you guys are super creative. I’m curious; are your parents creative as well?
Lisa: Our mom was a seamstress from a small independent womenswear designer and our dad was a car salesman. So we’ve taken a bit from each of them.
Tida: Yeah, we can talk the talk, like our dad.
Lisa: Our dad would make us go into his work where he was selling cars on weekends and we’d sit on the computer playing and stuff but we’d be taking in what he was doing.
What’s creativity to you guys?
Lisa: I think it’s the freedom to explore what you believe in, what you envisage and what inspires you in the world. It’s like self-expression of you; being creative is really personal.
Tida: And true creativity is when you don’t conform – when you just do what you’re really thinking. It could be daring and uncomfortable for some people. I think great creativity divides people; people can love it and people can hate it. If it’s just a warm reception from people, I don’t think you’ve been really creative.
“I think great creativity divides people; people can love it and people can hate it. If it’s just a warm reception from people, I don’t think you’ve been really creative.”- Tida
What influences your work?
Lisa: Our mom’s side of the family is from Laos, South East Asia, and that has a major influence on the patterns, the aesthetic, shapes and things of our designs.
Tida: We’re also really inspired by street style.
Lisa: Yeah, so we give the beautiful architecture and temple carvings in South East Asia that street style twist that’s wearable and turn it into something we enjoy wearing. And then we’re also inspired by mantras, Buddhism, those philosophies – it’s how we’ve been brought up. And also music artists, song lyrics, music videos – it’s sort of a mish mash of British culture and our Laos culture.
Tida: It’s sort of a bit of a ying and yang thing going on, where it’s sorta peaceful and spiritual but we’ve grown up in London, which has this rebellious, angsty attitude going through. It’s sort of a clash but it works.
What motivates you?
Lisa: Probably each other the most.
Tida: I guess it’s different on a day-to-day basis because it’s hard work running a business. We motivate each other. But then you also get motivated when you see someone like FKA Twigs wearing your stuff – oh my gosh does that give you some fire in your belly. When it comes to some of the pieces we’ve designed, I’m like, Lisa, who’s gonna wear that? And then there’s someone like Twigs who comes along and just nails it. She completely epitomizes everything that we envisaged when we designed the piece.
Lisa: We’re also really inspired by strong women. That’s the first person we design for –someone who is really fierce. I’m not sure if you’ve seen on our website, but we talk about people that are strong while still being compassionate – people who are fierce but have a heart. But then on another level we don’t want to exclude anyone, so then we try and design more delicate, meaningful charms so people can have that strength of the brand.
Did you have a back-up plan?
Tida: I wish we had a back-up plan.
Lisa: We’ve got two other strengths, I think, as plan Bs. We’re really into psychology, so we would have probably gone and studied that, or some type of humanitarian or philanthropy field.
But if you love what you do, do you believe in back-up plans
Tida, Lisa: No.
Lisa: We’ve never been one for back-up plans. Even when applying for universities, we just chose one place our hearts really wanted to go to, and we put all our eggs in that basket. If we get it, amazing, and if not – there’s no really plan B. You just have to accomplish Plan A.
Do you think your business could survive without social media?
Tida: No. Not in this day and age.
Lisa: It’s such a powerful tool for new labels today. Before, you were so reliant on getting a feature in a magazine, you know, getting in Vogue, Dazed or I.D, but now you can get your brand out to a big audience yourself. You don’t need to go through the big companies.
“You have to be in the place where the thing you want thrives. If it’s fashion, be in a major city that inspires you or if you want to be a marine biologist, go and live by the Great Barrier Reef.” – Lisa
What advice do you have for kids who want to do something like you?
Lisa: You have to be in the place where the thing you want thrives. If it’s fashion, be in a major city that inspires you or if you want to be a marine biologist, go and live by the Great Barrier Reef. You have to immerse yourself in that culture. And social media and networking is key.
Twigs wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t book a flight to New York the day before her and some other girls we knew were going on a tour in New York. That was three years ago – and we wouldn’t have known that three years later she would be the success that she is. You just have to take risks, even if they scare you.
Being in New York alone was scary. I’ve never done anything like that without my sister. But look where I am today. So yeah take risks and familiarize yourself with the desired culture.
Tida: I’d say be fearless but also listen. We always try to get feedback from people, even if you think they don’t have any sort of knowledge in your industry – everyone has at least something useful they can share with you.
What’s been the biggest challenge for you guys?
Lisa:I think the biggest challenge has been learning the business side of things. When you come from a creative background, you’re not armed with that skill set – but if you’ve got the passion to learn, you can completely do it yourself.
Do you think everyone is born with creativity?
Lisa: No. Perhaps people are creative in their own way, like if the person is a doctor and they’ve got an academic creative way of thinking, but I think that’s different from actually being creative.
Tida: I don’t think everyone is creative and I don’t think everyone should be creative. And it’s not a bad thing not to be, because you need all the different cogs in the machine of society to make it work. If our accountant wasn’t good at math and wasn’t logical but thought the same way we did, it would be really bad.
Lisa: Yeah, it would be really bad if you had a business that was made up of all creative people.
Where do you envision your brand going in the future?
Tida: We would really want our own stores in all the major cities; our own lifestyle boutiques, and we’d also love to be doing fashion weeks.
I was in Paris and, you know, the people I interviewed there were lamenting at the fact that Paris doesn’t really support young people; is that the same in London?
Lisa: No. London really nurtures talent. There’s so much support here. In whatever industry you’re in, whether it’s fashion or engineering, you can go online and find training and funding.