austrian label 'kids of the diaspora' is about overcoming adversity
The Viennese label has turned into a movement aiming at representation, love, and a sense of community.
This article originally appeared on i-D DE.
Growing up as the daughter of a Yoruba from Nigeria in a largely white village in Austria, Leni Charles felt her creativity was thwarted at every turn. And so, the 28-year-old sought and eventually found a way to create representation in Viennese fashion by starting her own clothing brand, which she named Kids of the Diaspora.
i-D sat down with the designer to find out just what inspired her label.
Strolling around the streets of Vienna, I get the impression the city isn’t really diverse. Am I correct in this assumption?
Let’s put it like this; Vienna is the most diverse city in Austria. I always find it difficult to compare Vienna to any other international cities — where do I start? I didn’t grow up in Vienna, but in a small village. My father, however, lives in New York where I spent some time as a teen. So both extremes seem to be very natural to me. From my perspective, Vienna is super diverse but obviously my personal view is informed by my environment.
How did you feel growing up between an Austrian village, Vienna, and New York?
It was nice, but not always easy. When you’re a child you want to explore the world. In our village, my sister and I were the only girls of color with African roots. We encountered racism on a daily basis. When we moved to the city things got better, because I finally got to meet like-minded people.
How and why did you come up with Kids of the Diaspora?
There was no pivotal moment that I came up with the label. It was rather the result of thoughts that I had been carrying for a long time. There have been so many instances where I'd been talking to my friends, one of us might describe a personal experience of discrimination and the response is something like, "Story of my life…", or “I feel you...”. That has a balming effect on your soul. You don’t have to explain yourself, you don’t have to justify yourself, you don’t have to assert yourself. You can just be you. That's the mindset KOTD was born from.
How do you experience the current political climate?
Because of the state of politics, many feel empowered to perform racist acts. This is why I’m proud of every single person who has the courage to take a stance against racism and nationalism. I hope that we can get over thinking in black and white terms, and finally find a new way of approaching each other.
And what’s the role of Kids of the Diaspora in this environment?
An effort at peacemaking. We’re aiming towards a peaceful communal life and highly trust in empathy. We want kids to know they can find refuge with us whenever they need one. At any time. People from all over the world message us and tell us how happy they are that they’ve discovered Kids of the Diaspora because they can identify with our project. No matter where they come from. It’s about affection, understanding, and self-reflection. It’s a tender homage to all the kids out there that feel lost. To everybody who’s stronger now and who wants to be a role-model for the younger generation. Our message is: "We are closer to each other than we think. We are everywhere. We are one."
In what way are you a kid of the diaspora?
My mentality is 100 percent Kids of the Diaspora. What does that mean? We understand each other without words. We all look different, but think in the same way. We’re ambitious because we all had to prove ourselves.
Do you ever lose hope?
I never lose hope, but I also don’t leave everything to fate. Of course I’m afraid sometimes. Whenever I begin to feel a little hopeless, I go boxing. My uncle is my boxing trainer and he taught me that you always have to face your fears in order to outgrow them. Hope dies last.
What can we all do to change our society?
Communicate in a sensitive manner. Way too often, words are spit out too quickly; they come out too sharp and trigger disputes. We need to learn to reflect on our own actions, to empathize with others and to give value to inter-personal relations. We need to look at things more closely. We need to realize that we all need each other and are stronger together.
What’s your wish for the next generation?
That they learn how to deal with love. And that they aren't afraid to share it.