Introducing Martha: The Fashion Brand That’s About More Than Style
© Photograph courtesy of Martha
Meet Marc, the designer who challenges the norms of the fashion industry: he seamlessly intertwines fashion design with African culture and sustainability, to create clothes as beautiful as they are poignant.
Marc and I met over zoom in early December, him from Antwerp and myself from Spain. I can’t lie, as someone who loves fashion but, unfortunately, was not gifted artistic talent, I was nervous to speak to a young designer who has made a name for themselves in the industry. But I needn’t have been: Marc has an infectious smile and is one of the most earnest and enthusiastic people I have met. I could barely wait to ask him my first question.
Throughout finding his love for fashion as a teenager, to his studies at the prestigious Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the ultimate birth of his womenswear brand, Martha, passion and dedication to his Caribbean heritage runs deep, and his success has been vast: Martha has already been featured in L'Officiel and Vogue Italia, and Marc has shown his collections in Paris.
As a self-proclaimed “talker”, it was with ease that Marc answered my (many) questions about his inspirations, observations and aspirations in fashion and what it's like to be a young designer with much more to say.
So, starting right at the beginning: what inspired you to pursue fashion?
I think actually, fashion started for me quite late: kids usually have it [the dream of pursuing fashion] from a young age. I was always drawn to drawing so I wanted to do something in the creative field but I wasn’t sure exactly what. I sort of just grew into it because I was drawing and my mum saw it and had me shadow a fashion designer.
I fell in love with the idea that something can go from your imagination to a reality, and the euphoric feeling when it comes to life and you see it on a person. I think it's such a powerful moment and why I wanted to pursue it much more.
What was it like studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts? Was it an inspiring place?
It’s really surreal! When you’re there you feel like you’re in a bubble because you’re surrounded by only the best of the best. Everyone is really experienced: they can draw really well, they make the crazy silhouettes and nothing is too outlandish there! Everything is possible: the school doesn’t impose too many rules so you really are free.
It was a very eye opening and interesting experience because once I was studying there, my love for my hometown, the Caribbean, started to grow more and more. I started to see our culture from a totally different perspective. To see it from a fashion point of view was very interesting. I look back at the school as a very happy person because I had big growth there emotionally, in my character and also my interests.
Is it important to you that you celebrate Caribbean culture through your fashion?
Yes definitely. I feel there is not much known from the Caribbean, especially from the arts and fashion side. When I told my parents I wanted to do fashion they were very against it because not many people do this yet from the Caribbean, and it was kind of frowned upon. I wanted to make it easier for people in the Caribbean, for the kids growing up now, that when they go tell their parents [they want to pursue fashion] they can say “look he’s from the Caribbean and he’s done so well, he’s creating all these things based on our culture”, so that it’s possible! That’s very important to me.
© Photograph courtesy of Martha
And you’ve said that if you had financial freedom, the first thing you’d do is set up a fashion school in the Caribbean. Do you think there’s a lot of undiscovered talent there?
It’s such a pity…fashion has a different meaning there but people don’t pursue it in the same way you see in European or Asian countries. I feel if you just get that platform and that extra push they could get so far! It feels [when you’re there] that everyone around you is creative. When they go to a party what they do to their outfits: they cut them apart and knot them and tie them together to create something new - it always feels so fresh. They do it so naturally, it’s the way they’ve always been doing it. I think they could get very far if they could get that opportunity.
Clearly the Caribbean is a huge influence for you and, if I’m not wrong, the name of your brand, Martha, is a dedication to your mum?
Yes, so it’s my mum’s maiden name, it's our family name. It’s very common in Curacao to have a first name as your last name. I found it very powerful to have this shown in a positive light and also support the Caribbean in a way that you know it’s from the Caribbean.
You set up Martha following your studies. What was this like: daunting, exciting, all of the above?
Definitely all of the above! I think that before I started, I didn’t think about it too much. For me, it felt very natural to start up my own brand because I felt like the message and aesthetic that I want to create doesn’t really exist out there.
You’re responsible for everything, it can be daunting at times. Luckily, I have a great team, I am surrounded with very good people. I try to surround myself with positive energy and that really helps!
I love that! You say that when you were young, you would use whatever you could to create new things. Is that still how you approach your fashion today?
Yes definitely, that’s why my workplace is always in chaos, but it helps! For example, in my last collection I used a lego box to create a bag. Now, I’m working with a hair piece that was laying around to create a dress from it. I feel it's freeing and I try to use that as much as possible: to really re-value different things that are laying around and see what we can do with it.
I read that you also believe “new is only limited by your own mind”. Where do you find your “new”?
Literally everywhere! I take a lot of pictures. When I’m walking around the street and I see someone walking by that I like the outfit from or the colours, I take a picture. And also when I go on holiday I really try to talk to people and see what it's like. For example, a few years ago I did a collection about South Africa and the apartheid and how prevalent it was there. I was visiting neighbourhoods, seeing how people are living, what they’re valuing.
I feel like in order to have a unique perspective and a unique approach in design, it's easier to show what I’m seeing and how I’m seeing the world currently. I think that's why designing something new has been quite easy and feels very organic because I start from all the images around me.
© Photograph courtesy of Martha
How would you describe your most recent collection, Fruit Of Our Labour, and your brand’s aesthetic more generally?
So, the brand in general I would describe as “colourful”. The boldness is very important, this is the kind of attitude that you have from the Caribbean that I want to bring to everyone. This kind of “yeah I can do whatever I want, I can be whatever I want”. I really like this young, energetic energy in the clothes and brand in general.
This collection, I would describe as very warm. It's not for a specific type of person but, rather, that anyone can put on the garment, walk out of the fitting room and feel good. It has a very soft drape and soft elegance in the tailoring so that when you wear it you feel really at ease.
[Showing this collection in Paris] really marked this point of taking the next step. It became “okay, the brand is getting bigger than me.” It felt so amazing to see the clothes in that setting in the city that I’ve been looking up to my entire life. That was really beautiful to see.
Every collection has some theme that I wanted to talk about: a few years back I did a collection called Love Your Beautiful Skin and it was based on South Africa.
The Future Is Black was the past Autumn/Winter collection. There, we touched upon the theme of ‘what if the world ended and was rebuilt by a black woman - how would she approach it?’ It's always incorporating this cultural element, a heritage element from African influences.
Is it important to you that your designs are more than just aesthetic, that they have a deeper meaning to them?
For me, yes. I would not say that it should be like this in general but I feel like we have this platform that people look up to so it's interesting to use that to have a message and to say something.
I also feel like fashion is kind of a reflection of today's society so why not approach these topics that are not so talked about and make it in a way that's digestible? I feel like with a fashion collection, it should be aesthetic and it should be beautiful so people want to hear the message.
Sustainability is also an important element of your brand. Can you talk a bit more about this?
We work in a store in Antwerp with a made-to-order construction, so we only produce what the clients actually order, and they will have it on the same day. It’s a new approach we want to try out and it will be very interesting.
Our atelier is in a carbon neutral, zero emission building, so we work with solar energy, we have passive heating and our toilets run on rainwater. These are small things that any company can implement without having to transform their business. As a young designer, we can take this risk and try these things out but it shouldn’t be “oh wow they’re doing that”. No, we have to.
So what’s next for Martha (if I can ask!)? Yes of course! So I start with a new collection which I absolutely love. If you have some time you should look at the sculptor Yubi Kirindongo. He’s a sculptor from Curacao who made aluminium sculptures from car bumpers that are super beautiful, super aesthetic but it’s strange because it feels very futuristic. I was in love with it! I’m building this whole collection around his idea.
I had this plan to do a Martha tour in the coming years. We want to do events around the whole world, to kind of bring the Martha vibe to different places, incorporate the people and try to promote in that way.
We end our conversation by talking about the advice he would give to an aspiring young designer but, as with most of our conversation, his answer has meaning far beyond fashion. “Just do it”, he tells me, with a final reminder that to find success all you have to do is to "look around you and experience the world". It’s this sincerity and pure love of what he does that leaves me eagerly awaiting what he'll explore in the future.