FEATURE INTERVIEW WITH:

Prêtà Muse

Reading Time: 13 minutes
It takes a lot to have a vision, but it takes even more to follow through with it. I meet with Sara Ngwenya and Jean Ardhita Muis, inspiring local entrepreneurs. Together they founded Prêtà Muse, a creative agency that reaches out to young sustainable fashion brands. We talk about London and its dwindling charm, fashion’s greatest flaws and how patience can bring you closer to your goals.
Words by Vika Serstobitova. Photos by Prêtà Muse.

Could you tell about where you grew up?

Jean: I grew up in Indonesia, I only moved here five years ago. My parents always had this fascination with the Western world and over time, as it grew, it built up and that’s when it happened. I wouldn’t say I didn’t want to move, I just didn’t know how it’s going to work. But I’m one of those people, you know, whatever the situation and, in this case, location, when I know what I want – I find a way around it and make it work. I guess that’s how I sum up myself.

Sara: I grew up in England and Zambia. I spent most of my childhood in Zambia, up until I was eight, and then my mum decided that we would move to England. So I’ve been here since then and I can say that they are two very different environments.

Jean: Pretty much. Weirdly..

So when you were young, did you see yourself doing what you’re doing now?

Sara: Yes. Well, I think I had a vague idea that I wanted to do something but I couldn’t put my finger on what it was. I couldn’t just say “yes, I want to do this and that and I want to be a creative, trying to build up my own brand”, but I knew I was going to something that is different.

Jean: I was influenced a lot by my dad, he is quite crafty and he draws a lot, so I always knew I wanted to grow up and be just like him.

Sara: I didn’t know I wanted to be creative when I was young in Zambia. My whole family is very academic, we’ve got doctors, accountants, and nurses, so I always thought I’ll be doing something like that. I remember once being asked what I wanted to do when I grow up and I said I wanted to be an accountant. But then around the age of fourteen, I realised I wanted to do something more interesting, I became interested in things like textiles and just making things in general.

 

“Deciding that we are going to set up our own brand and having everyone look at us and think: Are you sure about that?”

 

Okay, so it took you a little time to come to the creative side. What other jobs did you do before Prêtà Muse?

Jean: Well, we still have waitressing jobs on the side now, as it’s common, but I actually haven’t done any other jobs before we started Preta Muse. We started it while we were at university, so it was kind of our part time job then.

Sara: I was the student ambassador for all three years of university, and I was waitressing part time. As well as that I’ve done a couple of internships in the creative industry.

Jean: Oh yes, I didn’t count those.

Sara: I’ve interned for Emilia Wickstead, a luxury fashion brand.

Jean: And I’ve done some graphic design work.

 

On a freelance basis?

Jean: Yes, before I went to university, I had a lot of experience in events so I’ve done some event work here, in England, as well.
Jean: Prêtà Muse, of course.

What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?

Sara: Yeah, how do we word this. Deciding that we are going to graduate from university and we’re not going to send out any CV’s and we’re not doing any graduate jobs. Deciding that we are going to set up our own brand and having everyone look at us and think: “Are you sure about that?”

Well, you know, people sometimes think it would be beneficial to work for someone at first to see how everything works, but you guys just jumped straight in.

Sara: Well, that’s what internships are for. I feel that those internships we did whilst at university gave us really good insights. The one I did just before my final year was the biggest eye-opener.

What did you do?

Sara: I was in the studio, helping with production, and also in the PR office. So I saw the whole process of contacting brands and building relationships with them, liaising with clients and so on. After that internship I just thought to myself “thank you, I’ve learnt so much, but I don’t need to work for anyone”, the fashion industry is not always the kindest. I just felt that I had enough.

Jean: I felt the exact same way. I was only there to learn. I like to ask questions, so I’d ask around all the departments, trying to find out as much as possible to then transfer all the knowledge into Prêtà Muse. I guess it’s important to use your own initiative.

Sara: Definitely.

 

“It’s always been about ethical fashion, we feel very passionate about it and we work hard to make a change.”

 

And if it wasn’t Prêtà Muse, what would you do?

Jean: Oh, I’ve never thought of that!

Sara: Prêtà Muse is our everything. But if I wasn’t working for Prêtà Muse, I’d probably consider working at WGSN or something similar.

 

 

Would you go into trend forecasting then?

Sara: Maybe not so much the trend forecasting department, maybe other departments, like image production or going out and collecting information and bringing it back to the team.

 So you’d still want to be in the creative and fashion industry?

Sara: Yes, I’d still occupy those two realms. And if not that, I would stay at a company like Emilia Wickstead and worked in the PR office or something, which would’ve made me miserable, but I would’ve stayed. Because that’s what you’re meant to do, right?

 I guess so, that’s grown up life.

Jean: For me, I don’t even know. Well, let’s dream big. I would’ve liked to do an internship at a graphic design firm and carry on working there, so let’s say Pentagram. I would’ve worked as a graphic designer.

Other than the ones you’ve just mentioned, what brands do you admire and aspire to?

Jean: As Prêtà Muse?

Yes, perhaps any local ones?

Sara: Ideas on Paper. It’s different from what we’re doing, completely different industry, but as a brand and the way it’s moving, I find it inspiring. We’ve been watching it grow over the last two-three years, Alex has got a very good and fresh approach.

Jean: And he cares about and contributes to the local businesses.

Sara: On a bigger scale, we like Pentagram and Paper Mache Tiger, they’re doing spectacular work.

Jean: The way Pentagram works, from what I understand, is that they grow partnerships and don’t rely heavily on investors. They also credit everyone accordingly, they don’t just put their name on the work, they’ll recognise all the people who contributed. That’s something we always do as well, we always give credit to people we work with and always pay fairly. We’ve struggled with unpaid internships ourselves so we know how hard it is.

Sara: The fashion industry completely trumps on that. But, say, if we have people helping out, they will always get paid and get lunches and so on. We’re in this together. And when it comes to giving credit between ourselves, even though we’re the founders, we’re a team, sometimes Jean will produce some amazing design work and it will just be credited as Prêtà Muse, but then it will also say “By Jean” and she will have that work in her portfolio. Same for me, I do creative direction mostly, so I’ll have all that work in my portfolio, as well as my name featured next to Prêtà Muse.

So, can you tell me more about the magazine? Because I know it was the root of Prêtà Muse.

Sara: That’s our baby. So give it, maybe, five years?

Jean: Yes, I think we’re quite enjoying playing in the field of “creative agency” now. We are also still in the process of learning how to produce better quality images, work with clients and build relationships in the industry.

Sara: Being Fashion Communication and Promotion graduates really gave us an understanding of how to produce things, we’ve also put a lot of work into our independent projects. When working on a publication, it’s really important to know how to deal with clients and all the people involved, because you need a lot of help to produce a magazine. So Prêtà Muse, as an agency, allows us to understand the publishing world and it’s giving us exposure to all the people who need to be involved, like, PR agencies, printers and so on. In about five years, when we’ve got a lot more experience, we’ll be able to launch and run Prêtà Muse smoothly as a magazine as well.

Tell me a little about the content.

Jean: It would have the same focus as the agency, I suppose. It’s always been about ethical fashion, we feel very passionate about it and we work hard to make a change. We hope that in five years there will be even more exposure to sustainable and ethical fashion and that way we would have more people to work with, more potential clients and a bigger audience.

I think that’s the only direction fashion can go from here, it really cannot go back, the ethics and sustainability issues are too well known.

Sara: Yes, definitely. And it is very important to tell the story of how the fashion industry got here, tell the stories of all the people who fought and worked really hard on the sustainability problems long before we came along. We want to give them a voice through both the agency and the magazine.

Are you happy to stay local, here in Nottingham?

Jean: Yes, absolutely.

Sara: It’s a great city, there’s always something happening.

Jean: The size is perfect, you don’t have to travel far from one place to another.

“Who says we can’t get clients in London or any other city, for that matter, being based here in Nottingham?”

 Are you not attracted to London?

Sara: No, we definitely want to stay, we had enough of London. We still have to travel there a few times a month to meet our clients and that just makes us appreciate Nottingham even more. Everyone assumes that you need to move to London, if you want to do well in this industry, but more people to need to understand that there’s so much in the small communities and if we all run to London, who’s going to be in the smaller cities? There’s just so much going on here, at home.

 I suppose, even some of the bigger companies are moving away from London.

Jean: And no wonder. Who says we can’t get clients in London or any other city, for that matter, being based here in Nottingham? Travel is easy these days.

Sara: Many people ask us “how come you are here? If you want to be an agency, don’t you think you need to be in London? That’s where the businesses are, that’s where all the agencies are”

Sara: What good is it to be just another agency there? The clients will find us wherever we’re based.

That is a very good point. Would you say you are creatively satisfied?

Jean: Yes.

Sara: Absolutely.

No hesitation there, good. What advice would you give to a young person starting out? Because you’ve done it.

Sara: I think we’re still doing it.

Of course, but the start is the hardest, isn’t it?

Sara: Yes, definitely.

Jean: That’s a head scratcher.

Sara: Be patient with the process and be patient with yourself. And don’t be too hard on yourself.

Jean: Oh yes, that’s very true.

Sara: It sounds cliché, but be patient when you’re doing your best and if you’re not doing your best, you’ll know. The process takes a long time, we started doing this in first year and we had no idea how it’s going to turn out. We would wake up at 6am and go borrow equipment from the university campus, carry these enormous bags with us and practice. All we could think of was “why are we doing this?” And all our friends would ask us that. Many times we really thought that we should just relax, it was our first year after all. We were doing all these features and no one was paying us, not to mention no one knew about us. But that was what got us started, I am so glad we didn’t give up. It takes time, it doesn’t just suddenly happen.

Jean: And you need to love what you’re doing, otherwise it’s just pointless.

 

“There is so much amazing talent around you and you need to give that talent a chance too.”

 

And what advice would you give to your younger selves?

Jean: Same advice, patience. And we used to beat ourselves up a lot.

Sara: And we still do, I think. I remember we used to have these meetings, me and Jean, discussing how we weren’t working hard enough.

Jean: Yes! We actually did, we’d discuss how the pictures aren’t good enough, or the print isn’t perfect. But now we realise that we can work with someone, who is good at those things.

Sara: That’s another good piece of advice, understand that you don’t need to do everything, there’s so many creatives around. You need to delegate. In first year we used to think that we need to learn everything ourselves, editing, bookbinding, styling and so on. You need to know that there is so much amazing talent around you and you need to give that talent a chance too.

 

 

And what legacy would you like to leave?

Sara: Great question. Prêtà Muse is already a legacy for me.

Jean: I think the things that you love and do should impact people in a good way. That’s what ethical fashion is all about, you don’t have to sacrifice something to look good. I think that’s the legacy we want to leave, you can look good and also be responsible. A lot of people say that ethical fashion often sacrifices aesthetics and that’s just not true.

I think it’s a common misconception.

Jean: Yes, and that’s what we’re trying to do as a brand, we want people to be aware.

Sara: Showing people that they shouldn’t compromise themselves and they shouldn’t compromise another life. That all comes down to the way we buy and consume.

From a young age we’re shown how to buy and consume, and old habits die hard. It all starts when you shop with your parents – you see something you want, you buy it. But it would be different if you were taught about the negative impact of uninformed consumption from the beginning, wouldn’t it?

Sara: We’re not taught to think about it, are we?

Jean: Not at all.

Fashion is quite loud about it now, you wouldn’t be able to get away with things like before. But it’s still not good enough.

Sara: That’s true and that’s what we want to do, we want to be part of the evolving fashion.

Okay, so if you had one wish, what would it be? You can dream big.

Sara: This is when all the cliché answers come out, “world peace” and all.

You can say world peace, but there isn’t a tiara in it for you.

Sara: One wish, that’s a hard one… I think I would wish that generations to come would be more thoughtful in the way they consume and that wouldn’t just impact one industry, but all of them. If we all think twice before we do something, it would impact everything, our outlook on politics, the way we live, the way we treat animals and the way we treat each other. I think it’s like a domino effect.

Jean: More empathy.

Sara: And less apathy.

Jean: I wish people cared more and use their own initiative, small changes can make a big difference. And people should be more knowledgeable. If you don’t know something – learn, be interested. Don’t just throw out your opinion without anything to back it up.

To find out more about Prêtà Muse visit www.pretamuse.com

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