The Catch Up – Creative Director Of MA.Strum, Mohsin Ali

This week we caught up with Mohsin Ali, Creative director of MA.Strum & Boneville ahead of his first SS21 collection with the brand. We talk about MA.Strum, all things fashion, inspiration, downtime and much more.

So tell us a little bit about yourself, who are you and where are you from?

M: “I’m Mohsin Ali, I’m originally from Huddersfield and I moved down to London in 1996 to do my degree and MA here and I’ve got 20 years’ experience in menswear, from the US to Italy. What’s interesting about working in different countries is how it gave me a different experience. New York gave me an understanding of minimal design, Italy gave me an understanding of the development of fabrication and construction, London was very much about building my own design aesthetic and being engrossed in your own world.

How did you get involved in menswear, and in particular MA.Strum?

M: “The story from a menswear perspective starts when I began buying at 16 years old, I worked with an unbelievable store in Leeds called The Strand. My first ever mentor was a guy called David Dolby, the amount I learned from him was incredible as he was fearless as a buyer and held a wealth of knowledge. As I was studying at the time I took what I learned from the store and applied in the classroom. Before MA.Strum I worked with a lot of huge brands and I was just coming to the end of a 10-year span with my own label. Things were changing and I didn’t feel as fulfilled doing the seasons anymore so I took a little bit of time out and then the opportunity arose when I got a phone call from MA.Strum saying they were after someone and you’ve been recommended. An hour and a half phone call then led to an interview with the commercial director and owner Johnny Sharpe, and it went from there.

What does your average workday look like?

Mo: “As a company we’re based on the outskirts of London near Essex and apart from the journey every day varies. The workday depends on where we’re at in the season, for instance it could be really manic and we could be doing 15 fittings or it could just be a day simply of researching. Right now it’s nice because I’d say we’re in a mellow patch, we’ve started AW21 and just put our research boards together so there’s time to draw pretty pictures and build a narrative of what we want to do for the season. It’s not like its groundhog day, it’s really exciting. I find I work better when there’s a constant cycle of work coming through too.

With Covid-19 going on what kind of challenges have you faced?

M: “It came at a time when we were in the midst of SS21 so sample development was getting done but then all of sudden everyone was working from home. It was a challenge in itself because It was a time where you have to constantly be hands-on with the product. We figured out a strategy of working where samples would arrive, samples would get sent to me, I’d take them to a fitting in someone’s back garden and pin with masks on, and then that would be sent back to the production manager. So there was a line of process and of course it would have been easier in a design office. but it worked. Mentally for any person this situation has been hard, when you’re in a single room in your flat everything is more difficult as you don’t have that space to say ‘let me get some samples from the archive’ because you can’t. Anyone who says’s ‘it’s been easy and I’ve loved working from home’ I commend them because for me it was so nice to be back at work in the office. All things considered, we worked amazingly as a team and that’s why we were ready, I applaud Steve, Johnny, Joe & John because we really pulled things together.

Besides sportswear, military design, and performance clothing where else do you personally draw inspiration from?

M: “Its an interesting question but also in a none-disrespectful way, a cliched one you get asked. You expect someone to say ‘I find vintage garments, I find this, I find that’ but I’ve been around creatively since I was around 12 or 13 years old. My influence is from the ninja suit I made on my mum’s machine when I was 13 years old all the way to embellishing jackets to wear The Hacienda in Manchester when I was 18 years old, everything has been an influence. I’m very fortunate my memory is more photographic than it is literal, I remember a lot of things, things from university, collections from America, certain fabrics from my own collection, so it all comes from there. The real inspiration comes from me personally and that’s what I find so exciting. It doesn’t all have to be related to fashion either, it could say a really beautiful chair with an interesting structure, it could be a piece of food and its color composition, it’s like being a sponge where you’re constantly taking things in. Things are easier now with iPhones, as soon as you see something you click a picture, 15 years ago it was like dodgey 1-pixel digital cameras.

What direction would you like to see the brand take in the next few years?

M: “I think Spring-Summer 21′ is going to give you a slight idea of where I’d personally like to take MA.Strum. We look at the market and we see where menswear is going and how influential menswear has got we have to evaluate. Over five years ago, maybe longer, you wouldn’t see someone wearing a technical hiking jacket as a fashion product, it was always just seen as a jacket for hiking. For me I want to keep the real aesthetic of things, we have to have to keep the technical aspect too, it has to become slightly more fashion thinking but we have to keep the grassroots of what the brand is about. I’m a true believer in the ‘three Fs’ – Form, Function & Fabric. The form is about silhouette, shape, cut & detail. Function, why is there? does it have a reason to be there? and then of course the Fabric. All three are so important to MA.Strum, they will be the three keywords you will see every season. Also I want to have fun with it, not everything has to be serious. I want to make more of a statement. People may look at some of the product and say ‘It’s brave and I like it. I might not wear it, but I like it!’ – that in itself is acknowledgment. I want to take the brand to be a go-to brand, not a second-thought brand and that’s the most important part of it.

Are there any brands you’re personally a big fan of right now? 

M: “There’s a couple of really really beautiful brands for me that one I’d wear and two I really appreciate what they do. Sacai from Japan, Its an all-time favourite and what she does is amazing. A new brand I’ve discovered about 6 months ago was a Taiwanese brand called Gopi, its beautifully made product. I always go back to the old favourites as well, Izzy Miyaki, Yamamoto, Dries Van Noten who will take military influences, take sports influences but then fuse it to become them and I think that’s what we’re trying to do with MA.Strum.

Outside of work what do you do in your downtime? 

There used to be no downtime for a while. When you’re younger you become so absolved by this industry and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, it’s probably right for a lot of people. Downtime for me has nothing to do with fashion it’s eating great food, finding the best restaurants, and eating beautiful flavours and beautifully designed food. From a mental health perspective I run a lot and I’ve been doing Muay Thai for the last 20 years so that is still a massive part of my life. There’s nothing better than smashing 5 rounds of pads or sparring for 10 rounds, it releases a different level of energy you’re not going to get from sitting and drawing. They help with process and mindset because if you think about something for too long and you’re engrossed in it too long you’re not very productive, because you start to overthink too much. Having a release away from that is very very important and I would highly recommend anything like to anyone that feels the need to test themselves. In life I make everything a challenge. With MA.Strum I have to make it the best, it’s not about me, it’s about the brand and I have to make it the best I can because it gives me fulfillment. I used to train to fight and to fight I needed to be the best I possibly could. When I ran I need to run faster. So there’s a constant narcissistic competition you have with yourself you know you’re never going to win because you’re always trying to achieve better. Having things that aren’t related to fashion that are still challenging brings a new focus you bring back to your design process and without them, I think I’d go mad.