“The images I create and print on the clothes are designed in a festive and uplifting way. That’s how I would like to see people who look like me represented.
Designer based in Auckland Francois Bahati founded his genderless streetwear brand, nineteen99, at just 19 years old (quite rightly so). Originally from Burundi, a landlocked country in East Africa, Frandson was encouraged to enroll in an art school in New Zealand by his sister Synthia.
“I was able to understand how limitless and beautiful creativity can be,” he says of his studies. “I played with different mediums like painting, design, printmaking and sculpture.” It was engraving – print Screento be precise – where he found his creative rhythm, mentored by his tutor and fellow artist Steve Lovett.
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Working with a combination of upcycled clothing, custom digital prints and more traditional art mediums, Nineteen99 is an expression and celebration of Frandson’s cultural identity. Below, he shares the label’s journey so far.
Tell us about you. What is your creative background?
My name is Frandson, I’m 22 years old. I am originally from Burundi but was born in New Zealand and have lived here all my life. I come from a family of creative people – my mother creates clothes from traditional textiles, my younger sister Sonielle is a painter and illustrator and my older sister Synthia is a photographer. Even though I’ve always been creative, I haven’t always been very passionate about it.
Growing up, [creative arts] were seen as something stupid and inconsequential, so it became my take on creativity until my late teens. my love for [the creative arts] formed during my last years of high school when I decided to approach art as a subject. I was able to understand how unlimited and beautiful creativity can be. I played with different mediums like painting, design, printmaking and sculpture.
How would you describe Nineteen99 to someone who has never seen it before?
I would say it’s a compilation of art and images that I created. [It’s my] thoughts, dreams, emotions, cultural experiences and struggles imprinted on the clothes. [It’s] lots of bold, contrasting prints paired with soft textiles. I also work with a lot of recycled clothes, I find these are the most fun to work with…they force me to be a bit more creative. You never really know what kind of clothing you may find when you try to recycle.
How did the label start? Tell us about the process and the challenges.
I applied for design school at Auckland University of Technology and was turned down. I was out of high school, had a hard job, and had no time for creative projects. I was looking for a creative outlet and a reason to quit my job. With a big push from my sister Synthia, I decided to try applying to college again and try putting my designs on clothes.
I started looking into more traditional graphic design and heavy metal t-shirt designs to understand a bit more about composition and compositional differences between apparel design and poster, logo design , etc. and an art school and had some sample t-shirts printed. I had a lot of doubts about starting a brand but luckily I have very supportive siblings and cousins who pushed me to take the first step.
I was accepted into both schools and decided to go to art school. It was a tough decision to make but looking back, it was the right one. Art school is where I was introduced to screen printing through Steve Lovett, a very gifted and patient tutor who gradually became my mentor. Steve got me started on my brand through the print studio and was very supportive of my ideas.
What were you trying to achieve from the project at the time? How has that evolved and what are you trying to communicate through the brand now?
When I started I was just trying to do things that I wanted to see in a streetwear/fashion environment. Over time I became more interested in taking old images and making them modern by manipulating them in Photoshop. I was basically giving new life to forgotten images and stories.
I like to use clothes as an expression and celebration of my cultural identity. The images I create and print on clothing are designed in a festive and uplifting way. This is how I would like to see people who look like me represented. I draw a lot of inspiration from the old school African fashion photography; mixing it with current fashion trends and fashion genres that interest me.
Where does the name come from?
I basically stole the name of the music producer nineteen85, part of the music group Dvsn. I just replaced the last two digits with my year of birth. While I was still debating whether or not to start the brand, I tried to think of some interesting names but couldn’t decide what to choose.
Everything I thought about seemed embarrassing when I said it out loud. Using my birth year made more sense because it was simple and memorable. The name now represents the moments that make up my life journey, what I put into my work.
What are you most proud of in your work on your label?
It’s hard to decide because I usually don’t like my work once I’m done. If I had to choose, it would be Imposter’s Pants. The print was originally meant to be a larger version of the design… I was convinced by my friend Hannah Ireland to simply print the design all over the pants.
Printing over an entire garment that has already been sewn is quite difficult to do, but I had a lot of help from Hannah who is very crafty. This was a pivotal moment for me as it changed my approach to screen printing.
What did you wish you had known when you started?
Patience. I am very impatient by nature. I would have great ideas and I would like them to materialize as quickly as possible. I didn’t realize that taking the time with the small steps and trusting the natural flow of the process creates the best end product. I messed up a lot of parts trying to rush everything or just trying to force something when it wasn’t done yet. I put pressure on myself and I felt the pressure of outside influences and people.
I feel like we live in a time where if you don’t consistently release something, you’ll end up being left behind or forgotten. At the moment, I’m trying to balance patience and caution in my work while still producing consistently. I haven’t found the right tempo yet but [I’m hoping] I finally do.
Who do you think is the most exciting in the local creative industry right now?
I think South Auckland’s creative scene produces some of the most original and innovative work… from artists like DNP, Keciano, Southsides, Naik2g, Peter Wing, Southaucklandtrash and many more.
I feel like these people gave birth to a whole visual feeling. I really like the collective aesthetic they’ve been able to create…I can’t wait to see where they take it in the future.
What about the local creative industry that needs to change?
It would be cool if there was more appreciation and respect from people for the amount of work that goes into creating something, especially something original. People really only see the end product, not the countless hours spent behind the scenes bringing everything it is to life.
I guess Instagram and the internet create the illusion that being creative is easy and just fun. In reality, there is a lot of research, trial and error, time and thought that goes into creating the best possible work. People end up undervaluing the work because it looks so easy on the outside, which trivializes the whole process.
Dream local collaborators?
I wanted to collaborate with two of my favorite local creatives, DNP (deadnakedparty) and Keciano for a while now. I think our styles would complement each other. They have a very good understanding of my approach to my work and I really appreciate and respect their work. We’ve come close to collaborating a few times, but we live busy lives…I think it’s all about finding the right time.
How can we buy one of your parts?
Browse the Nineteen99 Collection here.