On the journey of learning how to better open up to and live more passionate life I’ve been very fortunate to come across people who make their own rules and inspire me as a reflection of what’s possible in each of us. During that journey it becomes more and more clear that the reasons that constitute how we are encoding the feelings of success in ourselves are not found externally. To answer how success feels to ourselves is to let wings be formed that will carry us on the back of a Fake UniKorn through the sky of bliss .
About one month ago I have, for the first time met with Monique Trienen, a dutch tailoress and her right hand Mr Yusuf. We bumped into each other on a platform unlikely to see in West Africa, Tinder. It’s true she was the only person within 150 kms radius but to the resonating “plans are made to be changed” status and a Senegal trip mention I swiped right.
Almost three months ago Monique packed away her tailoring shop, gave away stock to a friend and mobilised ’74 Mercedes 508 “Lady Bussurker” through Belgium, France, Spain, Morocco, No-Man’s Land (Western Sahara), Mauritania and Senegal to, finally, land here at Bantaba, The Gambia where this interview took place.
A tailor since forever, started by hijacking the sewing machine in her mother’s absence. Left parents house at fifteen, started squatting, partying and exploring life. Over next six years she did not rush decisions in what direction her life should be flowing. In the meantime she worked for Greenpeace, a mirror supply factory, garden centre, supermarkets and Yves Roche at a boxing machine (“that was the shit”). One constant during that time was tailoring. At the age of twenty-one, having not wasted all the earned money on throwing squat parties, a thought “why not to go to school, and learn what I’ve been doing all this time, properly” appeared in her headbrain.
The reasoning at the time was: “I give it a go and try it for a year. If it’s not working out I can always quit.”
After four years she did a second course – tailoring for men.
“Apparently I made a good choice, but I didn’t set any goals for myself. I just wanted to try it and I really liked it and I went from there. That’s a thing about me, if I start something I want to do it at my highest level, or not at all”, she says.
“I would treat school as work days. I was finishing all of my projects way ahead of time. When the projects were due I’d still come to school to help others. I do work well to deadlines.”
She would always stay after hours in school to make use of the machines.That became her growing stock which quickly attracted people to her work.
MA – MArcin
MO – MOmo
MA: In the true spirit of Ditch It All, you’ve ditched your business and came over to Gambia. How are you feeling right now?
MO: Amazing. “Stuiterballetje!” (a bouncing ball, apparently). I feel full or energy. I’m like a kid in a candy store, only I’m not in the candy store but in The Gambia. Everyday I’m surprised by all the happy nice stuff that’s happening. Almost everyday there’s a roof top moment.
MA: What is a roof top moment?
MO: When you just have to sit at the rooftop and look at everything and realise it is all really happening and enjoy the fullest of it. I’ve been having roof top moments all my life. Ever since I’ve been able to climb out of the windows.
MA: What did the original plan for your african journey look like?
MO: There wasn’t really a plan. I was supposed to drive to Yene (Senegal) and help my friends who were building a house. I took with me twelve sewing machines. I was going to ease into the community and slowly offer some help where needed. Maybe start to set up a sewing school project, or get an apprentice. But I don’t necessarily stick to plans. It’s good to have a plan as a guideline, but some people are too fixated on plans and the goals they want to reach. They forget about the pathway of reaching that goal.
I just knew I wanted to help. If I helped one person or fifty wasn’t really an issue. I took the sewing machines and I drove to Africa. The plan was that there was no plan. You shouldn’t force yourself on people. Whoever wants your help will pop out anyway.
When I came to Africa I thought I’m gonna give it a try and if it doesn’t work out I just come back. I made arrangements for when I come back. I have few places where I can live, so the risk has been narrowed down.
When you have a plan then there’s already a goal, and I don’t really have that. If you don’t reach your goals it sounds like failure and I don’t like that approach to things, because you never know what’s gonna happen. You prepare for the worst and you hope for the best.
MA: Is that your approach?
MO: No, because sometimes I prepare for the best. It’s most important to prepare in your head. If I had a perfect plan and my mind wouldn’t be set up for this it’s bound for failure. If you had a positive head brain you could make most of the things success.
MA: What do you name as success?
MO: My only measure is “am I happy or not and am I proud of what I did”. The best part is when I can drag my loved ones into my happiness. That, for example, happens when I get extended guest lists on festivals where I work selling my clothes or organise fashion shows, where I can invite my friends to the same party.
I define success as being healthy and happy in the current situation with even better prospects.
MA: You set up the prospects or you work towards prospects?
MA: You call yourself ‘very lucky’. I can’t help, but think that’s the attitude, more than an external factor. How do you approach difficulties?
MO: I always say – it’s not what happens to you but how you deal with it.
I know people who went through ginormous shit and came out really good. And I know people who weren’t in half as bad a situation and took it very bad. But for me, I can’t have an opinion about those people. I’m not in their shoes. For me my life was quite easy, I think.
I have a strong opinion about people that complain and do nothing about it. If you have a problem and you are dealing with it and you want to vent then go for it. If you bitch about something you have to do something about it. You can’t bitch and not do something about it. That’s one of my rules. That makes it really easy and clear. For me anyway.
MA: What are your passions beyond tailoring?
MO: I always say, work hard, play harder. I like cooking. I don’t like fishbones. (says with a fishbone stuck in her throat) Taxidermia is nice, but it’s not a passion. (MA: Moos previously made a bunny with white dove wings and duck feet and has been collecting dead animals since before her arrival. Currently working on a bushrat fruitbowl). I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty and do things that other people either find gross or scary.
MA: Now let’s translate that to tailoring.
MO: In the end it’s just another material to work with. I always used to find my materials everywhere and not specifically in a fabric store. For some projects in school I used to go to builder merchant’s stores. I would always look for the boundaries of what’s possible, piss of my teachers, but still keep them smiling.
I look for boundaries with materials and styles. This may explain why I’ve had some of the freakiest and weirdest customers.
MA: You mentioned that you wouldn’t sell a piece of clothing that you didn’t think fit somebody’s style even though the person would disagree.
MO: Not necessarily style, but because of wrong fit I’ve said no to people. If something doesn’t fit you that’s just that.
MA: What do you focus on when preparing a piece of garment?
MO: I really enjoy when I’m full on in my workmode to go into details (a.k.a. mierenneuken). If something must have a ninety degrees angle I don’t rest until the angle is ninety degrees. That’s for really high class items. That’s what separates normal clothing from made-to-measure-wear.
You can’t put your finger on it, but you see something is really good. No matter how hard the child labour kids try, it’s never perfect.
“Change is good, if you stay too long in the same situation you forget how to appreciate it and it becomes normal.”
MA: Have you made a conscious choice of a career?
MO: When I finished school I said I’m not gonna choose something because I have to. I was choosing what not to do, rather than jumping into something without a good reason.
It’s like with birthdays. If it’s my friend’s birthday and I don’t have a gift I say fuck it. I’m not gonna buy something just to give something to them. If I come across it I buy it then, no matter what day it is. People let themselves be guided by rules which I don’t understand.
MA: Have you had mentors?
MO: No. I mostly had examples around me of how it shouldn’t be done and I used this to figure out how things should be for me. My headbrain is so positive. It really works for me. But also, “I claim my farts”, as I say in dutch. If I fuck up I own it. I concentrate on what I can do to solve the situation. It’s ok to make mistakes, because we learn from our mistakes. I don’t mind making a fool out of myself or embarrassing myself.
MA: Where do you look for inspiration?
MO: In materials. That’s easy. I don’t have to think when I make something. I just visualise it when I feel and see the material. Sometimes I do have a sewer’s block. If it’s a short block I just go to cook or clean. That’s what I use to distanciate myself from my sewing machine. Because I’m my own boss I can make my own working hours. I dreamt my best designs. I would wake up and draw them on my walls and when I’d get up in the morning I’d try to make them. I work really well with deadlines. If I work for a deadline for a customer then I don’t really have blocks. It comes naturally.
MA: You’ve not only been sewing clothing. What other projects have you been working on?
MO: I did a really nice silk curtain project for a house in a dutch ‘mountain’, 20 by 5 metres. And they asked me to make the UV stage of the Defqon1 Festival. It was an eight metre wide blow up jelly fish with twelve metre tentacles.
MA: We live in the world where we are literally flooded with excess manufactured products. We’ve seen it in Gambia. Containers of used clothes are sent here from Europe and US. What’s your outlook at this situation?
MO: Last year I set up my second brand. It didn’t feel good anymore to make all this new stuff for Fake UniKorn. In May I was in Thailand and I used that time to think of ways of how to upcycle clothes. When I came back I immediately set up Urban Cowboy. I have access to really good Scandinavian vintage, which for some reason is an excellent quality vintage. From ’60 to ‘90s clothes. I started upcycling that. Last year June I swapped the style of my shop from exclusively Fake UniKorn to a mix with Urban Cowboy. It became a combination of two labels. Because it’s all unique items to start with, it gives me freedom to freestyle on single items. It made me very happy to freak on single items, and not only having to work on a collection where each garment has to come in different sizes.
MA: A lot of craftsmanship in so called developed countries become more exclusive and expensive. How do you see the future of tailoring?
I think good tailors are becoming a dying species. Like with most crafts. In Europe there is Ikea and that’s why there are less and less carpenters. What annoys me the most is that people start loosing the ability to see the difference between unique items made with lot of skill and some cheap thing that does the job. Whether it’s a cupboard or a table or clothes, or whatever. It’s like going to McDonald’s vs Michelin star restaurant. People don’t see the difference anymore between craftsmanship and mass production. And when they do see it, they appreciate it less..
Now you’ve been for one month in Gambia. What’s on your plate?
I’m Africanising because I’m becoming much slower at my work… Now I’m full time teaching during the daytime and giving this a go. We’ll see how this works out for me and my students! In the evenings I work on my own African (upcycled) Collection, which I hope will pay for some of the costs I have while living here. Bismillah!
GOOD LUCK MONIQUE!
You can join up on tracking her expedition in Gambia on a FB page here.