Interview with New York Fashion Designer MI Leggett
MI is a New York fashion designer who is making a big difference. Their clothing are giving a voice to those who need it most and their sustainability practices are a cut above the industry norm. Having been featured in publications such as Vogue, New York Times and I-D while having shown at Berlin and New York Fashion Week plus featured in Sex and the City and Queer as Folk, it is clear to see that MI and their New York fashion brand, Official Rebrand is something people are noticing. And rightly so.
You are the type of person that does not stand by when things are not ok. You have been involved in food justice, and gender equality and you use social media and your clothing to give your values a voice. Have you always had a strong conviction to speak up?
Finding my voice has been a process, and it’s still a work in progress. Although I haven’t always had the confidence to speak up, I have always had a strong drive to educate myself on inequality and injustice and the ways people fight for what’s right. So many systems are built on inequality and dwelling on this can be overwhelming, and at the same time motivating, to envision ways to do things better. One of my favorite pieces I make are upcycled tote bags and sweatshirts that say “we don’t fit the system and the system does not fit the world’ and this can be read in a multitude of ways. I think about it with respect to climate change and gender, but I also have had people say they wear the slogan and think about it from a disability rights perspective and I love this reading of it too. Clothing can be a powerful way of speaking without talking, of getting your message out there by just going into the world wearing it.
Official Rebrand was the first brand sold in the AJ boutique. People love your Censored Sight Blazer and we loved featuring New York fashion. What is the story behind the conception and early days of OR?
I’m glad it’s been a hit because I love working with the AJ boutique! Official Rebrand was born from the intersection of my interests in climate justice, gender-freedom, and of course, fashion. I worked in sustainable agriculture as a teen and that instilled in me a deep concern for the environment and food justice. When I started to work in art and fashion, I realized how much clothing waste there was and how empowered I felt by transforming unwanted garments into unique “artwear” through painting, drawing, and other alterations. As a non-binary person, I had trouble figuring out exactly what I felt most comfortable wearing, and when I started “rebranding” I finally felt like my clothes reflected who I was. I started transforming clothes for myself and my friends but when strangers started to reach out to me through Instagram for custom pieces, I realized I was on to something and Official Rebrand became a brand, rather than just a personal project.
The majority of your garments are deadstock rather than manufacturing your own from scratch. Can you please run through how this process works and why you choose to do it this way.
One thing that makes this process difficult and why most designers choose instead to design from scratch, is that the design process varies a lot depending on what you are upcycling. It’s a lot of problem solving, and non-traditional pattern making, and printing in ways that aren’t necessarily standard. Right now, I’m working on shirts featuring a 1925 photo (public domain) by non-binary artist Claude Cahun. The print is going over another brand’s design that was misprinted with the wrong colors. A lot of my work involves cutting out or covering up unwanted design elements, or adding hand-painted imagery to make a piece more exciting and unique, like with the Censored Sight Blazers, which were abandoned by a brand that closed and left behind in the factory.
There is so much material out there that gets overproduced and ends up wasting away in storage or going to a landfill. Knowing this, and being in a position to do something about it with the way I choose to design, I can’t imagine doing it any other way.
Each of your garments have a strong message and you are not shy to speak your truth. Have you come across resistance along your way?
I definitely get comments from queer/transphobic trolls on Instagram and TikTok but I don't care because it's actually great for engagement. When my clothes are on TV shows like the reboots for Sex and the City and Queer as Folk, there is always a boost in interest in the brand. This buzz can also bring in some haters, but that just comes with the territory of increased visibility.
How does living in New York play a part in your designs?
After 5 years I feel settled in New York. When I first graduated I moved constantly and it was hard to start building a business and maintain an art practice in such a state of constant transition. Now that I’m established in my studio and creative community, I feel much more free to create the clothes and collaborative projects I wish too.
There have been a lot of changes in gender equality and a lot of talk on the subject in the last few years. Are we on the right track or do we have a long way to go?
There have been amazing steps forward in visibility for queer and trans communities. However, without protection this visibility can be a trap. I am most familiar with what is going on in the US and it's scary. There have been an alarming number of laws proposed and passed that attack genderqueer people, particularly trans youth. I’m so grateful that trans icons like Elliot Page and Laverne Cox are celebrated, but the reality is most trans people are extremely vulnerable and we need legal protections to ensure our rights to healthcare, and even just to exist. The rise of acceptance and visibility of queer and gender nonconforming life has led to a huge backlash against this newfound gender freedom, and we have to be strong in the face of this bigoted response.
Abortion protections have also been rolled back which is a terrifying prospect for women and other pregrant people (trans and non-binary people get pregnant too) all across the country, so I’d say in the US at least, we have a long fight ahead of us.
What does an average day in the life of MI look like?
I drag myself out of bed and make a cup of instant coffee. I’ve loved instant coffee since highschool since I’m usually in a rush and never awake enough to brew coffee in a more elegant or elaborate way.
I start with emails and calls and then my assistant comes and helps with photographing garments and managing orders and my product listings on my online store.
On a typical day, I’ll create images and videos for my socials and website and work on larger production plans and spreadsheets but am always most excited to get that stuff out of the way so I can paint and design new samples in my studio.
On the weekends, it's a bit of work and a bit of pleasure. I go out dancing, and get a lot of inspiration and time to mull over my ideas on the dance floor, while also moving my body and connecting with friends.
Do you have a favourite book that has been a game-changer in your life?
Testo Junkie by Paul Preciado. I read it right when I first started taking testosterone (hormone replacement therapy) and it was grounding to begin my medical transition while reading a text on queer theory, pharmacological history, and the author’s personal experiences with taking testosterone.
What is something about you that most people don't know?
I went to the junior olympics twice for sailing.
Connect with MI through their Instagram @official_rebrand Shop the Censored Sight Blazer here.