In Conversation With Frandson Bahati

This month we met up with Frandson Bahati ahead of his New Zealand Fashion Week debut. Frandson is a multi-disciplinary artist, who founded the contemporary fashion label Nineteen99. Nineteen99 combines modern graphic design with traditional screen printing practices to create captivating, expressive pieces that celebrate Frandson’s culture and influences.
We visited Frandson’s studio where he walked us through his screen printing process and spoke to him about his upcoming show at New Zealand Fashion Week, the growth that he’s experienced through working in collaboration with his sisters, and how he keeps himself creatively nourished.

Kia ora Frandson tell us about yourself and what you do.
Hey, I’m Frandson. I’m a multidisciplinary artist from Auckland, New Zealand but originally from Burundi. I like to make videos, printmaking and design/graphic design. I run a small clothing brand called nineteen99 which is a celebration of my cultural identity, heritage and life experiences.
Where did you initially want your work to exist? How has that evolved as Nineteen99 has grown?
I initially wanted to create a streetwear brand that existed within the New Zealand scene. But my main purpose was to find a creative outlet for myself at a time when it was very difficult for me to create. I started by creating somewhat generic streetwear pieces which were fun to make, but I’m constantly searching for new highs creatively which has pushed my evolution from just making t-shirts and hoodies to printing on different textiles/garments. This led to giving upcycling a go which has now become a big part of what I do, I think I enjoy giving old/forgotten things new life. Over time my brand naturally became a celebration of the many cultures that made me, notably, Black & African culture.
How did you utilise the resources available to you in the early stages of Nineteen99 and what lessons did this teach you?
In the beginning, I was using an online t-shirt-printing service to get my designs printed out. About a year later I started outsourcing to local screen printers and I continued doing that until I started studying at Elam. In my second or third term at Elam, I met Steve Lovett who ran the print studio at Elam, I asked him if he could teach me how to print on clothing, which he did gladly. We printed my brand logo in white on a black hoodie. The print was simple but I saw a lot of potential in the screenprinting process and studio. I returned a year later and started producing most of my work out of the print studio, which I think was a huge turning point in my work's aesthetic and my overall approach to making clothing. Working in a space like Elam where everyone is creating ‘fine art’, while trying to make the opposite, challenged me to think about my brand and what I wanted to create a bit differently. Learning to screen print whilst learning how to run a brand has been a challenging test of patience and resilience. But having the opportunity to create work in an actual screen printing environment, and work alongside an incredible mentor like Steve was and still is a blessing. In that sense, all I had to do was put in the work.
Your sisters have modelled and photographed for Nineteen99, what are the benefits of working with your family and do you feel a sense of understanding and intuition between the three of you?
I wouldn’t be creating anything if it weren’t for both of them. They’ve gone above and beyond in their support for me and are always pushing me to become a better person and creative so I’m forever in debt to them. Working with family can be amazing, there’s a level of connection there that is hard to replicate with people who haven’t shared the experiences that we have. I think that we’re able to work so well together because we understand the thoughts and feelings that inform our work. That being said, the fact that we know each other so well can backfire and we do bump heads at times but at the end of the day, we love each other and nothing can truly come between us.
Congratulations on your upcoming show at NZFW! How have you found the process of translating Nineteen99 into an immersive in-person experience?
Thank you! This whole process has taught me what it takes to bring your vision to life, it has by no means been easy. I’ve never actually organised anything of this magnitude before, so I’ve been learning how to deal with different personalities and communicate my ideas effectively which is not something that comes naturally to me but it has been a good learning experience. It’s been a challenge to create this collection while also dealing with a lot of admin, but I am lucky to have my sisters helping me with the admin. My talented friends Matt Philips and Iman Freeman have also been helping me out with the cut and sew and styling side of things which I appreciate greatly. The process has been tough but I think that we’ve been able to create something solid and cohesive, Hopefully, everything runs smoothly and the audience are pleased.
What other forms of art do you consume?
I mostly look at design and photography, but I enjoy music and film as well. I haven’t been able to watch many films as of late but I did get the chance to watch ‘The Last Duel’ by Ridley Scott recently which was put together very well. And ‘Work of Art’ by Asake is one of my favourite Albums at the moment.
What practices do you engage in to keep yourself creatively nourished and grounded?
I like to try to switch things up to keep myself creatively nourished. Instead of dwelling on something that isn’t inspiring me anymore I usually move on to something different, which could be a film, listening to music, scrolling through TikTok, socialising or anything that will stimulate me differently. I believe that there's wisdom and inspiration to be found in everyday life. I think it’s bad to force things, I do get caught up in that sometimes, but you’ve just got to remind yourself to take a step back to get a better look at things.
A core element of Nineteen99 is celebrating and preserving black culture. Is it important to you that your customer base have the same understanding?
I don’t expect my customer base or audience to have the same understanding, it’s impossible for them to in my opinion. I think that some people can relate to what I'm doing because it’s not specifically influenced by black culture it’s more an expression of the push and pull between the multiple cultures that have influenced my work and me as a person, and I think that's what people find themselves relating to. By being born in this country I've been influenced by cultures such as African, Black, Pasifika, Māori, Kiwi, European and even pop culture. Being African/Black is a big part of who I am which is why I think that dominates the visuals surrounding my brand, but I think that these other cultures mentioned have also influenced me and I think that it’s only right to acknowledge them as well. At the end of the day, everyone is welcome to take part in what I’ve created, I've always viewed culture as something to be shared as long as there are good intentions and respect behind the support.
What are your future plans for Nineteen99?
I want to move towards something that puts more emphasis on the craftsmanship behind the brand. I want to be able to communicate the amount of time & passion that goes into the brand and how that reflects on the work. I think it’s easy for people to view my work as ‘merch’ or ‘streetwear’ but I ultimately want to create work that has meaning and lasts. I think once people understand what I’m reaching towards they’ll start perceiving the brand in a different light.

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