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Puma Black Designers Competition Shortlisters: Rebecca Wong

Updated: Oct 12, 2023

In August, Sportswear giant PUMA announced a brand-new competition to support emerging Black fashion designers across the UK. To further their dedication to championing upcoming talent, PUMA is spotlighting the next generation of design talent by offering a platform to express their creativity and share their unique stories.

Meet 23-year-old Rebecca Wong, a fashion design graduate specialising in menswear, print design and fashion illustration. Originally from Manchester, Rebecca moved to London to study Fashion Design in 2019. Much of her work to date explores her Jamaican heritage and Black-British experience as she enjoys exploring themes surrounding culture and community. Having completed her graduate collection, she strives to create celebratory work that observes these themes through a cultural lens.

In this interview, we navigate the impact of childhood and culture that led Rebecca to be one of PUMA’s three shortlisted winners.

How would you describe your journey as a creative?

Collaborative and challenging but worth it. Coming from a working-class family in Manchester, I had to work hard. I was prepared to do things the long way around as I had no contacts, and there was little availability in places I could intern at home. By the time I started my degree, I had zero industry experience (excluding retail).

Thankfully, my mum and nana taught me how to express myself creatively from a young age. They'd spend time with me drawing and painting and taught me how to sew from a young age. I mentioned I wanted to be a fashion designer, so on Christmas and birthdays, I'd get fashion books, the silhouette sketchbooks, or the little sewing sets. They instilled the enthusiasm for design and the work ethic I needed to progress. It was the key to my creative journey – especially as I now have quite a family-oriented and nostalgic approach to what I create. I find inspiration in my family's journey, using old family photos as references for shape, print etc.

I completed a placement year in industry during my degree, where I started to grow in terms of style and specialism. I enjoyed menswear and print design and wanted to put a lot of energy into that. My graduate collection was centred around my Jamaican heritage, creating a depiction of Caribbean male flamboyancy by combining British and Jamaican cultural references. I learned so much about my heritage, what inspired me and what kind of research I enjoyed. The project resonated with people - this is where I started to feel like I was developing a creative process and design language that worked for me.

Why did you enter the Puma Black Designers competition?

Firstly, the fact that anyone at Puma would be looking at my work was an opportunity. I truly believe that everything you enter is a chance to be seen. You never know what possibilities that will bring. Not to mention the prospect of a mentoring session with June Ambrose if I won - as a black female designer, I felt like I had to enter. I resonate with the brand so; I was excited to work on a brief set by them.

Can you tell us more about what inspired your designs?

I wanted to honour and celebrate the achievements of black women who have made history in traditionally male-dominated fields. Inspired by the iconic success of Puma Suede in these spaces such as Hip-hop and sport, my project, ‘Filling Space’ serves as a tribute to the determination of trendsetting Black women who have made waves in these arenas. I also wanted to explore the Puma suede as the shoe of the football trend we are seeing in streetwear currently. The shoe of off-pitch football culture, in the way that it became for Basketball when the Puma Clyde was released. That’s why I developed shapes that combined the football trend with hip-hop and subtle references to other sports. It showcases the history of the shoe and where it could go.

Another driving force was a documentary called, "Ladies First" – it’s about the pioneering role of women in the early days of hip-hop. There was also the recent historic qualification of Jamaica's women's football team for the World Cup which inspired me, given my Jamaican heritage. These two sources of inspiration created a dynamic backdrop for a fashion collection that blends the worlds of sports and music. They also sparked the idea to explore the history of the shoe whilst shining a light on black female trailblazers. The silhouettes, the back-to-front denim, the tracksuits, and the athleisure in my lineup were inspired by the imagery of icons like MC Lyte, Aaliyah, TLC, DaBrat and sporting idols such as Florence Griffith Joyner and Gail Devers. They were known for fusing sport with style and black femininity which is very much evident in some of the fitted underlayers. Then the Caribbean and Jamaican styles helped me build a colour palette and create sports-style graphics. Including lace helped to symbolise femininity and the idea of the Caribbean living room. In this way, the designs translate as a celebration of the essence of athleisure, where Jamaican culture, music and sport beautifully intersect.

How will winning this competition benefit your journey as a creative?

The exposure alone from having won a competition set by a brand as renowned as Puma would be insane. It was amazing even to be shortlisted but winning would give me more confidence in my process, storytelling, and ability to create something impactful. Also, the prize would make a huge difference. Having a 1-to-1 with June Ambrose and being able to get some insight into her experiences, process and how she broke into the industry will be something I will never forget. Such a great opportunity would define my creative journey for years ahead. The cash prize and design equipment would also make a massive difference. Sometimes, I don’t realise how much a lack of equipment and financial limitations stunt ideas. With the prize, I could work on bringing to life the rest of the entry and invest in research books and materials for my next project, which would help me to develop my portfolio and propel me forward.

If you proceed to the final stage, what do you hope to learn most from a 1-to-1 with June Ambrose?

I want to learn how to thrive in such a saturated industry - I could learn so much about exposure, self-promotion, and networking from June Ambrose. Furthermore, I want to know about her journey. Learning about obstacles that she faced and things she wishes she'd known sooner would be extremely useful. Hearing her experiences and the lessons she learned earlier in her career could offer me invaluable insight into the next steps of my creative journey and how to set goals for myself whilst building my career.

For more designs you can follow Rebecca on Instagram - @beccagracewong


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