By Charlize Alcaraz
It all started with a simple idea to create a black tote bag with extra pockets. As a third-year fashion student, Serena Li thought that she could experiment with the classic canvas tote bag to suit her personal style.
“A lot of people are wearing white tote bags, but I was like, ‘What if I make it black and then add some pockets to it?’” said Li. “But then after I made the bag, I [wanted] to sell it.”
Tote bags are not the only items being sold by Not Applicable (N/A)—the brand Li started with her friends in the fashion program. As an artist collective, they sell posters, stickers, clothes and other garments.
Li is N/A’s fashion designer, photographer, founder and creative director. The brand name comes from her team’s varied skills in multiple art mediums; therefore, one specialization or product type is “not applicable.”
N/A released its first collection in November 2020, consisting of one tote bag design with a couple of stickers and prints.
“It was a really small collection just because it was the beginning of N/A,” said Li. “We were also experimenting with our image and the aesthetic we were going for.”
Their second collection, released this August, was a lot bigger with two different tote bags, two vests and one bucket hat, all in different colourways.
Having to separate being a fashion student and a working designer has its own obstacles according to Li. With different margins for creativity, Li said both occupations challenge her as an artist.
“When you’re doing a school project, you want to go all out on your creativity and create a garment that’s super beautiful but realistically, not wearable,” said Li. “With N/A, we have to design something that is wearable and sellable.”
“It’s not really toning down your creativity, [you] just have to understand who you’re trying to sell the products to.”