Kids of the Diaspora is a mindset that I have figured out a long time ago in my personal life. I was often looking for a word that helps me identify myself. And I knew there are a lot of people who feel the same.
Change begins from within; whether that applies to a community or to one’s inner strength. Leni Charles has explored change as the founder of Kids Of The Diaspora, a movement centered on fashion and culture, where Leni and her team have incorporated a poetic lifestyle as a trigger for identity and belongingness. With a professional background in art direction and project conceptualization Leni has created a business that merges the creative industry along with societal matters. How did this combination come together? How will its efficacy reflect on today’s society? In our interview, Leni answers to these questions and reflects on her personal and professional experiences.
Thank you for joining us in this interview Leni! You're the creative head behind the brand "Kids of the Diaspora" but you don't just create cool clothing items, the brand is also a cultural statement and movement.
B: How did you come about creating this brand? Have you always envisioned creating a platform such as "Kids of the Diaspora"?
L: I personally felt a lot of disconnection in my surroundings whereas on the other side I simultaneously experienced the potential of instant connection on a deeper level between people I barely even knew. Kids of the Diaspora is a mindset that I have figured out a long time ago in my personal life. I was often looking for a word that helps me identify myself. And I knew there are a lot of people who feel the same.
B: What is the essence of your work and what is KOTD supposed to represent?
L: The essence of our work is transporting the feeling of belonging and lifting up a positive and empowering spirit. It is a journey to your own identity that everyone has to pursue on their own. We shouldn’t compromise an ounce of our appearance in order to fit in somewhere else or to be accepted.
B: Would you say KOTD was well received by the Austrian public in its beginning years or were many confused about what your idea of the "Diaspora" was meant to represent?
L: For some „Diaspora“ is a well-known word – they instantly know what is meant even if we refer to it on a further dimension. They might have learned it in school or in university. Some might know the word Diaspora from their mother tongue and culture and therefore they have their very own connection to it. Some never heard of it and educate themselves right away.
The term covers many areas and interpretations and that’s what makes it inclusive. The deeper you dive into the discourse the more you realize that „Diaspora“ is a word that relates to almost everyone.
B: Can your work be seen as a critique of how mainstream media in Austria represents diverse ethnicities?
L: It is clear to see that there is not enough diversity in the media landscape in Austria. If so it only occurs in a very superficial way. My work is not a critique of mainstream media. It is an opportunity to raise awareness that diversity is not only a potential but also indispensable in order to communicate inclusively in today's world. In my opinion, diversity should already start with the idea and the team. That’s why we opened up a creative studio with talents and creatives who work for clients who value the importance of diversity in media just as much as we do.
B: With KOTD as your brainchild, you've in addition worked for different brands and companies such as Erste Bank and Weltmuseum. Could you tell us a bit about your responsibilities as an Art Director?
L: I’ve worked as an Art Director for Jung von Matt (advertising agency) for some years and after I decided to become self-employed I worked for several other creative agencies as a freelance Art Director. Working for bigger clients like Erste Bank, Libro, Bipa, etc. is interesting indeed because agencies split the tasks into daily business and brand campaign work. The latter is the one that everybody wants to work on. Personally, I prefer branding projects where I can help build visions and new visual aesthetics. Working in a team with copywriters, conceptors, directors and film companies who are eager to create the best outcome within the smallest amount of time is challenging but it also pushes your limits. I learned a lot about teamwork and personal growth in these agencies. I learned that communication skills are the most important asset of a well-working team – and empathy.
B: As an Art Director/Creative Director your work ranges from graphic design to marketing and also communications. Is it difficult for others to place you in a specific box?
L: You have to become quite an allrounder when you are self-employed. Otherwise, you’ll be broke very fast because you have to outsource everything that you are not able to handle on your own. Time Management comes in handy too! Sometimes clients do not know what they are looking for in the first place. Having that understanding that you can consult the client, create concepts and help them find their vision is a plus. I figured out that companies and people mainly choose me as their designer because of my creative conceptual thinking.
B: What are your hopes on where your current work should take you in the future? What are your hopes for KOTD?
L: I hope that my work, beliefs, and dreams will manifest in the vision that we keep creating for Kids of the Diaspora. It will help empower current and younger generations to go after their dreams. They will know that they already possess everything they need in themselves and they have the back of a worldwide community that believes in their power.
B: Career women often don’t want to only look their best, but also feel their best. How would you describe your favorite outfit that empowers you and makes you feel most confident?
L: I feel most confident when I wear my hair open as a twist out along with a white Kids of the Diaspora shirt, my vintage leather jacket, some mom jeans, and my converse. I can’t walk in heels so I just learned to stand tall in my sneakers.