Talking Streetwear, Creativity and Mental Health With Designer Bana Bongolan

We live in a time when success feels imminent and abundant, but waiting for that success to happen can be a soul-crushing process. It takes more than thick skin to survive in hyper-competitive cities that are filled to the brim with the best of the best. The world of fashion is a particularly cruel arena. New brands pop up every day, and can die with very little fanfare. Even Ye was met with vicious shade for a highly forgettable collection - Yeezy Season 4 - which was presented in the form of a poorly executed fashion show; made infamous by their own models passing out from the sweltering September heat of New York.

But this feature is less about the fashion industry itself, and more about highlighting the individuals that not only have the guts to face constant criticism in this field, but also deal with issues of their own. 2016 has been a groundbreaking year in surfacing issues surrounding mental health. After all, it’s pretty exhausting to keep up with appearances in the social media age, where many of us are swept up in an endless cycle of Instagram flexing or hours of scrolling through the feeds of those we constantly feel the need to compare ourselves to.

To find out how healing and creativity intersect in the fashion world, I sat down with Bana Bongolan. At the ripe age of 23, Bongolan sat at the helm as the head of design for Diamond Supply Co.'s women’s division. She has a long rolodex of past clients including Crooks & Castles, LRG, Young & Reckless, and Married to the Mob. She recently stepped down from her position to pursue personal projects, but has a candid story to tell to the world about how her passion to create has saved her life.

Hey Bana! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
My name is Bana and I'm 25 years young. If I could sit down and actually tell you every detail of my life, you would probably think I was a war veteran. I’ve experienced a lot throughout my life, so I practice my art constantly. I can't say I'm fully healed just yet - it’s not something that I can get over in a day or two - but I'm still in the process of healing and this is part of my story.

Can you share a bit about your past?
I’ve been abused for as long as I can remember by a family member. It's one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to endure. My principals knew what was happening, and I would have cops come to my house all the time. It was hard growing up not really knowing what tomorrow would be like. At that point in my life, I didn't understand why my life was the way it was. It's not like I purposely wanted to piss them off, but their constant anger really messed with me mentally. They had a need to control everything about me, from my body image to sexual orientation. At the end of the day, I just knew that I needed a job, to get paid, so that I could save myself from my situation.

How did you manage to be creative while dealing with the abuse?
I remember long nights of locking myself in my bathroom practicing painting and creating my graphics just to pass time. Honestly, being creative really did save my life. I would hide and paint in my bathtub. This was all basically like therapy for me.

“Sometimes we go through things we did not ask for. But clichés are true and our experiences make us who we are, like what I've been through makes me, me. Follow your dreams and if you’re currently going through something, I promise you, fight the fight and it’ll all be worth it. Anything is possible."

What’s your process of healing and self-care?
At the time, I couldn’t afford therapy because I was still up and coming. I know I still am, but now I’m making a decent living where I can live in LA and afford things like that. During that time, things were being jeopardized in my life, from my job to my girlfriends. I didn’t want to lose the things that I had built for myself, and if getting help and paying attention to myself is what I need, then that’s what I’ll do. I didn’t work so hard to get out of this, only to slip right back into some bullsh*t.

What is your proudest moment?
My proudest moment was when I realized that I gave myself this life, and that I got to where I am all by myself. That feeling of freedom is everything.

What does MISSBISH mean to you?
MISSBISH is that newness on the rise. Being able to tell my story here means the world to me. MISSBISH is strong, independent, cream of the crop, talented, and humble.

Who’s your MISSBISH? Tell us who she is, and why she’s an inspiration to you.
My "MISSBISH" would have to be all my close friends. Mat (badboi), Cassie, Jada, Neil, Chelsea, Matty, Jonas, Clara, etc. are all talented in their own ways, and they're all strong individuals. My friends are my family and I'm their number one fan, not in a creepy way, but I love what they do and I'd do anything for them.

What kind of advice or wisdom can you offer for other creatives?
With any success, know that until you find happiness and comfort inside your soul, it will be a long and lonely road. I’m not trying to discourage anyone from following their dreams, but please know that if you really are that talented kid and you’re pursuing your life, you are going to see and go through some crazy and ugly sh*t. This isn’t for everyone, but I ask that you nurture your soul and your heart just as much as you do your craft.

My story is a part of me, it's the reason for how and why I design. Sometimes we go through things we did not ask for. But clichés are true and our experiences make us who we are; what I've been through makes me, me. A lot of it isn't really ideal but it made me the artist I am today. Follow your dreams and if you’re currently going through something, I promise you, fight the fight and it’ll all be worth it. Anything is possible.

Photos by: Mat Abad | MUA: Whitney M Olson | Hair: Maria Khachotamraz

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