In the next of our Community Member Spotlight series, we steal an hour with Roger Bitihinda – 26-year-old creator, entrepreneur and former med student with an ethical and ambitious outlook. Dividing his time between founding a sustainable clothing brand, various freelance marketing clients and helping steer the launch of an upcoming docu-series, Roger has plenty of pearls of wisdom to impart when it comes to juggling multiple projects and running a tight ship.
Fed: Before we chat about the projects you’re working on right now, tell us a bit more about the transition from medical student to full-time creative…
Roger: Well I’m still in the process of transitioning to being a full-time creative really but basically I made it all the way to the fourth year out of my six-year medical degree, but I had realised slowly over the course of around 2-3 years that it wasn’t the right career path for me. I enjoyed learning about science but I started having doubts about it as a job. I couldn’t see myself doing it for the rest of my life and I hadn’t yet realised how important creativity was for me… and on top of that I had always been entrepreneurial and wanted to start a business of some kind.
So, I took a year off to think about things and also kick-start my ventures but ended up not going back to my studies which was not approved of by my parents. There was some friction there and I had to leave the house and lived with my sister for six months in Hackney while I figured out a plan and try to carve out a career for myself in the creative industry. After tonnes of hard work and perseverance I managed to make things work.
Fed: What are you working on at the moment?
Roger: Currently I’m working on a clothing brand called NEW VOID ORDER, which I started a couple of years ago. I also do freelance social media marketing for two projects, one of which is a really cool video series called Norwich Vibes which is all about showcasing the creative scene in the city.
NEW VOID ORDER is an ethical and sustainable streetwear brand born and bred in Camden, London where I’m from. The majority of our clothing is made from organic fairtrade cotton to help reduce the negative environmental impact of the clothing and pay the workers producing the raw garments a fair living wage. That’s something I’m really passionate about.
Fed: What’s the story behind the name – NEW VOID ORDER?
Roger: I was actually going to call the brand something completely different and a bit tounge-in-cheek but then I sat down with a friend of mine who works in the fashion industry and he was giving me feedback and wasn’t sure he would wear something with that particular name on it. So, I went back to the drawing board with just the letters N, V and O. That led to a bit more thought about what I wanted the brand to be about and what values and inspiration I wanted to draw from.
I thought about the transformation that I was going through in making a huge career shift, with all the uncertainty and fear of the unknown, which was easily the most difficult decision I have ever had to make. NEW VOID ORDER just came to mind – and there’s also the slight play on words with New World Order which I like.
Fed: Where do you get your inspiration from for the designs?
Roger: The designs are inspired by psychological and philosophical concepts, in particular Carl Jung’s concept of ‘The Shadow’ and also alchemy and mysticism. These ideas are all about transformation, rebirth and exploring the unknown. I’m really interested with what this means for us as human beings, and am fascinated by this idea of shining a light onto the dark sides of ourselves in order to create something more positive through acceptance and improvement. Understanding ourselves on a deeper level.
At the moment our designs are graphic and print-focused but we have more ambitious designs in the works which is really exciting, including a cut & sew houndstooth coat and an embroidered tarot card inspired hoodie design.
Fed: Are you a conscious consumer yourself and do you have any favourite ethical brands?
Roger: I try my best to be a conscious consumer but I’m definitely still figuring it all out. I’m not afraid to receive hand-me-downs from friends and family, I try to shop second-hand or vintage as much as possible and keep the garments I do buy for as long as possible – and of course recycle them after to prolong the lifecycle. I think it’s one of those things where nobody can be 100% perfect with shopping and living ethically and sustainably, but it’s about striving to make better choices about how we consume that is most important.
In terms of ethical brands and sustainable brands – one of my friends makes workwear under her self-named label Sophie Hawkins. Her stuff is super high quality and very artisanal. She’s currently working on some organic cotton boiler suits made in Kojima, the ‘denim Mecca’ of Japan.
Fed: Do you think sustainability and ethical credentials are becoming more important for consumers today?
Roger: Absolutely! The explosion of sustainable and ethical business and practices happening right now is definitely here to stay. More and more people and companies are realising the harmful effects of the fashion industry in particular. I think the stat is that the industry contributes to 10% of all global annual carbon emissions, which is mad! The demand from consumers is there because of how aware we are becoming so I think it’s inevitable that the industry will have to catch up and change its practices radically to something that doesn’t harm people and the planet.
Fed: Tell us more about Norwich Vibes…
Roger: Norwich Vibes is a docu-series created by my friend Jodie Randell (who I know from my uni days at University of East Anglia) which I do the marketing for. It’s a really high quality video interview series that showcases Norwich’s bustling creative scene. We’ll be releasing the four episodes that have been filmed and edited by Jack Brophy and Flynn Marwood on our social media platforms in the next few weeks, with photography by Benjamin Tobias.
Jodie is a great interviewer – the first episode is a lively musical feature of a local band, and the second and third episodes are a close look at a group of drag queens that host their own drag night called ‘House of Daze’. It’s a great insight into the LGBTQ community and very reminiscent of ball culture that came out of Harlem, New York many years ago. Definitely worth a watch!
The aim of the project is really to showcase Norwich’s creativity to the rest of the UK and to inspire and nurture other creatives in the city to start their own projects. Norwich is a very supportive ecosystem for arts and culture so we hope to get that across and put a very fine city on the map as a place to live, work and visit.
Fed: You’ve got a lot on your plate – what is your advice to others juggling multiple projects?
Roger: There are a few things I would say: I think the most important thing is to try to only do projects that really interest you and that you enjoy working on because otherwise it’s hard to motivate yourself. Also, having some sort of schedule is really beneficial and will help you plan out various projects you might be working on. It doesn’t have to be meticulous hour-by-hour account but having a bit of a roadmap for time management is really useful. The last thing is just to have patience – in the grand scheme of things there’s more than enough time to get everything you want to done and it’s important to realise it often takes time to build something of value.
Fed: What would you say to any young person thinking about starting their own business?
Roger: Go for it! It’s really tough and there’s a lot of stuff to consider but if it succeeds you’ll spend your days doing something you love for a living and if it fails then you would be able to say you went for it and learn a lot of invaluable skills in the process. Win-win.
Fed: What’s the best thing about being a Creative Industries Federation Community member?
Roger: I think the supportive community and series of talks and events the Federation does are probably the best things about being a member. I’ve attended a couple of Zoom events so far this year and they’ve been a really good insight into the work that the Federation does and full of useful information for my own business and projects.
One thing that has been challenging for me is juggling projects and adjusting to working from home and the ‘Balance’ talk series has been really good both for realising I’m not the only creative struggling with that, and for useful tips on how to manage workload and stress.
Click here to watch the premiere episode of Norwich Vibes, or head to newvoidorder.com to shop the conscious apparel collection. To find out more about our Community membership, get in touch with our Memberships team today.