Broke Ass Millionaires

Who are BAM ?
L: We are Lucien and Joanne, artists from the Netherlands. We have a dance school. We also work as stylists. Our styling agency is called BAM (Broke Ass Millionaires) and we rework clothes – we recycle, we turn old things into something new.
J: Our focus is mainly styling – for fashion shoots, videos, set design. We just want to be creative.

How did it all start? What was the initial idea behind Broke Ass Millionaires? And how did you come up with that particular name?
L: Actually Broke Ass Millionaires is a lifestyle, a state of mind. We had a big house, a staff, a studio a while ago… but we still went broke. We were having so much fun, living like millionaires. But sometimes money runs out and you can’t have everything your heart desires. And that’s how we came up with the idea – when we didn’t have any money, but from the outside it looked like we were living like millionaires.
J: Now with all this social media, people only see the good stuff and think, “Oh, how cool, they have everything.” But they don’t see the struggle, what’s going on behind the scenes… they only see the shine. That’s why we named it BAM.
L: I met Joanne eight years ago. She is a fashion design graduate and my background is also in fashion. My mother was a modiste and I graduated from such a school. We connected on that level as well. We dressed interestingly so people on the street would stop us and want to take pictures with us and gradually the idea of the styling agency came. That’s how BAM started as a project.

I read on your website that you like the customization and design of vintage and old traditional clothing that you find on your travels around the world. What are you looking for? What makes a garment special to you?
I actually like all kinds of clothes. What makes them special is what you do with them. Because sometimes when you look at something, you’d be like, “No! That’s not beautiful.” But if somebody else sees it in a picture, they’ll like it. It’s not “fast” fashion. We want to create an alternative against “fast” fashion, to support more local brands, to recycle. That way we get something unique and maybe help the world, even if just a little.

Unfortunately, fashion is one of the worst polluting industries today. In this sense, what do you think about sustainable fashion? It’s become somewhat of a trend in the last few years. A lot of brands and designers are talking about it now, but it’s largely just an image thing. What do you think is the best way to put it into practice and how do you personally apply it in your work?
L: What we have to ask ourselves is are we going in the right direction? Are people aware of what’s going on in the world. When that happens, then we will achieve a better life. I don’t think you can help the whole world, but you can go in the right direction.
J: I agree. Maybe big brands do use sustainability as a kind of new “trend,” but they actually have a big responsibility because a lot of people know them. And so, even if they don’t actually do anything, they’re involved in some way in making people aware of what’s going on in the world, because at least they’re talking about it. Everybody has their own way. You can find something good in everything, but I think the important thing is to be aware of what you’re doing, to be informed so you can make your choices.

Do you think that in the Netherlands customers are becoming more aware of what they are buying? Do you see a change in recent years?
L: Yes, I see the change in everything from grocery stores, where you can now buy vegan food, to big “fast” fashion chains like Primark, where “vegan” makeup is available.
J: Maybe that makeup was vegan even before, but now it’s labeled.
L: When they label it, people become more conscious of it. Even McDonald’s has a vegan menu. The Netherlands is a small country, but people are becoming aware of what’s going on.
J: Also, if you have a project based on sustainability, you can get a subsidy from the government. The government tries to encourage such projects specifically.

It is encouraging that this change is happening, if only step by step. Documentaries such as ‘The True Cost’, which trace the entire chain by which a garment reaches us, are crucial to understand that as a customer we make choices every day. People often say, ‘I don’t care about my clothes’. But that’s not true. If you don’t care, you will wear the exact same garment every day. Everyone chooses what to wear in the morning, even if they don’t think they do. Subconsciously we choose.
J: That’s true, and it’s interesting that you mention that particular film because we’ve arranged screenings of it. At the event, we also organized on-site styling with second-hand Broke Ass Millionaires-style clothes.
L: People wore clothes to swap as well. It came naturally.

You work in different fields – fashion, styling, dance choreography. Do you mix all these activities, or do you prefer to differentiate the projects you work on? How do you find a balance between them?
J: Sometimes we mix the different projects we work on, but not always.
L: Yes, and that’s why we define ourselves as artists. As a kid, when I was on stage, my mom made my clothes. She also had a dance group, and when she danced, clothing was important. And so it all went in the same direction. So when we’re dancing, we’re also doing the styling – that’s what makes us Broke Ass Millionaires.
In October, for example, there was a festival in Almere (Netherlands) called Skere Klere that we participated in. It was organized by the association of second-hand clothing stores for their 10th anniversary. There was a fashion show with dancers, so we incorporated all the elements of Broke Ass Millionaires – clothes swapping, styling, dancing, workshops where people could make their own clothes. We also had a DJ for the music part. There was a photographic exhibition of celebrities from the Netherlands dressed in Broke Ass Millionaires style. Usually celebrities wear big brands, but not this time. This way we hope to reach more people who realize that it’s not the brand or the price that makes a garment, but the combination and creativity.

photos: Daniel Fisker Bunde-Pedersen

J: There was an additional exhibition part. On one wall, called the Free your Mind Wall, we put up cards with questions you could write on because we wanted people to have fun. We asked questions like, “What was the funniest thing you did when you had no money?” And we actually got really fun and creative answers.

Will you share some of these tips?
L: For example, when I didn’t have money, I used to go to a casino where you play once and then you get free drinks and food.
J: I remember another time a few years ago when we really didn’t have any money, but we lived in our big house. We were really struggling with questions like, “How are we going to pay rent? How are we going to live? One time we didn’t even have toilet paper. And we went to the train station and got some from the toilets there (laughing).

Maybe one day you can publish a book about that with practical advice – the BAM philosophy.
L: Maybe one day… It’s really kind of a philosophy because you don’t actually need a lot of money to have fun or look good.

Among other things, you are professional dancers. What is dancing for you? What does it give you?
J: For me it’s a way to express myself, to be creative through music. Actually being creative is what makes me happy. I can be creative in many ways – fashion, dance, but my first love was dancing and hip hop. I still love it and I love teaching young people. But it’s different now than when I was younger. Back then I wanted to be the best, to achieve everything right away. Now I’m more relaxed and just want to enjoy the passion of dance. For me it was my first love, the first thing I was really creative with.
L: My passion is also hip hop, in any form. But I started not as a classical dancer, but as a basketball freestyler – combining dance moves with a basketball. That’s how I toured Europe. To this day, I use hip hop as the basis for everything – clothes, music, it’s my passion. Now, for example, I use hip hop for the Afro dance classes I teach. For me hip hop is life, a natural state.

You visited Sofia for a series of dance workshops. What is your impression of the people here?
J: We really liked the people here. We obviously look different and dress a certain way, but if you don’t want to attract attention, just don’t dress like that. Sometimes they would stop us directly on the street, talk to us about where we were from and take pictures with us. Or they would just literally stare at us, but that’s what we actually like. Because in the Netherlands people pretend they don’t see you. Here people were looking at us, we were smiling at them and they were smiling back, even giving us little gifts like a bottle of pink perfume from some guy on the street.
L: One guy was drinking wine first thing in the morning, saw us, went somewhere and brought us bottles of mineral water even though we had some with us.
J: The people who organized the dance workshops, Maria Cossa and Ina, were also very open and nice, even though we didn’t know each other at all before. I told them that even in the Netherlands, with our friends, I didn’t do as many things as with them during our stay (laughs). People here really try to make us feel at home. We’ve only been here 4-5 days and we can’t really feel everything, but these are our impressions.
L: Coming from the airport, we passed through a neighborhood that really impressed us and we super liked. It turned out that mostly Roma people live there. When we mentioned this to some people they were like “no, don’t go there under any circumstances, it’s terrible” and then I felt that there was obviously some problem between Bulgarians and Roma people. We wanted to shoot a dance video there because we liked the atmosphere of the place, it reminded me of some neighborhoods back home (Suriname) with their broken houses and everything. The Roma people face some of the issues like people of color in some aspects.
J: People were trying to protect us, “Oh, don’t go there. They’ll rob you or even worse”. Maybe, but we have no way of knowing that.

Not to mention that you are more likely to get robbed in the tourist center of Sofia, but unfortunately yes – there is a serious problem between many of the people here and the Roma people. But let’s go back to art and more particularly music, which is obviously an important part of your life. What artists have you been listening to lately?
L: I also work as a music producer, so I listen to music nonstop. I sample old stuff from the 50s and 70s. I also like our traditional music from Suriname from the 70s and 80s. Hip hop, folk and soul are my first love.
J: I like neo-soul, artists like Erykah Badu, D’Angelo. We teach young people and use contemporary music and I like that too. But sometimes at home I just want to chill and I need a more relaxed sound.

One last question. What do you prefer, watermelon or cantaloupe?
L: Watermelon for me.
J: I choose the melon then.

interview and photos: Sofia Hussein for Dinya


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