Mona Thomas is a young designer who has gained recognition due to the ways her creations do not know gender but express freedom, good vibes and vitality that every young person feels identified with her pieces.
She cherishes the good ways HUNI (her brand) has been received worldwide and is always open to share her ideas, vision, and new projects with the world; but this time, she thought it was a great opportunity to also share with all of us her story of self-belief and acceptance.
We hope you can enjoy this intimate conversation as we celebrate how we can also use fashion: to spread awareness and remind everybody that none of us is alone.
She just couldn’t help it
VT: Could you share with us how did you get into the world of design? How about the origins of HUNI?
MT: As a kid, I was obsessed with toys. I loved going to Toys R Us and look at all the products there. I didn’t know what it was back then, but that’s where I must have discovered my passion for products.
I spent a lot of time playing around with tools in my dad’s workshop, always creating things. When I was around 15, I discovered fashion magazines and became obsessed with typography and print ads. I knew that this was what I wanted to spend my life doing, but I had no idea where to begin.
I didn’t know anyone working in the industry and the fashion schools was too expensive. So I started studying graphic design at a school close to my hometown. And because my ambition was unstoppable, I applied for all kinds of jobs and internships in the creative industry with a portfolio that consisted of a bunch of cringy drawings. This way, I ended up in New York when I had just turned 18, where I got a first glimpse of the fashion industry. And I loved it, despite the toxic work culture.
I just couldn’t help it. It was exciting to me. Back home, I kept doing internships and student jobs in that field to figure out what would work for me, always looking for opportunities and trying to introduce myself to people that I found inspiring and that I wanted to work for.
But how could I convince them of my potential? Barely anyone would respond to my emails or would take the time to look at my portfolio. And why should they? For me, things only started moving in the right direction when one day I had a really good idea for a product and founded HUNI. I saw it as an opportunity. I thought: if the brands won’t hire me; then, I should start my own brand.
VT: What can you tell us about your creative process?
I love it when an idea just pops up in your head. That’s the easiest kind of work to me, and that’s how I create products for my brand HUNI.
As soon as I get a clear vision, I start working on prototypes in the workshop. But whenever I work on projects for clients, my focus is: what do they need? That’s more challenging, but I love it just as much.
VT: Your HUNI shades have been a success among artists and common people. How does that make you feel?
MT: It makes me happy seeing smiles on people’s faces when they send me videos or seeing them style my pieces in their own way; especially, when it’s someone I admire.
I love pop culture. Music, movies, TV, the internet, pop artists… Some people think most of it is trash. But I’ve always loved it. And to be able to contribute in any way is all I ever wanted. I mean, to think that my shades are handmade in a German small town and now worn all over the world.
Last year, we had our first customer from Hawaii. A few months ago, Paris Hilton had randomly ordered a bunch of things in my shop. At first, we thought it was fake, but then she sent a voice message. Things like that wouldn’t have been possible 30 years ago. What a time to be alive!
VT: According to you, what are the perks and most difficult aspects of your job?
MT: A perk is being able to work from home. Getting clients to pay my invoices is the difficult aspect of it. But I’m trying to complain less because I’m lucky that I get to do what I love.
Her story of self-belief and acceptance
VT: What are your thoughts about the imminent sexism that has been affecting the industry of design for ages? Have you ever experienced some kind of underappreciation for being a woman in a field that used to be ruled by men?
MT: Yes, I have. Every girl I know has experienced that. It is part of the reason why I barely go to Uni anymore.
I already felt that as a kid, and it made me wish I wasn’t a girl. For a while, I actually did not believe that I could ever be a designer because of the sexism I have experienced over the years and because of how male-dominated the scene is.
Just like a lot of other girls, I’m really into streetwear. I am a fan of Kanye, Virgil, Matthew Williams, Jerry Lorenzo, Rick Owens, and many more. That has been inspiring but also frustrating at the same time. The masses are always looking for male figureheads.
Streetwear really is just a boys club. Boys supporting other boys for yet another print t-shirt or sneaker collab. Girls working in the creative industry are held to a higher standard.
VT: Let us get a little more personal in this conversation. There is an aspect of your life we may call your story of self-belief and acceptance. I am pretty sure it will be inspiring for many, but I prefer you to tell it. What is this story about?
MT: About my self-doubt, I would say there’s nothing I am more confident about than my work, but I am insecure about myself. And I know where those insecurities come from.
Something that has always affected my life is autism. I was 16 when I was diagnosed, but that didn’t change anything for me. It just explained that my brain works differently and why I have always struggled with things that most people don’t struggle with.
It also explained why I’m so good at what I do and why I suck at almost everything else in life. But I never wanted that to define me. Since I was a kid, I’ve been training how to act or “perform” like everyone else when I’m in public. From the way, I speak to the way I move. I’ve recently read that there’s a word for that. They call it masking. This is why people are always surprised to hear that I’m autistic. But that’s also because most people don’t know much about it because it’s often misrepresented in the media.
The most frustrating part about it is the misconception that girls don’t get autism. The thing is: girls with autism are often better at masking than boys because girls are usually held to higher social standards, which is also why girls are less likely to be diagnosed.
Over the years, I’ve gotten really good at masking. But it causes stress and anxiety. I just wanted to fit in, keep up with others and hide my autistic traits out of fear of being rejected. But they make me who I am, and I am learning to be more open about that. I recently shared it with my community on Instagram, and I have told some of my friends about it for the first time. It sets me free.
Just do your thing
VT: I also know you are very active in aspects of female empowerment. Thus, what would you like to say to all that girls who may want to pursue a career in art or design?
MT: I would say, just do your thing. You don’t need anyone’s approval. Don’t listen to what people have to say about you and what they have to say about other girls.
VT: Current times seem a little wild. Therefore, what do you do to preserve your mental health?
MT: I do what I love. I drown myself in work and spend time with my family. That’s all. Not working is bad for my mental health.
VT: Which message would you like to give those young people who might be struggling with insecurities nowadays?
MT: You’re probably too hard on yourself. I’m not sure if that will ever pass. But whenever insecurities stand in my way, I tell myself: If I don’t do it, somebody else will. Life is too short and, we’re all, probably, way too privileged to not be doing whatever it is that we really want to do.
VT: Anything else you would like to share with Vanity Teen?
MT: If anyone reading this is interested in my work, follow me on Instagram (@mona_thomas). We’re always working on new HUNI pieces. This is just the beginning. And to Vanity Teen: Thank you.
Before we go
Creativity has no limits as the human will, perseverance, and diversity has no boundaries. Mona Thomas is living proof of it; she has been thriving in a long-time male-driven industry doing what she loves, so all of us came to admire her designs and everything she has been doing at HUNI.
After this conversation with Mona Thomas, I realized HUNI represents youth with its designs and denotes how we can overcome those issues we all have faced when feeling different or thinking our diversities could keep us apart.
Therefore, let HUNI inspires us to make our diversities lead us to power up our dreams.