can you hear me now?
A phrase we’ve probably all been shouting for the past year; now the opening line for a Zoom meeting, representing our turbulent relationship with technology (forever at the mercy of technical glitches and bad wifi). However, in this context, this phrase represents a more intimate relationship between humans and technology - that of the hearing impared and hearing aids, told through Lea Vrebac’s powerful collection.
‘Can you hear me now?’
Witnessing a mix-match of cultures, fabric manipulation and bold slogans; our initial reaction to Lea’s collection was pure intrigue. Simply wowed at the craftsmanship and enticed by the messages sent - we believed that ‘Can you hear me now’ has a story to be told...
We managed to catch Lea between her projects for Dusseldorf University, chatting from her parents house in Frankfurt am Main. Over the course of our conversation, it was clear to see; here is a designer genuinely striving for a better future. With a sense of activism in everything Lea does, we talked over her background, collections and plans for the future;
“Myself & my parents moved to Germany because of the war in Croatia. They are refugees from the war and they started from nothing. That's why my family's all over the world; I have friends and cousins in Germany, Australia and Belgium -
"Everyone is everywhere because they are seeking a home.“
From this, we then learned about Lea's previous collection War Flower, inspired by and aiming to address the dismay of Croatian passports not belonging to the European Union. From the bullet holed buildings in Sarajevo to recycling military tanks covers for the War Flower collection - Lea goes on to emphasise that "People may move on but it's still there. People have new hope but the past is still inside of them."
This importance of identity, life journey and representation is a driving force behind many of this young designer’s concepts when it comes to creating collections. Lea uses personal story as a vessel to blossom and tell a sentimental journey;
“My personal story of hearing aids is because I wore them since I was five or six years old. I know a lot of friends who have hearing loss, but at a higher age, and they were ashamed. They asked me if I wear them and I said; show them - don't be ashamed!
"I don't know I just lived with it and I thought; it's like glasses right?"
The stigma of wearing hearing aids and the comparison of it to hard of sight - this was such an interesting point raised, and really gave us something to think about. These disabilities are incredibly similar (in essence the same), yet why is one ‘stylised’ and the other hidden?
Lea uses ‘Can you hear me now?’ to tell the evolution of the hearing aid and highlight the disregard of the hearing imparied since the 16th century, stating ‘They were essentially excluded from society’. Using her own audiogram and the silhouette of the hearing aid in her designs - she addresses and celebrates the everyday life of being hearing imparied with slogans such as:
‘Life sounds brilliant’
‘Can you hear me now?’
‘Yes, I can hear you now!’
Lea went on to explain how advances in technology had really helped alter and challenge the stigma around hearing aids and that she gained major sponsorship for her Paris Fashion Week showcase, from hearing aid pioneers SIGNIA;
“Through the years we are very lucky because the technology of the hearing aids has really developed. I had the chance to work with a really big company called Signia who also gave me really good hearing aids. It's really great. It's like airpods; I can hear with them, I can make a phone call with them and they charge like an airpod box. And it's so modern that you want to show it; really stylish with new, new colours and everything.”
With this, it's clear to see Lea’s flair of storytelling within her collection; “I want to combine the history from the first one to the last one; So the first one is really big and you can see, and you don't really want to show it. But in the end, it's really sleek, elegant and wearable.”
“I just wanted to show that hearing aids can also be fashionable and now they have a lot of options available. Hearing aids still aren't so popular, especially not within fashion, which is why I wanted to combine the beauty of it. To show the world that Hearing Aid people are also people like everyone else. You shouldn't be ashamed of this.”
Modern Room Decor
“I wear it like an accessory now and I'm really proud of it.”
What a compelling storyteller, with still 2 years left at her undergraduate degree. ‘Can you hear me now?’ arose a curiosity around the relationship between hard of hearing and the fashion industry. We discovered brands such as; Cruze Kapa (winner of the Attitude Awards 2018), Deaf Apparel & Deaf Identify who can also be celebrated for their activism and raising awareness of the hearing impaired.
Are you yourself hearing impaired working in the creative industry? Or perhaps know of someone or a deaf-related cause who should be applauded? Let us know & share your thoughts in the bleaq forum!