Wed 26th August

Introducing the Voice of Song for the Mute

Text   Dino Bonacic

Step into the world of Melvin Tanaya and Lyna Ty – the Sydney-based duo crafting narrative-led garments into one long-form story that is their fashion brand, Song for the Mute. 

There’s always something special about those creative ideas you come up with your best friend. Unfortunately, most of us are unable to take those conversations and turn them into a successful business with 65 stockists and a dedicated fanbase that will (literally) get a tattoo of your logo. Most of us aren’t Melvin Tanaya and Lyna Ty, the long-time best friends and business partners behind co-ed Aussie brand Song for the Mute. Currently marking the 10th anniversary of their label, Lyna and Melvin jumped on a Zoom call to tell the story of how their passionate idea for a joint hobby turned into a successful fashion business loved and worn around the world. 

Best friends since the age of 10 (when both moved to Sydney), the two first came up with this approach during their final year of studies. Melvin was finishing his marketing course so he reached out to Lyna with an idea for a graphic t-shirt brand. “But when we met in person and spoke about the concept and what we wanted to do, it turned into something deeper,” he remembers. And so instead of a line of t-shirts, they came up with Ink – their debut outing which included a timeless, yet fresh take on menswear classics that became the seed for their narrative of contrast and tactility told with exceptional fabrics and through an experimental process. “We designed the whole first collection without having a name for the brand, but we knew what we wanted it to stand for,” says Melvin, noting how they understood the values they wanted to nurture relied on family, heritage, tradition, culture, evolution and connection. Soon after, the world started to take note, as they garnered numerous fashion prizes and their list of stockists steadily grew, both being a testament to their unique approach to design that was unlike anything around them. 

Melvin Tanaya and Lyna Ty, the founders of Song for the Mute

The name itself is a nod to the initial process of creating the garments. Song for the Mute is an ode to using creativity as a tool of expression – through textiles, visuals, sounds or any other platform. “What we’ve been trying to do with our clothes from the beginning was explaining where we’re at in our lives. Because as unique as you think you are in the world, there’s always someone out there experiencing the same thing,” Melvin explains. Within the company’s structure, he took on the role of the brand director, while Lyna is in charge of the collections as the creative director. Last year, Song for the Mute went through a rebrand which stemmed out of a realisation that the label’s story became larger than just them two. The new logo reflects this notion as it emulates the form of a family tree, representative of all of the collaborators, as well as the buyers and customers who complete the big picture. 

Along with the visual shift, the duo restructured their collections by dropping seasonal codes like AW19 or SS20 and instead reformatted them according to their individual names joined by a number that replicate chapters. So for example, the first collection in 2020 is 20.1., while the other is 20.2. This decision also enforced the idea that each of the outings is a complete creative reset as it marks a new chapter in the “long form story,” or journal that Song for the Mute represents. Instead of having a clear design signature that weaves throughout, Lyna’s designs thrive within the process of evolution. In her own words, “what we liked in 2010 is completely different to what we like now and we’re able to reflect that with the brand.” And so, why would the collections have to look alike? 

Song for the Mute through seasons

A lot of the seasonal changes stem from the use of different textiles and fabrications, which are arguably the most important element of Lyna’s Song for the Mute designs. The brand works with mills in Italy and France, but their biggest collaborators are fabric specialists in Japan who they’ve been working with from the very beginning. “The first time we met with them was in a meeting room without any fabrics there. The only thing we did was talk. Then after that, they decided we can work together and offered us only four black fabrics to choose from. It took us two years to open the next thing. They would show us more. And after four, five years, they let us make our own colours. It’s a two-way relationship with these mills and our makers,” explains Melvin. And while some of the garments are also produced in Japan, the majority of them are actually made in Australia.

Being thousands of miles away from the European hubs of fashion might seem like a challenge for an emerging brand started by people with no prior experience in the industry, but Lyna finds strength in being geographically challenged. “It’s so good we’re far from everything as it forces us to dream further and be more creative, do anything we want and make sure we’re not too influenced by what’s happening right now. We can be influenced by the past or the future and then create our own world here, away from everything and everyone, and all that fast-paced industry,” she says. 

For her most recent collection, which launched in stores over summer – 20.2 Djebel – the inspiration came from Lyna’s trip to Tunisia with her partner Karim, who also works as a wholesale manager in the company. While there, Lyna met Karim’s family and friends who, along with the stunning environment of the country’s mountains and desert, influenced the eclectic mix of tradition and modernity that’s become one of the brand’s non-signature signatures. Every season, Lyna also comes up with an accessories element that helps communicate the concept and offers their audience something to hunt for and collect. Following up from the previous collection, she used beads as a chain detail on the trousers and bags which furthered that craft-focused narrative the collection followed. For the lookbook imagery, which captured the raw yet stunningly rich textiles, the label worked with London-based Turkish photographer Olgaç Bozalp who helped create the setting of the cave-like homes of Southern Tunisia which were some of the inspirations. And over the lockdown period, Song for the Mute collaborated again with Olgaç – he happened to spend it in his home country where he ended up taking the collection all around his favourite places and shooting it on local people that live there. The images and video are set to be released in September.

Song for the Mute 20.2 Djebel lookbook; Photographs by Olgaç Bozalp

In addition to clearly being smart and creative business people, Lyna and Melvin are also realistic and humble, and both of those things are very helpful when it comes to surviving in difficult times like the ones we’re living in right now. When talking about their future, both of them are conscious of their success but also aren’t entranced by the system. As the subject of a potential European fashion show comes up, Melvin reassures that they “have to make sure we’re a well-oiled machine before we commit to something like that, because once you start something like doing a show, you can’t really stop it. It’s a commitment, and we want to make sure that our production, the quality, everything is up to scratch before we start shouting.” Another important factor is growth – with so much already achieved, where do they go? “We feel very fortunate to be able to secure all the accounts that we wanted to have, so we’re not increasing distribution in terms of wholesale. We want to work with the buyers, nurture the brand and grow with our partners. It’s about how do we do things we do now, but better?” With multiple installations and special projects scheduled for later this year with some of the most exciting retailers around the world, you can be pretty sure we won’t need to wait long for an answer. 

You can shop Song for the Mute’s 20.2 Djebel collection online HERE.

@songforthemute