“Ordinary People, Extraordinary Fashion” – Matthew Li on founding MODA9

If you have days where you think ‘wow I wish I had MORE on my plate,’ then you’re completely alone.

Well, not alone, but it’s really just you and Matthew Li, a second-year JD student and founder of MODA9 – an online publication dedicated to documenting and showcasing Australian fashion. 

Matthew Li is a second year JD student with a passion for fashion. He has a keen eye for vintage pieces– he even found a christian dior jacket for 90$ once! – and takes his inspiration from 80s music videos and 50s French film. During iso, he’s working hard with his editorial team to create new projects that showcase up and coming designers.

Because we’re in awe of people in our MLS community that keep doing amazing things, Purely Dicta sat down with Matthew to learn more about him, MODA9 and what he’s learned from starting a business all while studying! 

Matthew Li

So Matthew, can you start by telling us a bit about yourself – who is Matthew Li, and what are some of his (non-law) passions? 

Well, I’m a second year JD student but I am also so much more than that. I’m a huge fan of your usual hobbies: reading, watching Netflix, and afternoon naps.

On a less superficial note, I do enjoy thrift shopping because that’s where you find some truly beautiful gems (I once got a Christian Dior coat for $90) and spending unnecessary money on brunch in some hipster suburb (no coffee though, maybe a nice glass of juice). But because of the current situation, unfortunately, I’m confined to daydreaming about hopping on the tram to Fitzroy. 

I’ve got a dog though, so one of my many passions is keeping it alive. 

Where did you get the idea for MODA9, and what was your initial goal?

So MODA9, for those who might not know, is an online publication dedicated to documenting and showcasing Australian fashion. Whether it’s through collaborating with a small business by creating a custom campaign for them or simply going out on the street and snapping some cool shots of people’s outfits. 

To be completely honest I started it as an exercise in entrepreneurship: I’ve always been excited by the idea of creating something from the ground up. I love reading about how household brands started from modest beginning to something of a true cultural phenomenon. Be it how Amazon didn’t make a profit for 7 years or Gucci starting off as just another Italian leather shoes business. I knew I wanted to make my mark.

Since one of my many passions is fashion and I had just finished up my degree in Arts (majoring in Media and Communications), the most logical next step is to try my hand at building a media start-up. I mean, why not? I got together with two friends and we chipped in together for a Squarespace account. 

Our initial goal was become an all-encompassing fashion catalogue for small brands, whether it be Australian or International. We want to be the go-to site for people to check out the latest trends or small businesses to support. 

Has that goal changed as the organisation’s grown? How so?

The goal hasn’t changed much except that logistically, we had to adjust to an influx of new viewers and take in their opinions and thoughts as well. After all, what is a publication without their readers? 

And I’ve also had the wonderful opportunity to recruit some of the hardest working people I’ve met in my life who are changing MODA9 for the best.

For example, one of my marketing directors really pushed us to embrace video platforms such as TikTok and creating a YouTube channel. This was definitely a new direction that we’re still trying to embrace as we had started off as a written publication. And my creative team is transforming our social media platforms which have come a very, very long way from last year.  

Right now, I’m really just focusing on coming out of this pandemic a new and improved MODA9. 

We’re actively looking for new recruits for the social team (if you’re reading this and interested, please HMU) and also taking on a more active role in promoting Australian streetwear.

Our motto was and still is ‘Ordinary People, Extraordinary Fashion,’ so I’m thinking we’re going to move towards showcasing ISO outfits or even building more visual content around the ‘everyday’ person, what they would wear and what makes it so unique for them. 

Can you share a highlight? Perhaps a particular piece you worked on, or moment with the team that really stood out?

I think one of our highlights would be when we collaborated with X NIHILO. We were introduced to them because my business partner, Natalie Wang, who is also an influencer and a fashionista in her own right got us a meeting with the CEO. 

X NIHILO is an up and coming Australian leather brand and was one of the largest brands that we had the pleasure of working with. We were tasked with creating a full immersive interview experience: from creating an online video, a written interview piece, a photoshoot (where we got to see their newest line of bags), and an impromptu photoshoot out on the street. 

It was such a defining moment for MODA9 because it showed me where we could be going. 

Unfortunately, due to the current circumstances, we missed out on several other opportunities to interview and collaborate with industry heavy weights but we’re hoping once restrictions are lifted, we’ll get to continue to grow MODA9. 

MODA9 has recently launched a campaign spotlighting Indigenous designers – can you explain some of the motivation behind that idea, and what you’re hoping to achieve? 

I can’t really take full credit for this! After I launched our Small Business Initiative, one of my columnists, Eliza Lucid, who is an extraordinarily talented writer from our Editorial team mentioned how she always wanted to see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designers represented in mainstream media. 

In the wake of George Floyd’s death and the BLM movement that swept across the world, it seems irresponsible not to use our platform for good. We may not have the biggest platform nor the most influential voice, but if large media organisations are still lagging behind championing a truly diverse and inclusive environment by showcasing the extraordinary amount of talent in marginalised communities, then I’m more than happy to have MODA9 take the charge. 

What’s been the most challenging part about getting this initiative off the ground in-between all your other work and study commitments?

Every day is a challenge. Running a small business from the ground up, even with the extraordinarily talented team that I have, and the tireless work that they’ve put in, the pressure is always on you. That’s because, at the end of the day, you feel responsible for every article, every photoshoot, every lost follower or new like on your Instagram posts

So, it becomes a full-time job just checking in with your managers or checking the stats. I still have difficulty arranging time for myself and striking the right balance. It sounds bad, but honestly, I tend to push myself to the point where I burn out and I might leave MODA9 behind for days on end. Those low points are when my enthusiasm and passion for the job dim to the point where I think of just giving up and focusing on my other work and study commitments.

But at the end of the day, when you scroll through your site, or you hear the admiration from your close friend, or just remember why you decided to get involved in the first place: it makes it all worth it.

Finally, do you have any advice for anyone wanting to take the plunge and pursue their own creative interests?

There’s a huge difference between just saying you’ll do it and actually putting in the work to do so. And I’m kind of embarrassed to say that I’ve been the former for the longest time. 

But all it takes is a drunken night filled with cheap vodka, cigarettes, and a group of close friends for an idea to form. 

So, if you have an idea, grab a notepad, grab some friends, open up a word document. Just write something down and pitch it to those around you, you’ll be genuinely surprised how many people believe and are willing to help you realise your dream.

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