To celebrate Syrup’s launch, we profiled five young Australians who are doing their very best at being their best selves—throwing typical ideas of career paths, style norms and patriarchal status quos out the window. These interviews are our way of foregrounding the diverse voices that are shaping our communities and digging a little deeper into the things that shaped them.
Life is strange. One day you’re saving images from your favourite runway shows, the next you’re lugging a suitcase between PR showrooms and styling shoots for magazines. It’s a rapid trajectory but one that’s been pretty natural for Elle Hioe, known online as the extremely cool gal @14strk. Her professional styling work (@styledbystrk) has been featured in a diverse array of pubs, but she’s probably best known for her own distinctive personal style, oscillating from Y2K hacker girlfriend to alt-y ’90s darling without missing a beat.
With a chill thirty-three thousand followers and a cultivated aesthetic that draws from all manner of subcultural styles, there’s a lot of external material that might make you feel like you know Elle. And that’s not including the audience and content on the account @elleandtara that she runs with conspirator and bad gal Tara Chandra (@tarachandra_) and her art account (@ellesartbook). But hopes, dreams and fears aren’t something that easily fit into a 1×1 square box online. Or a Tumblr or a YouTube channel, for that matter.
We sat down to chat about diasporic identity, growing up online and navigating doing work you love and being in the public eye with Hioe. Get to know this Gen Z creative a little better, and maybe feel a bit inspired to create something yourself.
How long have you been Extremely Online for?
I started my Instagram account in 2015 in my last year of high school. It was a way for me to connect online with people who had similar interests to me. And it was to also escape from the super stressful and insulated environment that was my school. No one knew about my account until after I graduated really.
Where did you first spend the most time on the internet? Was it fashion related?
I’ve always been super online. Just like a lot of people, I grew up on Tumblr and went through various phases there. Initially, I spent most of my online time obsessing over my adolescent crushes (All Time Low) and similar pop-punk bands. But later, maybe around year nine? That was when I began to take a keen interest in fashion.
I would trawl around theFashionSpot, and flick through images of fashion shows. I would even predict what models I thought would hit it big based on the number of designers they walked for and whether they opened or not. I was pretty on the money for a lot of them. As you can see I get pretty into my interests, haha.
How did you begin working as a stylist?
I had done some assistant styling in high school because my friend had opened her own magazine. We were fifteen and lugging around giant suitcases to PR agencies probably looking like fools, but we had fun.
I didn’t think much of it then and didn’t expect to get into fashion during year eleven and twelve, to be honest. I fell back into it by chance through a small mag asking me to style an editorial for them. It was surprising but from then on I just kept doing it.
Do you have any tips for people about making something you do for fun into what you do for work and not losing your love and passion for it?
I’m not sure if I have the clearance for that yet. I took a break from styling recently (and am styling my first shoot in a few months tomorrow) because I was beginning to feel a bit disenfranchised with it all.
But what I think is really important is to surround yourself with people who are going to keep you creatively driven and inspired. When they’re striving to do their best, it helps you too. Things come and go but you gotta keep pushing. Nothing’s easy after all.
You’ve worked with some amazing publications like KALTBLUT, Backyard Opera and Sukeban Magazine, do you have a dream project or publication you’d like to work on?
Of course, I’d love to have an editorial in i-D, Oyster, Paper Magazine one day. I’ve also always been interested in music video styling, so that as well. I have billions of ideas in my head which haven’t been birthed past that idea stage. I need to get better at making things real.
What’s the most fun thing you’ve gotten to do so far?
When I was working at Subtype Store I helped organise their new collection presentation. I styled the models, assisted with rehearsal and setup. That was really exciting to be hands-on behind the scene, it felt really rewarding.
You’re also a visual artist—is this something you do just for yourself?
I only recently started doing art consistently maybe a few months ago. I was feeling burnt out creatively and so decided to put some love and time into my other interests. I definitely think it’s for myself, it’s therapeutic to me. I don’t have grand expectations on myself, I don’t obsess about it being perfect. I have fun with it and splash it all out. Right now it’s like a little corner of peace.
How do you think about your work in its different forms, from photography to art to styling?
Like I just mentioned, my art is my silly happy place. It’s just pure “blah blah here you go!” My styling is something I’m still figuring out in terms of its direction. The way I approach it is completely different from my art.
With styling, I’m always thinking that I want to create something beautiful. I have idealised versions of it, whereas my art is more unrefined. Photography is just an interest for me right now. I’d like to know the medium more, but right now I see the thing and take the photo.
Can you tell us about your online persona generally, where does 14strk come from? Is Elle a different person to Danielle Hioe?
She is definitely different. Nobody calls me Danielle really, not in my entire life. Elle was my childhood nickname because Indonesians find it hard to say (Danielle). Dani was my nickname growing up (not by choice) throughout my school life. I never liked the sound or feeling of it. So when I graduated I started introducing myself as Elle again.
Elle is the person I wanted and want to be. She’s generally fearless, says what she feels like and strongly believes in the things she holds dear. 14strk comes from 14, the number of my house that I grew up in. The strk is just ‘strike’ with some letters taken out. I thought it looked cool. Actually, I made the name when I was about 16 for an imaginary brand. I still have it written down in an old diary somewhere, the first 14strk.
Does being a public figure on the internet ever bleed into your “real” life? How do you navigate what preconceived perceptions people might have of you?
It sure does. I think people have this idea of a vapid Instagram ‘influencer’ who just takes photos of themselves all the time. Or that I think I’m some great thing just because I have a few more followers. But it doesn’t bother me too much really, these things are inevitable.
And while the internet has been a home for me, I try not to put too much of my identity into it. I know if I tie myself too strongly to it because when and if it goes I’ll probably be weirdly stranded. Sometimes I think what I would be like if I never started my Instagram and all that. But who knows?
Have you ever faced challenges because of your identity and how did you deal with them?
Like a lot of Asian-Australians, I felt conflicted with my identity growing up. Especially being in a majority white area and attending a majority white school. Not uncommonly, I went through a lot of internalised racism. I really wanted to be white, I was touted as a “cool Asian” which never really made sense to me. It’s something my friends and I have discussed a lot. Growing pains I guess. I just learnt that… well, it’s okay to be who I am.
Actually, my falling into K-pop was one of the big reasons I came to grips with my identity. Highschool me going, “hey, they’re Asian but still attractive and creative and interesting.” From then on, it was all a learning process. Identity is interesting, it evolves. It’s easy to get wound up in the Australian-Asian diaspora. It’s a community that I find often tunnel visions into itself.
I think it’s important to recognise our privileges and the complexity of our identity. There’s a lot of internal power dynamics between East Asians and South-East/South Asians. There’s a lot of socio-economic and class politics to be considered. It’s good to keep educating and to uplift voices that aren’t as heard.
What are you working on next?
Planning some snazzy shoots soon. Going to try to learn how to shoot manual film. Started an art piece that is taking some time and love and scarily enough, traditional painting. Hands in different pots all the time.
What do you think people get wrong about your generation?
People aren’t overly sensitive nowadays, they’re just more educated. Social media isn’t all about isolating people and getting clout, it’s about creating communities and engaging with one another. The kids are going to be alright like they always will be.
What do you think the biggest challenge facing your generation is?
The imminent climate crisis, the rise of right-leaning and far-right groups in politics. The increasing cost of living, and the taking away of social welfare and security nets in a lot of developed countries right now.
How do you want to be remembered (if at all)?
As someone who cared about what they did, and cared about other people. Someone who gave a lot of love and life and tried their best.
How are you practising self-care in 2020?
Keeping honest communication with the ones I love, knowing when to stay in and not go out, and eating delicious foods without guilt.
What are you manifesting?
A job I love and a mindset that keeps on thriving and improving.
If you could only wear one brand?
Forget brands, take me to the thrift shop!
Fav artist/creative/person you think is doing cool shit?
I adore @sandytaboo and everything they create and what they stand for. They’re like a gust of cool air and honestly so inspiring.
Fav meme account? Fav meme?
My lovely friend @males_are_cancelled account is great. And I’ve been enjoying the Parasite memes lately just cause… well you know, get over the subtitle issue, people!
What’s your fav place on the internet?
If it was a Venn diagram, the overlap that is Twitter and Instagram. Oh and YouTube, I love YouTube a lot.
Photography by Holly Gibson.