On a hot summer evening in NYC, I met up with fashion student Maria at the Parsons School of Design campus. She is the brainchild behind the neo soul inspired fashion label Jahnkoy. I had the privilege to see her latest work and listened to her inspiration behind the pieces. The quality of her work is incredible with original silhouettes embellished with intricate handwork. I have never seen any other fashion line even similar to what Maria is creating, making it truly original.
GR: How would you describe the style aesthetic of Jahnkoy?
MJ: As the global united bridge between cultures, I am interested in the edge, where we all become one. I feel that nothing is more personal than clothing because you wear it as a second skin. You communicate who you are to the world with the clothing you choose to wear. I believe fashion can be a tool for social change. As creators we have a responsibility for what we put out into the universe. I want to make garments that make the wearer spiritually strong and visually present.
GR: Why did you decide to come to NYC?
MJ: I actually never planned for it to happen, but life knows better and I received the opportunity to study here. Now I am very grateful, because I feel that my work makes much more sense here. I am inspired by the people and the streets around me everyday.
GR: Why did you decide to become a fashion designer?
MJ: I knew from day one that I wanted to design clothing, but where I grew up there was no proper infrastructure or education of the fashion industry, so I started with economics. When I was 19 years old I travelled to San Francisco and the city really influenced me. I reached the point of no return, I realized I have to move forward and pursue my dreams and destiny.
GR: What is your favorite part about the design process?
MJ: I love researching history and cultures before I begin designing a line. I want to put the reasoning and stories behind the garments. I enjoy watching how my brain collects the research and turns it into tangible pieces of clothing. My work reflects what I have learned, the everyday observations and the things I love. It is like the story book. I see clothing as a vehicle for delivering messages, there is an unspoken language through clothing that we are communicating to the world.
GR: What are your inspirations for the designs you create?
MJ: I get a lot of my inspiration from the people and the streets. I am very interested in urban street culture and the communities that develop in inner-city areas. I see people who give to others when they have so little of their own. There’s a sense of unity among these communities. In my most recent lines, I’ve been influenced by native cultures, particularly African tribes, Native Americans and the struggles they each have faced. Inspiration is everywhere, it is the whole world.
GR: How do you select the materials you use in your designs?
MJ: The materials always reflect the subject of the project. I like to use materials that I find around me on the streets. In particular the things that are seen everywhere which people perceive as having no value; then creating beautiful garments out of it. My last project was a blend of Swarovski crystals with plastic bags that i collected from people. Such juxtaposition question the manmade value of the materials, what do we treasure and what we do not care about. Materialism is not real, it’s just an arbitrary value we put on objects. You don’t need high end materials to create high end apparel. Is what your eyes see as beauty.
GR: What advice would you give someone who wants to start their own fashion line?
MJ: In order to create you need to know yourself and know what it is that you have to say. It’s important to be with yourself more, meditate, get rid of distractions and learn about yourself and the world. When you become one with the earth and you realize we are all part of it, you will be guided to your path. Find partners to help you with the business and organizational side because in order to create, you must give your work everything you have. If you’re wearing too many hats, your creative work will suffer.
GR: How have you seen the NYC fashion scene evolve?
MJ: I cannot say I’ve seen it evolve as much as I hoped in the past, however I would like to see designers and consumers alike become more conscious. Creativity is growing and people are less afraid of being different. In the past the fashion industry was lacking diversity and personal identity. We all come from different backgrounds so we shouldn’t all look the same. The more people become exposed to diversity, the more accepting they will become.
GR: Who would be your dream designer to collaborate with?
MJ: I love John Galliano because he brings diversity. His work is spectacular. He was one of the main reasons I wanted to work in fashion.
GR: What do you envision in the future for your career in fashion?
MJ: I plan on building two fashion lines. The first one is JANHKOY, a couture line which aims to celebrate the vast cultures of people and revive traditional crafts. “Jahnkoy” means “blessed village” and it perfectly reflects the directions of the brand. We want to work with various tribes around the globe and revive the native craftsmanship that is on the brink of extinction. With the world-spread globalization and westernization we are losing very essential knowledge of our ancestors. Certain types of traditions and cultural diversity are disappearing, clothes became bland and mass produced, it lost the human touch, it lost spirituality, the knowledge that we used to carry from our cultures. The aim is to reestablish traditional cultural dress in a new contemporary way, reconnect people to the knowledge of the past, to raise consciousness, value of the clothes and value of the material. The proceeds from this line will sponsor urban community projects, education and agriculture.
The second one is a ready-to-wear line named UNITE, which originated in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. We believe that to change the world for a better place, you have to be that change, you must start within yourself and the people around you. The aim of UNITE is to empower the community, reflect on the issues we face as a society, promote a positive message and rightful lifestyle for the youth. UNITE will carry the same message as the couture line, but will be produced in a way that will make it affordable for everyone. I do not want my garments only to sit in a gallery, I want it to live in the streets and be a part of people’s lives.
As Maria and I wrap up the interview, she leaves me with these final words:
By Gennifer Rose