The discussion of diversity surrounding fashion usually focuses on the outward-facing stuff: The people featured on runways, magazine covers, and ad campaigns. There’s good reason for that. As customers demand more reflection of their own diversity, it's important for the industry's designers to understand the ripple effect representation has on the psyche of our society and culture. 

Fashion Designer and Creative Director, Yaameen Ahmad, thoroughly understands why the presence of Black beauty is needed in the fashion world. Black people have been setting the fashion trend for decades. It's our way of expressing the sheer excellence that surrounds our existence. Ahmad's clothing brand, Kamaswazi, is "street aesthetic and comfort, with notes of ethnic inclusive influences." Besides offering garments that represent desire, love and passion, Kamaswazi tells the world our story of Black identity and power through a language that all ethnicities can understand. 

I had the pleasure to speak with Yaasmeen on the importance of celebrating Black beauty in the fashion industry, how she develops her inspiring Kamaswazi aesthetic, and what we can expect to see from her brand in 2019. 

Check out our exclusive interview with Yaasmeen Ahmad below.

21Ninety: Can you describe the meaning of Kamaswazi? How did the concept of your brand come to be?

Yaasmeen Ahmad: I came up with the concept about five years ago while in college. From a young age, I knew I wanted to venture into a career where I could share my ideas. But, I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to make that happen. As the years passed, I grew into myself more and discovered that I wanted to create an enterprise that reflects the essence of who I am as an individual. Kamaswazi (pronounced KAH-MUH SWAH-ZEE) is actually two words in one. Kama, from Hindu practices, represents love, deep passion, and desire. While Swazi, is a language spoken in Swaziland, a country near South Africa. This aspect represents richness, power and nobility. These elements make up the core of who I am, and how I see myself and from which all my designs blossom. 

As an aesthetic, the representation of my brand is immensely personal. Yet, it reflects characteristics that resonate with each of us. As human beings, none of us are just one particular way. We are much more complex than that, we are individuals who embody dualities and multiplicities. I wanted to create a brand that illustrates effortless beauty amongst all groups of peoples. But most importantly, highlighting individuality. So when I design, I design for an individual who embraces all sides of themselves. In the most effortless and comfortable way, both modesty and sexuality are reflected in the Kamaswazi aesthetic. Thus expressing, elegance, regality, freedom and confidence. From a creative standpoint, I wanted the brand name to be both meaningful and memorable. I like to think that the uniqueness of the name makes it even more interesting. 

Photo: Yaasmeen Ahmad

21N: What inspired you to develop a brand that communicates a philosophy of beauty?

YA: I grew up around different types of people, I’ve connected with people of various races and economic backgrounds. So for me, diversity is something that has always been around me. And learning from people with different cultures and different ways of thinking is extremely fascinating and valuable to me, it keeps my mind open. It also gives me a broader selection to pull inspiration from. However, I think it is most important to me that Black beauty is expressed in its highest form. Being a dark-skinned woman, I’ve experienced first hand how people perceive those who look like me as lesser than those of our lighter or mixed counterparts. It almost infuriates me that we are seen as less valuable. I thought to myself: I need to change that

21N: In your humble opinion, why is it important to highlight diversity and represent Black people in the fashion world?

YA: The luxury market of high fashion is currently over-saturated with brands that cater to European standards of beauty. I simply want to compete at that level with a new frame of mind. Introducing a new aesthetic that is just as stunning. In the world of today, I believe this is the opportune moment to make that happen. People who are underrepresented are becoming more and more connected and vocal about what they will and will not tolerate and this is being done on a global scale. By highlighting diversity, I want to create a voice — a powerful voice that says, “I embrace different forms of  diversity.” Or, “I love myself exactly as I am and still, I am supremely gorgeous. I am not lesser than because my hair is of a different texture or length or because my features look different from what we are used to seeing in the media.” I just think it’s time to change the narrative. 

Photo: Yaasmeen Ahmad x DVVINCI

21N: Too often luxury fashion houses, like Gucci and Prada, have produced despicably tone-deaf and offensive collections that are a direct attack on the Black community. What are your thoughts surrounding this subject? Do you have hope that these high-end brands will ever recognize Blackface as racist? 

YA: Unfortunately, their tasteless decisions only serve as a sour reminder that these fashion houses will use our “aesthetic” for their own benefit. But when push comes to shove, there is still an immense lack of respect for our people and our history. It’s not something that angers or surprises me, it's merely a reality check. It is upsetting, however, because I actually love the collections that both Gucci and Prada produce. But I can not support a corporation that chooses to blatantly disregard or is just that ignorant (giving them the benefit of the doubt here haha) towards Black people. And do I think they will recognize Blackface as racist? Hmm. I don’t think a corporation that large would take such a political stance. I think when something is perceived by the masses as offensive, only then, would they acknowledge that they made a poor choice and issue an apology in the media — but I don't believe they would ever take the position that they are in any way racist.

Photo: Kamaswazi

21N: Who are some fashion designers / creative directors that have inspired you?

YA: I am inspired by so many creative people! It’s hard to pinpoint them because they also change over time. But some of my longtime favorites are Coco Chanel and Alexander McQueen when it comes to the high-end brands. Chanel was a revolutionary woman — she went against the grain and had a strong-willed mind of her own and was a staple entrepreneur of her time. I admire her work mostly for the position she took in the industry. I love McQueen for his creativity and craftsmanship. The level of detail and thought that went into his pieces are impeccable, but it’s the rawness of the emotion that comes out in his work that makes me gravitate towards him the most. I also admire some newer designers and brands as well. Pyer Moss and Human Aliens (HMN ALNS) are amongst some of my favorite smaller luxury brands. Human Aliens just has such a cool aesthetic. It's raunchy, sporty, and uses pop references from our childhood (a lot of anime). I also admire how they brand themselves. Very dope. Additionally, creative director of Pyer Moss, Kerby Jean-Raymond (a Black designer), is someone who is newly emerging and is competing with the big leagues in the luxury market. He’s someone who I look up to and pay close attention to because I see myself in his position someday soon.  

Photo: Kamaswazi x Dennis Milburn Jr.

21N: Currently, what are some of KamaswaziI’s best-selling garments?

YA: I get a lot of support from my followers and friends on social media ( @swaziiyeff on Instagram). So my top selling items at the moment are merchandise, the logo hats, and my handmade items, such as socks and stockings. On the higher end side, I have done a couple of pieces on commission. The tunic is one of the staple pieces that has sold well in the past (one of my very first designs).

21N: What has been the most rewarding aspect — as an entrepreneur — since launching Kamaswazi?

YA: One of the most rewarding aspects of being an entrepreneur is creating a voice for myself in this world. I love that I can communicate my philosophies and ideas through fashion. This allows me to inspire/challenge people and that’s what makes this venture the most worthwhile.  

21N: What can we expect to see from you and Kamaswazi in 2019?

YA: I want to create a collection that is more accessible to people. At the moment I sew and design everything myself so I’m working towards producing at a larger scale. I would also like to see more Kamaswazi collaborations. 2019 is all about the brand's expansion. I’m ready for the next level. 

Photo: Yaasmeen Ahmad

21N: Do you have any final words of encouragement for aspiring Black, female entrepreneurs striving to launch their own fashion brand? 

YA: I say, girl, if you want it, if you REALLY want it, the time to go out and get it is now! We are living in a time that offers immense opportunity, so take advantage! I encourage Black women entrepreneurs to be passionate in their ventures and fall in love with what they are doing. And above all remain courageous enough to persevere even when you hit those moments when you think no one will want what you have to offer. 

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