You would think that a Londoner’s first time in the Big Apple would be love at first sight. I admired the city for its size, the skyline was spectacular in the obvious way, and the oxtail at a certain Bed-Stuy Fish Fry was enough to win me over for a short while. But the magic I expected wasn’t quite there. After about a week when I had adjusted to what New York was at face value, I was able to appreciate the vast array of cultures, the people, the atmosphere, artists coming out of the woodwork. It’s a running joke nowadays that everyone is a creative director but it was a nice change to be in an environment with such a vast amount of people pursuing creative careers.
It's hard not to run in to an aspiring fashion designer or budding photographer, actor, model, you name it. And run into one is exactly what I did. I was introduced to Shakon Fleming the only way that is deemed acceptable these days - through a friend via Instagram. Originally from Atlanta, he moved to New York to kick start his life as a fashion designer. And like a true millennial artisan he is a man of many trades, juggling marketing jobs for True Orange and Adidas while working on his clothing line Sincerely Fresh. I wanted to know what life was like for young creatives trying to make it in one of the world's most expensive cities. So we met up to talk, as you do, on one of the hottest days in New York this year. Down a quiet bohemian street in SoHo, in a coffee shop. Because where else do people have interviews?
Have you always been into fashion then?
Yeah it’s something that’s always been a part of me. Freshman year of high school coming out of middle school I had clothing brands that I just sold to my teachers, my friends, my family. I’ve always had a brand, always been into promoting myself and promoting products. So it’s something that I knew I wanted to do but didn’t know how to do it on a bigger scale - when I got the opportunity I was able to learn so much more.
What is the most fulfilling experience you’ve had working in marketing/fashion?
I think seeing the way product can change someone’s life. Like there would literally be people, grown men, parents, that would come in and be so passionate about shoes! They’re so devoted to it. It’s been passed down through generations, their kids have been wearing it and their dads introduced them to it. The way that product can make an impact on someone’s life has been the most impacting for me because I’ve been at the forefront of being that person between the product and the brand. So to represent such a big name and be that connection that changes someone’s life or makes a kid smile when he gets his first pair of Yeezy’s. Being able to take a picture and make someone feel special. The number one thing. Impacting the people.
What products have had lasting effects on you? Have there been any standout ones?
Classic ones, there’s been so much new innovative product out. But the original classic product is always the best. Like your Stan Smiths or your Shelltoes - the product that never gets old. The product people buy over and over and over. That’s the kind of stuff that stands out to me because it holds value.
What are some of the less positive encounters that you’ve had?
Well there have been a few (laughs). I think what kind of ushered me away [from marketing] to do my own thing was the management. I think when you get into the entertainment business and the fashion in the streetwear world, it becomes so competitive. So you have Nike vs Adidas and there’s Puma and Reebok and it’s this different world you live in depending on what brand you represent. There was a period where I was with the brand and it wasn’t the hottest or the number one at the time. I watched how the brand grew and people became greedy, envious, selfish. And that just led to bad management on my end. And it’s hard, it’s hard to stay positive in those situations because it’s careers, people’s livelihoods are on the line. You’re playing around with salaries and stuff like that. People are willing to do whatever to get to the top. And I didn’t know that about the corporate world, some people aren’t as passionate but they just want to get to the top.
Are there any stand out changes that you want to see in the industry, things that you have been waiting to see?
Yeah! I think one thing that's definitely starting to take place is more women involved in the industry. I’ve always lived for women being the main competition just 'cause in marketing we follow their lead. In marketing definitely when it comes to products you base that off of what the female consumer wants, as far as colours and fit, stuff like that. I think women definitely hold a lot of weight in marketing, so I want to see more women involved in that as far as people in power. It would be so cool to see women in charge of marketing ads regardless of gender. I think women shouldn't just speak for women they should be able to speak for whole companies/corporations/businesses.
And the younger generation. Everything now seems so corporate, so fortune 500, it has to be a big company. But there are so many independent creatives who are capable of doing impacting things. They just don't have the opportunity, they don't have the budget, so it would be cool to see more people in those positions. Like Vogue allowing young designers or young editors do an issue, just to see what that would look like. You never know until you try. It would be nice to see brands taking that risk.
Where do you look for inspiration?
Everywhere. I think it's so hard to pinpoint where I get inspiration from because I'm always open to it. I love to travel because I can pull inspiration from any situation, any environment. Anywhere that's something that I'm not used to, I'm usually inspired. So sometimes I just wander, I get lost and I find inspiration through finding my way back. But now I might hear music and it'll move me in a different way or it'll have me looking at things differently. Sometimes I just wander through shops and I frequent certain boutiques and stores just to see what's in and what's out. And I just form my own opinion based off of what is around me, I'm constantly taking in information, listening to music, reading something.
Right now I'm into vibe music, it's not really a genre, it's like Tame Impala, kind of mellow, kind of James Blake type of vibe. Neo-soul is really what I'm into, that's the music that gets me going. And of course Trap, I'm from Atlanta, there's a lot of Trap, a lot of young up and coming SoundCloud rappers, that always gets me going.
Do you have any role models in the industry or mentors you go to for advice?
There's a guy by the name of John Wexler, he handles all the entertainment marketing for Adidas. But then also I have a lot of friends who are great designers, people who are doing amazing things. I just really look up to people that are on the same level as me. You don't have to be untouchable to be a role model. I look at people who are doing the same thing I'm doing and think "yeah, you're killin' it!". It just motivates and moves me in a different way. Also Pharrell Williams, he's always merging positive messages with crazy designs.
I'm into a lot of different things. There's a designer by the name of Deiter Rams, he was in charge of doing a lot of early designs for Apple. He's someone who really made it a point to make design better. And he has these laws, 10 laws for great design. I researched him, watched documentaries and just got lost for hours.
Can you tell me about any projects you have coming up?
I'm in the process of working on my second collection. It's entitled "High End Prototype". Last year around the same time I released my first collection "Astro Collection" exploring the idea of taking off, meteoroids, flying through space - that was the imagery and I feel like I made my mark. So High End prototype is me taking a stab at the real world, high end brands, high end publications, really establish myself as a designer, not just someone who is doing a clothing brand. So with this collection I plan to do more pieces. It will be limited and it won't be a wide variety. But it will feature pieces that are very unisex that will be worn in ways that not many people will expect. I'm experimenting with different fabrics and materials. I had a very popular jacket in my first collection called the Astro jacket. Really awesome multi-use jacket with bondage so you can wear it as a bag. I want to expand on that a little bit and do another version.
Do you have any advice for people getting into the field that you're in?
Yes. This is cliché but don't give up. There are so many people that reach a certain level that do exactly what it is that they want to do and then they don't know what to do next. I think once you reach that point in life, pat yourself on the back but then keep going. Constantly try to be better than yourself, don't look to the people next to you and try to be better than them. Be better than where you were yesterday. You have to reach your potential. Legend mode. You want to be somebody that's talked about after everything is said and done. That should always be the goal, to want to be the best. If you settle for mediocre, you're going to get mediocre. So strive for greatness and never give up.
Written by Fiona Giali
Photographs of Shakon Fleming taken by Fiona Giali, IG:@fiona.giali
Photographs of Sincerely Fresh clothing line taken by Matt Watkins, IG: @mister_watkins