Jameel Mohammed’s Khiry Aims to Define the Luxurious Black Aesthetic by Tamu McPherson
We’re obsessing about Political Science undergraduate Jameel Mohammed’s jewelry line Khiry, and you should too. Mohammed who is finishing his senior year at the University of Pennsylvania launched a Kickstarter campaign to finance the development of the line and the rest is history. Featured in Essence, on the Man Repeller and in W Magazine, to name a few, and picked up by Moda Operandi for SS17, Khiry’s star is quickly rising. One to definitely watch and tune into, Mohammed has positioned Khiry (which is his middle name) as a vehicle aimed at defining “the luxurious black aesthetic and the principles that underlie the practice of cultural production.” His mission is to enrich Khiry with a “sense of heritage by really grounding it in deep cultural and historical research, but also looking at what’s happening now, and projecting it all forward in a way that hopefully resonates and inspires.” We are already enthralled by the conversation and can’t wait to wear the collection and see how it evolves. For now we’re super content with getting to know Jameel and we hope you are too. Please enjoy.
Meet Jameel Mohammed
Tamu McPherson: What does KHIRY mean?
Jameel Mohammed: It’s my middle name. The exact translation is disputed, but it’s either Arabic or Swahili for “extremes in fortune and health”.
TMP: Why jewelry? Do you have a special connection to jewelry?
JM: I actually came to jewelry pretty late in the game; I started first designing ready to wear. I think a lot of people have a really personal connection to jewelry, and it automatically takes on an elevated level of importance in people’s lives; we celebrate our most precious personal moments with jewelry. I think that made it a great vehicle for the reinterpretation of luxury central to KHIRY’s premise.
TMP: Black Luxury? You are contributing to the narrative, what is KHIRY bringing to the table.
JM: I think what makes luxury different than what’s trendy or just what’s hot right now is that sense of historic and cultural authority, artisan tradition, all the things that we think give a brand “heritage”.
I aim to imbue KHIRY with that same sense of heritage by really grounding it in deep cultural and historical research, but also looking at what’s happening now, and projecting it all forward in a way that hopefully resonates and inspires.
TMP: In your W Magazine interview you mention that KHIRY is also a way for you to participate in the contemporary political conversation with regards to race in America today, what is the most powerful message that you would like to communicate with your work?
JM: I think beauty is, for better or worse, so strongly correlated with what we think is valuable. So in the fashion industry, which centers on beauty, a lot of political work is done when we decide what and who can be beautiful. With KHIRY I hope to say that, despite their relative exclusion from fashion, the cultures throughout the diaspora are valuable, beautiful, and luxurious. I think once people are able to sort of question their preconceived notions in one sphere, and perhaps more able to understand and feel connected to a culture they haven’t previously explored, they’re more willing to extend that skepticism to other questions that are more central to the contemporary political conversation. If you can critically ask “what is luxury?” perhaps you can also ask “what is justice?”, “what is equity?”.
TMP: You’re inspired by the African Diaspora; what historical figure or period has inspired you the most?
JM: I’m really inspired by the 70’s actually. On the continent, African nations had just emerged from colonial rule, and in the West there were these pro-black movements coming out of the civil rights movement. There was a lot of cultural exchange between the continent and the diaspora, and in both places, artists from all mediums were trying to square the traditional roots of black culture with an increasingly global sense of modernity. And the product was just so dope; Afrobeat, Disco, Funk, all incredibly fresh, unquestionably modern, and unapologetically black.
TMP: In another quote from your W Magazine interview, you state that ” I try to be really respectful of the cultures I draw inspiration from, so I do a lot of research into the cultural practices and their significance within the community to make sure I depict things in a way that’s consistent with their origins.” Do you feel any specific responsibility as a young black man to lead by example considering the persistent appropriation of African and black culture?
JM: Absolutely. I think it’s an incredibly fine line, and I want to make sure that I’m on the right side of it by depicting culture in a sensitive way. I want to create space in fashion for respectful homage to culture.
TMP: Afro-future, what’s the energy? How can KHIRY play a part in fuelling the momentum and nurturing the aesthetic onwards?
JM: I think it’s just funky! It’s simultaneously ostentatious and subtle, slick vibrant and cool. These are the things we try to embed in all of our work on KHIRY. We will also be launching a blog in the coming weeks called Negritude, (inspired by Aime Cesaire’s cultural movement of the same name), which we hope will serve as a space for collaboration with other young black artists, creatives, thinkers, to discuss and play and propel this vision forward.
TMP: Is there one person living or deceased that you would love to design a special piece for? What would it be?
JM: Haha, I think it’s tough to nail down one person, because part of what I’m interested in is the idea that people from many different spheres and disciplines play a role in carving out a new future. That said, right now I’m really inspired by Angela Davis, Lauryn Hill, and Rihanna, hahaha.
TMP: How has your study of political science impacted your thought process when creating your designs and your positioning of KHIRY?
JM: I think political science has sort of forced me to look at individual experiences and encounters as small manifestations of larger social phenomena. When you think about it, everything you see is the product of someone’s decision; new construction and ‘development” in Brooklyn, the images we see on the news and in advertisements, it all reflects a conscious effort by someone. So it makes me think really critically about what my intentions are in terms of what I write and say, the images we shoot and publish. And it has made me really conscious of opportunities to push the conversation even more, to do something provocative, but also substantive; something that provokes in a purposeful way.
TMP: You are graduating next Spring, how will you transition into being a full time designer?
JM: Hahaha, we’ll see! Hopefully smoothly. I just want to do as many projects as possible with other artists who are putting out cool work. I think I’ve built a skill set that’s fairly specific with relation to product design and development. I’d like to put that to use in new ways, and push myself to grow even further.
TMP: What lessons have you learned from launching a brand as a student? What advice can you give budding entrepreneurs like yourself?
JM: I’ve definitely learned the power of resourcefulness! As a student, trying to do something big relatively independently, I’ve had to find unexpected paths toward accomplishing my goals along the way. It’s been really empowering to see a gap, and just figure out how to fill it. The world feels more malleable in a sense, when you come to believe that with enough creativity and hard work, you can work most things out.
As far as advice, I always say this, and I believe it to be true. If you have any inkling of an idea, of a passion, of a goal or ambition, just take the first step. It doesn’t have to be perfect on your first shot, and it probably won’t be, but just make the first move in one direction. You’ll learn a lot more from the imperfect pursuit of your ambition, than from waiting until the perfect circumstances arise to pursue your goal.
TMP: Your work reminds us of the term Sankofa. “Go back and get it, ” or “You must reach back to reclaim that which is lost in order to move forward.” Are you familiar with the term? If, so has it inspired your work?
JM: It’s funny you should mention that! I am familiar with the term, though this is the first time I’ve made the connection to KHIRY. But the concept is integral to what KHIRY stands for; I think it’s incredibly crucial to examine the past and use it as a starting point in reshaping the future. And I think more pointedly, so much has been lost in the historical record especially as it relates to the last few centuries of African and diasporic peoples. I think of KHIRY as a vehicle for reexamining that history, finding the gems in it which have been long discarded, and holding them up with pride and reverence.
TMP: If, you had to pick a piece for me, which piece would it be and why?
JM: I think I’d definitely choose the Adisa Drops, they’re bold, yet polished and elegant which I think would fit in really well with your style. They’re also available for pre-order now at Moda Operandi!