Vashtie Kola: The Downtown Sweetheart
Known as “Downtowns Sweetheart”, Vashtie Kola represents one of New York’s more well known mutli-talented creatives. Taking some time out of her busy schedule, she offers us a glimpse into her everyday life. As well as the reasoning as to why she looked to fashion to go alongside her all ready strong resume which includes video director, party promoter, artist and creative director.
Interview with Vashtie Kola
Can you please give people a run-down about yourself? How did you earn the nickname “Downtown’s Sweetheart”?
My name is Vashtie. I am a director, designer and party promoter (1992 with OSCAR / OPEN with Q TIP). I was born and raised in Albany, New York as the youngest of three children. My parents are working class immigrants from Trinidad. I moved to New York City to attend art school at SVA and to ultimately pursue all my dreams. I recently left my position at Island Def Jam as Director of Creative Services to work for myself. Last season I launched my brand VIOLETTE.
“Downtown’s Sweetheart” started off as a joke. A friend of mine refused to walk with me to a store in Soho. He said “I don’t have time, you’re going to run into too many people you know and it will take us hours. You know everyone, you’re like Downtown’s Sweetheart or something.” I adopted it because I thought it was funny and it just stuck. I have many affiliations so it made sense. It’s a funny play on America’s Sweetheart, although I represent a different area.
What inspired you to create and launch your clothing label Violette?
As a kid I was always drawing and making stuff. I got into designing and making my own pieces when I was around 12, I originally wanted to study fashion. Then I got really into film and music videos and decided to head in that direction, because I figured I could still do fashion on the side. Throughout high school and college I worked retail. In 2000, I was working at Stussy and the urge to make clothing re-surfaced and I started designing and screening my own shirts. It came about because there were so many things at that time that were not available, it was before this whole “streetwear” explosion happened. As a girl who dresses boyish, I could never find tees I wanted in my size and I really loved all the boy brands. I had been getting my Supreme tees altered by my tailor so they could fit me. Girl brands just never appealed to me. They say “necessity is the mother of invention” and well, I needed an option.
How has your strong network of peers helped you achieve your goals?
In film-making and parties, my peers are huge helpers. Either by supporting at the events or working on set. Just having people around helps. Especially with film-making. It’s a team effort and you need a solid crew and extra helping hands. It’s important to have a community of people who support you.
As far as the brand, I’ve been doing it on my own…designing, printing, funding, sales, marketing, etc. I had a couple of investor options, but I wanted to learn every aspect and be able to say I did it on my own (at least in the beginning). There are no secret cooks in the kitchen and it’s definitely been more stressful that way, but it’s a learning process. I’ve had a couple of good friends help with organizing and the laborious moments, without them I would have gone crazy!
I’ve gotten a lot of advice from friends in the game; Kunle/Irak, Scott/Pegleg, Loic/BBC, Erin/MadeMe, but it came down to trial and error for me. James Jebbia gave me great advice, he said “take your time” and I did. Ha, It took me 8 years to finally launch a brand.
How does fashion differ from other creative mediums such as music-making or video directing?
Well, video directing almost always involves other parties…for example the record label, the artist, etc. The original ideas can get lost in a tug of war between everyone involved. It’s a struggle and you have to learn how to bargain with people. That’s the story with commercial art everywhere, it becomes a forum. Fashion (now) has been purer because I have no one to answer to but myself. I’m making all the things I like and it’s almost limitless. That may change as time goes on, but I think it will always be more independent than others.
What are the inspirations behind your debut collection?
Really the brand reflects me and my style, tom-boyish and fashion forward. I’ve always been opposed to super feminine themes and I never wanted my brand to scream, “I’m a Girl”. It’s obvious I’m a girl, I don’t need a t-shirt to tell people that. What isn’t obvious are the things I may like or dislike, the opinions I have. Also, because the designs were so “neutral” I decided on a making a line of t-shirts for the fellas, VIOLETTE HOMME.
I focused a lot on the branding of VIOLETTE with the use of logos. I wanted it to feel like an old brand and I tried to keep the designs classic and simple – that’s something that will be found in every season. I played with sarcasm and irony with a couple shirts just for fun.
For instance the KILL FOR PEACE tee was an inspiration from a World War I jacket that had buttons with that message branded on it. The irony and boldness of that statement was so great, it started to be humorous. The idea of killing for peace was such a strange concept, then again – in some dire situations it becomes a possible solution.
I also like things that serve a purpose and hold a message. Some of the tees have commentary. The EFF YOU tee was designed when I was working at NIKE ID in 2005. It was such an old design, but it really explained how my peers and I felt about the scene. From working retail in 2000 at Stussy, we saw how the sneaker/streetwear game just exploded. It became so massive that everyone was the same, there was nothing different or new. Everyone talking about what kicks they had, what line they were starting, etc. It was so boring and I know HYPEBEAST readers can relate to it. If you truly love something you can, at times, hate it. I’m not excluding myself because I am apart of that world, so I added the “F*@K VIOLETTE”.
Also, if you notice, there is a heart on the sleeve on the shirts. I wanted to really brand that, “wearing your heart on your sleeve” idea. As someone who is strong, tough and can hold my own… I can also wear my heart on my sleeve amongst the people closest to me. It’s not an accepted way of living, but I appreciate it because it’s honest. We as a people get caught up in “acting” a part, afraid of people seeing the real you. Obviously, you can’t leave yourself open for hurt, but I find beauty in someone who isn’t afraid of showing how they truly feel.
Text: Eugene Kan
Photography: Stephen Wordie