As millienials we’re all just trying to figure it out. Our passion and what makes us tick, what life is really about and the life we want to shape for ourselves. We could all learn a lot from each other. I mean, we’re all just walking stories. Interesting ones too. Here’s one, of my friend, fashion designer, philanthropist and skinny quesadilla extraordinaire- Whitney.
A: How did you start Rebel Citizen?
Whitney: Man, that was a long time ago.
I decided that I wanted to do something creative. I wanted to go on a creative venture, like a personal creative venture. I was working at Guess jeans at the time as their in house graphic artist and print designer. I was really excited about the job. It was my first full time position after college and I love fashion. I didn’t major in fashion design but I knew I would always end up in the fashion industry. Um, so that was cool. I was like I can do graphic design within this fashion industry and learn about the fashion industry at the same time. I wasn’t a huge Guess fan but it’s a big company and I knew I could learn a lot about the business side and even the creative side on a larger scale. So that was cool and exciting. But... I got tired of it really fast. (laughs)
Whitney: Actually no. I was there about 4 years. Which was a record! Honestly, I should go down in the Guinness Book of World Records for graphic designers at Guess because ...
A: They have a high turnover rate?
Whitney: They have a high turnover rate for graphic designers because it’s demanding. It’s a lot. It’s a big company , a lot of graphics that have to go on everything. Like Guess is branded beyond belief! You know how some fashion labels, they don’t put labels on anything. But Guess is like, Guess, Guess, Guess! Everywhere! “We need a logo for the pants in the back and in the front!” (laughs) So I was doing a lot. It was a lot of work. Long hours but I learned a lot. I was grateful. But I was just tired. And I was not getting challenged creatively. It wasn’t fulfilling my personal artistic needs of personal expression. So I was like, OK well just stick it out and learn as much as you can and either move on to the next company or take a break and maybe I’ll start my own line. And so that’s what I did. My goal, I just set it in my head. This was during year three and I was like Ok I’m going to give it another 6mos to a year and see where I can go. See where my place is professionally. So start interviewing and seeing if I can get another job somewhere else that’s more fun and creative or freelance and try freelancing because I hadn’t freelanced at all.
A: So what did you decide?
Whitney: Well I ended up getting a temp position at Juicy Couture, which I liked better brand wise. I liked their identity a little bit more. Guess, was very exploitative of women. I felt like their advertisements were super raunchy and sexy. Which, we all know sex sells. But I was just tired looking at that stuff.
A: It was redundant?
Whitney: Yes! So Juicy Couture was a nice change. It was a little bit more cutesy and tasteful. So when I left Juicy I started Rebel Citizen. So I was able to start my own [line]. I was able to start conceptualizing it. I didn’t really know what I wanted to call my line at first actually. So it was kind of a nice exercise for self discovery. Like, “Who am I?” “If I had a clothing line what would it be called?” “Do I want it to represent me and who I am and that’s really what I wanted it to be. I was like okay, “Who am I?” “I’m kind of rebellious.” My parents raised me to be an individual and to “try” not to compromise my individuality as much as I could in today’s society. But you have to be kind of rebellious to do that. You have to rebel against society to be yourself. Which everyone has to deal with. If they want to. Or you don’t...I mean you can conform.
A: Yes there is a choice.
Whitney: I want to make money doing art which is like unheard of in a lot of people’s world. They don’t believe that you can be an artist and actually make money. Especially in black culture I feel like.
A: Oh yeah.
Whitney: People are like, “What do you do for a living? You design?” Yeah.
A: You can make money? (laughs)
Whitney: “Oh so you like draw all day and stuff?!” I was like, “Yeah!” So that’s how I came up with the name Rebel Citizen. And I also wanted to redefine the name rebel. At the time like Rihanna, I love her so much, but her and all these artists were rebels as these more sexual kind of characters that young women were looking up to. They were showing rebel in, well not necessarily a bad light but not appropriate. So I wanted to be a more positive uplifting rebel. Haha!
A: That’s interesting because the first time I heard that your clothing line was called Rebel Citizen, I thought, “Hmm, I don’t get it she’s not a rebel!” I didn’t get this sense of aggression from you. But now I see that it goes with your desire to want to redefine what people view as a rebel.
Whitney: There are levels to that. And it’s always looked at in a bad way.
A: The way you just explained it is something I hadn’t thought about. That really to be an individual and maintain your individuality and not succumb to societal norms, you have to be aberrant or rebellious in a sense.
Whitney: Exactly. I knew I would have that challenge. People saying oh well, you’re not a rebel! So I knew I’d have to explain that which is fine because it creates a conversation. I mean you look at leaders and figures that are considered rebels like Malcolm X and all these social activists they’re not bad people. They’re making change in the world. And that’s the other thing. I always wanted to do something good in the world and give back, I’ve been so blessed. I have in my journey so far with my own personal wealth, I’ve given like an orphanage I visited in South Africa. I flew out there and I funded it on my own just through my work and was able to donate art supplies to the school. I had a fundraiser before I left. So that’s that ethical side of my brand. Using fabric from countries that need economic stimulation. Some parts of Africa have beautiful textiles and fabrics and companies here in America they just not from Africa but from everywhere, they take these indigenous prints and recreate them in China in a factory for a fraction of the price or even sometimes the same price. When you can get the original fabric from the people that actually need...
A: Why do you think that is?
Whitney: It’s just business and relationships and trust. I feel like people trust China, for manufacturing. It’s easy to ship. And they are more established and their economy is more “reliable.” That was not always my experience when working with Chinese manufacturers with Guess and Juicy Couture. I mean nothing ever works really smoothly. I mean we know China, China has taken over the world. They’ve got it down- the manufacturing, is wrapped up tight. But there are other places in the world that can do the same quality manufacture work, if not better quality and in better work environments, at a smaller scale. But, why not support those places? That’s part of my mission.