Our Creative Industries Pathways over the last few months has inspired our participants by giving them a great understanding of the creative landscape around them. Instilling them with confidence we have guided them towards employment opportunities while providing motivation from speakers such as Jahmal Ukson, who finalised our last workshop.
So, who is Jahmale Ukson and why did we choose him?
From the moment Jahmale started speaking his passion was palpable. With not even a slide show to guide him, he used his phone with a few notes of the points he wanted to make, something only someone with hunger for what they do could pull off so effortlessly.
When Jahmale was younger fashion was never in his sights, in fact he wanted to be an archaeologist. Coming from a disadvantaged background with not a lot off money to spare, Jahmale from a young age was savvy in making his clothing last longer.
Visiting ‘Hyper Hyper’ – what he describes as the Harrods of street wear, supplying everything from hip hop to theatre clothing, he used to visit a lady to get this clothing readjusted or customised. He continuously visited her, but she eventually grew tired of him. Not appreciating his money, the lady told him to “go away and do it yourself”. Venturing off home, disappointed but provoked with thoughts, Jahmale told his mother “I want to start in fashion.”
This is where his journey in fashion started. From here he went to Westminster College, claiming he was the only male in the class, which seemed strange to him as most designers are predominantly male. He then went to study at the London College of Fashion, and then onto a 3-week stint at Croydon College, which he left as he felt there was nothing more he could be taught in a classroom.
He started off with his fashion in the club scene to express himself. Taking influence from American rappers such as Kanye West, his clothes featured a baggy hip hop style.
But how did he start to get peoples attention?
With confidence and showing his talent, he naturally caught the interest off the people around him. Slowly, he started to make his way, growing bigger he decided to do pop-up stores and the customisation of clothes which was his selling point. People wanted what was new and fresh and that is what he delivered.
“Word of mouth is powerful and never underestimate that good work will promote and speak for itself. Don’t do anything to impress other people, what will get you far is the power, ability and craftmanship of your work.”
Years later he was contacted by the London College of Art where he was offered to teach students on the future of fashion but after a few years he was ready to invest more into his fashion business.
“My journey when it came to becoming a denim master tailor, was all about sustainability, turning something old into new. This wasn’t because I wanted to jump onto sustainability, but due to lack of funding. This paid off for me and I realised that customising was the way forward.” These days Jahmale, counts it as one of his biggest blessings that his name comes up in the conversation of sustainability – “this doesn’t just mean you can only use particular fabrics; it means being innovative to enhance fabrics to last longer.”
This is when his reputation exploded, everyone was speaking about him, and he was customising people’s denim from different backgrounds. He even got attention from Ralph Lauren for a position in their designing team, but he decided to sidestep the offer as he felt it wasn’t the right fit for him. Fascinated by his work they still were keen to work with him and as part of the Olympics he customised and resized thousands of Ralph Lauren suits for Olympians and Paralympians. Continuing with pop up stores and making a breakthrough in America, his phone did not stop ringing with random requests, including ones from well-known brands such as Levi’s.
Have you ever faced any negativity?
“Probably my last encounter with the lady who altered my clothing, although that turned into my Kodak moment. There was also this one time I was in a seminar, and someone asked me ‘how does it feel to not be the smartest person in the room.’ It took me aback, but you must have self-empowerment, I responded to them ‘I may not be, but I am the most creative’ and that mind set has gotten me here.”
What is the key to being successful?
“Finding somewhere, where people are brutally honest with what you can do and what you are capable off, don’t surround yourself with yes men and yes women and don’t be afraid to get into healthy debates about your skills and service.”
“Be creative and don’t be shy with your visions. You need to be able to express yourself but also be humble enough to take criticism.”
Rebirthing past garments with alteration become his focal point in what he was doing. In the lockdown he found he had a reboot, as no one was buying clothing but wanted their previous clothes customising, it was a different direction to what he had been going in, but it got him back on the map.