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#AtHome with PAUSE: Q&A with Designer Martin Myaka

By November 19, 2020Culture, Interviews
Interview by: Rhys Marcus Jay

Martin Myaka, your name and the name for your rising brand – can you explain who and what this brand stands for as well as what your ethos is?

I’m Martin Myaka and I wanted the brand to be seen as me as a designer. Hence, Martin Myaka being the brand. It’s my take on fashion and design. I’m not the only part of the brand, but the choice to name the brand after myself is a responsibility i carry for the projects we execute. It sounds simple, but the choices I made when putting the team together were intentional. We’re all from Cincinnati, but we all come from different places. I used to hate where I was from but I’m now finding that to be one of the most important parts of what I do.

Can you describe the process of designing a product all the way up until it comes into fruition?

I really can’t. There’s no right way. We have a starting point and make adjustments from there. It just comes down to having an idea and trying it and then the process reveals itself.

Has the current circumstance that we’re in, covid-19, affected this process in any kind of way, and if so, how?

Of course, the virus has made things more difficult in a lot of aspects, but I feel like if I used that as an excuse I’d just be being lazy. Nobody wanted this to happen, but I wasn’t going to waste the free time we were all awarded as a result. Covid or not, there’s always an excuse – but you can do anything you set your mind to.

Great marketing often tends to yield a tangible return on investment in most cases, given that advertising has leaned more towards digital platforms i.e. Instagram, TikTok, YouTube etc., in the last couple of years, have you found yourself investing in promotion on either of these platforms?

Yeah, I mean I think you’d be making a mistake not utilizing the free marketing tools out there. Instagram is my preferred method. Only because I feel like I understand it well and can use it to expand our demographic. We’ve been working on a YouTube for a while now. You’ll probably see that pretty soon.

How are you navigating this part of the business, especially as it appears to be the most competitive and expensive tool that most brands invest in?

To be honest, I’m still learning. But I know what I like and who I am so I try to just stay true to that. Sometimes that costs money, sometimes it doesn’t. I see some people who probably spend next to nothing on this category – but they’re just creative and have a strong vision and they absolutely smash it. You can have all the money in the world but if you lack vision and concept, I don’t think it really matters.

Let’s take a step back, is there a team behind your brand? Who performs which role?

Yeah, I tried to do as much as I could by myself but once things sped up I needed to bring some people in to maximize productivity. It’s 7 of us now in total. Sam Jordan-Keller, Trevor Ealy, Brett Ealy, Carmen Ruiz, Christian Higgins (Chiggs), Marcus Matthews, and myself. Sam is my right hand. He’s me in an alternate universe. If I make something that Sam is excited about, I usually know it’s a hit. He’s very critical of me, but that’s something I need. He runs the show when I’m not around. Trevor is my swiss army knife. He does everything I need him to. And if he doesn’t know how to do it, he’ll learn how in a day. Marcus helps with logistics. Carmen helps with digital design work. Brett and Chiggs do our numbers and bookkeeping. They keep everything on track.

You describe “Martin Myaka” as an art project, can you elaborate on this?

Martin Myaka is an art project first and a brand second. I don’t ever want to be stuck in a box. I like creating what comes to me. Whatever we make, we put a lot of emphasis on the process that goes into making it. Whenever you buy something from us, you’re buying a piece of art. And like art, our goal is to create something that holds value long past the timeline set by the standard definition of “fashion”.

Hands appear to be synonymous iconography with your brand, what does this symbolise?

The hand came about as a reference to us touching every product and making it with our hands. That was the idea behind it. The decision to use only 4-fingers was for a couple of reasons. It’s about working so hard that you lose a finger – hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. But it’s also a reference to space and aliens. When I first started designing, the brand was called “space_bylord”. I wanted to move away from that idea but still keep it as part of my identity.

Let’s talk Jack Harlow in your “V2 Work Jacket”, what led to this moment and how has it affected your growth thus far?

Harlow is a g for that. I was never expecting him to wear it in that context. But I’ve known his photographer, Urban Wyatt for a little while. He’s always shown love and I’ve always just sent him shit I’m working on. In this case, I guess Jack just really liked it and decided to wear it in his video. Kind of a surreal moment. But we’re all from the midwest. Louisville is 1.5 hrs from Cincinnati. It’s almost poetic how it all happened.. At the end of the day, it doesn’t change our mentality that much. But it did give us some serious credibility.

You recently secured a space and claimed it as your studio, right? That’s a huge deal! Speak on this accomplishment for us and explain how you were able to achieve such a milestone like this?!

I mean, it’s crazy. Fashion isn’t really a relevant market in Ohio but I always wanted to be able to bring home what I do and create opportunities for my friends and family. Getting the studio was one of the first times I’ve actually felt like my dreams were coming true. Nobody has a schedule or a time requirement but I would say we’re in here probably an average of 10-12 hrs most days a week. That’s the energy and enthusiasm I wanted around me. People who really understand what’s happening here and are willing to invest their time and energy. It was a move that I made pretty quickly, so naturally, that raised some questions. And a space like that definitely isn’t cheap, but at the end of the day, it’s going to prove to be one of the smartest decisions I ever made with the brand. That studio creates energy and productivity I’ve never experienced anywhere else. It pays for itself.

What’s your academic background?

I graduated high school from Walnut Hills in Cincinnati, then went to Miami University in Oxford, Ohio after that. I went in with a pre-med focus and I was in the honours college studying Biochemistry. It all sounds super impressive but I learned very quickly I didn’t want to keep doing it. I like to think I was smart enough, but I really wasn’t willing to commit the time I needed to in order to be successful in that field. I switched schools and changed to a business major – but I dropped out shortly after that. I just really didn’t like the structure of school. I felt constricted. Leaving was just something I had to do for myself. I had to take a chance on myself. But I’m wanna go back and get my degree someday. I know that’ll make mum and pop really happy.

Did this inspire your route as a Designer? If not, what did?

School didn’t have much to do with me wanting to design other than showing me that I really didn’t want to do medicine. I liked working with my hands. I think that’s maybe why I thought I wanted to be a surgeon. But my mum taught me to sew when I was young and I feel like it just took some time for that seed to grow. It’s like the ultimate form of self-expression. Making something from scratch that myself and others can wear. I really enjoy garments as a medium.

What are your thoughts on #blm as far as Fashion Brands? We’ve seen such a great surge in demand when it comes to “Buying Black”, i.e. Telfar who has devised a “bag security” scheme which breaks down a barrier to entry which is quite innovative for a young brand, some might say.

I think there is a lot of talent in the black community that is overlooked. Right now there’s so much tension in the world because of all of the injustice around being black – specifically in America. These problems stretch across the entire world. And in fashion specifically, black people have been seen as tokens to meet social standards. I really appreciate Telfar Clemens. He’s a great reference point for people who still don’t understand our value. But truthfully, I don’t think the world is going to be able to hold back black potential much longer. We’re not going anywhere, and we keep getting better and better at what we do. I want the narrative to change from “buying black” to “buying the best”. And black creatives being equally in that conversation.

We notice that your pieces come in limited quantities which we assume is due to the made to order process, does this mean that you pride yourself in selling “exclusive” pieces?

Made to order has been our model up to this point. I’m going to be honest with you, the main reason for that is because I wanted to learn. I like to have some level of understanding of whatever I’m asking someone else to do for me. I wanted to build the identity of the brand that way. It felt more authentic. That being said – we’re growing quickly. Outsourcing is inevitable so that we can meet our demand and grow even further. Now we’re spending time finding the best factories around the world in terms of quality AND ethics. Limited quantities will always be something we do. It’s an environmental decision I made. Overproducing is unnecessary and expensive. As demand grows, we will increase our units, but If you want it, be quick and make sure you get it. That’s the name of the game.

How do you come up with the price points for each product?

Price points are really just based on fabrics and production and what goes into making it. I want to keep things as affordable as I can but I’m not willing to undervalue the work we do. While it may be expensive to some, I think we’ve done a pretty good job of keeping whatever we’re making accessible.

Custom trainers to apparel, to small leather goods to now expanding into homeware, right? What fuelled this train of thought?

Furniture is like fashion for your home. But unlike fashion, you typically keep it for a long time. I love that. Furniture in particular is a big focus for us in the future. I love the idea of our art living in someone else’s home – their safe space.. outside of the public eye. I came into the game with a pair of custom low top AF1’s. We’ve been working on an elevated version for some time now. I don’t want to say too much about that project but just know they’re being made the best they can possibly be made. Truthfully I think the world might simultaneously combust into flames when we drop them so we’re just trying to make sure we’re prepared.

Where do you feel your brand sits within the marketplace at this current time?

From my point of view, the brand still has a long way to go. But I think right now there’s a group of us that are kind of in a new lane. Pierre Bassene, Tristan Cole, Junior Clint, Eastwood Danso. Even Syd and Marino Morwood deserve to be in that conversation. I don’t even want to disrespect any of them because I feel they’re even further along than we are. But that’s the lane I like being in. The one we’ve created. Not trying to compete or fit in with anyone else. I’m just focused on telling my story and creating a feeling that you can’t get anywhere else.

Is that a space you hope to continually occupy and if not, where do you aspire to be placed?

Yeah, I like this space. I personally see the brand as more luxury than street. But that will come with time. As long as we keep getting better in all aspects, the foundation we’ve built is solid. We’ll be ready for whatever.

In 10 years where can we expect to see you as a Designer, and Martin Myaka as a brand, and who can we anticipate the brand being associated with?

In 10 years, I hope your son or daughter is raiding your closet for some vintage clothes and comes upon a grail Myaka piece. As for me, I’m going to own some land somewhere very remote. You probably won’t see me very often but if you do, it’ll be for a good reason. Regardless of where I am, I’m always going to be doing the exact thing I’m doing right now. Hopefully, it will just be on a much bigger scale. I’d like to be able to keep a base here in Cincinnati but I want the headquarters to be somewhere in Europe. I’m not sure yet. That’s honestly a lot of the fun in this – the uncertainty. My focus is on preparation and execution. The rest will fall into place.