February 9th, 2018

Student Designer Spotlight: Shaquan Nelson

by: Maria Adetunji  @marrsnation

Tell me about yourself

My name is Shaquan. I’m a Junior studying Computer Science in SEAS. I’m from Newark, New Jersey so that’s like 30 minutes away.

What is this clothing Line?

My brand name is Strange Fruit. It’s a clothing brand that… Well essentially, I believe that in today’s society there’s a lot of problems: oppression, race, class, gender, things like that and in today’s society I think the state is usually like a big regime in oppression so I would kind of make the argument that now a days people are being lynched by a new tree–the three branches of government. That’s like the whole purpose of Strange Fruit; it’s like an allusion to Abel Meeropol’s Strange Fruit which is about like the lynching in the deep south and this was during the Jim Crow south which is I don’t know, but Strange Fruit is kinda like a revamp of that.

I saw on the website how you have legislative, Judicial

And executive…those are the three branches of American government. It’s supposed to be kind of disruptive when you look at the webpage. You’re not supposed to see it and know which one is the shop, which is the home or stuff like that because you’re really supposed to be forced to navigate and interact with everything. There’s three branches of government. There’s three things that you should really see on the page. It forces you to really look at everything and understand the clear connections.

How did this all start and why?

I started making clothes like three years ago because I just like clothes. It’s a form of self-expression for me. Often times I’m judged before I even enter a room, before I even get to say a word so my clothes are just another way for me to break barriers. At least, If you’re looking at my clothes before you’re looking at my skin color and you feel like something is wrong, that’s pretty big because everybody first notices that I’m black ya know. So, if you notice that my clothes are outlandish and that they say something about what I’m thinking then that’s also equally important. Two years later I finally chose the name Strange Fruit. I was just sitting down one day and it just came to me. I always knew the poem and everything, so that wasn’t like new. ‘Three trees bearing strange leaves’– [this is a line i’ve always wanted to put into a poem but haven’t. It’s a vivid imagery of the 3 branches of government–essentially a tree hanging people.] I rhyme a lot in my head and that just like came to me and I was like Strange Fruit and that’s when I knew I wanted to make like a [clothing] line.

How did your relationship with Christian start?

We just like knew each other from here I guess. I don’t even know. We just ran into each other and the way life works … Well one thing we are both black males so we try to empower each other because we’re scarce here…and so are the black women. There’s a lot of things that a lot of people don’t understand about how we perceive our environments here like compared to where we’re from and what we used to do so… I don’t know he reminds me of home a little bit. Like once he even visited me in the hospital which was really important, so from that I just knew this year I wanted to make a strong connection with him because we both really like clothes, we both like to sew, we both like the same things, and we both came to the same consensus that we would be better off if we had someone to relate to in our endeavors. So now is really good because we get to shoot and learn about different techniques and ways to work with intention now. Before we go to a shoot, we like talk about what the purpose of it is gonna be and we try to execute that. Christian and I just met, but we still link because we have the drive to get better at whatever craft we do whether it’s coding or clothing.

What’s the meaning behind the clothing and what message are you trying to portray?

I’m tryna portray a message about…I don’t want it to just be about race. I think my message is deeper than that. It’s just about like the perils of life and trying to offer an alternate form of appeal to authority, so if you don’t like the fact that the government tells you what you can and can’t be, then you can look at kids being whoever they want to be and subscribing to their own norms. I don’t know… you join like a freak show kind of and eventually you inspire some other kid to join a freak show and then the whole world’s a freak show and everybody’s just happy and not really worried about the state or what the world tells you to do. I learnt about the social contract when I was in high school and how everybody pretty much agrees to live in a society and agree to certain things so we can be safer or healthier, things like that. And the first time I read that I was like I didn’t sign up for this. I did not sign up to be oppressed just for the sake of everybody else’s leisure. The point of my brand is to put people’s eyes onto things they haven’t seen that can be radical and revolutionary so that one day they can be inspired to do the same and step out of their comfort zones.

When you first started did you have a specific audience you wanted to reach?

No. I still don’t know who my audience is. I just want to reach everybody honestly. I want the kids who know who Huey Newton is to wear the Flex Force 1’s. I want kids who don’t know who Huey Newton is to wear the Flex Force 1’s and be forced to find out. The reason why I like clothes as well is because it’s a form of art and entertainment that people can look at. My work is polarizing and I think when you see it, you either like it or you don’t. you see the black power. You see the black panther and you’re like ‘holy shit there’s a black panther on that shirt’ or you’re like ‘yeahhh that’s a black panther’. I just think that the message and how I want my clothes to be portrayed… it all works together like the medium is the message in a way, so as outlandish as I can be. I just like try to do that and hope to reach anybody that wants to see that. I think the world right now is not ready for change but there are kids in every spectrum of life, that’s what I mean when I say it’s not just race anymore. For example, kids can just be broke and if you’re poor enough, you can feel the same. You wake up and you starve just like I starve. If I make a shirt about me starving you’re going to want to buy that and if you can’t afford it you’re going to find a way to embody that principle regardless because it’s just like inspiring to you. That’s what I want Huey’s face to do.

What got you started into fashion?

Yeah. I grew up liking clothes. I like everything in a way. I just pick up things really fast and that’s my whole thing. So when I realized I liked clothes, I started designing then I realized I liked that, then I started screen printing then I liked that, then I started sewing and I liked that. It’s just like computer science in a way. I like computer science because I like the execution. As well as the effect that you can always find a billion ways to solve a problem. You always have something to look forward to because you always have somewhere to grow. So, for clothing, like right now I’m looking like a bum in this outfit and I know that I have something to look forward to because the next time I dress up I need to impress myself. My clothes also have a message a lot of times; so I like clothing because it’s a way for me to just wear my heart on my sleeve. One day I would just like to have mood shirts so I can just tell people how I’m feeling without having to say a word. Clothes are also just a good way for me to express myself. I write poems, so people understand where I’m coming from. Words on shirts they really tell how you feel. It gets no more obvious than that.

Where do you see yourself in the future going with your clothing line?

I hope to not have a day job as in sitting at a desk coding or doing something like that. I like coding don’t get me wrong but I’d rather do like free-lance work where I can just go around and make somebody’s website and work on a project instead of being stuck to a company for forever. I would just like to live a free lifestyle. I want my clothes to be keys for me in a way to like open doors, to give me access to things. So like financial access, people knowing who I am because of what I’ve done. I just hope it’s all worth it really. When I wake up every day, I put in work for my clothes in hopes that this work will pay off. I’m about to be 21, but I’m really upset that I’m in college because my life should have already started. I looked at Chief Keef. He’s my inspiration. He got dropped from Interscope, and when he got dropped from his record label, the whole time when everybody thought he just wasn’t doing anything. Then he dropped a new project and I realized he was producing on every single song. He didn’t just get dropped from Interscope, he prepared to leave the label. He was working on himself and learning to make beats instead of just doing drugs and doing nothing. I was like wow I could prepare to leave the label. I don’t want to be at Columbia. I hate this school in a lot of ways,so I could prepare to leave and use the resources around me to do that. I hope it all pays off and I just hope me hating school and going about it in a different way just becomes successful.

By Any Leans – $35 (shirt on Marcus)
The Revolution 01- $35
Flex Force 1’s- $65                                                                                                                                                                                         @strangefruitconglomerate

Models: Marcus Hogan @marcusii & Michaela Pecot @p3cot

Photographer: Elle Wolfley @_elle_wolfley

Styled by: Shaquan Nelson @fuhrershaquan