Story by Nova Giovanni
Come Up – Verb. 1- To advance in a specified manner. 2- To rise in rank or status.
The city is Philadelphia. 8:30 PM at the Marriott Downtown. My phone rings and it is a text from Nasir, The Fashion Designer Extraordinaire:
“Nova, I’m here in the lobby.”
I head straight for the elevator to accompany him. Extravagant chandeliers, fancy furniture, successful looking people all around, and we are right where we belong. I escort Nasir to my room on the 19th floor, he looks out of the floor to ceiling window, points to different parts of the city and educates me on them. We both have a seat and get straight to business:
Nova: Tell us a little about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
Nasir: My name is Nasir. I do a few things. By day, I work with kids and ex offenders and run a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. By night, I throw my creative cape on and make varsity jackets and custom clothes.
Nova: Circle Of Influence – how big is the team and what are their roles?
Nasir: We’ve got Marcus Bailey, he’s responsible for Circle Of Influence brand management. He contacts the celebrities and stylists. Marcus takes care of logistics and is the nuts and bolts of the operation. Then there is Sage, who is the connector. He’s responsible for making the different travel arrangements and fly stuff. Next is AK, a trendsetter for the DMV area. He is responsible for the influence there. Another member of the team is my man, G. He is my business partner, he takes care of marketing and aids with brand management. Last but not least is Saiyyd. He is the mad scientist and master sewer, and sews three thousand times better than me. He teaches me a lot of things concerning the industry also. Everybody sees me all the time, but without them COI really doesn’t exist.
Nova: Ahhh man, you have a whole roster right there.
Nasir: What is crazy is everyone came together just believing in a vision. I was trying to do everything by myself from the beginning. I was trying to make clothes, market, reach out, and a lot of other things. Different people just started reaching out like, “I like what you’re doing, what can I do?” and it wasn’t about a check. It was about them liking the vision and wanting to help.
Nova: How long have you been creating clothing?
Nasir: I’ve been creating clothing since I was 16, but I’ve really been taking it seriously for about a year and a half. Before, I was just making custom things for myself and my homies.
Nova: Do you remember the first article of clothing you ever created?
Nasir: Yes. Yes, I do.
Nova: What was it? Was it fresh or do you look back like “man, that was some garbage!” ???
Nasir:It was a Gordon Gartrell! Haha, the sleeves were all off. The collar had the shoulder lean. Yeah, it was a bad situation. It was terrible!
On the other hand, one of the coolest things I made was a pair of Nike Air Force Ones. I cut off one of my mom’s Gucci purses. I didn’t know the importance of Gucci at the time, I just liked the pattern. So I cut her purse open and used crazy glue to put the Gucci print on the check, tongue, and toe of the Nikes. I thought it was the flyest thing, but my mom saw her pocket-book all cut up and whooped my ass.
Nova:How did you learn to sew?
Nasir: I’m self-taught. My mother and grandmother did a bit of sewing. My grandmother did crochet work more than anything. I started off fixing some things. I’ve watched a few videos and read a few books, but I have no formal training in sewing.
Nova: You was saying its been a year and a half since you’ve been taking it seriously. What made you come to that decision? Was it just an epiphany?
Nasir: No. Years ago, I had been trying to get into the fashion game. I went to the Art Institute of Philadelphia. I had a couple of situations that made me think to myself “what am I going to differently? How am I going to be able to do what I want to do and live the lifestyle I’m used to living?” That is when I made up my mind to try the clothing thing seriously. I put my foot down and decided to go full speed into fashion.
Nova: When did you realize you wanted to be a designer?
Naisr: I read fashion magazines religiously, I check out fashion apps on my iPhone and iPad. I like Jeremy Scott because he pushes the envelope. I like 5001 Flavors because they are legends in the custom clothing game. They’ve been doing stuff going back from Big Pun and Biggie Smalls up to now. I just like a lot of different custom clothing designers. People who push the envelope.
Nova: What does fashion mean to you and what does Circle of Influence add to the industry that isn’t already in it?
Nasir: I just think fashion is the ability to be able to tell a story with clothes. No more, no less. I think if you can relay a message with what you’re wearing, that is what embodies fashion. What COI brings to the fashion industry is pushing the envelope but making it realistic. A lot of times people do custom clothing, but is so far-fetched that it is only good for the runway. What I want to do is make wearable art. I want you to look at the piece like “damn, I could put this in a frame. But, then again – I can wear it and have everyone pointing and looking at it.”
Nova: Everyone sees the Circle of Influence varsity jackets. Do you design other products or plan on designing other products?
Nasir: Initially, we were starting off with button up shirts. We got a call about a year and a half ago for a birthday party for Diggy Simmons. The stylist said they were waiting on the budget to see what they’d get made. The stylist never called me back, so I called her/him asking what we’d do for Diggy. I found out the stylist never called back because the record label didn’t give them the budget for the clothing for the party. A lot of times in the fashion industry, the stylist won’t even offer to pay a designer. Especially an up and coming designer. I respected the fact she was actually trying to pay me, so we put together a varsity jacket for him. It reached the internet, and that is what got popular. Everyone started reaching out about the jackets. We ended up doing some stuff for Diggy, Nicki Minaj, P. Diddy, and it just kept spiraling. Now, everyone is like “those are those dudes that do those varsity jackets.” That is okay too, there is no complaints with that. It is the niche. We’re about to do more t-shirts, crazy denim, accessories, dufflebags, backpacks, luggage, and everything.
Nova: We’ve seen your varsity jackets on big names (Wale, Meek Mill, Diggy Simmons, Terrence J, some professional athletes, and others). How did it get into their hands?
Nasir: We’ve mostly cultivated relationships with people. Another thing, I like to be a walking billboard. I’ll be out and about and people will see what I’m wearing. They’ll be like “hey, where did you get that from?” I’ll give them my card on the spot and let them know that I made it. It is just relationships being built that has afforded us the opportunity to get direct access to celebrities.
Nova: If you could get a Circle of Influence jacket on ANYONE, who would it be?
Nasir: Kanye! Without question! Mark my words, Yeezy WILL be in Circle of Influence! Soon!
Nova: How long does it usually take to create one of those cool custom jackets?
Nasir: Really, it depends on the mood. The fastest I’ve ever done one is six and a half hours. With the creative process; I tell my clients it will be 7-14 days, but it never takes that long. I still have a regular day job. I may work my job for 16 hours, do a bit of sewing, then go to bed. Then I wake up for Fajr at 5:30 in the morning, might do a little more sewing, then go to work, then come home and finish it off. Then again, there have been times we’ve done jackets from beginning to end, didn’t like it, and just started over. One thing about me, is if I won’t personally wear it- I won’t give it to a client. We try our best to do it in a timely manner, but it is all cut and sew. We go to the fabric store and get all the materials.
Nova: What are your favorite fabrics to work with? I’ve seen some unique things, like crocodile and a few others.
Nasir: Yes, I like working with the croc and snake skin a lot. Just because those are materials you don’t normally see, especially on a varsity jacket. Now, a lot of brands are starting to do it; but we originated that. Imitation is the biggest form of flattery.
Nova: It’s never the same though, especially when you’ve seen better. I’ll be in the mall and see varsity jackets and wouldn’t even feel comfortable buying them. I’m thinking to myself, “Circle of Influence has the CROCODILE on it! What is this WOOLY itchy stuff?!?!” Your pieces are definitely unique. Where do you draw inspiration and ideas?
Nasir: We have a creative process. Say, you came and asked for a jacket. I want to get into your head after that so it will represent you. I want to know what kind of music you listen to, your favorite colors, and what kind of message you want this jacket to give. We have a whole design consultation and figure out how we can make this jacket a representation of you. I draw inspiration from everything. I may look at a carpet pattern and feel it would look great on a jacket.
Nova: What do you believe makes a quality article of clothing?
Nasir: The craftmanship that goes into it. A lot of times people bring me other designers’ garments to fix it. Circle of Influence pieces are going to last forever. After you wash it, dry clean it, and whatever you do to it; it will still be a good product. It will go through its natural wear and tear, but you’ll have a quality piece.
Nova: Where are you from and do you think it influences your work at all?
Nasir: Born and raised in South Jersey. Where I’m from- its trees and woods. People from where I’m from see it now and are like “this is really what you’re doing out here”. My work ethic is strong because I came up around men who had really strong work ethics. I don’t think my surroundings have an impact on what I’m doing, but I think my work ethic was born and raised in South Jersey along with me.
Nova: Is there a certain demographic you target with your clothing?
Nasir: Initially, I did. Now, it’s really for trendsetters; the person that isn’t afraid to think outside of the box when it comes to fashion. I want my clothes on everyone from the guy that works at the shoe store all day all the way to the ball player who has a gazillion dollars to spend on something custom. A majority of my clients aren’t celebrities. I’ve had people come to me who work in the mall and have saved up two paychecks to get a coat, and I’m happier to deal with them because I know they are going to wear it with pride.
Nova: What are your ultimate goals with Circle Of Influence?
Nasir: I want Circle of Influence to be a household name, a powerhouse in fashion, and I want to use it to give people jobs. I have people who are having trouble getting jobs. I’d like to bring them into the fold and provide them with decent salaries. I want to use the Circle of Influence to kind of influence the influence.
Nova: You’re definitely a major sneakerhead. What is your favorite sneaker of all time?
Nasir: There are so many. If I had to pick sneakers I have that are my favorites they would be the Black Album Air Force Ones, The 40/40 Air Force Ones, and I’m really liking these Jeremy Scott Adidas I have on now. At first I saw the tail and was like, “I don’t know about that tail”.
Nova: I’ve been thinking they’re going to come alive or something. RAWR!!!
Nova: Not only do you create clothing for trendsetters, but you also do a lot of community work. What do you do in that area and what motivated you to get involved in the community?
Nasir: My mom started a drug intervention and prevention center twenty years ago and she was teaching me as she went along to different trainings. I’d sit in on different classes with her as she went. In high school as a teen myself, I was a teen mentor. What motivates me to do it is growing up all I had to look up to is my uncles, but they wasn’t really cool. The only cool cats to look up to was the dope boys. As we get older, we realize what they’re doing isn’t so cool. I want to put myself in that position. The kids watch 106 & Park, for them to see what I’m doing and being from the same area is motivation enough.
Nova: Any last words?
Nasir: Thank you for the interview. It is always appreciated when people hear about your story and want to spread what you’re doing. I appreciate that. Shoutout to everyone that has been supporting Circle of Influence. Thank you to everyone that has been spreading it through word of mouth, blog posts, retweets; I appreciate it all. I want to thank my team because without them it wouldn’t work. It’s not a me thing, it’s a we thing. In this interview, I feel like they are here with me. It is humbling. Much more success to you, Nova. You’re out there killing them.
Nova: Ahh man, thank you. It means a lot coming from you. I’m just doing this until I can get a Circle of Influence jacket! Haha, I appreciate you, man!