Having your blog is a blessing, and a curse. A curse because it becomes an “incessant responsibility” along with everything else. But a blog can be a blessing, as it can be a great way to get YOUR message about who you are, as well as others. I did an interview a while back with a fledgling magazine out of LA. The magazine is no longer online, but I still have the transcripts. So in an act of “self-induced nepotism” I am going to tell my story,and how I began as a designer, then design consultant. So here we go.
Interviewer: How did you start as a designer?
Seaki: When I was young, I wanted to be an archeologist. I would dig up chicken bones, try to find fossils around the neighborhood. It would horrify my mom, as she thought I was going to become a serial killer, cause of all the animal bones under my bed. (laugh) I have always had a talent for drawing, from a very early age, but being a fashion designer was decided by me and my dad.
Interviewer: You and your father, so it was a collaborative effort?
Seaki: Not really, I was making sunday dresses and suits for my mother to wear to morning service for for sometime. My father was from Sao Paulo, so his son sitting in front of a sewing machine, or hand sewing was too much for his machismo. I will never forget, we were all sitting at the breakfast table, it was a Sunday. The Louisiana Chronicle/ Houston Chronicle would have a huge fashion section, like “Life and Style”. I remember pointing out to dad that year Emmanuel Ungaro had made 235 Million dollars for his business because of licensees, fashion product,ect. I NEVER heard an ill word from my dad about my sewing ever again, in fact he became even more supportive.
Interviewer: So after you father saw the potential for wealth, he changed his mind?
Seaki: He did a 360, even got me interested in Parson’s in New York.
Interviewer: Tell me about your time at Parson’s
Seaki: I originally wanted to go to Otis Parsons in Los Angeles, since I had family out there. My father got my an application and I completed the “home test” ( I believe it was a collage thing), and sent it in. I received and admission letter a few moths later telling me that I had gotten accepted into their foundation program. When I attended Parson’s, I believe Marc Jacobs had just graduated, and it was a big deal cause Marc was causing a stir at Perry Ellis, he had hired this guy as Creative Director, RIGHT OUT OF COLLEGE. It was a big deal. When I was going to college, Patrick Henry was causing a rukus in Paris, Steven Sprouse was redefining New York fashion in the East Village. It was a wonderful time to be a young designer. Parsons was so expensive, and I modeled with Boss Models to make end meet.
Interviewer: So you were a model in college ?
Seaki: Only in Europe, I got a great book going will making the rounds in Europe, but the States would not touch me, they did not know what to do with me. The only black models that were working, were ofcourse african american men that were brown skinned. I was a mutt, so they passed on me constantly.
Interviewer : Why did you stop modeling?
Seaki: I was unhappy, and did not want to live on lettuce, crackers and tuna fish for the rest of my life in order to be slender. Besides , as I gained experience, the novelty of being a model was wearing off. I got tired of creative directors telling me “your perfect but your ears are too big, or your thighs are too big, or your skin color is wrong,etc” It got to be bit much. I remember cursing one VERY FAMOUS american photographer out caused he said I was a “back water bayou negro hybrid”, I will NEVER forget that (chuckle).
Interviewer : Wow , what is the photographer name?
Seaki: (chuckling) Its all water under the bridge now, thats been ages ago. But I will say his name starts with “S” and ends with “M”. I don’t think he meant to insult me, it was meant to be a joke, everyone was laughing, but me. I came back to the States that week, and never modeled again.
Interviewer : Who were some of the people that you knew during this time?
Seaki: As a black model, we all were very close knit. Me being gay, more so with the black female models. I remember Veronica Webb, Roshumba, Beverly Peele , Naomi was on the scene, but hung out with a different crowd. But we all knew of each other, sometimes partied together. Makeup artist Way Brandy was my very best friend.
Interviewer : So You came back to the States?,….
Seaki: Came back to the States, I had already graduated, so I sent out resume’s and got my first design job, with Pierro DiMitri on Fifth Avenue, he was such a big deal back in the day.
Interviewer: How long have you been in the industry?
Seaki: Almost 21 years, (chuckle) Good Black Don’t Crack huh (chuckle)
Interviewer: What was it like in the industry when you started?
Seaki: It was a different industry, so much talent, and fabulous people. I made many connections, but sadly AIDS took away so many of my friends and collegues. After the “AIDS Scare”, which lasted many years, the industry changed, it became more about money, than artistry.It became VERY political. Office politics was the rule of the day. I often avoided politics by keeping my nose to the grind-stone, but it always hits you some how,some way. I was in the industry when all work done by the designer was hand done, none of these computer programs. Cads, sketches, fashion illustrations,mood /trend boards, all done by hand, and with love. I had to learn computer skills in order to compete.
Interviewer : So you had to evolve?
Seaki : Yes, or become unemployed, and that was not about to happen.
Interviewer : Fast forward, when did you start Seaki Creative Services Consulting?
Seaki: SCS was started out of frustration and unemployment. I had just resigned my last Design Director position after my boss called me a “Fruity faggot”, jokingly. And back then, there was no such thing as or sexual orientation discrimination. And if I would have sued, I would have been “black-listed” in the industry, as he was a very powerful man in the New York City apparel industry, or so I thought he was. It was a known fact that I was unhappy, so I started my own consultant company, designing product lines for small businesses. A few large accounts that were behind me when I worked in corporate, then came onboard. There is a very large gap in the consulting market, concerning real fashion design / product consulting. Very few of the companies that I have come in contact with really understand apparel design as a business. I think that is my strength, I understand the creative, and business aspects of design. When I am designing a product line, in the back of my mind, I am viewing the line subjectively, piece-by-peice, I ask my self these questions, “would I buy this line”, “what is my demographic?”, “what is my competition?”, and most of all, “have I assessed my competition correctly , “filling in the gaps” where they have left off or neglected. Its a whole process, but it serves me and my clients well.
Interviewer: What are your strengths as a consultant, that maybe your competitors do not have?
Seaki: Plain and simple, talent and knowledge. Being a black designer and working in a few executive positions concerning the apparel industry, I would always have to work harder, be smarter,and more versatile concerning my white collegues. I know it sounds awful, but I come from the old school of fashion business, where there were simply not that many of us in the industry period. So the few of us that had climbed the corporate ladder in the apparel industry, had to learn how to out maneuver, out shine the rest. I rarely have to out-source projects, and that is because during my corporate years, or our bosses would usually pile so many responsibilities on our plate, till we HAD to “wear many hats” in the business in order to survive.
Interviewer: Was this experience unique only to Black fashion designers?
Seaki: Not only was it unique to black fashion designers, it was expected. I remember trend shopping in Europe for a few weeks. My white collegues had assistants to make their jobs easier. I had another black collegue with me, and it then dawned on us, after a few conversations with other white designers of our corporate level and experience, that their was a slight,but powerful bias in the industry. They were shocked. (chuckled) I remember one time I was in Italy, and ofcourse we have a company credit card in our name for the purchases for the company. I remember being chewed out for buying myself meals and drink, while one of my collegues, it was rumored that he hired 2 prostitutes and, and they said nothing to him. I later found out ,much later, that personal expenses ( to a certain degree) should be taken care of, as long as you provide RECEIPTS.
Interviewer : Were you angry after finding this out?
Seaki: For a few minutes, then you get back to work. I mean, I am in Europe, traveling on someones else’s dime. Shopping and researching trends. It was a fabulous lifestyle, hard work, but fabulous. So you get upset, look a round you, and count your blessings to be given the opportunity. It just made me work harder.
Interviewer : Do you think these biases still persist?
Seaki: No way, maybe in some environments, but many of the young designers that came after me, simply will not put up with the treatment, they don’t have to. The corporate atmosphere has changed, from what I hear, its more enveloping of all people. As long as your making the company money, your product lines are selling, you can be purple with polka dots, and the big bosses will still adore you.