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Meet Imani Quinn of Swaje in Silverlake

Today we’d like to introduce you to Imani Quinn.

Imani, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I’m biracial, mixed black and white and raised by my mother, with support from my godparents who are Chilean and Kenyan. My mother owned a tea house when I was growing up, there were live musicians from Turkey and Brazil that would play there. I also learned to sew in the boutique section of the shop as well as dye indigo in the back studio. As a child into adulthood I was trained in traditional West African dance from countries such as Senegal, Mali and Ghana, I studied Spanish and practiced Salsa, Cumbia, Merengue and Bachata. These colorful experiences as an adolescent created a hunger for cultural appreciation and learning from others that extended past my childhood and into my passions for creating a company that empowers people of different backgrounds and brings us all together into a unified community. Because of my background of working with clothes in my mother’s tea house it came very naturally to do so for SWAJE. I started the company a little over two years ago by designing samples that my mother and I would sew together, we’ve had a collection made in the garment district of Los Angeles but most of the collections we have made ourselves. It feels really special to get to take what I have learned from my mother and apply it to my work, and do so alongside her.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Anything worth doing doesn’t come easy right? Especially when you’re charting on a path that isn’t mapped out for you. When I first began SWAJE I was teaching dance full-time and it was really challenging to balance my time between working and doing craft fairs, production, marketing and all the other hats of being a sole-founder. My biggest step was quitting my job so that I could put more of my energy into SWAJE. The amazing part about that is it pushed SWAJE forward in ways I wouldn’t have had the tenacity or drive to do if I had stayed comfortable. I did three fashion films, wrote articles for publications on running my business and my story, made many connections with like-minded artists and businesses, and traveled up and down the coast selling at craft fairs. The very hard part was downsizing my life because I wasn’t making as much as I was when I worked full-time, as well as learning how to make more with less. I also had to learn to navigate freelancing and getting part-time gigs teaching and choreographing as well as others in order to support myself. By far the biggest struggle has been downsizing and being okay with being an artistic entrepreneur without the comforts that a full-time gig will give you. My second biggest challenge has been researching and trying to find funding. Fashion is one of the hardest industries to get funding and African-American women are one of the least funded groups of entrepreneurs, mix that with finding the right fit, and someone that believes in your story and mission, it is a search that still continues. Even with those challenges though I wake up everyday and it’s worth it because SWAJE feeds my soul in a way materialism and financial stability can’t.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with SWAJE – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
SWAJE is a multicultural brand that uses multicultural textiles, social impact and experiences to fill a gap in the industry that has yet to be actively addressed. The overall mission is to create a social movement “Empower the Multicultural” that gives a voice to the multicultural community, while utilizing the artistic community to create textiles for clothing that will drive the overall mission of empowering the multicultural.

The fashion industry is saturated with cultural appropriation and we want to counter that with cultural appreciation, giving our consumer a way to celebrate and be a part of various cultural influences while giving back to those who are a part of that community. Representation matters as a whole, and consumers care about that, they just need more choices on a larger scale to choose from. SWAJE has already created three collections that can be found on our website as well as three fashion films that serve as experiences to allow the viewer to make more meaning for their clothing and through the live events to become a part of the community.

We recently started our Empower the Multicultural campaign, which will be dropping 12 shirts at a time for purchase on our website as a way to show cultural appreciation, that representation matters and create more and more awareness around inclusion. We’d love for this movement to be what SWAJE becomes most known for. Thus far our latest fashion film was accepted into the Fashion and Film Festival in Milan, Italy and we are very excited to be a part of the fashion week in September.

So, what’s next? Any big plans?
We’d love to continue to grow our social movement, Empower the Multicultural. It is very important to us and is the core of what SWAJE is about, we hope that people will support this mission and let it ripple. We are also looking forward to artist submissions in the coming months for our first artist collaboration collection. The past two years we have operated as a small business within the craft fair community and local area and are really excited to expand our online presence and become involved in supporting the multicultural artistic community.

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