Time for another "need to know" designer! This month we are all about bold prints and sass with emerging designer brand, JINAKI. This brand epitomizes what it means to be daring, fearless and confident while remaining soft and feminine. The fierce woman behind this brand, Sharufa Rashied-Walker is nothing short of innovative and truly understands what it is that powerful women want in their wardrobes. Read her inspiring interview below.
ME: Sharufa, what motivated you to step into the world of fashion design?
SHARUFA: Oh big question! Well the history of Jinaki and basically myself is that I graduated from Howard University in Sociology and Anthropology. At Howard I took ONE fashion class (laughing) and I explored it, loved it for sure, and there was passion there but I didn't quite know what to do with it. After completing school, I was kind of on my own journey, traveling the world. While living in Nice, France, it was there that I kind of tapped back into the things that I loved and connected with. And since I was coming from a corporate environment, fashion happened to be one of them. All of this creativity began to pour out of me and I realized this might be what i wanted to do.
Even though I hadn't studied it, I knew that I had a strong connection to it. I began making my own pieces and learning to use a sewing machine, I said hey, I want to start a business. I didn't know where to start but I knew that I wanted to make garments that i didn't see in the stores myself. Maybe there is a market for it, maybe there is not but I started with one design concept and crazy samples I made and sent to friends and family. From there I just started to get it out there. After doing my first preview of the brand, I was like whoa i have a business, as it was received really really well. So I decided to seriously pursue this. That was around 2012 when I launched and made the decision to fully pursue the dream of becoming a designer brand.
ME: Wonderful, so you've been in business 5 years now?
SHARUFA: Yes! Ever since 2012. It's definitely been a journey and learning process where I kind of felt like I was handicapped a bit in the beginning. I was getting over the learning curve because I didn't go to FIT or Parsons. In this, you have the business of fashion and the business of being an entrepreneur. Those are two separate things and I wasn't on track for either of them at the time. I thought I was at a disadvantage but in hindsight it was a huge blessing because I was able to step by step learn my business and learn the process of being in business. It's still a learning process, as you never really know everything 100% but its one of those things you just have to constantly be open to bettering yourself and consistency is the key!
ME: Love that! I love how you explained the difference. I feel like with fashion entrepreneurs, as far as they go in their business, they are still struggling with understanding how the business side of things works so I love that you said that. it's truly important. Also, you mentioned that you came out of corporate where?
SHARUFA: Girl I was in the financial world. The belly of the beast. When I came out of college with my sociology and anthropology degree, I knew I wanted to travel and so I definitely did that. I used to live in Belgium for a while, I explored Europe and really connected with the lifestyle there but then you know I needed to get a job. So I came back here to NYC and found myself in finance very randomly. It wasn't a choice but a means to an end. It was a very intense environment. Definitely one that I didn't connect to. I was wearing a mask while I was there because the environment was very hostile. It was an industry with 90% white males and me being a female minority, it was like say what? You don't see us, we are the ones getting the coffee. So I had to make my escape because I was really suffering internally, not being fulfilled by what I was doing. It definitely afforded me the opportunity to be able to break ties and do my own thing but it was a sacrifice.
ME: You are very driven and that is a beautiful thing. Driven women keep me inspired and teach me so much. So Tell us a bit about who is the Jinaki woman!
SHARUFA: The Jinaki woman is a bold, fearless muse. She is bold because she connects with textiles, colors, fabrics and prints in a very endearing way. She is fearless in the way that she lives her life. She lives out loud and is not concerned with the thoughts of others. She is in tuned with who she is and walks with that confidence. She becomes a muse because she is ultimately an inspiration to other women. So many times we look at these other women and we are like "yo she is so fly, I want to be like that". And every woman has the ability to tap into that inner voice. Its just sometimes, there are layers that we have to peel back and get to. So the Jinaki woman is unafraid to take an interest back to self and peel back those layers.
ME: Love how your brand absolutely connects to mine. Helping women peel back those layers and become the woman they want to be from the inside out. Any awards you have received or recent accomplishments?
SHARUFA: Well, its funny you are asking this question because I am so not the one to toot my own horn (laughing) but now I gotta big up the business right? (laughing) Well, 2016 ended on a high note because the brand was acknowledged by The Black Association NYC. They had an award show called " So far so good" basically highlighting emerging designers within the tristate area to say we have seen your progress and you are doing good and on track to being in the top. It was amazing and i didn't even know I was on their radar when they contacted me. It was very beautiful.
I was coming from already being in a program with Macy's where I was in an entrepreneurial Think Tank for minority and women owned businesses. It was called "the workshop at Macy's" and it was a great experience where I was acknowledged by a large corporation. They said you are someone we are taking notice to, we like what you are doing. I even had the opportunity to pitch to Macy's executives and it was a great way to get my foot in the door. I also collected awards from women's organizations that just acknowledged me as far as being a female entrepreneur. and doing my thing.
Also, me being in business and staying consistent is an accomplishment in itself. At times we forget to acknowledge our accomplishments because we are so focused on the end goal and we miss those small celebratory moments. You need to be grateful for them, pat yourself on the back and say good job, especially as a 1 woman show. Being an entrepreneur is a roller coaster ride with so much uncertainty, so it takes a deep sense of belief. I've been operating on belief since 2012 and people from the outside don't necessarily understand that that is what it takes for you to persevere. You have to believe in something bigger than you. A greater vision. To stay on that path and not waiver is a great accomplishment in itself.
ME: OOOhh girl you are dropping golden nuggets and bombs that I definitely hear all the time and and experience a lot myself so I love hearing that. What is the inspiration behind the latest collection?
SHARUFA: So Bella&Bloom, this collection came from me being in a space where I really celebrated the idea of femininity. I was in a very gentle state and thinking about the way that the business and Jinaki as a brand was moving, we were blossoming. We were growing in a direction where i wanted to create something that captured the moment but in a gentle way. In a very soft, loving and almost maternal kind of way. I was drawn to these pinks very heavily and i'm not even a pink girl. But I saw this fabric and i just connected with it. From one print to color, it just started to build. The big thing with this collection is that I introduced a solid color fabric and people haven't seen that before from Jinaki. I wanted to showcase our range and diversity through our designs. It's very easy to get put into a specific category or box of only doing prints. And not every girl wants to wear print and i have to acknowledge that. I definitely feel as though, the solid we chose still speaks to the brand identity. So Bella&Bloom definitely highlights a sensual, flirty, whimsical nature.
ME: And it is an absolutely beautiful collection. I can definitely see the solid color with a statement necklace to still create that bold and vibrant look. What are the retail price points?
SHARUFA: Our price points are pretty moderate since we are an advanced contemporary brand. The cheapest item is our retro bandeau top which is $80 all the way to our Lily dress which is $250. Just touching on price points, I have always thought about this brand from conception, as never wanting to sell any item at a really high price where any woman had to choose between paying a light bill and buying a dress. I think that is silly. I think that a lot of brands just take advantage of consumers, so I definitely want to keep it moderate, that way every woman has the option to buy. These pieces are not on trend. They are timeless and classic. You should be able to go back and wear them over and over again, even pass them down to your girlfriends and nieces.
ME: I love that idea because that's something I don't see a lot. So many brand are out there making us break the bank and this is one of the main reasons I am doing this, to introduce women to new options, other options. What makes you stand out from your "competitors" and I use that term loosely as we all have something different to offer but what makes you different?
SHARUFA: I completely agree. When we are building a business plan, they always ask who are your competitors? and from the beginning, i'm like i don't have any, I have something so unique to offer. Now I realize there is definitely a saturation with similar fabrics and people wanted to put me under the umbrella of "African fashion" which I didn't agree with because I don't like the term. For me it is ignorant since Africa is not a country, it is a continent. The fabrics people are wearing in west Africa differentiates from south Africa and every other part of Africa. They are telling a different story. More cultural. You can't put everything together and call it the same so I am always making myself different in order to be seen as my own. I know that my story is different and as I grow i hope people are able to acknowledge the uniqueness of my brand even more. I want that when a woman is wearing my brand, you are able to know who designed it instantly. I just try to focus on what i'm doing specifically and not others so that my authenticity isn't jaded.
ME: All true sentiments. There is nothing like staying true to you to attract your people. What is the best testimonial you have gotten recently?
SHARUFA: Recently a lover and former model of the brand, reached out to me because she seen a woman in one of my designs and knew instantly who she was wearing because of my aesthetic. That's exactly what i want. It made me feel great but the best thing is when i get to see my NAKIgirls in person during pop ups because as soon as a woman puts an item on, her confidence builds. She sashays in the mirror, gets excited and that's beautiful because i know what that feels like. That's why i do what i do. I love to see women in that light, it makes me feel good knowing they are walking into the world with that confidence that the brand represents.
ME: Yess girl! Great testimonials always give us reassurance. What would you say to women about dressing to flatter their shape and finding their personal style?
SHARUFA: Definitely I would have to say, knowing your shape is important and this is a learning process because your shape at 18 may not be your shape at 25. You wont necessarily connect to the same things. So knowing your proportions is important as well as knowing what cuts look great on you. It can be trial and error though because not everything that's hanging on the hanger looks good on you. You have to try it on in order to know. Don't be afraid of your style evolving. Your style does not have to stay the same. It evolves as you evolve as a person. Also, versatility is key because it helps you explore our different sides of our personalities. Just have fun with it in figuring out what works for you and stay open to trying new things.
ME: Oh yes! I tell my clients all the time, we are multidimensional women and can have so many style personalities depending on how we feel. Dont put yourself in a box and think about what others have to say.
SHARUFA: Yes! If something makes you happy wear it, try it, rock it!
ME: Yesss! And what sizes can women come to you for?
SHARUFA: Size 4 to a size 12.
ME: Wonderful! Tell us an awesome quote that you live by?
SHARUFA: An awesome quote by the author, Paulo Coelho who wrote the Alchemist, "You are what you believe you are, laugh at your insecurities and worries and just believe" I connected so much to that quote because that's what it comes down to, the belief in self. Anything is possible, and as cliche as it sounds, it is soo true. When you just keep holding on to your belief and faith, even when it waivers, as long as you plant that seed, it will grow. Along the way, all of the doubt, insecurities and trials, you have to smile through it, because it will keep you from growing towards your greatness. Stay rooted in your belief to get to where you are supposed to be.
ME: That is the perfect quote for the powerful women reading. We all need to hear that time and time again. Where do you see Jinaki in the next 5 years?
SHARUFA: Its interesting you asked that because I just asked myself that just the other day. Something that is important for all entrepreneurs is checking in with your business. We are moving a great track to be a household, global name in the sense of women all over the world connect with this brand in a way that they are living the lifestyle of a Jinaki woman. I have plans to move our manufacturing and add our own original textiles to the collections. And ultimately we are going to the stores, as well as products for men. Collabs, interior designs, baby clothes etc. infinite possibilities for us. there is no limitation to what we are about to put out there. It will be a brand that everyone will know for sure.
ME: That's a beautiful projection and i too believe that you will get there! Wishing you all the best in your journey ahead! Thank you so much. I enjoyed our time together.
To find out more about JINAKI and visit their website, take a look below. Also, if you are in need of a standout look for an upcoming event or you are loving these items from this designer+ want to see more, get in touch to schedule a private consultation.
Facebook: Official Jinaki