Toni, how long have you designed and sold clothing and accessories? My background is fashion, from styling to merchandise management. My first ever real fashion styling job was with hip hop producer, Timbaland in 1998 - a dream job to say the least. A lot of what I learned started from my being a student at FIT in NYC. I was a jack of all trades, I side-hustled and fashion styled on the weekends doing small gigs for commercials, videos and prop-styling. An opportunity to do a small film for HBO presented itself and I quit my day job to focus solely on my passion for fashion. I'm a native Texan and when my mother took ill, I relocated back to Houston to help care for her in 2003. I lost her in 2005. She wouldn't have wanted me to sit around and feel sorry myself so I started an online boutique, and we are now in our 7th year phase and still going strong by the grace of God. I'm what you call a serial entrepreneur, but the focus is always fashion. Haus of Swag was born from a literal dream in 2010 and here we are - repping for the sisters steady grindin' - keeping it street but sweet!
I wouldn't necessarily call myself a designer, more-so a remixer (maybe I'm running from the title), but my passion has always been in some form of fashion, the art of it - the aesthetics. Hey, I took design at FIT and was promptly kicked out of the program so I certainly wouldn't disrespect any designer for their hard efforts. Since starting off as a fashion stylist first, specifically when the title or career name was unknown in the early 90's, I knew I had a flair for what was dope and I didn't care if I was dressing a mannequin, it was what I wanted to do.
Haus of Swag just felt so good. I started to sketch bad black chicks with big hair in super fresh gowns, sexy designer shoes and so on. Every sister can't afford high-end designer clothes, some can't even afford to look nice because of whatever circumstances and so I had those sisters in mind when the t-shirts came into play. I figured they could have the best of both worlds in a fashion tee; they could see themselves represented - and all of the clothes they dream of having in their closets would be worn by the 'dope girls' on our t-shirts. It just made sense. You never see these tees with US on them in mass market places such as, Target, Kohl's, Macy's or high-end places like Neiman Marcus or Sak's Fifth Avenue. We need this so bad, we want to feel good and look fly, our t-shirts represent that void.
Haus of Swag is not my first go at design. I started a clothing line called Junk-N-Da-Trunk back in 2003 (insert all jokes here - LOL) but I lost the trademark. I poured everything I had into it, finances and all - I was devastated. Had that not happened, I don't think I'd be here trying again, and again if I have to - I simply love what I do.
My inspiration comes from the sisters who made it possible for me to be here - I'm inspired by their tenacity, pride and love of self. My Mom, Billie Holiday, Angela Davis, Diana Ross, Betty Shabazz, Nina Simone, Lena Horn and so many other new school queens like Erykah Badu, Lauryn Hill and Esperanza Spalding. Oh my god, I am a Chaka Khan groupie, if every tee could look like her - my goodness.
The designer in me is inspired by big hair, street fashion mixed with couture flair and funky colors.
Fashion designer Patrick Kelly once said, "I don't design clothes for the Queen, but for the people who wave at her as she goes by" - I couldn't have said it better myself.
What's your favorite piece to design and why? Gosh, I wish I had a favorite piece but I don't.
What is it that you want women to feel as they are wearing your pieces? Our goal is straightforward, we wanted to depict women of color in a celebratory, non-mainstream sort of way. We want women who rock our tees and accessories to feel confident, fashionable and empowered. Sisters should celebrate their power, not suppress it - even in something as expressive as a t-shirt. A lot of times we design what we know sisters are wanting to say but somehow can't always express. It's in those oooh's and ahhh's, winks and high-fives that we get whenever we encounter our fabulous customers. It's extremely motivating and it gives us a sense of clarity that we are creating a 'feel good' product.
Regarding what you wear on a day to day basis, do you wear other clothing lines that sell similar items to that of which you sell? I wear 'cool'. If I think it's cool, I'm going to rock it out. I certainly am an emotional dresser, I dress the way that I feel. God forbid someone would bump into me on those days when I 'ain't' feeling it, because they'd be like, 'I've been hoodwinked, THIS is what has a boutique or designing t-shirts - HA!" Honey, it would be like the scene from The Wiz when they discovered Richard Pryor behind those curtains. It's like a beautician without her hair did. I have my days, and yep, I'm such a tomboy - denims and stiletto's. And certainly yes, I wear other lines that sell similar items, I am a t-shirt collector and I love tees! I'm guilty of spending too much money on designer tees from Alexander McQueen, but I'll also rock a tee from Dirtee Hollywood or Minoritees. There is room for everybody in any arena to do what they find attractive to them. When I travel, I like to find funky tees in those little hidden coves of boutiques and vintage finds. I also love concert and artist tees! I've always been a t-shirt and jeans kind of girl which is why the frame of what I'm doing is in my lane, but I still feel lucky to be doing it and take nothing for granted.
Hey Kinkies, check out some pictures below of the items sold at Haus of Swag, which by the way stands for Sisters With A Grind! Like Toni, I LOVE tees and will rock them with jeans and flip slops or some heels.
~Keep it Kinky~