The words of renowned African American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois ring true for Emeka Alams and Yego Moravia, founders of 21 Maroons â€“ a conceptual streetwear company representing the West Coast of the Afro-Triangle. â€œAwake, awake, O sleeping world/ Honor the sun/ Worship the stars, those vaster suns/ Who rule the night/ Where black is bright/ And all unselfish work is right.â€ In his 1965 poem Ghana Calls, Du Bois, in unmitigated love, conveyed admiration for the land that had affectionately accepted him home. It is this same love supreme (as John Coltrane once put it) that Alams and Moravia have for their native soil. Both, by way of Nigeria and Haiti respectively, say their clothing company was created in homage to Africaâ€™s rich history.
21 Maroons, which came up in March of 2007, honors Africaâ€™s diverse culture through mixing traditional African garb with contemporary American flare. â€œWe have been mixing traditional Africa with contemporary America our whole lives,â€ Alams says. â€œWe are just excited to do it in a way that is actually fresh, new and creative.â€ So, in an age where others have shunned â€œThe Dark Continent,â€ 21 Maroons embraces the continentâ€™s deep-rooted traditions as inspiration. â€œThis is our culture,â€ Moravia declares.
“Maroon culture is about trying to maintain and establish individuality, community, autonomy and freedom in the face of a society that wants to strip all knowledge of where you came from and assimilate you into something you’re not. 21MC is about reclaiming our identity and being proud of our heritage.”
Format: For Format readers who don’t know anything about your clothing line, can you explain what 21 Maroons represents?
21MC: 21st Century Maroon Colony, or 21MC, represents honoring our ancestors and the creative legacy that makes black history relevant and important in the 21st century. Essentially, Maroon culture is about trying to maintain and establish individuality, community, autonomy and freedom in the face of a society that wants to strip all knowledge of where you came from and assimilate you into something you’re not. 21MC is about reclaiming our identity and being proud of our heritage.
Format: The streetwear community is witness to new and emerging clothing lines everyday. How is 21 Maroons different from the pack?
21MC: 21MC is different because if we ask, ‘What other brands does 21MC look like?’ everyone draws a blank. But besides that, our designs and design quality definitely separates us from the mass influx of streetwear brands. There is a story intricately told through each and every intricate detail of each piece and there aren’t that many black-owned streetwear or conceptual streetwear brands out there. Also, we think our inspiration to design isn’t the same as the other streetwear brands that are coming out or that have a reputable buzz behind them.
Format: What is the motivation behind 21 Maroons?
21MC: This is a long list, you ready? Our motivation, and inspiration, comes from our ancestors, the future, West African design and textiles, the West Indies, Aime Cesaire, Afro-punk culture, Nigerian movies, Al Green, Jimmy Cliff, Afro-surrealism, Cadillacs, the Tropics, the 2005 Paris Youth Riots, skateboarding, Abidjan, Lagos, Afrikanboy, 2face, brother brown, L.E.S, 6th and Howard, Fillmore and McAllister, Sun Ra, Linton Kwesi Johnson, George Jackson, Coco Fusco, Lee Scratch Perry, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Emory Douglass and music. Music artists such as Nas, M.I.A., King Tubby, Black Uhuru, Big Youth, dead prez, Santogold and black history in general. Told you it was a long list.
Format: 21 Maroons is a San Francisco based â€œconceptual streetwear company representing the West Coast of the Afro-Triangle.â€ What African countries make-up the West Coast Afro-Triangle?
21MC: Actually by â€œWest Coast of the Afro-Triangleâ€ we mean the Americas. The actual Afro-Triangle was between Europe, Africa and the Americas; the Americas include the Caribbean as well in modern teachings. On a map, the U.S. lies on the West of the triangle. And we’re also based out of the West Coast of the U.S. so it’s a double-entendre.
Format: To what degree is 21 Maroons influenced by African culture or design?
21MC: Well, if you look at traditional African and West Indian textiles and prints â€“ even in the artwork â€“ the colors are all vivid and vibrant. We are a vivid and vibrant people. Our designs have expanded upon the traditional African designs. In many ways our clothes are more informational tools because prior to purchasing a 21MC garment, consumers probably have never even heard of some of the revolutionaries, artists or movements that our garments are named after. Also, we provide information on the revolutionaries, artists and movements on our website as each garment or set of garments is released.
Format: What message, or messages, are you trying to express through 21 Maroons?
21MC: We are just trying to express the concepts of Maroon culture throughout our entire collections. We also elaborate on messages that some of the people, events and songs our inspirations touch on. For example, for our upcoming season we have a dedication to M.I.A. that elaborates on her single, â€œPaper Planes.â€
Format: What type of person is 21 Maroons for?
21MC: 21MC is for anyone that respects and understands African/ Maroon culture and the cultures of those around the Afro-Triangle. That’s a little bit of everyone, thanks to the slave trade. Much of the people in the Americas are from heritages that came in contact with Maroon societies. 21MC is also for those of us who are very proud of [their] heritage and wish to show pride a little more than what can be said on a bumper sticker or in a button.
Format: In terms of design, what techniques are used?
21MC: Right now we are taking traditional West African techniques and garments and putting a 21st century spin on it by remixing them to form something totally new and different that still honors the work of our ancestors. We are doing a lot of hand-done design work mixed within a little production. All the care labels were all hand done and as well as the scarves, hoodies and pharaoh ponchos we got coming out in our next collection. Coming up, we are going to be hand-dyeing garments, using gold foil, embroidery and screen printing. Also we have a lot of plans for accessories in the near future like bags, wallets, buttons and gold coast gold fronts.
Format: On your website it says, “each collection 21MC creates tells of our rebellions on the plantations, and our survival in the cities of the beast.” How so and in what way?
21MC: This point is especially close to our hearts. Having lived in both West Africa and the West Indies we feel the need to keep that connection strong, more so for our own sanity and personal creativity than anyone elseâ€™s. But on the flip side, we feel like all can benefit from learning about our struggles, the faces involved and how that affects us today and how it continues to shape our future. So we take each garment and make it into a story or a portrait of an event, a place, a song, a person even a dish that shapes who we are as 21MC.
Format: What’s on the horizon for 21 Maroons?
21MC: We have a ton of collaborations coming up in the near future with our friends like dead prez, Danteâ€™s Fried Chicken, Afrikanboy and Peter Hadaer. We also got a mix-tape in the works with some very special top secret guest that we plan on releasing this summer at our very special top secret blow out in New York. So keep your eyes and ears open to what we are doing.