In 1999, a fresh coat of paint was applied to the fashion industry when the Zaken Brothers took something they saw on the streets everyday and put it on a t-shirt. What they saw was an artist on the streets of West-Philadelphia who â€œexpressed the pain and passion of his community through his artwork.â€ Miskeen Originals was born. The companyâ€™s garments which feature a hand-painted line consisting of one-of-a-kind shirts can be seen on celebrities like Jay-Z, Diddy, and Shaquille Oâ€™Neil.
â€œPeople like to wear Miskeen because they know it is one of a kind and they donâ€™t feel as though theyâ€™re some kind of billboard,â€ says Jasmijn Rijcken, Miskeenâ€™s Public Relations and Marketing Director. Miskeen began in a small-studio in Philadelphia and now has headquarters in Camden, New Jersey and in Paris, France. The company produces various menâ€™s clothing lines each year which are all limited edition to some extent.
Miskeen fuses art, fashion, and hip-hop culture. Their creations are worthy of being hung in any art gallery and their expansion is unheard of for a company that started with seven people and virtually no money. They have gone from being exclusive to the City of Brotherly Love to a global phenomenon that touches millions of people daily through www.miskeenoriginals.com and www.myspace.com/miskeenoriginals.
Format had the opportunity to sit down with Jasmijn Rijcken in the original Miskeen headquarters, 1136 Market Street, to talk about how this company has become dominant in both the music and fashion worlds.
Format: Where did you come up with such a unique idea for combining art and clothing?
Jasmijn: Miskeen was started by artists on the street. It did not start in a traditional way. The owners of Dr. Denim saw the guys painting on the street and said we want to put these products in the store.
Format: Initially, what were some of your worries with entering the fashion world?
Jasmijn: Itâ€™s pretty weird to say, but there is no direct competitor so itâ€™s hard to answer that. We have such a strong and loyal fan base that we didnâ€™t have any worries. I mean, people are collecting the shirts and finding out which artists designed them; it really has become a movement and a lifestyle.
Format: Has Miskeen taken off in a bigger way than you expected?
Jasmijn: The product was so powerful that it grew very big in a very fast way. We started here with seven people. In 2003, we moved to a bigger office in Camden. Miskeen now has 101 people working in the company; 35 are hand paint artists but we also have silkscreen and graphic artists. More than half of the company is involved in the creative process which is a large percentage for a clothing company.
Format: With so much competition in the urban fashion markets these days, how have you managed to keep your product fresh and successful?
Jasmijn: A lot of hip-hop brands started with either a big name or a lot of money to advertise. Miskeen didnâ€™t start with either; it was just a product that was so unique that it caught on. Because our shirts are one of kind and we were the first company to embrace the hand painted look, people have continued to love us.
Format: Do you feel that in todayâ€™s market, exhibiting your products on artists and on music television is more feasible and effective than say, launching ad campaigns?
Jasmijn: It depends on the brand. For us it works. Weâ€™re targeting a younger audience who grew up learning to ignore advertising. When they see an artist wearing Miskeen, they like it because these rappers come from the same place we do. Their houses and cars are unreachable to most of us but the clothing is something people can get their hands on.
Format: What are some parts of the process in designing clothing for different seasons?
Jasmijn: There are many aspects to the creative process. Yaniv Zaken is the creative director and the man is a genius. When it is time to come up with a new line, they have a meeting and take a look at what each artist is working on. Everyone throws their ideas out at a meeting. Whatever is inspiring an artist at the time is where the designs come from. The ideas come from the city around them, something they see on TV, maybe a book theyâ€™re readingâ€¦they can take anything and turn it into art. Sometimes it becomes a line and other times it doesnâ€™t.
Format: How has the internet exposed Miskeen to a much broader audience?
Jasmijn: I think for any company, the internet is an amazing vehicle for marketing. For us, along with the web store we now have a MySpace page which is working out really well. The internet is good for marketing especially since we are getting bigger and bigger. We actually just opened another headquarters in Paris and people are starting to pick up on it. All over the world, people are embracing Miskeen as a lifestyle and seeing that itâ€™s more than a shirt.
Format: Since all of your shirts are limited edition, about how many do you produce of each design?
Jasmijn: There is only one of every hand-painted shirt. The artists in the studio line up, say, fifteen shirts and start painting. They might use the same colors on all fifteen shirts but every one is different. Now, we do have a web store which is different. People ordering the shirts want the design they see on-line. But, every hand painted shirt sold in the stores is one of a kind. We do have other shirts besides the hand painted designs. Things like the silkscreen, button-ups, they are I guess you could say â€œmass-producedâ€ but they are still very limited and we have many collections in a year. I canâ€™t give you an exact number because the styles vary. We try not to overdo it.
Format: You have seemed to expand and move away from the hand-painted style over the past few years, why is that?
Jasmijn: People still love the hand painted style but we know that people want to see different things, a complete look. Thatâ€™s when we began creating the denim lines and things like that. The demand is still high for the painted shirts but the shirts are starting to be more balanced with the apparel line. We do different projects which are still unique but not just centered on the paint. The Wisdumb line is an example of that.
Format: What plans do you have for the project with Wisdumb?
Jasmijn: Wisdumb is a new chapter and we are all very happy with the outcome. Josh Wisdumb doesnâ€™t have a background in painting clothes; he is an artist who has expositions. Heâ€™s from Boston but heâ€™s big in Japan and heâ€™s doing very well in the art world. He did New Balance shoes; they were really really nice and sold out very quickly (14,000 pairs in two days to be exact). We created an entire line based on his artwork. We plan to work with Wisdumb two to four times a year. His work will be recognizable by the upside down Miskeen hand which will become a â€˜W.â€™
Format: What is the connection between Meezan and Miskeen?
Jasmijn: The creators of Meezan used to be partners with the owners of Miskeen but the partnership did not work out. When their line first came out many people were confused. They would be like â€œIs Meezan a Miskeen bootlegger?â€ â€œIs Miskeen a Meezan bootlegger?â€ Things like that. At first the two brands looked a little like eachother, now, Meezan has developed their own style and it has worked out for the best.
Format: You have designed clothing for celebrities, hip-hop artists in particular. What were some of your favorite collaborations?
Jasmijn: There have been so many artists; itâ€™s really hard to be specific. Weâ€™ve made so many connections in the industry. We get requests all the time from different rappers who want a shirt made for them to wear in their videos. Actually, I was just in Miami yesterday on Trick Daddyâ€™s shoot for the â€œYou Bet Thatâ€ video. I went with a few Miskeen artists who made shirts for him and Chamillionaire and other people on the set. We have a lot of respect for the scene and get a lot of respect back. Some of biggest fans are Daddy Yankee and Bun B. They often wear Miskeen. Closer to home, Bernard Hopkins is someone who wears Miskeen all the time.
Format: Youâ€™ve designed a few outfits for The Game and I noticed a few boxes of the Hurricane sneaker over there. Are you planning some collaboration with the shoe company?
Jasmijn: We like 301 a lot and they like us. Those shoes are over there because a lot of times an entertainer want his sneakers to match his shirt and weâ€™ll do that for them. Many times we collaborate with a company to do some artwork. A few years ago we did the artwork on a collection of Nike sneakers. The big scoop is, Miskeen is in the process of creating a shoe line that will be out for next year along with a womenâ€™s line and a kidâ€™s line. For now weâ€™re going to focus on making our menâ€™s line even bigger.
Format: Miskeen originated because young artists with so much talent had no way of expressing themselves except through graffiti. What advice can you give to young artists who are trying to make a name for themselves?
Jasmijn: Donâ€™t copy us. Iâ€™m serious. The best thing for someone to do is to make their product stand out in order to sell their merchandise. Anyone can buy some paint and a shirt and create what they want. The only way theyâ€™ll be recognized, unless theyâ€™re famous or have a lot of money is if they are different.
Format: Where do you see Miskeen at in another five years?
Jasmijn: First of all, we stay urban but we cross the border. Right now weâ€™re doing very good in Europe and among the Latino demographics. Miskeen will stay true to the street but expand in different regions and expand as a product that is more of a lifestyle. I feel that we have to integrate music, fashion and art. In five years no one will see us as a t-shirt company and hopefully people are already starting to realize that.