The 22-year-old designer from all over New Jersey, Zunyda Watson let us into her studio for a little deeper insight of her world as it relates to fashion today. Her latest SS16 line, as featured throughout the article, caught my eye and intrigued me into finding more about the artist behind it.
She opened the door to her studio as a gust of wind from behind me caused her teal trench coat to billow behind her like a lab jacket that a mad scientist would wear to dinner. Her outfit was simple, a denim dress over a floral print top, spotted with accessories such as the plug in her single gauged ear, a solid bamboo or wooden swirl through her ear lobe. Her denim dress, which could have been thrifted, could have been hand sewn, or could have been something high fashion, perched delicately on her perfectly postured shoulders told me all I needed to know about this woman: her style was beyond the means of the fashion industry.
I had been wondering about her for a while now. After seeing Oshun dressed in what had to have been custom made outfits on multiple occasions and learning that they were made by Zunyda, then again seeing a preview for the independent film Ori Inu: In Search of Self, which she also did costume design as well as wardrobe styling for, I realized that New Jersey may have rooted another great multitalented artist. I went to her event Vibes After Dark, a series in collaboration with vintage clothing collector Wellz, and after seeing how she developed a flea shop that was unlike any other, I knew this was someone who deserved the spotlight.
“I am the anti of everything that’s around me,” jokes Zunyda, with a hint of seriousness describing where her own personal sense of style has derived from.
The New Jersey native of Dominican descent has lived in multiple places in the Garden state growing up. She has used her desire to remain outside of the box to fuel her artistic passions, while pursuing a life long passion in creating and fashion.
Her spring and summer 2016 line is what she says is her first project that she felt comfortable releasing. “Before that, I just did concept stuff. With this, I just didn’t want to do what everyone else is doing… The overall inspiration was that I was just trying to be minimal with my pattern making.” The designs are a modern, minimalist approach to the basics of some traditional African patterns, symbols, and designs. “Most of that [fabric] isn’t produced in Africa. So yeah, its African in pattern but you know… We’re not really supporting our people. We’re supporting Indians, Dutch, but we’re not supporting our people.”
She ended up using Japanese textiles, simple African patterns redesigned to her own flavor, and an ongoing theme of triangles throughout the collection that you see below, as photographed by Quan Brinson. In this way, she managed to transform traditional African designs into something far more modern and unique rather than just refurbishing the average dashiki as many “designers” have been doing lately. Her tribute to the African inspiration of the designs was in her personal take on her favorite aspects, without supporting people who capitalize off of African fashion without proper acknowledgement.
“I didn’t know that I would be doing this right now. I was more of a studious student, getting A’s and thinking I was gonna go to college. Then all of a sudden, the time to pick came around and I was like… what do I want to do with myself?”
Although fashion has been a lifelong passion for her, Zunyda has more so just been following the Path that life was carving out for her than following any specific “dream,” when it comes to her career. Luckily for her, she has always had the spirit of a hustler and an entrepreneurial mindset. Through her younger days in middle school and high school, she was already known for her standout style and her side business of making alterations for her classmates. So by the time she started college, she was already experienced, working in the field, and interning.
“I’ve never had that one person who’s inspired me or that I tried to embody, it was never ‘one’ thing…. A lot of other people’s mindsets can be limiting.”
It wasn’t long after starting school that Zunyda decided to put that on pause to focus on other matters. As a fellow college drop out, walking a very similar path, having attended for about two semesters but ultimately deciding to put all my efforts into my work, this was a topic that sparked both of our interest fully. “Like damn, can I get credit for my experience?” she jokes with me, as I relate all too well. She was interning for a fashion designer in Brooklyn at the time, a small time designer whose had some good press. She got hired to work officially, forcing her to rearrange her schedule so that she could be back and forth from NJ and NYC every week. Taking classes two days a week and spending the rest of it in NY working for this designer gave Zunyda a key look into the industry from a hands on perspective while simultaneously exhausting the young woman. Zunyda was faced with a choice to continue working in the field of her dreams or to put that on pause to finish school and pursue them later. Zunyda chose to do it now.
“I’m not really trying to be in the ‘typical fashion world.’ I’m not really trying to follow those rules. I learned a lot working for her on the business side, but I want to apply that in my own way. Cuz I’m black too, haha.” This is a real point brought up by Zunyda whose work in the fashion industry is already stand out because of the color of her skin. High fashion has since its inception been plagued by subtle but often downright racism, forcing designers like Zunyda to have to think out of the box, or of course, conform to their strict standards. Her entrepreneurial spirit is definitely going to have her there without the need to conform. “I’m just trying to be comfortable. I’m 22, and I want to be comfortable in my clothes,” which has been how she’s carried herself her whole life.