Visionary Atlanta-based designer Zmear Kalle blends his old-school education with cutting-edge interest in the new world order of beauty and gender to create a globally inspired line of daring, colorful designs for every girl and guy.
Zmear recently took the time to share his thoughts with Vaunt about his roots, his inspirations and the future of androgynous fashion.
Vaunt Magazine: Where were you born, and did it shape your desire to being a fashion designer? If so, how?
Zmear Kalle: I was born in Whiteville, N.C., however, I was raised in Fayetteville, N.C. Growing up in a small city shaped my desire to become not only a fashion designer but a better individual. I was bullied, beaten up and told I wasn’t going to amount to anything in life. When I became interested in fashion design I wanted to tell the whole world, but what a mistake that was. Many do not want to see you live, let alone thrive; they want to see you struggle to try to survive but never succeed, never doing better than them. I chose to prove myself to others, and hopefully, that created the fuel to prove myself to ME! I possess an inner power that isn’t provided by others therefore I don’t desire to prove myself to others anymore. I don’t desire to prove myself at all.
What were your earliest fashion inspirations?
My earliest fashion inspirations are Alexander McQueen, Vogue and my family. My grandmother, uncles, aunts and cousins are seamstresses, tailors, interior designers and creators just like myself. We are all reflections of each other.
How did you become a fashion designer?
I became a fashion designer through an analytical observation experience. Before the developmental age of 10, I attended grade school that required all students to wear uniforms. Wearing uniforms allowed more time to learn and study due to the irrelevance of hierarchy societal classifications. I could rotate two uniforms for one week without the bullying and classification assessments. By the age of 10, I was attending a non-uniform school. Having so much freedom presented pros and cons. I loved the fashionable, free thinking collective mindset, however, there was a competition in play. Those who had the name-brand clothes and shoes were revered, wined and dined. They went on to become the school’s top committee leaders, such as student government association, class king and queen, best-dressed, football, basketball and cheerleading team. I was the student who wore non-name-brand everything. My backpack wasn’t name-brand either–it was clear, with a black zipper. My school experiences created the most important question I ever asked in my life: Why? Why do we wear name-brand designer wear? Why do we feel like we’re better than others because our parent was or parents were was able to afford brand-name fashions? Why do we prepare our daily wardrobe the night before or early morning? Why is fashion that important? Who creates clothes? The day my mother told me that fashion designers created clothes I was hooked, like a little kid eating grandma’s Sunday morning peach cobbler for the first time.
Talk a bit about your early lines of clothing and their styles and inspirations.
In my early collections, I started off with my mother’s holiday curtains, then her sheets and pillowcases. I was grounded for cutting her best threads and grounded for continuing to ‘destroy’ her belongings. I couldn’t get enough! Soon, I was introduced to JoAnn Fabrics store, where I lost my mind. I began sewing pillows, pillowcases, skirts, shirts, bags and scarves. With much practice and self-motivation, I conquered the construction of pants, dresses, gowns and blazers. By 2008, I presented my first collection, Summer Breeze, at my church’s annual fashion show. My early collections consist of unconventional materials. Trash-bag dresses, neck-tie skirts and shower-curtain jackets were my first loves. The more mature I become, the more congealed my collections become. In 2014, I presented my official collection, Naked Beauty, to about 250 Fayetteville locals and government officials. I received raves for my eclectic perspective in fashion.
Knowledge provides power, and power provides a choice to choose authority or control. With authority, I am able to walk into offices and create my own opportunities. Control presents obstacles of delusion and illusion. Those who control something or someone are also neglecting another part of themselves. In order to create cohesive collections, one must seek a state of solitude. Through solitude one obtains power.
Your website (zmearkalle.com) says, ‘We encourage creative expression of individuality by providing high-quality, androgynous fashions that disprove societal norms as it relates to gender identity.’ How did you become interested in androgynous fashions? And what can you tell us about the inspiration behind your current line?
My interest in androgynous fashion fell into my lap. Through my past experiences and current world issues, my fashion journey has led me down the road I am currently on. I believe in unity and non-judgment. At my time of transition, the fashion industry was carrying on as usual. Gendered fashion and size classification held many fashion enthusiasts back. I noticed the chains within the industry and observed the conduct in which it was carried out. What you consume you are. I wanted to serve the world with unisex fashion, fashion made with unified love where its function would require a state of open-mindedness. No fear, doubt and/or limitations. My current line, Androgyo, will host my T-shirts, hats and accessories–new look and new seamlines. Everything about my new collection will speak to the masses and our actions, perspectives and daily consumption.
In the early days of ‘androgynous fashion,’ it seemed everything looked boxy and unflattering. How do you avoid that, and what are the challenges of designing androgynous fashions?
In my early research of androgynous fashion, I wasn’t thrilled or satisfied. I saw many who attempted androgynous fashion, however, their failure was presented through boxy, unflattering silhouettes. There is a science to androgynous garment construction. One must meld womenswear and menswear together in harmony. My research in Asian fashion answered a lot of dire questions. Indian fashion history is interesting as well. Men who wore elaborate fabrics with layers of ranking garbs were seen as wealthy and superior. Pants weren’t invented yet, so robes and undercoats were utilized in ancient fashion. Men wearing robes in public now are perceived as gay, homosexual and mentally stuck in the past. Many refer to the past, as the ‘70s, when many hippies wore long robes and oversized shirts with peace signs and smiley faces. I dare you to research further back. Jaden Smith isn’t the only conscious fashion individual out here. I avoid the boxy, unflattering issue by manipulating fabrics and notions, utilizing womenswear seamlines on menswear silhouettes and incorporating ingenious convertibility.
What is your goal in designing fashions for all?
My goal in designing fashion for all is to create more unity with our collection consciousness through artistry. I aspire to answer all fashion issues through simple pattern-making formulas and sewing methods.
A lot of Vaunt’s male models openly shop for and wear women’s clothes because of the beauty and sexiness of the styles. Will androgynous fashions evolve for them?
Androgynous fashion is already evolving. The fashion industry itself is evolving. Evolving to what? Evolving to a more unified awareness. I began with sewing womenswear and then evolved to menswear, and now I have evolved again to androgynous fashion. I evolved when I made the choice to become a designer. We are all evolving personally and collectively. The fashion industry will evolve right along with us.