Kiki Kitty Talks Streetwear, Resisting Labels, and Next in Fashion

Kiki Kitty, who has been at the forefront of fashion since launching FUBU’s womenswear line in the 90’s, definitely understands the raw core of streetwear. As her career has developed, she’s designed for brands like the Nicki Minaj Collection and Jay Z’s Rocawear, and is now shifting the focus to her personal design goals with her brand K. Milele. 

Describing herself as the “Queen of Artistic Expression”, her journey and influence in the fashion community is definitely compelling. 

Her involvement with FUBU seemed to come naturally - being young, hungry for opportunities, and breaking into the field, Kitty says she “really said yes to literally everything”. She was attending school with one of the founders of the brand, who introduced her to their take on streetwear. Growing up designing prom dresses and gowns, the designer says the newness and realness of FUBU’s vision was attractive and inspiring. Moreover, her job at Uptown Records  influenced her artistic voice, arguing “Music always influences fashion, and as you’re watching musicians and watching artists you feel something. A lot of the inspiration comes from what’s happening around us - mundane things.”

And in this statement, Kitty truly gets to the core of streetwear - the voices and stories we experience in perceiving blue collar workers. It’s real, raw, and turns the mundane into a fashion statement. She states Carhartt suits as a prime example of streetwear, as it was, first and foremost, a workman’s suit. LL Cool J’s trend of rolling one leg up comes from the tradition of bike messengers attempting to keep their pants clean while riding a bike. True streetwear comes from the authentic voice of the masses, and is extremely marketable because of its comfort and practicality. 

When asked about the intersection between streetwear and high fashion, Kitty describes the danger of turning the culture into a luxury trend, stating “The only problem with the interconnection is that the concepts and inspiration can get diluted - that’s always the issue with not giving credit to inspiration.”
This gives way into a deeper conversation and concern about trends maintaining their essence and history when translated into the world of high fashion and luxury brands. 

This same issue seemed to manifest in a different form when Kitty was a contestant on Netflix’s Next in Fashion, a fashion design competition hosted by Tan France and Alexa Chung. Kitty and her partner Farai Simoyi had to defend their designs to a reluctant fashion panel, and were eventually eliminated over the controversial streetwear challenge. She was pulled towards the show because of the way it was presented: professional, documentary style, and about the craft. Kitty “really wanted to compete”, but felt confined in the category of “urban”. 

In terms of breaking out of this category and creating a unique brand for herself, Kitty took an interesting approach. Rather than rejecting the label, she stated that her tactic was to “fight against the negative connotation of the word. Categorizing is unfair for so many reasons, but taking the negativity out of the term can allow you to escape that cage. Why is urban the only category with a negative connotation? I had to re-identify instead of running.” 

Her resilience and creative methods of resisting labels may come from her parents - Kiki argues that as a child of Black Panthers, standing up for herself is ingrained in her psyche, and literally in her blood. 

Kitty’s journey towards empowerment and artistic expression continues with the progression of her brand, K. Milele. Her experience on Next in Fashion may not have been what she expected, but she describes this stage in her career as “getting back into trusting myself, understanding I have to keep moving forward, and having some good conversations with other creatives”. Her tenacious personality is encompassed by her final words, “I’m a hustler, and I’ll be working it out any way I can.” Hopefully, her hustle will be illustrated in the work of her brand in the next few years, and in the creative vision she continues to develop through future projects and collaborations.