INTRO is barely two years old, and they have created a space for dialogue, inspired change, and educated the masses through unique and never-before-seen fashion exhibitions. Damian "DJ" Joel directs the brand as a vehicle, leading the way toward a brighter future for both his community and fashion.
The fashion designer grew up in Kingston, Jamaica, with a seamstress mother and began making clothing out of necessity. "She made my school uniforms... (because) I didn't really grow up with any kind of privilege as far as money is concerned," said Joel. In 2014, the Island native planted his roots in Bushwick, Brooklyn, where he currently resides.
Damian has over a decade of experience as an image consultant, pageant coach, costume designer, and stylist. Jöel's motivation behind image consulting is to help shape the brand's goals they have in fashion. He started his clothing line last year - the line launched on his birthday, flaunting significant Capricorn energy. Although it felt like a risk to Joel, he has proven his mettle by showing his collection at NYFW last fall.
When you see Damian Jöel's imagery, it is undeniably a celebration of blackness. The fashion insider surrounds himself with persons, and elements of the Black experience to maintain the integrity of his design vision. "It is intentional on my part...if I'm going to be doing this thing called fashion design... to come through the noise one has to be purely authentic - and boldly so," proclaims Damian. The Brooklyn resident tells stories of African tribes and African Americans through fashion. Joel clarifies that he welcomes anyone purchasing and wearing his garments, but he guards the campaign images. "I think it would be grossly offensive if I am telling the story of the Gullah nation, and I have white models in my garments," Jöel affirms.
His black celebratory aesthetic does face backlash. Customers have questioned Jöel as to why he only highlights black models in his shows. Though usually poised and reserved in confrontation, the NYC transplant giggled about only sharing a censored version of his retort. To respond to critiques, he compares how majority-white designers are not requested to feature models of color at the same rate. "If these people (black persons) inspire my collection, why would I put anything but African Americans in my garments," expressed Joel. Watering down his authenticity would only serve to diminish the inherent message of the collection.
"My hope is to see a future that is fully integrated. Where there is no disparity between men and women," declares the Kingston born designer. Jöel replied to an inquiry of hinted androgynous undertones in his work by saying, "It's apart of my design aesthetic to create pieces for the human being." Two-piece blowy suits, tailored wide-legged pants, pinstripe overalls, and cropped structured white button-down shirts are all INTRO pieces that can seamlessly suit any gender. To reiterate the unisex nature of his garments, Jöel displays every piece on both a male-presenting and female-presenting model. The collection effortlessly fuses the feminine and masculine elements of fashion and is influenced by the designer's personal experiences. Damian acknowledges both feminine and masculine energy "it took me years to accept and embrace my feminine and masculine side," said the designer.
The Caribbean designer's heritage is what inspires an element of sustainability in his fashions. "Not having a lot taught me the very things I need to survive in this world - resourcefulness, and creativity," said Jöel. He does not believe in producing new collections for every season. Instead, Jöel focuses his energy on creating clothing that is of quality and timeless wardrobe staples. The fashion industry is one of the largest producers of waste globally, according to a 2019 article by Business Insider, and Jöel is determined not to become a part of that problem. "I am taking what has already existed and showing my people how we can rethink and reimagine those old garments and introduce them in a new way, that's why the brand is called INTRO," reveals Jöel. He encourages us to look at our closets and think about how we can reuse our clothes instead of purchasing new ones.
Jöel celebrates luxury fashion houses like Gucci, reducing the number of annual fashion shows yet feels it is long overdue. "I've seen Gucci runway shows, and it lacked inspiration - for a long time," declares Jöel. The designer encourages Gucci to stop being reactive to significant industry shifts and to lead the charge.
Covid-19 has forced many other brands to readjust and follow Gucci's footsteps. Jöel feels being a small designer; he has the advantage of being able to pivot fast. Though many would say this pandemic has crippled small designers, Jöel feels it is instead a great "equalizer." Independent designers have the autonomy to shift production in any way they seem fit. "I realized I needed to create masks that solve a problem," said Jöel. He quickly realized many other masks that do not fit properly—designing a mask that conforms to the face required six different prototypes before perfecting it.
This fashion line just began, but it will continue to push the boundaries. "Design at the core is about problem-solving, it is not about aesthetics," states Jöel. "The industry will try to put you in boxes and ask, are you menswear or womenswear designer - I respond and say I am a human wear designer."
This designer has already dressed Supermodel Jessica White and Sunglasses designers Coco & Breezy yet still dreams of working with Solange, Janelle Monae, and Billy Porter.
Since this interview occurred, INTRO has ceased all operations.
By Avante Edmonds