INTRODUCING: Allen Jermaine - Winning in the Game [FASHION]
The city of Camden, the roughly sixteen square mile urban space situated in the state of New Jersey and across the ocean from Camden Town in London, is fairly popular because of the increased crime rates, failing schools, and other social ills that dominate United States-based news outlets.
The Camden that I call “home” is often named by various media sources as the “most violent city” in the United States: in other words, the hood! That’s vastly different than the monikers used to describe London’s Camden Town, for sure. In fact, I’ve experienced multiple moments in which others have gasped in disbelief when I have told with great pride that Camden, NJ, is home.
Thus, I like to offer reminders that the so-called “hood”—the place that is only known for the murders that happen on its streets, the hopelessness that supposedly pervades the mostly black and brown and working poor city, the place that others run away from and refuse to embrace—continues to produce gifted artists, cultural workers, activists, intellectuals—human beings—like other places in the US.
Good in the “Hood”
Camden has given life to a lot of good. Allen Jermaine is one example. A 25-year old African-American designer, stylist, and the sole proprietor of Atversal Ambition Clothing, Allen is from my “hood,” Camden.
In reflecting on his upbringing, Allen recalls, “Growing up, like many people, my family didn’t have a lot financially. I was exposed to life lessons very early. I didn't always have the latest or best clothes. This forced me to pay attention to style and the popular brands that everyone else would wear. I wanted to create a brand for anyone who had to work hard to come from a place where the odds are against them.”
To be sure, Allen knows about hard work. Raised by his mother, he was eventually sent to stay with his grandparents and other relatives in a nearby suburb to receive a better education. Camden was still his primary residence, however. A high school basketball star who demonstrated his athletic skills on the courts, Allen also flexed his artistic abilities at part-time afterschool gigs. While working at an Express store in New Jersey, he realized that he liked and had an eye for styling. That was only the beginning.
Love, Basketball and Fashion
Allen went on to play college-level basketball and to receive a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Rowan University. After graduating, he shifted focus away from the court and placed it on the design house. He began to pursue those creative passions, drawing and design, that he had long maintained and, before too long, was teaching himself how to sew. He started making clothes soon thereafter.
In a little under a year, Allen has refined his designing skills and increased his customer base and is now designing clothes that represent his own aesthetic: classic and cool. His clothes can now be purchased in various independent stores and boutiques in the metropolitan Philly area.
When asked about the restrictions that he might experience as a young black male designer and stylist, Allen remarked, “Black male fashion designers seem to automatically be directed to urban demographics. In fact, it seems hard for black male designers to cross into other markets, which is a battle I'm currently facing. My brand is not a representation of urban street wear. I consider it to be more European, street, preppy, casual wear, along the lines of H&M, Express, Gap, and Polo by Ralph Lauren. All the brands I named are not urban companies per se, but cater to some style of street wear.”
There is something to be said about a young black brother who runs in the direction of his passion despite the boxes that US society would attempt to place him in. Basketball may have seemed like a perfect career option for a 20-something black male from Camden who was an All-Conference player during 2008-2010, and it may very well have been, but Allen had other plans, and his chase has paid off.
Allen will celebrate the launch of his line and styling company at Atversal Ambition’s 2013 Spring Line Release party on Thursday, March 28th at Industry XIX in Philly, which happens to be directly across the water from the city that we both call home, Camden. Life has a way of taking us just far enough so that we can see our beginnings.
Looking back might actually be the very move that inspires Allen to push forward. He has good reason to stay in the game. “I honestly find it hard to be a failure as a designer or stylist in today's society because most people are daring to be different. The industry is too watered down and everything and everyone is looking the same. Innovation is needed, especially from the most unexpected places,” Allen stated with confidence. He’s right. There’s no better inspiration than one’s hunger to innovate. And who better to do so than those whom others least expect to win the game?