Young Designer Propels her Way into the Philly Fashion Scene
Written By: Angela Gervasi
Photos By: Margo Reed
Some young people detest their parent’s fashion sense. 23-year-old Yaasmeen Ahmad, creator of the Kamaswazi clothing line, thrives off of it.
“He was my first fashion icon. He always had the most authentic, original clothes I’ve ever seen,” Ahmad said, running her fingers along a floral pocket-square-turned scarf that she’d taken from her father.
Ahmad has always drawn inspiration from her father, a poet. When he passed a bold fur vest down to her, she wore the statement piece with all black and slicked-back hair. When Ahmad noticed an African blanket in her father’s closet, she cut the $1000 piece into a shirt, assuming that he no longer wanted the item.
“He hates it. I get in trouble every time… So every time he always asks me. He’s like ‘did you cut any of my stuff up?’” Ahmad said.
Ahmad grew up in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. When her mother sent her away to school in Mount Airy and Chestnut Hill, Ahmad became aware of the dangers of the city that she was isolated from at an early age.
“I wasn’t allowed to play outside and things like that. I had to do all things in the house or do sports in Chestnut Hill. That’s when I realized that I was separated from my initial environment that I was born into,” Ahmad said.
She moved on to attend Central High School in North Philadelphia and Penn State Abington just outside of the city. When Ahmad transferred to Penn State Main Campus for a semester, she lived with an eclectic group of women and befriended an international student from India. The dose of diversity Ahmad experienced in her own dorm helped inspire her to create Kamaswazi.
“I just felt like this was a pattern that was coming into play in my life. Being around different types of people, different walks of life,” Ahmad said.
To create the brand name, which she wanted to “roll off the tongue like water,” Ahmad acquired the prefix “kama” from the Hindu text Kama Sutra. Ahmad used “swazi” to represent the language spoken in the Swaziland state of southern Africa.
“That represents blackness, of course. Richness, power. These are things that I’m trying to embody as a person,” Ahmad said. As an African-American woman creating her own brand, Ahmad said she is aware of her presence as a minority, but determined to overcome oppressive obstacles.
“You can have high levels of success and high levels of innovation and ideas from the people who were deemed ‘not worthy,’” Ahmad said.
Recently, Ahmad created a website for her brand and showcased her pieces in two local fashion shows. One of those shows took place at Temple University in an event sponsored by the Organization for African Students. While Ahmad said she does not intentionally make her pieces appear Afrocentric, she has gravitated toward bright colors and tribal patterns, causing many to categorize her works as such.
Ahmad’s current works stem from tee-shirts and button down tops that she reupholstered in a painting process involving screen-printing ink. Currently enrolled to receive two certificates at the Moore College of Art and Design, Ahmad intends to learn more about apparel construction to expand her brand and explore the fashion industry.