Jahleel Weaver on How He #SplitFrom The Pack
Let’s start right at the beginning. Where did you grow up?
Weaver : I grew up in the suburbs of Maryland, and I basically didn't leave until I was 18 and went to college. I'm from a Jamaican-Panamanian background, first-generation American, the first person in my family to be born in the States. My mom works for a law firm and my dad owns his own funeral home — my family is in that business, which is really weird. And cool.
Do you remember when you first knew you had a sincere interest in style and fashion?
Weaver: I've always loved fashion, but I've also always been obsessed with women in general. My family is predominately female. I really spent most of my time with my mom, my aunt, and my cousin. I grew up with a really strong backbone of strong women. It kind of started there. I was really good at drawing when I was younger, and I would always draw women, I would never really draw scenery. I wouldn't focus on what was happening around them. It was more about the woman, and what she wore, how she posed and her body. That was my first foray into that world.
I grew up with a really strong backbone of strong women.
I really first discovered fashion proper through music. I grew up in the mid-'90s, and when I was old enough to understand certain things, I would hear about designers in rap songs. That's how I found out about what designer even was. It's funny to see what I do now, because my life is really a proper fusion of fashion and music.
On that fashion and music tip, Reebok was a heavy presence in the ‘90s rap scene. Do you have any early memories of that?
Weaver: Yeah man. “54-11, size 7 in girls.” You know what I mean? 11s were seen as the realest. Of course. I grew up with seeing and hearing about Reebok in songs. My first pair, the pumps, I remember being so excited as a kid when my mom actually bought them for me. For sure.
I would hear about designers in rap songs. That's how I found out about what designer even
Coming from a first-generation background, with a household that put such a high value on immediately productive work – how did your family react to you choosing such an uncertain path?
Weaver: I don't think my family understood what the fashion industry really was, and how it worked, and what my role was in it until I literally want to say…three years ago. Because it just wasn't something that you learned in Panama. That doesn't exist. You know clothes, yeah. You buy them because you need them. They're a necessity. But having a real understanding of where it starts, how it trickles down to the department store that you're now shopping in, no one in my family understood that at the time. It was all about being a doctor, a lawyer, owning your own business, or going in the military. Those were your options within my family.
It's really sink or swim. If you want it bad enough, you're going to figure out how to swim.
It sounds like instinct is a big part of your story. Rather than follow any kind of previously scripted or traditional path, you’ve just jumped in and trusted your creative instincts?
Weaver: I think you just have to go and fail, or don't. It's really sink or swim. If you want it bad enough, you're going to figure out how to swim. If you don't have it, it's not going to happen. It fell in my lap, but I took the opportunity, and I made it work for me. I made it into what I wanted, even if I didn't know how. You just figure it out.
You never know if you don't ask, if you don't put yourself out there, if you don't take those risks and those chances.
What advice would you give to a young person who wanted to follow in your footsteps?
Weaver: I would say: don't give up. Not in a cliché way. Don't be afraid to hear the word no. So many times people hear no and they get so discouraged. It's only no. That's my rule. That's what I say all the time. I'm like, "The worst they can say is no." You never know if you don't ask, if you don't put yourself out there, if you don't take those risks and those chances. I feel like so many people come from a place of they fear rejection. It's going to happen to you at some point in your life. You just have to get used to it and move on from it and build from it. That's definitely advice that I would give. I give it to myself every day.