AHHA Fashion: Miskeen Originals

Before Miskeen Originals could be found in stores across the country, and even before the likes of Bernard Hopkins, Bun B, Snoop Dogg and Alicia Keys donned the colorful, hand painted shirts; artists were painting and selling Miskeen in the streets of West Philly. The team built a buzz, their brand and a name in the fashion business by opting for the unique concept of making every piece an original piece of art. Since the time founders Yaniv and Ilan Zaken brought in artists to paint Miskeen's first shirts, they have expanded the company's talent to 34 artists.

Just how does Miskeen seamlessly merge art with fashion? AllHipHop.com Alternatives went behind the scenes at their Camden, New Jersey headquarters to investigate the secrets of this innovative company.

The Miskeen factory itself is just as colorful and ornate as the clothing inside, with graffiti murals covering the outside walls of the factory. Inside the studio, the sales and marketing teams work side-by-side with the artists, ensuring that the artistic and business aspects are in sync. The art transcends just fashion; there are hand-painted desks and chairs along with the vibrantly colored walls decorated with original paintings. Next to the office area is the silk-screening room, where the silkscreen artists work directly with the design team to create images digitally and translate them to shirts. The entire process from computer to production, theoretically, takes only a couple of hours. In reality, the team experiments with colors and styles, and apply their own creativity to make each work original.

“We do silkscreen in house, and we do hand art in house, because fashion catches so quickly and we have to be prepared,” Marketing Director Jasmijn Rijcken explained during our tour. “For instance, as soon as Bun B wore that Pink Panther shirt [in Beyonce’s video], everyone else wanted it the next day.”

On the other side of the silkscreen room is a huge art studio where about 15 to 20 artists create the looks for Miskeen simultaneously. They start with an initial design and add their individual flavor and flair to each shirt. Once the shirts are produced, it is up to the retailers to pick and choose which designs they want to sell. However, when they place the orders, store buyers are not entirely sure what they will end up with, as each shirt is uniquely made. They will know what color shirts they will receive, but the finished product depends on the artist’s vision at that moment. From time to time, Miskeen does create exclusive lines for certain major retailers, such as Finish Line.

While Miskeen’s customer base is mostly men, they do have a women’s line in the works. They have 37 stores throughout the United States under their Dr. Denim line, and the Miskeen brand is available at hundreds of retail stores nationwide.

According to Jason Moody, Sales Manager for the Southeast region, the South has embraced Miskeen and boasts some of the best selling stores in the country. “There is a store in Raleigh, North Carolina that might be the best damn store in the country. I’ve been to some big glossy stores, and then I’ve been to some hood ass stores, but the love that the clothing line gets is crazy nationwide.”

In addition to spreading their artistic vision across the U.S., Miskeen is working closely with Upliftment Jamaica, a St. Thomas based non-profit organization dedicated to educating and empowering Jamaican youth, supported by Russell Simmons, Dr. Ben Chavis, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Buju Banton and other industry heavyweights. In their hometown of Philadelphia, the Miskeen crew organizes frequent fundraisers to support Upliftment Jamaica’s vision. In July 2006, two Miskeen artists flew down to Jamaica to teach art classes and design shirts with some of the Upliftment Jamaica campers.

The secret of Miskeen’s success is, that through their original art, they can always breathe new life into fashion. They can adjust in accordance with the frivolity of fashion, and can always rely on their basic artistic skills as trends come and go.