If you've seen Soulja Boy's "Crank That" video, then you are familiar with the Miskeen Originals clothing line. Souljah Boy's customized 'Superman' hoodie was hand-crafted by the artists in Miskeen's state-of-the-art studio in Camden, New Jersey.
Miskeen was born in West-Philadelphia by an artist that put his pain and passion for hiscommunity on shirts. The hand-painted shirts became so popular that they were selected by Dr. Denim, a clothing outlet, which sold 200 shirts in a weekend. Due to Miskeen's overwhelming popularity, the best artists throughout the community were hired to accommodate the increasing demand.
Miskeen is very involved in the community as they have a member on the board of the Philadelphia Special Olympics, where they paint beautiful canvases, auction them off, and donate the proceeds. They also sponsor the Camden High School track team, and their artists paint walls in children's hospitals. They even visited children in Jamaica to demonstrate the joy of expressing themselves through art.
Since 1999, Miskeen has become well-respected on the streets and has gained a great deal of support from the urban music community. Music icons like Jay-Z and Diddy, and sports figures like Lebron James and Shaquille O'Neal have been spotted wearing Miskeen's colorful one-of-a-kind shirts. Miskeen has gained popularity in the U.S., as well as Japan, South America and Europe giving the line worldwide appeal.
With a men's line, a womens line, a kids' collection and a brand new sneaker line, Miskeen is becoming a force to be reckoned with. We caught up with Miskeen's Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations, Jasmijn Rijcken, to discuss the artists' unique methods of designing and production and the future of Miskeen.
AllHipHop.com: How long has Miskeen been in existence?
Jasmijn: We started back in the day on the street but we have been in the stores about six years.
AllHipHop.com: Each garment is a unique design in the sense that no two garments are the same, correct?
Jasmijn: Yes, the hand-painted garments are one of a kind, but our collections are based on art and are very limited edition. So on the one hand we have the hand-painted clothes that are one of a kind, and then we have the collections and they come in groups.
AllHipHop.com: Now with the hand-painted designs, I'm sure that requires a huge team of designers. How many designers are involved?
Jasmijn: We have 45 hand-paint artists, 10 graphic designers and illustrators, and about seven fashion designers.
AllHipHop.com: So that's a big team!
Jasmijn: Yes, a large percentage of the company is creative, and everybody is working together so you don't necessarily have to be limited to your own discipline. If you come in as a hand-paint artist but you see what the fashion designers are doing and you have an idea, you can go work with them or vice versa. We want everyone to express their feelings through art.
AllHipHop.com: Are there any artists that stand out?
Jasmijn: I like to believe that every artist brings value to the company. We select the artists and they go through training. At first they might start by exclusively doing background painting, but in the end there are a group of senior artists - maybe 15. I don't want to highlight one, because I believe it's a collaboration of artists that makes Miskeen strong and not one person.
AllHipHop.com: So it's truly a team concept, it's not like [any] artist is better than [the other].
Jasmijn: Right, maybe one is better in this and the other is better than that, like one might be good in portrait while the other can do abstract a little better. I think the power of Miskeen is that it's a group of artists, and because of that, it gives the designs a great degree of diversity. It's a great thing that Miskeen can employ all of these artists and give them a full-time regular job creating art all day.
I think that's one of the beauties about Miskeen too is that the better the company does, the more artists we can hire and create this unique place in the world where people can create art all day, and have a salary with benefits.
AllHipHop.com: Who are some of the Hip-Hop artists currently wearing Miskeen?
Jasmijn: Well of course right now the most famous example at the time is Soulja Boy in the "Crank that Soulja Boy" video. We made his Superman hoodie. Hurricane Chris, Bun B, MIMS, Busta Rhymes, Daddy Yankee, Paul Wall, Fat Joe, The Game, Method Man, Redman, all of the Wu Tang Clan, the list goes on. I have a Wall of Fame in my office and you can't say you're a big rap artist if you're not on my Wall of Fame wearing Miskeen. [laughs]
AllHipHop.com: What about on the R&B side?
Jasmijn: Chris Brown, Lyfe Jennings, I'm looking at my wall as we speak [laughs] Tyrese, Boyz II Men - they still make great records and they wear Miskeen all the time - T-Pain and a few others.
AllHipHop.com: Miskeen has a men's collection, a ladies collection, a kids' collection and sneakers. Elaborate on those a little.
Jasmijn: The sneakers and the ladies line just launched recently, about a year ago. The sneakers are very limited edition, you won't see them on every street corner, only at the most exclusive stores. We have hand-painted sneakers and limited edition sneakers. The colors all match and tie into our collections for the clothes so they're always matching as well as the caps and the belts and the other accessories.
The kids' line is basically a highlight of the best selling men's collection. We make those designs in a small size for the kids, and people really love that because it looks really cute. [laughs] We also do hand-painting for the kids. The ladies line is very fashion forward, it's very diverse with different shades, we have dresses and shirts and cute little jeans, and we have the collection and the hand-painted. You can see and purchase some of our designs at MiskeenOriginals.com.
AllHipHop.com: Do you have a particular design that's one of your personal favorites?
Jasmijn: Yeah, I like the Illusion group, it's the new collection coming out in the Spring and it has really nice colors with a lot of art elements in the graphics. It's very complex and it looks fun. We moved away from theme-based collections and started much smaller collections. First we had one big group and everything had the same theme. Now it's more individual pieces that somehow tie in together because of the color and because of the style - so it's more experimental and innovative, and we have different brushes and use different art techniques and silhouettes. I would say that makes us a lot more diverse than we were before.
AllHipHop.com: What are the future plans for the company?
Jasmijn: We don't want to grow too big, because we don't want Miskeen to become this household name that's on every corner. It should always be a very exclusive, fast-changing, innovative product that only the fan base that know [Miskeen] and know the art involved are wearing it. Art isn't the same if it's over done. We want it to be exclusive and always be true to what we are with the designs and customized hand-painting.
We are the voice of the people. We hire people from the community to paint for the people. If you come here you'd be so surprised - it's a big art studio. Our offices have colorful walls covered with art. The artists are from all different cultures, everyone is young - I dare to say that 90 percent of them are under 34-years-old. It's just a fun group of people that love to make clothes.