Updated: Jan 3, 2020
LGBT designer Ja'Me had his very first fashion show at Josephine's Lounge in Atlanta this past Sunday, and let's just say, his pieces looked amazing, as did the models! The guests for the show were hand selected and invited by Ja'Me himself. Although this was an intimate gathering and only a "soft" launch, the models did not come to play!
Gaye Magazine had the pleasure of sitting down with the amazingly talented Ja'Me to discuss his life, his accomplishments, and his upcoming endeavors. We started the interview by getting to know a little about his past and how he has gotten to where he is today.
Tell us about yourself. Who is Ja'me Almonte?
“I’ve been in this industry for 10+ years. I started off doing music with my friends, and later on down the line, I found a passion for management. I've always had an ear for music, so I started working with different artists. Out of the blue, a friend of mine told me they wanted to get into modeling and asked me how to do so. I used the little knowledge I had at the time, had them take some digitals and sent them out. From that moment, I have not been able to drop my camera.
From there it just grew. I started working with elite agencies like Wilhelmina & Ford and an international agency called Westhaven. So over the years, I've dabbled in everything. I've worked with urban magazines, such as Parlay & Essence. So many outlets made me who I am today. I still manage male models, I still do my photography, but this (Me'Ja) has been a lifelong dream. In my church background, they say "A dream denied, is not a dream delayed". I've always dreamed to have my own line. I just turned 33 on Sept. 11, and my birthday wish to myself was 'this is the year, this is the year I make the leap', and so, I just jumped for it. I started creating, I started designing, I started putting pieces together, and as a photographer, I started doing my own marketing. But, I had to step out of that zone of being the photographer to now being the designer. Which brings me to where I am today! I’m a full blown designer, I have my first show coming up and I am extremely nervous.”
How did you come up with the name Me'Ja? What does it mean to you?
My vision for the line has changed a lot over the years. I started working on it when I was 22. The name changed 5 different times and my heart settled on Me’Ja because it is a play on my name and it is the reinvention of myself to say that ‘I can do it all’. In the past, I have been told what I can’t do. I didn’t know how to stitch, and I didn’t know anything about fabric, and for a long time, I let a lot of it hold me back. I’m a big guy, and I love myself. So the confidence I have in myself, I’m bringing to my line. I want my line to really be for my people. So, Me’Ja is a luxury men’s and women’s underwear and loungewear line. Look at it this way, Calvin Klein is everywhere, it is easily accessible. However, when you buy Versace , you feel like ‘oouuu, this is high quality”. With Me’Ja, I want both. I want the accessibility of Calvin Klein, but the luxury and the treatment of Versace.
You describe your line as “a place where luxury meets comfort”, explain that for me. Why is that important for your brand?
Men are so limited in our underwear. Women have a wide variety of underwear that makes them feel sexy and comfortable. But there’s a thin line for that when it comes to men apparel. I wanted to translate that these are comfortable, but they add luxury to your lifestyle, you are still portrayed as ‘I am a man’. So that’s what matters to me most. This is something that is sexy for us but still very masculine.
You also do photography, how’d you get into that? Do you shoot the photos for your brand? If so, does it get overwhelming doing both?
I have a photographer’s eye, but I’m developing a designer’s eye. In the sense where I don’t just want the model to pose and show themselves off, I need them to show off my garments. So, I have shot a few shoots, as well as a few other photographers. All giving different aspects of my line. I’m a bit of a control freak, so that’s why I choose to do it myself. But I’m learning to take a step back and trust the photographer to bring my vision to life. In the near future, I may do more but right now I’m looking for a photographer who I can trust with my baby.
Some of Ja’Me’s fashion favorites and least favorites for the past decade:
*Laughs* Whew! Let’s talk about my least favorite first. If I offend anyone please forgive me. But I cannot stand these new ‘durag photoshoots’. I don’t understand the purpose of it! For you to have a person, in the middle of the forest, with a durag on? I don’t see no concept in that. Now, I love black creativity. I’m never gonna put anyone down for anything, but I just want whoever came up with this idea to sit down with me over some wine or something and tell me ‘this is why I did what I did’, because I don’t understand it. I don’t.
My favorite is, I love to see the combination of patterns. For example, I mix a lot of fabrics, not overly, but just enough to make it pop. I have definitely come to appreciate that concept in fashion. Victoria’s Secret has been doing it for a long time, she mastered it. Now I’m trying to do the same thing but the male version.
Oh yeah, I want my brothers and sisters to stop this bagginess. I left it in the 90s. Baby don’t bring it back! History repeats itself, a lot of fashion trends we’re seeing right now is a repeat of what we’ve seen before. But there are times when I want my brothers and sisters in position to do more, to bring us ahead of the time. There’s no movement if we’re still doing what we did in the past. That’s what I hope to bring to this industry. A new flare of things.
What inspires you during the design process?
Going to the store and not seeing anything I like. I’m very picky. When it comes to groceries, shoes, clothes, everything. It’s too many of us doing the same thing, trying to outshine one another. I guarantee you, the ones that are making moves and making noise are the ones who step away from the ordinary. So, I hold that as what pushes me and inspires me for my line. If I dig a little deeper, at the root of it all, it’s my mother and my sister. My mother said a very long time ago that she wanted to leave something in this world for me and my sister. So I’ve taken that and adopted that for my line. I want to leave something on this planet that states ‘I was here’. Calvin [Klein] has come and gone, American Eagle, they all left this world. But their name still stands. That’s what I want. I want someone with low self esteem to put on my items and instantly feel good.
It’s so many of us in the LGBT community that lose that self esteem sometimes, because nothing is created for us. I love ‘Black by Popular Demand because she’s FOR us in every way. When you wear her clothes you instantly feel encouraged, you instantly feel like you’re about something. I want that, even though its underwear/loungewear. I want it to fit your curves, it fits your body. It’s so much more to the Me’Ja wear line that I want the world to experience.
Your favorite and least favorite part about being a designer?
*Sighs*. My favorite part is when I see a model put on the piece and then come out and they’re like, ‘WOW. I love the choice of fabric, I love the choice of the cut you made, it fits me perfectly’. My least favorite is the anticipation of having someone come out and try it on. That little 5 minutes where they’re changing and taking too long and you’re like ‘omg’. Did they rip it? Did they put a hole in it? What’s going on?.
What was your biggest fear when starting Me’Ja?
Taking into account everyone that’s doing the same thing. As a black gay man, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be received within either of my communities. There’s an envelope that you push when it comes down to underwear and I don’t want my line to be overly sexualized. I want to cross over into other realms like Macy’s & H&M.
Any growing pains? How do you stay motivated to keep going?
When I first started, I just had a recent promotion. I finally felt like I could get the things I needed to launch. But the promotion came with hell. After the hell, came the inferno. I lost my job. I had a choice to make. Do the launch or don’t do the launch. In the beginning, I didn’t want to keep going. But my mom prayed with me and I took that leap. And here we are. So, my biggest burden was the financial loss I thought I needed. Sometimes, we are in a situation where we are stuck because we think we need something. Faith got me through it all. God will always see me through.
What sets Me’Ja apart from other brands that may be similar?
Not to discredit anyone else. I’ve literally spent hours in the fabric store touching everything. I’ve gone out and looked at other people’s work. Because, you’re in a small box dealing with underwear, if you don’t do something outrageous you’re gonna stay in that box. Your limitations are the choices, the cut, the fabric, the feel, the concept you’re trying to portray. I’ve carefully hand chosen everything. This is truly created for us, by us.
What’s next for Me’Ja?
I have a five year goal. Year one, hit the ground running. Visit different boutiques trying to get my line sold. Although I may get a ‘no’, it doesn’t mean I’m not gonna try. I’ve had doors slammed in my face because of how I look, what I am, and how I represent myself. But that never stopped me. Year two, Me’Ja will be in stores. Years 3,4, & 5? I will have my own store/boutique. I will be reaching out to influencers and motivators trying to get them to recognize this brand. I want my stuff on movie and photography sets. That’s more promo for me. I really want ‘us’ to be represented correctly.
Ja’Me wraps up by explaining the importance of black and LGBT people supporting one another like we support other brands. “We can’t keep doing that to ourselves.” He says in reference to the recent controversy with Gucci and H&M. “We need to support black owned businesses. Same goes for the LGBT community."
If you are interested in purchasing some of the pieces from Me'Ja, please visit https://mejawear.com/. Also follow the brand on social media!
For any other questions or concerns, please feel free to contact Me'Ja's customer service line (678) 349-7192.