THIS IS THE FINAL OF A THREE-PART SERIES FEATURING Q&A'S WITH A FEW OF OUR MOST TALENTED AND CREATIVE FRIENDS.
Two weeks ago we introduced you to our good friend Jeff Bell (See post HERE). Last week we showcased the multi-talented Erin Reitz (See post HERE). This week we'd like to introduce you to Joshua Kissi - one of our more inspiring artistic friends (Co-founder of Street Etiquette), currently in Brooklyn, NY. But we'll let Josh do the talking!
What is Street Etiquette, why did you start it, and what do you do now?
Street Etiquette—founded by me and my friend, Travis—started out as a lifestyle documentation of style and narrative. About 3-4 years ago we turned it into a creative agency. But in the early days we documented our personal style as a way of speaking to a demographic of people who we thought weren’t being communicated to. Today we still contribute to Street Etiquette as an agency, but in 2017 I plan to roll out a new company.
We brothers first came across you and Travis when you shared your inaugural BLACK IVY video and photo series…that was pretty early in the game for you. What did that piece represent to you?
Black Ivy, today, is a reference to a group of people in culture. When we created that piece we had no idea it would blow up and have the influence that it did. All we wanted to do was express ourselves and tell our own story. As people, there are so many racial stereotypes that we operate under. We wanted to flip that narrative on it’s head. We wanted to open up the conversation and explain why these stereotypes exist in the first place, and help others move towards a greater understanding of each other. It was amazing that we could bring up a topic like racial stereotypes through clothing, fashion, and lifestyle. I think many people connected with our editorial for different reasons, whether it represented black masculinity, racial stereotypes, academia, and so on. It’s all there, and so much more.
Black Ivy was a learning lesson for me, and today it still confirms what I'm trying to say through my own work.
You have Ghanaian roots (via your parents). What does it mean to be Ghanaian, and how has that shaped the way you live?
Being Ghanaian always meant to revering one’s tradition and history. Whether it was being involved in Ghanaian events or church or family gatherings, my parents would always make an effort to show us where we’re from. In most cases this is a beautiful addition to one’s identity, but as first generation kids balancing being African & American, you learn to value the cultural clash and identify yourself just as African as you are American.
It gives me a different perspective when I travel, or when I'm in New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the world. An international accent isn’t foreign to me, but it does provide context to someone's story.
Must we create? Why? What can it do?
Always. You never know what your talents are if you don't explore. I think creativity is all around us; it’s embedded in every profession. If we both revere and enjoy art in the ways we say we do, then it should bleed into everyday living.
We grew up in a small cattle farming town with limited access to bigger cities and other cultures. You grew up in NYC. What has growing up in the epicenter of movement and noise taught you about life, people, and your own ideas?
Growing up in New York City is like growing up around the world without actually traveling anywhere. When you get a taste of so many countries and cultures, it makes you want to visit those places overseas to fully immerse yourself in what you tasted in NYC. Say you make friends with a classmate from India while you’re in school, you'll become familiar with the types of Curries and Naan they eat, and their traditions--all through your relationship.
NYC has taught me that culture ultimately moves the needle. Even though there are so many different backgrounds and ways of living, people are connected by that diversity. It sheds light on how we want to live life and what we want to pass on to future generations.
I’m in between the life you guys had growing up in small farming town and the city life. It’s important for me to find that balance.
Is ball really life?
Always. Ball is always life. There’s always a way to relate ball (any sport) to life. Yesterday I was having a conversation with my friend and he compared himself to a striker on a top football team, and how he needed the top trainers around him to make him better at his craft.
You passionately share your work with others, which often emphasizes black people, their physique, their hair, their style. It’s beautiful. What is it that has prompted you to focus on this side of art?
Thank you for the kind words!
It is important to live your truth. And visually the images I share (which are mostly portraits) tell some of that truth. I want my work to feel as human as possible. On a basic level it’s what connects people despite racial, sexual, ethnic differences. As black people, historically, what we’ve been shown or depicted as is not beautiful. Our features, our hair, our physique, our style, it's all commodified and valued when it isn’t on us. I want much of my work to challenge that narrative, a narrative that is inside our history books, in art forums, business practices, and in the human subconscious. It’s a longterm journey where every story matters.
Are you business-minded? How have you grown your own business? What are some challenges AND insights you’ve learned along the way? How have you found meaning in your work, when faced with opportunities to “cash in” or make more money, even when those opportunities might dilute the sincerity of your brand?
I would like to say yes. Travis and I unknowingly created a company, and so we have had to become "business-minded" in order to live off of our craft. The biggest challenge is using the right amount of business acumen to not only keep yourself afloat but to also continue growing your business. It’s a challenge to “cash in” when you represent a culture. There are positives and negatives with taking $$ in exchange for commerce and culture. In business, the most important aspect is owning your brand, and revisiting “why” you even started to provide a service in the first place.
My experience with Street Etiquette as an agency has helped me launch other personal ventures, knowing what to look for on the business end, but also how to nurture cultural fulfillment within the work you take on or the service you provide. It’s a challenge that I look forward to.
What has it been like working with Adidas? Did you rep them as a kid? What have you been working on with them?
Working with Adidas has been a very intimate and free-flowing relationship. I don’t think any agency has been this close to a brand. Given that Travis and I also represent a lifestyle with Street Etiquette, we play an interesting role with them as a client. I didn’t really rep them as a kid. I did have a pair of superstars, but I preferred other brands growing up. It was all about the swoosh growing up in the 1990s/2000s. We have been developing a category they have called Adidas Athletics, which is a form of sportswear. It’s like off-the-field attire, which has been wildly popular the last couple seasons. With Adidas, our main role, as an agency, has been to provide the brand with a mixture of visual and cultural aesthetic , helping them understand how to engage with customers in genuine conversation, not just to talk at them.
To see the cultures that Josh Kissi is cultivating and sharing be sure to check out Street Etiquette.
Stay tuned for more interviews with Some Of The Best!