JAM | May 12, 2023

A stitch in time: Avant Garde Designer winner Janseen Graham talks fashion

/ Our Today

Reading Time: 4 minutes
An exuberant Janseen Graham (right), after being announced SAINT International’s Avant Garde Designer of the Year, hit the catwalk with SAINT model Marieka Marston outfitted in his winning design, Jamrock Fusion, at the competition hosted last month at the AC Hotel Kingston. Graham won $60,000 from the Ministry of Culture and Entertainment and the Tourism Enhancement Fund as the prize. (Photo: Adam McKenzie, contributed)

A third time proved the charm for Janseen Graham, who was awarded SAINT International’s Avant Garde Designer of the Year title last month after his prior attempts had failed to claim a first-place finish at the model agency’s designer contest.

“I’m proud that I finally did it! I felt extremely happy as it was an accomplishment, I set out to achieve,” exclaimed Graham.

His winning entry titled ‘Jamrock Fusion’,  was a kimono stitched with cotton-blend fabrics of a hibiscus print teemed with a red-green-gold-and-black border on one side that then opened into a red lame jumpsuit.

Graham garnered rapturous applause from the audience at the AC Marriot Hotel in New Kingston on April 23, and plaudits from the judges too, who collectively tipped him as the victor from the field of 13 designers.

“My concept was to do a two-in-one outfit with the first look depicting the Jamaica 60 theme with the hibiscus print that had the Jamaican colours in it and fuse that with the reggae coloured print, and then top it with the red lame, a fabric widely used in our dancehall culture,” he explained.

Graham, a seasoned contributor to the Miss Jamaica World annual pageant wardrobes, had entered SAINT’s Avant Garde competition previously in 2018 and 2019, coming closer in the former year to a win, having scored third place for his entry ‘Lady Majestic’.

Miss Jamaica World 2021 Khali Hall in a Janseen Graham design. (Photo: Contributed)

A self-taught designer who has been in the profession for almost three decades, he said his initial career ambition was to become either an architect or engineer.

 “I grew up in a construction family, but fashion designing chose me,” he disclosed. “I was a break dancer back in the day and wanted to dress differently than other dancers, so I started out upscaling or revamping my clothes with fashionable pieces from head-to-toe.”

The would-be-designer sat at his mother’s sewing machine to experiment.

“I used to practice a lot although I would break her needles many times, so she wouldn’t allow me to use it. She sewed as a hobby, but I was determined to use her machine. When she wasn’t around, I used it to practice my skills on a variety of fabrics and blend them together. That’s how my skillset developed. I started to pull apart all kinds of garments and make them over,” he shared of his design beginnings.

Today, Graham is on speed-dial for the island’s leading stylists, among them Neko ‘Bootleg Rocstar’ Kelly, Troy Oraine of Tribe Nine Studios and Ayana Riviere who all call on him to dress their celebrity clients such as Koffee, Beenie Man, Protoje, Romaine Virgo, Lila Iké, Ce’cile, and Jaz Elise.   

Grammy-nominated reggae star Protoje styling in a Janseen Graham design.(Photo: Contributed)

Momentarily pausing from sketching new creations at his Balmoral Avenue studio, the designer with an affinity for denim, linen, lace and double-knits offered his take on the current state of Jamaica’s fashion industry.

“It’s geared to become a significant sector in the local economy, but we need to be more formalised. I think a lot of Jamaican designers tend to hustle to make a dollar or two as there’s no established business foundation and so when buyers come, there’s nothing to purchase. I believe we designers need to come together and work as a collective so that we can benefit more from an industry that reliably produces ready-to-wear garments,” he opined.

Jamaican womenswear and menswear designer Janseen Graham behind the sewing machine at his Balmoral Avenue studio. (Photo: Contributed)

As to what he foresees as his next big act, the 55-year-old, father of two daughters and three sons said: “I would like to achieve all the endless possibilities as they present themselves to me, plus I would love to showcase my collection at international fashion weeks and become a global brand out of Jamaica. I also want to create a legacy for my children to build on. I’m mentoring one of my sons who is a garment cutter and he is also doing pretty well at designing menswear.”


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