Rochester, NY born and raised designer of Blakk Sh33p Markas Jordan Kates is one of the most innovative rising creatives on the Streetwear scene. We met during Fashion Week China (the week before Covid 19 was announced) at Pier 59 Studios NY. In a room full of fashion industry aristocrats, it wasn’t hard to recognize a fellow Streetwear enthusiast (in the most uniquely fly aesthetic that just so happened to be his own design).
The 6’4 model/ designer describes his hometown as full of history and culture which is close to his brand’s narrative. “About a 7 hour drive from New York, Rochester is the home to several major companies, including Eastman Kodak, Champion, Xerox Corporation and garbage plates”. Says the Pittsford Sutherland high school graduate, “It is known for its strong industrial base and a diverse population. Its rich history dates back to the early 19th century, when it was founded as a manufacturing hub. Rochester also has a thriving arts and culture scene, with numerous galleries, theaters, and festivals”. ”Pittsford Sutherland high school is where I found my love for art” says Markas, most my of my classes were art related. From drawing and painting to graphic design, anything that I could do to be creative. By the time I was a sophomore my work was featured in an art gallery and the following year I curated my own gallery”. “It was work and sacrifice”. While my friends were going out and having fun I was working on new projects including murals. Those long nights and dedication have instilled in me to grind especially while working on Blakk Sh33p. From sourcing materials to designing a collection, I try and do as much research as possible.
IB: You are also a model? MJ: “My love for fashion actually began when I was a model for local events in Rochester, but it wasn’t until did a shoot for Young and Reckless brand landing my image all over social media platforms that I took it serious. From that day on I’ve been a sponge soaking up all the knowledge and information that I could. But my brand is my true passion where I can truly be creative in all aspects from the models, photo shoots, projects, and fashion shows”. “I always wanted to start a brand myself. In fact that was the reason I got into modeling, so that when I did shoots for my brand and a model was nervous or didn’t know how to pose, I could help them. I had just made my dream move to NYC not even two weeks before Covid 19 affected the city. My team and I moved back to Rochester, thinking we would only be there for a couple weeks and it wound up being two years. During that time my modeling career had come to a complete halt. I was going crazy in the house, thrifting and reimagining designs to create drip that was fresh. Working on the brand saved my life and balancing the creative scale between both designing and influencing is more rewarding to me”.
IB: Where might one have seen your modeling work? MJ: During fashion week I’ve walked for Olivia O’Blanc, Jevon Terrance, Lenny Vuitton, Gosn NYC, Khoman Room, and the Ryan Martin Collection. I’ve done advertising for Young and Reckless, Forever 21, A Kings NY, Guvan, Khoman Room, So Icy Jewelry, Vluxe by Lucky Nahum, Teddy Fresh, Stationary NYC, NYC Vibez, Stndrdz, Soltau NYC, Members Only, The Hideout Cothing, Reason Clothing, Pressed Up, Apostle Club, Gilo NYC, Tony Rainwater and Luisal.
IB: How was it to show in Street Fashion Week? MJ: Street Fashion Week was a full circle moment for me. Naomi was one the first people to give me a chance in my modeling career, but to be able to have my own creations walk and skate down the runway is a memory I’ll always cherish. I learned a lot from this fashion show in comparison to other shows we’ve done in the past. In 2021 two other shows have featured our work, our first NYFW show was for Fashion Gallery NYFW, and we also had a show prior to that in Cleveland with our good friend Ciara, the designer of Frisk Me Good.
IB: Are your fits strictly of a kind or can one purchase duplicates? MJ: As of this year our designs were 1/1 but this year we’re changing up how we sell pieces. Each piece will be a 1/1 but we will have 5 make to orders on each piece. Each piece will be unique and different from the next but similar to the original. Think of it like an artists print vs the original artwork.
IB: Whats next for Blakk Sh33p? MJ: Honestly, what’s next for Blakksh33p Studio is expanding. We want to be out in the community hosting events, shows, and projects. We want to collaborate with exciting creatives and make each collection more exciting than the next. I want to be the next big STREETWEAR designer from Rochester. Just a small city kid living big city dreams.
IB: I hear that your designs are inspired by your mood, how was this season’s collection inspired?
MJ: This season we released our annual Black History Month collection called “BLAKK EXCELLENCE” celebrating historical black figures and history. But this year I really wanted to choose topics and historical moments that moved me or were personal to me. Like the passing of Virgil Abloh who opened a lot of doors for young black creatives. I wish I could have met him and just had a cup of coffee to discuss fashion, culture and music. There’s a lot of black designers and musicians that I look up to and respect it’s hard to choose which legend to honor each year so it is released as an annual collection. Black excellence should be celebrated and respected more than how it is today.
Martin Luther King showed me to stand up for what’s right no matter the cost. In fashion I love wearing what I like no matter what other people think. Being African American I face a lot of adversity but instead of letting that get to me I use my brand to express how I’m feeling or what I’m passionate about, Just like MLK did with his world changing with his words.
MF DOOM was someone who I always saw as a “black sheep” who stood out from the norm and creating something spectacular. I’m always listening to his vinyl records while creating. It was so impactful to see his presence and influence, not just on my generation but those who are even younger than me who listen to his music and respected his craft.
Virgil Abloh, one of the greatest designers and creatives to ever live was the first black designer in a major fashion house like Louis Vuitton and that hit home for me. He was so innovative with his designs, but for me the one thing that he did that had the most impact on me was sharing his knowledge via hosting YouTube videos for young creatives to learn more about how to start a brand, silkscreen which I still watch till this day. I always think about the one where he’s talking about the actual space that you put your art work in can change its perspective which is something you’ll really see this year in my work, taking STREETWEAR to the next level and breaking boundaries. It’s my dream to work with legendary designers, artists, musicians and create something unique and fresh for the younger generations.