…if my words, ideas or designs can inspire someone else to live their live authentically and pursue their dreams fiercely, I am satisfied.
As a part of our series about “dreamers who ignored the naysayers and did what others said was impossible”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kadeem Alphanso Fyffe.
Kadeem Alphanso Fyffe, 29, is a Jamaican-American fashion designer, entrepreneur, activist, and public speaker. He is the Founder and Creative Director of MUXE NEW YORK (pronounced moo-shey) and currently serves as the Head of Design for multiple activewear start-ups. His design work has been featured in People, Cosmopolitan, and USA Today; he was recently named to Out Magazine’s 2020 Out 100 List.
Fyffe studied Studio Art as well as Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at the University of Richmond and completed his graduate studies in Fashion Design at Parsons School of Design. In 2011, he studied abroad in Milan, Italy, and received a certification in womenswear design from Istituto di Moda Burgo. He has worked in the NYC Fashion Industry since 2013 as a Fashion Designer and Visual Merchandiser for brands including Michael Kors, Burberry, Lyssé, PVH, and Marc Jacobs. His last role was Head of Design at WOLACO and his activewear collections are currently sold nationwide at Barry’s and Equinox.
Social justice and LGBTQ+ activism have always been deeply important to Fyffe. He was heavily involved in LGBTQ+ student life in college, serving as the Founder and President of the Black Alliance for Sexual-minority Equality at the University of Richmond. He is currently an active member of the National Black Justice Coalition, and serves as a volunteer, speaker, and committee member of NYC-based LGBTQ+ youth organization, Live Out Loud.
Fyffe’s primary focus is fashion, but he has also worked as a commercial model and actor, having landed a contract with Wilhelmina at 19, and has since appeared in TV, film and theatrical productions in the US and Australia, with current representation by J&R Management Melbourne.
Born in Queens, NY, raised in Durham, North Carolina, Fyffe currently lives in New York.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us your ‘backstory’?
I am an Artist first, Fashion Designer second, and a fierce advocate for my community always. My work fuses social commentary, fashion, and gender fluidity to help push our culture towards a world that is free of so many of the shackles that we all are subject to on a daily basis. Like so many LGBTQ+ people, growing up I faced many challenges, but I decided a long time ago that I would always work to defy odds, and make it better for the next generation. Part of my mission is to ensure that young people growing up today feel freer to be themselves and express who they are — which is why I have made it a part of my platform to serve as a volunteer speaker and committee member of Live Out Loud, an NYC based LGBTQ+ Youth Organization, additionally we donate a portion of our sales from MUXE to support queer minority youth.
Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am working on everything! The upcoming 2021 Spring/Summer collection for my fashion label, MUXE, will be the first evolution into gender-free ready-to-wear, and I will be expanding the line volume while focusing on bolstering online sales and getting into more stores. I am also working on some special collections for a few activewear start-ups. I love designing for other brands + helping other entrepreneurs see their ideas come to fruition.
In your opinion, what do you think makes your company or organization stand out from the crowd?
Fashion is a very crowded space but we’ve been able to carve out our niche. I believe we’ve been able to do this by combining thoughtful design, a social mission and philanthropy. I started MUXE to disrupt traditional streetwear — by centering social justice and LGBTQ+ issues and bodies within the context of fashion and streetwear. I want the people who wear my clothes to feel like one of the “cool kids’’ no matter their race, sexuality, body size, gender identity, or expression. I purposely show my designs on a widely diverse group of models including Black, non-binary, trans to represent my own intersectional identity as a Black, queer, gender-fluid individual, with the hope of inspiring others to live their lives authentically and to pursue their dreams fiercely. In many ways my journey as a business owner and entrepreneur with MUXE has mirrored my life journey — there have been so many times when I wanted to give up, but have chosen to keep going because of my larger mission. My life experience has been one of perseverance and determination, and I want this brand to serve as a constant reminder to little queer kids that you are “cool” and it will get better, but you have to keep fighting for equality.
Ok, thank you for that. I’d like to jump to the main focus of this interview. Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us? What was your idea? What was the reaction of the naysayers? And how did you overcome that?
I have been told “no” my entire life, and it has always been what motivated me. It sounds petty, but my favorite pastime is proving people wrong. One particular experience stands out in may memory: when I was in college I worked at a hair salon one summer, and my boss told me that I wouldn’t be able to get into Parsons or St. Martins for grad school. He told me that my goal was “too lofty”. That very day I went home and did tons of research and laid out a detailed plan as to how I was going to get into Parsons. Fast forward — I got in to Parsons, and did exactly what I said I was going to do. If I listened to every adult that told me my dreams were “too lofty”, I’d still be working at my first high school job at Chick-Fil-A on Roxboro Road in Durham, daydreaming about my shoulda-coulda-wouldas!
In the end, how were all the naysayers proven wrong? 🙂
Well to put it frankly — I am here occupying my rightful place in the fashion industry, and they are not.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
To date, Dr. Johann Stegmeir, has been my biggest mentor. He was my advisor during undergrad at University of Richmond + helped me successfully navigate studying Fashion at a school with no fashion program. I was able to pursue my passion by combining courses in Studio Art, Theater, Costume Design and Independent Study.
He was the first person that told me I could achieve my goals, and actually laid out a path to success and helped me hone my skills. He was tough on me, and always kept it real — which pushed me to produce my best work. I will never forget the first day I showed him my portfolio of sketches — he had never met me, but took the time to look through all my sketches, consider all my ideas, listen to goals and gave me very honest critiques, while volunteering to be my mentor. I am forever grateful for his tough love, insight and continued guidance.
It must not have been easy to ignore all the naysayers. Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share the story with us?
There will always be naysayers, but as I said — I make it a sport to defy expectations, and as general practice, I don’t pay attention to negativity.
In many ways I was forced into resiliency at an early age. I grew up as a Jamaican-American + openly gay in the South in Durham NC. The black kids didn’t like me because I wasn’t “black enough”, the white kids treated me poorly bc I am Black and they are racist, and most kids hated me because I was openly gay. My very presence threatened so many people for so many reasons, I challenged all their “truths”, but that was all them — they had the problem, not me. I could have succumb to the ridicule and bullying, but I chose to rise above, focus on education and sports, while directing all my attention to getting out of there as soon as humanly possible. The way I saw it, I was in a fight with my bullies daily and it was either going to them or me — I chose me.
Based on your experience, can you share 5 strategies that people can use to harness the sense of tenacity and do what naysayers think is impossible? (Please share a story or an example for each)
5 quotes come to mind when thinking of an overall strategy to harness your own tenacity and prove naysayers wrong. Here they are and my thoughts:
- “Impossible things are happening every day” — Brandy + Whitney Houston
One of my favorite films is Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella starring Brandy. Whenever I watch the first Black cinderella on-screen, I am reminded that anything is possible. Impossible is only impossible until you make it possible. Heed Godmother Whitney’s advice and go find your “Prince”.
- “Pay It No Mind” — Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha P Johnson is my queer icon. Being queer is all about tenacity and resiliency + she epitomizes this spirit. She’s credited with throwing the first brick during the Stonewall riots + for me, she represents the sacrifice and dedication of countless Trans Women of Color that I (and the entire LGBTQ+ community) owe my life to. If it wasn’t for her and her fighting “pay it no mind” spirit, I would not have equal rights today. I dedicated one of my t-shirt designs to her + it sold out in one season…for good reason.
- “If a teeny weeny bird can fly over the rainbow, then why can’t I?” — Patti Labelle, “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”
I am inspired to persevere every time I listen to Patti Labelle’s rendition of this song, and I usually break into tears when she belts “then why can’t I”. I mean, this is a really good question — if OTHER people can do it, then why can’t I? Answer, Daily Double: I CAN.
- “Scared money don’t make no money” — Sukihana
Sukihana is one of my favorite female rappers of the moment because she is empowered in her femininity and sexuality while being perfectly and unabashedly ratchet, but most importantly she is a hustler, and has no problem being blatantly new rich. She is quoted as saying she won’t go to bed until she makes 10K+ everyday — even if she has to collect those coins on OnlyFans. If that isn’t tenacity, I don’t know what is. Scared money don’t make no money, and bills are bills! Period.
- “Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of someone else.” — Judy Garland
This has been my favorite quote for as long as I can remember. For me this means being the best you at all time regardless of what others say. Be the best you, because at the end of the day that is all you have + you’re never going to get anywhere in life trying to be like everybody else. Also, who wants to be second-rate? I mean…if that’s your tea, be my guest — but that will never be my approach.
What is your favorite quote or personal philosophy that relates to the concept of resilience?
“I can make it through the rain” — Mariah Carey
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I am in the midst of that work now — if my words, ideas or designs can inspire someone else to live their live authentically and pursue their dreams fiercely, I am satisfied.
Can our readers follow you on social media?
Yes! Follow me on Instagram at @k_alphanso / Follow MUXE at @muxenewyork
Thank you for these great stories. We wish you only continued success!