Meet Tiana Harris from digitalKENTE

Tell us about your products.

digitalKENTE is a boutique surface design studio. We combine modern craft and ancestral patterns to create one-of-a-kind surface designs for people as vibrant as their color choices. We use the power of graphic design to re-mix indigenous textiles from melanin-rich cultures around the world. these unique textile designs are applied to a variety of products. For the Covet market in September, we will show case our leggings, yoga shorts, yoga bras and matching headbands. For the market in December we will showcase home decor items like lumbar pillows, and mens fashion accessories like pocket squares and men's leggings.

Tell us about your connection to Chicago.

My brother and I were born in the south Chicago suburbs. My parents moved to Chicago after graduating from Eastern Illinois University. We stayed around the midwest (Green Bay, Wisconsin) to be close to family in Chicago and surrounding cities (St. Louis, Fort Wayne). Once I graduated from college, I moved back to Chicago to attend The School of the Art Institute of Chicago for a graduate program in Visual Communication. It was after my time at SAIC that I moved to Bronzeville and fell in love with it’s proximity to the lake, downtown, the highway and its chill harlem-esque vibe.

What do you love about your business, your industry.

The surface design industry is filled with independent artists and makers, most of them being women, and /or stay at home moms. It is very empowering to attend a surface design / fashion industry expo dominated by beautifully talented women, exercising their right to entrepreneurship, showing off their unique God-given talent for creating elegant, intricate, thoughtfully designed things (and babies). digitalKENTE, my boutique surface design studio allows me, a classically trained graphic designer, to be a free form artists. I can be as crazy colorful, politically radical and unapologetically of “African-descent” as I want to be through my art. As I state on my web site: Our bold digital tapestries are multi-dimensional, culturally aware, and unapologetically colorful.

Tell us about your design inspiration - space, smells, colors, textures.

The inspiration for the digital tapestries was sparked from my time living in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, teaching graphic design principles and theory to mostly Vietnamese students for 2 years. The first kente-like prints I created were back in 2006 while interning at Carter’s. The idea of digitally re-creating kente-like patterns has stayed with me until 6 years later when I returned to the U.S. and began creating a series of digital tapestries in 2012 for the see.me group exhibit “Art Takes Times Square”. The see.me group exhibit gave me the opportunity to pullulate what I had been absorbing (and germinating in my mind) for the past two years living in SE Asia; all the beautiful colors, textures and vastness of dark skin that I was surprised to experience in that part of the world. I developed my artist statement which put into words what I had been feeling after my experience on the other “dark” continent: digitalKENTE is an exploration of color and an exploration of culture . . . I am fascinated by the vastness of dark skin on this earth. After living in Southeast Asia for two years, (I taught graphic design in Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam), I am deeply convinced, with the number of Mesoamerican Indians, Latinos, Africans, Middle Easterners, Indians, Melanesians, Polynesians, and Aboriginal cultures, dark skin far outnumbers our European counterparts. So why do we (dark-skinned people) still look to Caucasian standards as measurements of our beauty or our worth? Why do we fight for a seat at their table, when we can design and carve our own? This is one of the many questions I challenged within my graphic work earlier in my career through a graphic tee series I called “Caution: Revolution-Walking”. Each t-shirt worn was a literal “fashion statement”. Through the tapestries I create now for digitalKENTE I am celebrating the colors, textures, in the history of my past, as well as other melanin-rich cultures. Instead of misappropriating the motifs of indigenous people, they are my muse to help me explore the juxtaposition of color and shape. At digitalKENTE we use the power of graphic design to re-mix these ancestral motifs so that each vector-based warp and weft turns into bold digital tapestries that are multi-dimensional, culturally aware, and unapologetically colorful.

What advice do you have for other creative entrepreneurs?

Every little step you make towards your goal is a building block to the final construction of your company.

Share a favorite quote.

Phillipian 4: 11-13 "Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

Surprise us with your secret talent, fact, etc. 

I can direct a cab driver in Vietnamese :-) I also make a perfect Chocolate Vegan Bundt cake with my grandmother's forreal old school Bundt cake pan, when they were aluminum!

What's the most common question you get about your business?

Do you design all of these prints yourself?? Yes, I design every digitalKENTE print.

Tell us about your process for making + creating.

I do a lot of research! When I initially created the brand name, I did extensive research of the origin of kente cloth, the meaning of the technique and the colors traditionally used because I did not want to create art irresponsibly. Now, when creating a new motif to prepare for an upcoming season I research the trends from WGSN, I stay on Pinterest and create trend boards of new colors and textures on runway shows. I am also a member of the Textile Design Lab (https://textiledesignlab.com/), created by Pattern Observer, which is an excellent resource to any surface designer. They create design challenges and provide classes to keep your design library fresh. Once I decide what colors, textures and cultural influences I want to pull from, I may sketch out a few shapes, or jump right into Illustrator to begin playing with new shapes and color combinations.

Name 3 local makers/brands that inspire you and why.

Boombox - created by 2 African American / Native American women, their innovative designs and retail space structure bring entrepreneurship and money back into the community Queen’s Brunch - my friend Shayna Atkins business inspired by her mother named Queen, Shayna stays on her grind and keeps me on my toes Jane Hamill of Fashion Brain Academy - Anyone in the fashion game in Chicago should know this beautiful woman and has benefited from her straight talk no chaser advice. I love her pod casts.

To discover more about digitalKENTE, click www.digitalkenteshop.com

Jessica Cohen