The Simple Life: An Interview With Designer Emeka Alams

“Whether I’m poor or rich if I can help any way I feel successful.”

– Emeka Alams as told to Kendrick Daye

Emeka Alams is a designer and art director I’ve followed the moment I saw his work with fashion label 21 MC. The vibrant, pattern heavy designs with bold colors that respectfully borrow from African culture while not ridiculing it fit with everything that was going on in fashion and music. At the time M.I.A. was all anyone could talk about. A line later Emeka Alams is ready to give people what he wants with his new line Gold Coast Trading Company.

“It’s African inspired design but it’s from the perspective of the Africans,” Emeka tells me. “It’s not some random dude from Brooklyn coming up with some afro-centric stuff, it’s based on what’s going on in places like Nigeria, or South Africa or Uganda, really it’s just me trying to showcase what I’ve seen in Africa.”

21 MC became an overnight success. Everyone from M.I.A. to street wear lovers in Brooklyn were wearing pieces from the line. Despite the success, 21 MC didn’t live up to the vision Emeka originally had for it.

“A lot of people know me from [21 MC],” Emeka tells me when we speak over the phone recently. “There were certain goals that I set out to fufill and it never came true to what I wanted.”

“It was cool to do African inspired designs, but it really should have been taken much further than that, so with Gold Coast Trading Company it’s basically me pushing the idea forward of not only knowing where we’re from and who we are but going and seeing and learning about all these different movements that are going on in Africa when it comes to style and music and all this stuff,” he later explains.

For Emeka, who moved to Africa for the first time when he was 17, this wasn’t enough. The goals he wanted to accomplish was for his line to be more than just a brand.

“The idea was always to be more than just some street wear hype brand,” he explains. “We wanted to stay away from that, and we ended up doing more or less the same thing.”

The only way to live is to learn and Emeka has learned from his unreached goals with 21 MC how to make Gold Coast Trading Company work for him. He’s created an informational front to the brand that is just as important as the brand itself.

“The big part is really information,” Emeka explains. “The clothing is like a bonus.”

Gold Coast Trading Company has a pretty well designed “Brand Zine” which features bloggers from all over the diaspora including, African Boy.

“I wanted to pull from that culture, and put it in display in a way that’s more accessible to ones in Europe and to show what our inspirations are,” Emeka says. “But of course making good looking clothes attracts people to what I’m doing.”

Good looking clothes is an understatement. In terms of design, Gold Coast Trading Company takes off where 21 MC left off. The 2010 Spring/Summer collection is as vibrant and fitting for the times as 21 MC was.

“This line took a lot of time,” Emeka says. “At first I started making patterns, I made 10,000 designs based on the colors and textures of the fabrics in Africa. I kept designing until I felt like what I had is good enough, I was trying to capture that boldness, kinda craziness and liveliness of Africa but keeping it simple. I feel like it’s what everyone’s going through right now, simplifying. Things are always simple there.”

Fate works in funny ways. The last interview Emeka did as a designer and team member of 21 MC before they split was with Art Nouveau Magazine back in 2008.

“The last question you guys asked was ‘I know it must be really hard working as a team, how do you guys stick together’,” Emeka recalls with a laugh. “We didn’t stick together, I haven’t heard anything from them I’m kinda in my own space doing my own thing.”

Emeka isn’t totally turned off to working with a team now that he creates Gold Coast solo. As long as it’s the right team.

“If you have the right team then it’s great,” he says. “Before it was me doing everything from the business to design and it was a lot for one person to do but I’m the kinda of person that I can handle what you bring to me, If I don’t know, I’ll figure it out.”

Emeka’s new team is smaller, but he says “a lot more driven” and also because they’re all African have the same kinda stories and goals.

“We’re all first generation in America and we’re all still very connected to Africa and we have the same goal. It’s great that I have people that share the same vision,” he says.

When looking to the future Emeka doesn’t ask for money or fame, unless that’s going to help Africa.

“Designing clothes is great but there are so many more important things like family, relationships,” Emeka says. “me being successful is being in a place where I have good relationships and a successful line and hopefully being in Africa and using whatever the line may bring me as far as monetary means to put it directly back into Africa. Whether I’m poor or rich if I can help any way I feel successful.”

For everything Gold Coast Trading Company & Live From The Coast click here. Check out Gold Coast Trading Company’s Spring/Summer 2010 collection below.

[nggallery id=18]