DESIGNER, ILLUSTRATOR, ENTREPRENEUR, ARTIST
James Hackett is flourishing as an entrepreneur. Along with his business partner, Terenia, he helps design, sew, style, and market his line of luscious clothing and accessories via his company, The Lush Kingdom. His lines, his colours, his whimsy all go toward making his collection attention-grabbing and deliciously desirable, and he successfully reaches an appreciative clientele via several local and global channels, including his own website.
But just four years ago, James faced what could have been the end of his career in fashion design, if he had let the reviews at a major fashion show in T&T, stop him from pursuing his dream. Instead, James rode the wave of disappointment, strengthened his Survivor muscles and used the lesson of that event as part of his way forward to becoming a leading fashion designer and proponent within the Caribbean region and beyond.
He’s also designing a life beyond fabric and thread, and is involved in film making, writing, and illustrating. It’d be true if you said that James is living the lush life – he has a mindset of abundance, his passion is evergreen, and his love for his life and his life’s work is vibrant and colourful.
TEP: Your design aesthetic has a playfulness about it. Is that an extension of your childhood experiences or a design aesthetic you prefer?
JH: A little bit of both, I guess. I’ve always loved stories and adventures and wild ideas and concepts, and I think that bleeds into the work that I’ve been doing. Adventure stories, comic books, books – from the classics all the way up, heroes and super heroes – and also hearing stories about folklore and reading about the adventures of the old stick men; just that love for all these colourful aspects of our lives.
TEP: What was your first exposure to all those things you just mentioned, and who introduced you to them?
JH: My mother told me stories about where she grew up in St. Vincent. She would talk about different little strange things that happened there, and I guess through school I started reading and just fell in love with stories. And comic books were always there. My brother used to buy comic books, and I started reading them and other books.
TEP: Turns out that comic books influenced a large part of your work at the Express newspaper. Your revolutionary ‘Tales from the Dark Knight’ series made a profound impact on the youth of T&T during the 90s.
JH: I was trying to figure out what to do when I left Secondary School because I was just doing graphic design and art and I needed to get a paying job. I went into Express because they had this youth magazine named VOX and some of the sections had illustrations and comics and I asked if there was something I could do in that area. So I began just doing illustrations for stories until eventually I wanted to do my own stories. It was a great platform so I started telling my stories and I interjected an updated look at our local folklore and that kinda took off into its own direction, which was fun and rewarding and exciting.
TEP: There are so many gorgeous colours in your work. Do you have a favourite colour that you try to include in every thing that you do?
JH: I have a very great bias toward blue. Maybe it’s because I’m from the Caribbean, you know, blue skies, blue sea. And then, I’ve always been kind of a ‘blue’ person – kind of a happy-sad state of mind.
TEP: All artists seem to have a medium that they love or prefer above all others. What medium do you prefer to work with, and why?
JH: The ever-present pencil. The pencil is like a workman. If you have to think of something or jot down an idea, you sketch it out in pencil. As much as I love the computer and pastels and water colours and all these things, it all begins with that one pencil, that idea, that sketch. To me the pencil is also a symbol of the beginnings of an artist; you learn how to make a mark, how to draw a line, how to create shapes, and then you go into all the other advanced mediums.
TEP: At what age did you begin getting serious about art?
JH: I think because of my older brother, maybe seven or eight or so.
TEP: That’s the second time you’ve mentioned your brother in relation to your creative growth. How else did he inspire you?
JH: My big brother, Ricardo, was a pretty good technical artist in his own right and he used to do painting, so I would always look at his work and he taught me a few things like how to control my hand and other techniques. I remember doing a lot of ellipses based on his teaching. I’ve told him that he’s been one of those major influences who helped me get into illustration.
TEP: Was it a natural progression for you to go from artist/designer to entrepreneur, and how are you dealing with entrepreneurship?
JH: Part of it is that you want to generate some kind of income and as a creative person sometimes going the route of working for an established company doesn’t really work out because we have a different way of operating. Also, the thinking artists see little gaps in society that we think we can address and sometimes a nice way to be able to do that and still have a life of our own is to come up with a commercial solution. I’ve been an entrepreneur for a while. I think my trajectory in entrepreneurship is marked by a lot of growth and there are things that I’m still learning and it’s still evolving. Some of the lessons were easy, some were very difficult and I think that I’ve brought over the lessons from being an artist in that it’s not easy and it’s not glamorous like some people might think it is. Sometimes we have to go out there and network so we mingle and interact and that’s cool, but the other aspect of it, the very boring stuff that gets to you, that is where all the real magic happens.
TEP: So you are a man of many talents. What made you choose art and design as your main focus?
JH: I just wanted to tell visual stories. Prior to my work telling visual stories and in terms of my writing, in the 1990s I thought that people weren’t really doing things that needed to be out there. Some of our islands’ best writers wrote stories set in a past era, for instance Selvon and VS Naipaul, they wrote about a particular time in the past. In the 90s when I was reading about all these things I thought that I wanted to create something contemporary. At the time we were beginning to become bombarded with information and visuals from international sources such as Japanese films and comics and American TV via the cable channels and the internet, and I realised that there were common threads in a lot of the myths and other stories and I wanted to update what we offer. Because I was in a writing space at the time and it was the best medium then to get something out, I utilised that opportunity to write. Now with so many fantastic opportunities in fashion, animation and film to express myself more widely.
TEP: You had somewhat of a negative experience at your debut presentation of your clothing line at Tobago Fashion Weekend in 2013. How did you get through that experience and how did you come back from that disappointment?
JH: I think I just kept going. Looking back at it, I was full of optimism and thought people were going to love this stuff no matter what. I was accustomed to getting extremely positive reactions to my work and perhaps sometimes that can spoil you because you’re not ready to face when someone does not like what you are doing. As you grow you realise that there’s a professionalism in being able to separate a critical look at your work from somebody who’s trying to bring you down, and that someone can be critical of your work but still appreciate what you’re doing, and maybe you just didn’t hit the mark on this one. So for me it was growing up a little bit more, learning a little bit more and just refining what I do.
“…someone can be critical of your work but still appreciate what you’re doing…”
TEP: I read where you said we are living in a lush kingdom and we should never lose sight of that. What are your thoughts on how we can all help sustain the integrity of our natural environment?
JH: I think we just need to care more about our country and environment. If your interest is taking care of this space and by extension the people who live in it, we will be able to do everything that we need to do. Part of it really comes down to education so that everyone knows how whatever happens to the environment ripples out and affects us in many different ways; for example, if you start to mess with the biodiversity of the swamp, how it’s going to affect our overall environment and our food and so on. If we’re informed, we’ll start making sure that our environment is well handled and we’ll start thinking more about our civil interest. Sometimes I think if I can find ways for people to appreciate and like the things that we have more, instead of constant comparison to what is outside, we can generate love for things like our simple but beautiful features like our Nariva Swamp and the Poui trees.
TEP: What does it mean to you to be extraordinary?
JH: In today’s world I think being extraordinary means having that courage to be true. True about who you are, true about what you’re saying, and true about your intent and then backing it up with action.
To see more of James` amazing art, click here:
To visit his website and shop merchandise, click here:
Charmaine Daisley is an award-winning advertising professional, a seasoned writer and an insightful brainstorming facilitator.