Let's face it, Detroit could use some positive press--badly. For the troubled city's native son with a hard hunger for fresh, sexy, and just one chance to show the world all that he can do, this guy could just be what the fallen town needs right now. Two words, Detroit, and well, America: Nzimiro Oputa. After watching NBC's new fashion competition show "Fashion Star", we have a feeling this a name we should all get used to hearing. Nzimiro Oputa has the kind of biting ambition and sickening, raw talent we wasn't so sure even existed on reality TV anymore. He's the packaging engineer-turned-designer looking to kick menswear into overdrive on the unique competition series. For Nzimiro, fashion is more then a passion, it's absolutely necessary. The hungry designer chats with EBONY.com about the struggles he experienced on the show, the surprising celebrity he would kill to design for, and why he would do it all over again without the cameras.
EBONY.com: What inspired you to compete on "Fashion Star"?
Nzimiro Oputa: I have a really good friend that believed in me probably more then I even believed in myself, and she forwarded me the application. She's worked in the fashion industry before, and has always told me that she feels that my brand needed to be publicized. In the beginning, I was persistent that I didn’t want to do reality television; I was more interested in building my brand organically. After a few different tries of submitting the application, I thought, this is really not meant to be, and then it finally went through. I went to the casting in New York, and it seemed like everyone had the FIT, Parsons background or owned a bushiness, and I had to build up a level of security within myself in order to feel comfortable with being among these people with so much talent. If anything, I was working as hard or even harder as the other contestants, and also working a nine-to-five job and trying to build this brand. After the casting, I flew out to L.A. and did a series of interviews that were intense. I was in long, extensive meeting with Ben Silverman and all of the buyers that participate on the show.
EBONY.com: What has been the reaction from your family and friends?
NO: My parents are elated, and the public response has been so positive. I think a lot of people in my inner circle, and who follow my blog suspected what I was doing, but when it became public everyone was even more excited. For my friends, my brand is something they always knew about and for it to now be public is crazy. My friends have always made special request, but I have my insecurities were I feel I’m just not on that level yet. Detroit is a city that supports its own, and the responses from the natives are probably more excited then I am. My mom and dad are especially excited to see me on television, because I tapped the show so far back, when they see me on television they are so proud. Detroit seems to be proud of me, to see something good come from the city and to shine a positive light on the city is critical.
EBONY.com: Did you experience a lot of pressure during the competition? What got you through it all?
NO: My level of commit, passion and my faith in God is what carried me through this. Growing up in Detroit, and a family that is so competitive, I’ve always wanted to be the best. My siblings and I were always in completion as to who was dressed the best. My city has a healthy competition in which prepared me for "Fashion Star". What was special about me was, I was a blank canvas going into this competition. I didn’t go into the show with the knowledge of what I couldn’t do. I believe that those people that had that fashion training, they put themselves under different restrictions, because they have been taught that it was not industry standard. It’s not necessarily as bad thing, but it was a good thing for me, being that my blank canvas of knowledge made my attention to detail better. I didn’t listen to what people called industry standards, I want to make my own standard for my garments, and I made the best of this opportunity.
EBONY.com: Before "Fashion Star" you used your brand name ‘Jag Saint Joi’, are you sticking to that name or did you find something new?
NO: On "Fashion Star", I’m not using my brand name Jag Saint Joi; I’m using my name as the new brand name for the clothing that is presented on NBC. I definitely credit my brand name on the show sometimes; I hope they don’t edit that out because all of the designs on the show were inspired by Jag Saint Joi. I hate to put myself in a box, but I have to put myself in a range where I can get space in the stores. I would say that my garments are very street sartorial mixed with an Americana feel. I have a mix of clothing where I can have a classic and regal three piece suit but I can also take it to the streets which shows that I have a little edge. My clothes are for that man who leaves his nine-to-five to go hang out with his friends and still be cool. My line is very versatile to translate through an average man's life. My brand is the street sartorial that meets the regal classic man, that's what I try to epitomize. I'll just say this, if my brand is in your closet, you will be wearing it.
EBONY.com: What designers in the industry inspire you and your designs?
NO: I have many designers that inspire me, definitely Ralph Lauren in the aspect that he caters to so many different lifestyles. Nicholas K’s collar structure is inspiring as well, when designing my outerwear. In my hometown of Detroit, we have brutal winters, so collars for me are very important. I also love Dolce and Gabbana, I’m the type of man that is not afraid to wear color, and I will rock a floral shit with no problem. Tom Ford is another person that I admire; I don’t know anyone who doesn’t respect his craft. What he has done for Gucci and his line—he reinvented menswear.
EBONY.com: John Varvatos is also from Detroit as well, did that spark a connection between the two of you?
NO: He knows the struggle and style being that we both are from Detroit and we gravitated towards each other. Our styles are very similar in that we come from a similar background. We connected on many levels and we spoke about where we grew up, and other things. Our grandparents actually grew up in the same area at one point in time. We have a level of support being that we represent our city in a great way. All of his support and advice was completely honest and it came from a great place. He told me the truth, and that is what I needed. He didn’t praise me because I was from Detroit but rather assisted me into making myself a better designer. It was very tough getting feedback from someone that I admire, and more then anyone else I leaned on him as a support system through the show.
EBONY.com: How has reality television changed you? Did you feel any pressure to conform to some type of image?
NO: I had no drama on the show. I think I acted in my normal state. Everyone who knows me know that I am a chill guy, and I believe that there is no possible way for NBC to edit me to look any other way. My goal when I got on this show was to become the next "Fashion Star", it was not to get a spin off of my own show or anything like that. Honestly, I would do this entire experience over again without the cameras. My approach to the show was for me to become a better designer. I felt no need to talk negative about other contestants or to sabotage anyone. This is something that I wanted to succeed in, and I was primarily focused on making it to the next week and making it to the end of the show. My goal was to win. What you see on TV is the real me.
EBONY.com: On the first episode of "Fashion Star", H&M actually brought your navy blue blazer. Can we walk into any H&M today and buy the blazer now?
NO: I would suggest going to the biggest H&M in your area and it should be there. In Detroit the blazer is at most of the H&M’s that generate big sales. Maybe you should call the store first, just in case. You can also go online and buy the blazer. Actually, the blazer only has two sizes available, which makes me excited.
EBONY.com: Who is the one person you would kill to get your designs on?
NO: This may be funny to most people, but Justin Timberlake would probably be my ideal notable to wear my brand. His aesthetic, lifestyle and ambition to want to always be successful I really admire. My brands is a lifestyle brand, and feel that he is the epitome of it. I also think that the way that Kanye West dresses is amazing. The way that he can take a simple shirt and covert it into something totally different and wear it a way that no one else can wear it—I respect him for his personal style. Pharrell Williams is also a notable I admire; he is the ultimate punk street wear person that can still look great in a suit. —Geneva S. Thomas
NBC’s Fashion Star airs on Tuesdays 10/9c.