History. Art. Culture. Fashion.
These mediums of expression exist on a never-ending cycle of evolution, educational growth and re-invention. In this vein, The Brooklyn Circus (BKc) has partnered with Gap for an immersive collaboration that puts a twist on Americana by merging uniformity with Black popular culture and generational inspirations. Folks included in the campaign include fashion icon Bethann Hardison, actress Indya Moore, youth organizer Alpha Diallo and singer Joy Oladokun. Also included is the late Stephen "tWitch" Boss, who influenced the collaboration as a dear friend of The BKc founder Ouigi Theodore. To continue honoring his life, Gap is donating to Vibrant Emotional Health to support The 988 Lifeline, which provides services to those experiencing a crisis or emotional distress.
EBONY connected with both Hardison and Theodore for a riveting dialogue about The Brooklyn Circus x Gap collaboration and how fashion and history are intertwined.
EBONY: You both have platforms that encourage storytelling through fashion, culture, and photography. Why is it so important to illuminate these ideals and the importance of storytelling?
Ouigi Theodore: For us, the story is to constantly move our culture forward, be aware of who we are and the shoulders that we stand on. Because Ms. Hardison has been a pillar in our community, not only in the fashion community, but in the African American community and in American history. So the way we casted this and it was important to me, Ms. Bethann brought a level of joy, class, and respect to what she does that we all want to channel. This partnership with Gap was a way to continue to represent that not only in the products but in the people that we decided to work with.
Bethann Hardison: What he said! (Laughs)
Ouigi, can you speak more to the casting process for this campaign?
Theodore: The casting process for us was to align with people that were doing amazing things, taking the long road and were not afraid to be their true and authentic self. Emily May Jampel and Indya Moore were examples of people who understood the pressure and the challenge of existing in this world while being their true selves. We wanted people like that because we knew once we had them on set, met them and connected with them in person, it was going to be authentic. Because we're The Brooklyn Circus, we have to bring in people that just are true to their talent and can work with others and would literally explode in the room.
Ms. Hardison, what influenced your participation and alignment with this collaboration?
Hardison: Well, first of all, I'm a huge Gap fan. I've been in Gap campaigns many years ago. I was so intrigued when they invited me to come see what Brooklyn Circus had going on. Honestly, I learned a lot. Listening to Ouiji is wonderful because he has such an understanding of why he's existing in the world. It's always nice to meet people who you want to learn from; you never stop learning. That is the genius thing about living. Meeting him and knowing more about his story and his way of thinking, meant everything to me because I add to that and he adds to me. I believe this is what happens when we come together as cultures. I'm of a different culture in some way, not only where I come from but where I came from—before you all were born! So I bring something else to the table and I'm so appreciative that Ouigi recognizes that in me and in all of the collaborative people that he had on board. So, I was very interested in doing this because I wanted to learn. I wanted to know what I didn't know and that's very valuable to me.
As humans, we're consistently learning and evolving—just like fashion and culture—as evident in this collaboration. Why is it so important to lean into history, culture and education as we continue to evolve as people, as a society and as a community?
Hardison: I want to answer that because I just came out of a very extraordinary experience. I recently attended Sundance Film Festival with my film Invisible Beauty. The interesting part of that excursion was to be in each one of those screenings and see that every audience was different. They can learn something and take away something they would have never been able to before viewing.
I believe that you come on this earth to sort of add to it. Even if you're not necessarily the person who is changing the world on a grand scale, you should be listening and willing to support the people who are. That's when you get someone like Ouiji, who is just called to just be. Because of this, you get swept up in that contagious energy, and that's something different. It's more than just fashion; it's about learning.
Theodore: Everything that she's saying I resonate with because no matter how powerful Ms. Hardison is, she's still a student. This is what the campaign is about, "student power," as my hat says.
People are seeing her as being so powerful. She's done all of this stuff in fashion but is still a student. Fashion is what you're seeing on the surface, but the essence of it is so much more. Yeah, we're in the apparel business, and we get the chance to tell these stories but sometimes you get the chance to sit back and have to listen and learn about new stories.
If there was a specific era of fashion that you wish would live forever, what would it be?
Hardison: Oh, that's funny. You know what? I like the classics but don't know much about what people consider eras of fashion and stuff. As much as I grew up in it, I don't keep up with it because I don't create that nonsense. But I like the idea of just like the moment when we were rebels, radical and when we were thinking about the revolution. I like that moment. I like when people everybody looked similar because I do like uniforms. I like when everyone sort of looked like this was the moment and dressed with the same Afros. The Panthers wore bold black jackets. They were statements. It's just sitting in your clothing, Ouigi. The clothes are just uniforms. I like that because it has such a cultural impact. That's sustainability in itself.
Theodore: Me, personally, it's not one particular era, but I love uniforms as well. I love repetition over time. I used to fantasize about living in the '60s and during the Black Panther era. I realize that, living through George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, this is not fantasy—this is real. It happened in real-time then and it's happening now in real-time. We have the opportunity to become, soldiers or pillars or a voice for change by utilizing our platforms and putting on the uniform to stand for what we believe in. So I'm a big fan of repetition, structure, and discipline, and whenever I get the chance to put that in my work and put that into my style, all over it.