A lot of people make tie dye T-shirts, but labeling Jasmine Plantin’s Ampwata brand as a tie-dye T-shirt company would be doing a huge disservice to what she creates and the reasons why she creates it.
Plantin, who grew up going to the beach most weekends in Baldwin, Long Island, is the daughter of a Hatian father and a Creole mother who has roots in Louisiana. “It's funny because in a way, my mom and dad are almost from the same place and just got dropped off in different spots. Both areas are obviously developed by this mix of enslaved Africans that were colonized by the French,” says Plantin over the phone. They gave her the middle name Amandla, which means power in Zulu, and she combined that with her last name and wata, the caribbean pronunciation for water, to form Ampwata.
The brand emerged when Plantin, a Parsons graduate, was working as a designer for Outlier, a technical men’s brand. She was making clothes that were void of color and going to textile tradeshows where she didn’t see many people who looked like her. But growing up she was surrounded by vibrant hues and beautifully detailed textiles from different countries. Her mother, who also worked in fashion, collected traditional textiles from all over the world like embroidered fabrics from Guatemala and Mexico, or hand dyed cloth from Sierra Leone and Japan.
“I feel that in European design, specific to Scandinavian, it's very minimal and clean and there’s almost a stoicism to it,” says Plantin. “And sometimes colorful pieces aren’t considered great design, but that’s what I grew up on.”
She explored her heritage in Pwoteksyon, which means protection in Haitian Creole, and worked with Gadessa, a Port-au-Prince based accessories and small scale beadwork facility, to produce a series of hand-beaded jackets influenced by traditional Haitian Vodou flags. She then teamed up with Berlin-based Dominican photographer Luis Alberto Rodriguez and creative producer Jesse Lackowitz to produce images for the project. It touched on her interest in the African diaspora and her place within it.
But she wanted to provide something more democratic and wearable than the embellished jackets, which led her to Ampwata T-shirts, which are made from 100 percent recycled fabrics, and hand-dyed by Plantin who produces small runs of the T-shirts that are one-of-one and drop each week.
"I didn't want them to be taken as, 'Oh okay, this is just a brand come get your tee,' says Plantin. “It started with just the homies. I wanted them to feel like the tee was just for them and to feel like, ‘Okay, there might be another person wearing this shirt, but this colorway is mine.'"
For ComplexLand Plantin, who currently works at Nike as a color direction designer, is also bringing her community into the fold. She wanted to be photographed in Mood Ring, a minority owned bar in Bushwick that serves as a venue for local artists, and for ComplexLand she’s dropping her signature T-shirts, bucket hats, overprinted vintage Caribbean souvenir T-shirts, and a T-shirt and zine she produced with Between.Global zine. You’ll have a chance to purchase all of this from Dec.7 through Dec. 11 at ComplexLand, an open world shoppable virtual destination—you can register here. But before that, read on to see what inspires Plantin.
New York Islanders
In Long Island, I went to high school across the street from the Nassau Coliseum where the Islanders were based until 2015. Tickets were cheap on Friday nights and games were fun regardless of who won. I think this sums up who I am and where I came up pretty nicely.
I had never lived in a landlocked place until recently. You don’t know until you leave, but the absence of salty air, seagulls calling, and a regular sea breeze is immediately noticeable. I had very specific experiences in my twenties that were the foundation of Ampwata and one was being in Haiti for my best friend's wedding. And we're in this beachtown and I was literally just chilling in the water and I had this very specific feeling of peace. I felt very safe and I felt very myself. I feel at home whenever I’m near the water.
Notting Hill Carnival
I took this photo at Notting Hill Carnival, a Caribbean festival in London in 2017. The sound system culture there is a direct reflection of the Jamaican influence in England after the Windrush immigration in the 1960s and 70s. Music and cultural exchange are the foundation of what inspired Ampwata initially; particularly those rooted in Black Atlantic culture. This image is good times amongst friends in settings where we felt safe to be ourselves.
Storytelling is inherent in Blackness. This photo depicts work by many of my favorite authors (Zora Neale Hurston; Edwidge Danticat; René Depestre) and I read their work as many read affirmations; sometimes focusing on the same chapter, the same page. I hope that through Ampwata, others will be able to experience the same assurance I have in exploring these worlds and histories.
This is a photo of my parents and my older sister in Guadalajara, Mexico where my parents met. My mother is Creole from Louisiana, my dad a Jacmelian from Haiti. Their history is both the same and different. Everything I learned is from them, so Ampwata is them. Ampwata is family.
ComplexLand takes place from Dec. 7 to Dec. 11. Sign up for more info and access at complexland.com.