If you’ve been to the various local craft markets, you’ve likely seen fashion and jewellery designer Johann Mohammed, whose eclectic sense of style and use of African fabrics makes him stand out. Mohammed said his style draws from many different influences, including the need to re-invent himself after recovering from drug addiction.
One of his first influences were the uniforms worn by his Coast Guard Officer father, who also liked European styles. Mohammed was fascinated by Italian and European men’s styles in the 1800s and America in the 1960s. He spent time in New York, where he said he was amazed by the people in The Village, and was also a Rastafarian for a while, all of which he incorporated into his look and his designs.
Mohammed began designing jewellery five years ago after choosing to no longer be addicted to drugs. He made the distinction that it was a choice for him, as he had also chosen to experiment with substances after leaving school. He ended up homeless and living on the streets in New York and then Trinidad, and decided to clean himself up permanently after being chopped, stabbed and having his jaw and nose broken. The main reason for his decision was his family, who had stood by him through everything. Mohammed said he wanted to be a good role model to his son, and he couldn’t stand seeing the pain in his father’s eyes. He said now whenever he feels tempted to go back to drugs, he remembers the pain he went through, instead of the fleeting moments of pleasure. He advises youth not to become substance abusers and wants to set up a charity organization to help troubled teens and older persons who are struggling with addiction, as a way of giving back. Mohammed said many times the rehabilitation programs in T&T are faith-based, without recognizing the clinical and psychological aspects of the problem, so he would offer help from trained people to help addicts manage their illness, “I’ve noticed a lot of drug abusers have mental issues and they use the drugs as a damper for whatever it is they’re feeling.”
Mohammed did a two year jewellery-making course at Metal Industries Company, which he said was one of the greatest things he has ever done for himself. He began selling his jewellery at craft fairs around Trinidad under the name African Ark Jewellery and amended the techniques he learned to include mixed media such as leather and wood. He works with silver, brass, bronze, leather and wood, and is currently pursuing a course in precious metal clay jewellery. His jewellery designs are heavily influenced by African patterns, as well as indigenous cultures and jewellery from Nepal, Thailand and Bali. He tries to use local materials as much as possible, but says it is difficult to source some of his needs.
Two years ago, Mohammed expanded into fashion, because people were constantly asking him about the clothes he was wearing. He began in men’s fashion, doing tailored trousers in African fabrics, and then introduced a female line in his second year, doing casual and stylish dresses with African fabric accents. He recently had a showing of a mini-collection at San Fernando Fashion Week, which was well-received. Mohammed said he’s inspired by international indigenous cultures and places like Nepal, Thailand and Bali. His fabrics are traditional wax prints imported from Ghana, which he uses to create modern, trendy garments. “I don’t want to be pigeonholed into the fact that I use Afrocentric fabrics now. I would like to grow my line into normal fabrics to express that same sense of style and that modern fresh look. I’d say my aesthetic is trendy, it’s fresh, it’s classic and it’s timeless.”
Mohammed said the major problem he has is production, as there is a shortage of skilled people who can produce a quality product. He thanked his sister, Carla Mohammed, for her help as she currently does all his production. “We want a quality product because if we want to compete with the foreign international markets, we have to have a standard that could go out there on the world stage and stand up on its own. So that’s one thing that I have to thank my sister for that, she’s big on that and her finish is very good.”
Mohammed advises youth who want to work in the fashion industry to make sure that it’s something they are passionate about, and to remember there are different aspects of the industry, so not everyone has to be a designer. He’s willing to take on an apprentice who is serious and willing to learn.
Mohammed can be found at UpMarket on the first Saturday of every month, selling his products. In addition, The Shoppe at the Normandie Hotel carries his jewellery and men’s clothing, while in San Fernando, orders can be placed at The Design Space, which was set up by the organizers of San Fernando Fashion Week.