The brainchild of Bronx-born J.Grant (née Jaquaya Grant), JJGrant is a unisex streetwear brand established in 2015. Worn by Dave East and Prodigy (R.I.P.), among others, the label is rooted in telling the New York-informed stories that run through Grant’s mind as expressed through hand-drawn and airbrushed graphics.
Rooted in an artful approach, JJGrant is underpinned by love, an emotion conveyed through the perspective of three robots whose names are JJ, Ella and Amigo. Built to love, each robot interacts differently with the concept resulting in personalized outcomes that shape each of their views on emotional intimacy.
Revealing the heartfelt foundation of the brand, the tagline describes it as “a love story you can wear on your sleeves.”
While in attendance at JJGrant-hosted pop-up event in the Bronx, we had a chat with designer J.Grant as she shared the journey of creating her brand, her inspiration and upcoming drops.
Snobette: Where do you consider home to be?
J.Grant: “I’m originally from the South Bronx, my immediate family is all from New York.”
Snobette: What’s your connection to fashion? Was it a childhood interest?
J.Grant: “Even though fashion was not the focus in the house, I remember that my dad’s style stood out. He wore mink coats, coordinated sets etc. Being the eldest I was able to see style and influence from the men and women from the neighborhood.
“Living in the Bronx and being a kid, I was not allowed to travel too far on my own, hence style was what I saw around me, seeing the people who would be able to go downtown. In high school being fly was fo’ sure about standing out.”
Snobette: How did the JJGrant brand come about?
J.Grant: “The path to create the brand is somewhat of a long story. I went to college to study criminal justice, inspired by my aunt who was a lawyer. I lost interest, the went back to study journalism at Morrisville State College. I moved on from that major and moved back to New York.
“That’s when I started working at Hollister in SoHo, I was hired for overnight stock, then made my way to the sales floor doing visual merchandising. My attention to detail made it easy for me to excel in that space. That’s when I met a colleague who had a heat press machine and a clothing brand. That was an awakening for me into the concept of printing on apparel.
“After leaving Hollister, I came up with the idea of a sweater with zippers all over, that opened to reveal plaid fabric. I was about 22 years old, I worked with a tailor to customize a blank crew neck sweater with zippers. Images of the sweater circulated online and as demands for the sweater rose, I knew I needed to come up with a brand name. That’s when I decided to use my email name which was JJGrant at the time. The letter J is symbolic in our family, my father and siblings all have first names that start with J.
“I was sourcing blanks and materials by myself, traveling on the subway from the garment district to the Bronx on the subways while I worked full time at a hospital. I was taking orders day by day on Facebook and Instagram and it really got overwhelming sometimes.”
“At the same I was also really into vintage caps, I started to do research on ways to create my own. I found a printing shop in Harlem and that became my place to experiment with my first hat.
“I remember the resistance I faced from the printers, who thought printing on the brim was a bad idea. That design feature became my signature. The first hat I designed had 1990 printed on the brim as an affectionate nod to my mom’s favorite decade in music.”
Snobette: Love is a consistent theme in your graphics. Is it a big motivation for you?
J.Grant: “I think that the concept of love is one of the most important aspects of life, not the state of being in love, but the fact that essentially we are here on this earth to love. On the flip side, we’re still living in a time where we are afraid to show emotion. I created the ‘Cry Baby’ sweatshirt (above) as a way to express feelings through fashion.”
Snobette: What are your thoughts on designers being the face of their brand?
J.Grant: “I’m naturally an introvert, however, I understand the necessity of being more visible in the industry especially as a Black woman. As much as I try, I’m not consistent in being live on Instagram for example. It’s not really my personality but again, I do believe it is important for my stance to be known and for my aesthetic and creative point of view to be fully expressed.”
“I try to not pay attention to gender too much. I did not want to make JJ.Grant, a man’s or women’s brand. In my mind the unisex aspect of the brand leaves room to focus on pure emotion, quality, storytelling, and the product.”
Snobette: How did the concept of robots come about?
J.Grant: “The artist Jay West who is a dear friend, drew the first robot whose name is JJ. I wanted a robot, having gone through one of the worst breakups of my life until this day. I knew I wanted it to be not boxy and transparent so that its heart is visible.
“I wanted to express the fact that even though I can come across as tough I’m still vulnerable.It does not matter how tough or hard the outer shell of someone can appear to be. We’re not robots which is where the ‘I’m not a fucking robot’ slogan came from. I wanted the robot to feel futuristic but still vulnerable and warm feeling.
Snobette: What upcoming releases can we look forward to?
J.Grant: “I have a ‘Freedom’ capsule releasing on September 17th. The design concept was to transform the Statue of Liberty into a robot. It speaks to the energy of New York in a very direct way. The quote printed on the tee says ‘Give Us Liberty or Give Us Death.’ It’s very serious, but I think many of us will be able to relate on multiple levels.”
JJ.Grant apparel, accessories and wall art are available at jjgrantnyc.com.
Check out images from the pop-up event below.