MARTIN MYAKA & SAM LE ROY DECIDE WHAT MAKES A SNEAKER ICONIC

MARTIN MYAKA & SAM LE ROY DECIDE WHAT MAKES A SNEAKER ICONIC

by CULTED
12 min
Martin Myaka by TJ Sawyerr for CULTED ©

Martin Myaka’s rise to international reconnaissance has been nothing short of impressive. Originally recognised years ago for his iconic dreadlocks and unique look, having featured in campaigns for Ugg, Calvin Klein and Levi’s amongst others, the Ohio native has since cemented himself as a shining light within this new generation of Black creatives. Pushed onwards by his urge to defy the odds, his punk-inspired namesake label alongside his increasingly identifiable style and profound political voice have been gaining worldwide recognition over the past year. Having now switched out the dreads for a more understated blonde-top, Martin welcomed me into his London apartment to dissect his journey, from being a small-town boy in Ohio, to being one of the scene’s most exciting rising stars.

FIRST AND FOREMOST, WELCOME TO CULTED! HOW ARE YOU BROTHER, WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO?

I’ve just been chilling, man. It’s nice to be back in London at long last, a change of scenery was needed. I’m typically based in Cincinnati, Ohio, and it’s pretty morbid out there at times, so it’s cool to switch things up a little bit. I’m happy to be here. 

HOW WOULD YOU CATEGORISE YOURSELF AND YOUR CRAFT? WHO IS MARTIN MYAKA?

For a long time, the only vague term I could come up with to describe myself was as an artist, but that’s far too broad, so I’m not a fan of that. For me, now, I would call myself a ‘curator of feelings and emotions’. I think my biggest talent is to create something tangible and viewable, something people can connect to, stemming from what I’m feeling. I don’t know what the end outcome will be for me, but the thing that clicks for me and comes easiest to me is creating clothing, so that’s why you’re seeing Martin Myaka the brand being what it is.

Martin Myaka by TJ Sawyerr for CULTED ©
Martin Myaka by TJ Sawyerr for CULTED ©

WHEN DID YOU DECIDE THAT YOU WANTED TO START A BRAND? WHAT ENCOURAGED/INSPIRED YOU?

It really was just when I moved to New York in 2019. Before that, I had never really seen people dressing themselves and caring about how they dressed. That was kind of when I started experimenting with clothes – specifically shoes. After a little while I had just fucked up so many air forces that I figured I should probably try to get some money out of it. my first brand concept was called space_. It was meant to be a space, a void that I was just filling with my own creativity and innovation, whatever that happened to be. It wasn’t just clothing. Whether it was music, shoes, painting, space_ (by Lord) was just any product of my mind that a viewer could take in or experience in some way.

SO WHAT HAPPENED? HOW DID YOU EVENTUALLY COME UP WITH MARTIN MYAKA, AS IT IS TODAY?

With space_bylord, I made a lot of mistakes off rip. I’d say it was a large part of my feeling-out process, trying to figure out how to run my own thing like that, so I eventually decided to take a step away from that idea as it was, and focus upon what it was that I really wanted to do, which was making clothes. In retrospect, space_ was far too open, I just had no focus. With that, I was just doing anything and everything that captured my attention, rather than refining my craft more specifically. 

I wanted to apply some pressure onto myself, and I felt the only way to do that was to rebrand and put my own name on the label. Now it’s like, anything I put into the world, that’s me, that’s representative of who I am. I can’t just put some random bullshit out, because every time you look me up, as a person, you will find my work, that will come to speak for me. I wanted that added pressure to perform at my highest level, I felt like I was cutting too many corners. That’s how the brand became what it is today.

HOW DID YOU COME TO ESTABLISH YOURSELF OUTSIDE OF YOUR HOMETOWN AND BUILD A LIFE FOR YOURSELF IN THE INDUSTRY?

First time I came to London was April 2018, about two months after I first started modeling. I had met with a brand out in New York, because they were running a casting day there, and next thing I new they were flying me out to the U.K. . I was here for a week with them, learning how to move and shit, and I quickly fell in love with the city during that time. Everything about London is just so different, especially feeling like a first timer, coming from the States into Europe, it’s a whole different vibe. That was the first time I’d been in Europe since I was like 5 years old, so I never imagined that I’d actually make a life here. Ever since then, I’ve been finding my way back, whether it’s through work, or to visit my girl. London is definitely one of my favourite places.

Martin Myaka by TJ Sawyerr for CULTED ©
Martin Myaka by TJ Sawyerr for CULTED ©

IS FASHION SOMETHING YOU’VE ALWAYS BEEN INTERESTED IN, EVEN BEFORE YOU WERE ACTIVELY INVOLVED IN THE INDUSTRY?

Growing up, I was always aware of fashion, but the scope of what I was exposed to in Ohio was much smaller than what you experience in a major city. I was looking at my favourite athletes and the way they dressed, but I never paid attention to it in the way that I do now. It’s more about the story behind the clothing than anything to me. That’s what I really pay attention to. My style, as it is now, started to come together pretty much simultaneously with me starting my career in modeling. I started paying more attention to the way that I dressed, started spending more money on pieces and began documenting my outfits on Instagram. It all happened very quickly. 

HOW HAVE YOU COMBATTED THE PRECONCEPTIONS THAT EXIST SURROUNDING YOUNG BLACK MEN SUCH AS YOURSELF?

The way I see it, being a black person, your skin colour is automatically something that you are identified by in our world. No matter what you say, when someone sees you, something clicks in their mind saying: that’s a black person. There’s this ever-present scrutiny that we have to deal with everyday. Many black people, as a result feel the need to change in order to cater for or adapt to the white world. I try not to think about that too much and just be myself. I’m not going to change for anyone, I’m happy with who I am, so external scrutiny could never really effect what I’m doing.

HOW DID THE EVENTS OF LAST MAY, WITH THE SUBSEQUENT RESURGENCE OF THE BLM MOVEMENT, COME TO INFLUENCE YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON THE ISSUES THAT BLACK PEOPLE FACE? HOW DID YOU REACT?

When George Floyd was murdered; that was the point that I really began to speak up. This was largely because growing up, those weren’t conversations that I was accustomed to having, with the majority of people that surrounded me being so hopelessly clueless when it came to race issues. It took me some time to comprehend the notion that, in a world where we have every piece of information at our finger tips, people were still so ignorant. If you want to learn or inform yourself about something, you can. Unfortunately it’s just as easy to turn the blind eye, and so many people do. So, having seen the largely performative reaction to Floyd’s death on social media, I was like: ‘f*** it, here’s my PayPal, send me whatever sum of money that will give you the self-gratification and belief that you are contributing to the cause. Whether that’s 5 dollars or 50 cents, send me what you think this cause is worth, and I will donate it to a collection of smaller charities and organizations that are pushing tangible change.’ We made around $4,000 in 48 hours.

Martin Myaka by TJ Sawyerr for CULTED ©
Martin Myaka by TJ Sawyerr for CULTED ©

WITH THE SUCCESS OF YOUR LABEL, ALONGSIDE YOUR MODELLING, YOU’VE ESTABLISHED A STRONG PLATFORM ON SOCIAL MEDIA. WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO CONTINUE TO USE THIS PLATFORM TO SPEAK ON POLITICAL ISSUES AS A YOU G BLACK MAN?

Social media, as a whole, is difficult. I feel like it’s often frowned upon to speak freely, especially having a label and building my own personal brand. Even more so when it’s regarding anything that can be deemed as controversial. However, when it comes to speaking up and being a voice for others, that’s a responsibility that I recognize now. My voice is still developing and I am still discovering exactly how I feel about what is going on in this world. There’s a lot to take in. I do feel, the stage I am at now, coming from where I’ve come from, my story and voice is something that people do need to hear. Something that black kids need to hear. This creative avenue was never highlighted when I was growing up; nobody who looked like me who had found success in this field, so there was really no point of reference. One day I’ll be that point of reference that I never had.

YOU MENTION THE LACK OF LIKE-MINDED ROLE MODELS THAT YOU WERE PRIVY TO GROWING UP. DID YOU HAVE ANY MORE GENERAL INSPIRATIONS FROM YOUNG?

I had my parents and other people that I looked up to, who taught me right from wrong. My single biggest role model was Kobe Bryant, period. He had this incredible demeanour that I couldn’t quite quantify. I’ve never seen anybody quite like that… he really inspired me. He might as well have been a fictional superhero to me. Even though I loved him and watched every video on him that existed, there was still this disconnect. If I get there, to the point where I can look back and say that I did do everything I set out to achieve, I want to try to be more than what Kobe was to me. I want to be that real life example for people back home.

HOW DID THE PANDEMIC AFFECT YOUR CRAFT AND YOUR MINDSET?

I took the pandemic as an opportunity to get really good at what I do. No more going out and flexing, acting like I got life figured out. Now it’s just me, I can’t go anywhere, so I told myself, ‘I’m just gonna get better’. If you didn’t have some sort of epiphany like that through the pandemic, then you missed out on the best opportunity to refine or perfect your craft.

PUT US ONTO SOME SMALLER DESIGNERS THAT HAVE PARTICULARLY IMPRESSED YOU.

I have a lot of friends and people surrounding me doing great things, some that aren’t receiving the recognition that they deserve just yet. You often come across people who have 200 followers, that work at levels so much higher than those above them on this fabricated social media ladder. I fuck with Dingyun Zhang. Over and above the actual appeal of his garments, his process is impressive and the way that he works is just different. Also, I was walking in Selfridges the other day and I came across this brand that I had never seen before, Isabel Benenato. The knitwear was crazy. It lowkey felt like some archive Raf or Rick Owens.

Martin Myaka by TJ Sawyerr for CULTED ©

WHAT HAVE BEEN THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES THAT YOU’VE HAD TO OVERCOME IN YOUR CAREER?

The biggest challenge, looking back, has been how much my mind and outlook has changed as I have grown over time and how much my own personal style and what I create has subsequently changed as a result of that. I’ve learnt that I need to develop consistency, I can’t be left, right, all over the place with it if I want to build something solid, because while I may be able to attract lots of different types of people that way, it is difficult for people to connect with what I’m doing if I keep switching back and forth. Coming to terms with that has probably been my biggest struggle.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE SINGLE BIGGEST PINCH ME MOMENT SO FAR?

I honestly don’t really know. There have been some cool moments in both modeling and design for me. I’d say the biggest surprise for me was when I came back to Cincy and got the studio when I did. I wasn’t sure when I was ever going to take that step and it all just kind of happened within a few days. No part of that moment felt real as it was happening.

WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO AN AMBITIOUS YOUNG PERSON TRYING TO MAKE A MARK IN THIS BIG INDUSTRY?

Slow down, take your time, and get off social media for a second. Find a way to separate your life online and your real life. Social media is a game of perception and manipulation. It’s about how you can create a fabricated image of yourself, to convince people that you are living a certain way, or reaping a certain level of success. When you go onto Instagram, and you’re sitting there, scrolling through, following these people that you deem to be way ahead of you, you start to naturally compare yourself to these people. It really causes you to focus your energy on the entirely wrong thing; you become far more interested in appearing cool and appealing to others on that platform than focusing on your craft and flourishing outside of it. If you love making clothes, put your head down, work at it with the intention of getting good, and next thing you know you give people no choice but to tip their hat to you. As artists, we really shouldn’t be concerned about following or likes, that all comes in due course. It’s a byproduct of being good at what you do.

WHAT CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE FROM MARTIN MYAKA GOING FORWARD?

Insanity. I’m really taking my time now. The next shit you see from me.. man, there’s no point in hyping it. It will speak for itself. Every aspect of what we’re doing – elevated, improved, refined.

TO FINISH, A QUESTION THAT I FEEL IS RARELY ASKED. ARE YOU HAVING THE TIME OF YOUR LIFE?

Absolutely. Everything I am doing is getting bigger. If I stand back and look at my trajectory over the last 6 months, 12 months, 18 months, the growth has been pretty significant. The idea that people are willing to spend their money on the stuff that i’m making.. That is something special. The next year, 2 years, are going to be crazy. Not just my growth, but our generation of talent as a whole, is something to be very excited about!

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