Azede Jean Pierre has lived in the United States since she was five years old but does not consider herself to be an American. Born into a family of seven siblings in the Haitian town of Pestel, Azede and her family relocated to a suburb outside of Atlanta where she would grow up and into her identity as a multicultural woman of color. Drawing little caricatures poised in ornate clothing from a young age, design has perhaps always been her calling. As a graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design and former intern at design houses like Ralph Rucci and Ohne Titel, Azede’s story really begins in 2012 when she debuted her own namesake label. Coveted by the likes of Michelle Obama, Solange Knowles and Lady Gaga, Azede’s approach is a contemporary one. As she continues to explore what it means to be a first generation American, she simultaneously pays homage to her roots. Her multiplicitous perspectives allow her to effortlessly fuse tradition with modernity while often being unapologetically polarizing. Adding sustainable practices to her repertoire, Azede is making strides in her own right as she unearths what it means to be an American designer, finding that there is more to it than the red, white and blue.
COOLS: Tell us about your path as a fashion designer:
Azede Jean-Pierre: I went to design school in Savannah Georgia and interned at Ohne Titel in my Jr year and at Ralph Rucci the following year before I launched my own label the next year in the fall of 2012.
COOLS: You’re from Haiti and relocated to Atlanta as a refugee. What was that experience like?
AJP: I don’t remember much about the process, only that my family spent some time at a refugee camp in Cuba before a short stay in Florida followed by a final move to Atlanta.
COOLS: I was drawn to the line in your piece for Teen Vogue, “In recent months, I have been consumed by my need to do something with a greater purpose.” How are you using fashion as platform to do something with a deeper meaning?
AJP: Wanting to design with a greater purpose is a new revolution for me. I am taking some time away from the spotlight to really hone in what that means for me and the future of my brand. Currently I am working on a few projects that consume me; they require focus and time to lay down the proper foundation before I can execute and share with the world.
COOLS: Has that always been your intention with design?
AJP: I am still very much about color, cut and fit but we have added sustainability to our formula to really refine our identity and produce beautiful designs with a greater purpose.
COOLS: Though inclusivity, increasingly diverse casting and body positivity are on the rise – there is still a lot of talk and not much action…Do you feel that the fashion industry is even capable of having a greater purpose?
AJP: I believe fashion is completely capable of leveraging its allure, culture, point of view and it’s talents to seamlessly integrate and innovate new ideas that can support, empower and inspire the less fortunate and marginalized. And I am excited to be taking the time to do just that.
COOLS: Your designs have been worn by some pretty major women – Michelle Obama, Solange, among other female politicians. You’re also now working on uniforms for school children in Haiti. Did you ever think your role as a designer would lead into projects with such strong social implications?
AJP: As this is a bit of a transition, I’d be remiss to say that I could have predicted anything like the school uniform project. Also, I feel both privileged and honored that such amazing women gravitate towards and support the label.
COOLS: Where is your inspiration coming from for the approaching season?
AJP: More and more I am inspired by my origins. As I am taking the time now to retrace my roots, I am increasingly inspired by the journey and the people I meet along the way.
COOLS: Any exciting projects coming up that you can share?
AJP: I can not give too much away unfortunately but I can tell you that I am partnering with amazing organizations like the UN’s International Trade Center, the Clinton foundation, Sean Penn’s JPHRO and the Haitian government and that my goal is to successfully integrate and use good design and philanthropy to sustainably support less developed area and underprivileged communities in Haiti with opportunities to thrive.