Founded on the streets of Flatbush, Brooklyn, in the '90s, Carl Williams founded his iconic brand with "$1000 and a dream". Born in an era where your outfit was social currency, Karl used his passion for style to develop the influential brand we now know and love as Karl Kani. A self-taught designer, Karl's designs have been worn by icons such as Tupac, Nas, Jay-Z, Aaliyah, and Snoop. Building his own baggy-fit, hip-hop ready blueprint, Karl used his "hustle-hard" upbringing and a savvy eye for street-influenced fashion to create a globally-renowned brand. 

Coming for an era where nobody believed hip-hop culture could become pop-culture de rigueur, Karl faced skeptical detractors, unsure if a street-influenced label could go global. Despite being confident, Karl would always ask himself "Can I do it?" This existential question was the launching pad that drove Karl to legally change his name from Carl Williams to Karl Kani. So, the question of "Can I?" morphed into the brand name "Kani", and with that, a legendary label was born.

Fast forward to the global pandemic of 2020 - in a time of uncertainty, many creatives are asking themselves: "Can I keep my business going," "Can I still perform," and "Can I stay fit and healthy?"

Looking to Karl's story for inspiration, an overarching message prevails - together "we can" do this.

In this candid video, Karl touches on his storied journey, from getting up at 5:30 am to sell newspapers so he could buy clothes, to gaining inspiration seeing his father visit tailors as a child. Ever the optimist, Karl touches on how he overcomes setbacks, remains grounded and healthy, and how we can grow as a community.

As our community of creative talent grows stronger and stronger, we look to a diverse range of talents who provide individual stories of creative fortitude. With the effects of Covid-19 taking a toll on the industry, this inspiring set of creatives prove that an "I Can" attitude can overcome any obstacle. From rappers to visual artists, their stories provide hope during tough times.

KOBY MARTIN – ARTIST 

A proud export of Ghana, London-based artist Koby Martin uses traditional and digital mediums to illustrate his work. His emotive style fuses Ghanian and British influences, articulating his life experiences through personal struggles and tragedies, turning them into artistic triumph. 

With collaborations with the British Council, and The British High Commission - for which he was commissioned to create a live painting for 2019's Afrochella concert at the El Wak Stadium in Accra, Ghana. Koby's artwork spans over a variety of subjects, often using bright colors - a reflection of his heritage and spontaneous personality.

How has the current climate impacted your art and the way you create?

The current climate has me in a very reflective mood - in regards to how I use my time - whether spending time with family, friends, and even working. It’s also made me aware of how fragile & short life really is. Creatively, I always work in isolation, so it was quite hard to differentiate the climate from my normal routine. But, it also pushed me to experiment with other materials and learn new techniques. I also started reading more, which I rarely do, because of my short attention span. Although we have had a lot of tragedies and losses, I personally believe it's made me stronger, tougher, and smarter for any challenge ahead! 

How can I make a change? 

Change comes about through self-belief and the realization of who we are as individuals. It's a domino effect that begins with the man/woman in the mirror. I set out to express that through my gift of creating, collaborating, and having yearly exhibitions, which I believe brought together a sense of awareness, togetherness, restoration, and healing, especially within the black community.

How can I inspire others? 

Inspiration starts with self and comes from within. To inspire, one has to believe in self and take action on the standards and goals they have set out for themselves. In doing that, it sparks a viral sense of awareness, belief, and motivation with the people you are around. 

How can I create in the current climate?

The current climate has taught me to be still. I have learned to put everything at a standstill when it's time to create, a momentary pause from all the stresses of life. This allows me to get lost in my work. I step into a different world, a whole new dimension that allows me to create with joy. Something like stepping out of the business of a matrix and skip-hopping into a Teletubby world is the best way I can explain it.

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Highsnobiety / Brennan Bucannan
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Highsnobiety / Brennan Bucannan

TORI TAIWO – PHOTOGRAPHER

Photographer Tori Taiwo runs Hercuts, an empowering haircut page for women who have embraced shaving their hair, favoring unique and charismatic low-cut hairstyles. After leaving home and falling out with a family friend, 33-year-old Taiwo was given a place in a hostel. Too terrified to stay there, Taiwo was determined to change her life. She continues to empower, inform, and inspire others via her art.

How has the current climate impacted your art and the way you create?

The current climate has allowed me to explore and revisit my prior passions. During the first lockdown, I started shooting products, this allowed me to gain new skills and open a new revenue. I have started booking clients, and shooting and filming products, which I can do from home. How can I make a change? By being open to trying new things and willing to allow for changes that are unforeseen, as well as collaborating with other creatives to keep morale up and encourage others to try new things too! 

How can I inspire others? 

By sharing the process of pivoting and exploration - high, lows, and everything in between. 

How can I create in the current climate?

By changing my outlook on the creative process - stripping back and using what I have at my disposal to create; trying new things & exploring.

STEFANI NURDING – SKATER/ ENTREPRENEUR<

As the founder of skateboard brand Salon Skateboards, Stefani Nurding hopes to destroy the "boys only" stereotype that plagues the skate scene. A skater who was once told she was "too pretty to skate", Stefani is passionate about promoting diversity within the skate community. With a respected brand, Stefani juggles being a mum and pro-skater in a male-dominated industry.

How has the current climate impacted your art and the way you create?

Before the lockdown, I would say that it really made me think about being disconnected from people. I felt much more like I wanted to film and photograph others skating, as opposed to focusing on myself. One of my projects was to shoot instant photos of friends or strangers skating, then give them the photo afterward. Now that we're in lockdown, I feel even more disconnected from people, so I try to make my content fun and positive to try and uplift people.

How can I make a change?

I realized that I have a lot of knowledge about how to make money as a self-employed person. My friends were losing their jobs around me, and I became aware that some of them had no idea how to make money other than having a job. I coached a few friends that needed help, and I also set up affordable online courses about time management and setting up your own business.

How can I inspire others?

After I had my baby, I felt so lost with skateboarding and my own identity. It felt like I didn't know what I liked anymore and had no idea if my body would return to my previous level of fitness after my cesarean. Fast forward 20 months, I am in peak health, doing pilates regularly and skateboarding 2-3 times a week. I am 32 and a new mum. I just really hope that others who see 30 as old, or think they can't do things after becoming a mother will just maybe think "screw it, she is doing it and so can I".

How can I create in the current climate?

I have my skate brand Salon Skateboards as a creative outlet for my graphic design which is nice, but I love to create sporadically and get ideas all the time which I need another outlet for. I have been creating a lot of different things - painting, experimenting with Photoshop, photography, printing clothes, and just generally having fun with making art. There are a lot of things where I just think "meh, will never use it", but occasionally I come out with a gem.

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Highsnobiety / Brennan Bucannan
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Highsnobiety / Brennan Bucannan

ROXXXAN – ACTIVIST/RAPPER/MODEL

Birmingham-raised rapper Roxxan represents the LGBTQ community with enormous pride. For the last ten years, the queer rapper has built up her own unique identity. A self-proclaimed tomboy, Roxxxan has expressed her want to create a space for women who adhere to non-gender specific traits. After relocating to London, Roxxx has displayed perseverance and determination - from coming to London to get a job at a major label to then being signed as an artist eight months later. 

How has the current climate impacted your art and the way you create?

The current climate has affected the energy around me and where I go for inspiration. Before lockdown, I would meet friends, be around family, different energies, and walks of life, which made it easy to be inspired or do things that spark creativity. Now I go for walks or sit on a park bench so I can soak up all around me, then process it and let it out my way. 

How can I make a change?

I can make a change by being visibly patient and open to change and growth. I aim to make a change by also being present for any women POC or fellow LGBTQA's. A lot of people are finding it hard to cope, I can make a change by being there for any and all of my people.

How can I inspire others?

I try to inspire others by living in my truth and fully accepting who I am; using my differences or things that have held me back in the past as my gifts to the world. I understand times are a lot different now, but had some of the artists and people I looked up to like Missy Elliot and Queen Latifa been open about their sexuality, I believe I would have found mine a lot sooner. Which also would lead to me finding myself sooner. I aim to be that for younger people growing up. 

How can I create in the current climate?

In the current climate, I create at home with my iPad studio. Through spring and summer, I sat with and felt all the highs and lows of 2020. It’s only recently that I’ve finished processing, and now I’m ready to put everything into words and my outlet and art.

SILAI ESTATIRA – RAPPER/MUSICIAN

Silai Estatira is a young British hip-hop artist, spoken-word poet, micro-influencer, and full-time international relations student. A brave artist, Mishaal has gone against the grain of what is expected from her culturally by venturing into rap, spitting socio-political raps with a unique and fresh take on streetwear style.

How has the current climate impacted your art and the way you create?

During lockdown, music almost became a lifeline. It has always felt like my purpose, but I realized how much I needed it. I’ve been writing more, going back to the basics of it, sometimes just freestyling in my room or with my best friend and having fun with it again. I’ve been revisiting some of my favorite projects too. Retracing the steps of artists I admire, just taking it all in.

How can I make a change?

I want to fight for the world to be more inclusive. To be a space for everyone, not just a representation of some voices. Fighting for all diaspora, the people who are othered, and everyone who doesn’t feel represented. Music can make a big change. I want my music to comfort people, and to give company, the same way it does for me. 

How can I inspire others?

I want to let people know it’s okay to ride their own wave, step outside the box, and live outside it. It’s okay to venture into spaces you’ve never ventured into before, especially when people tell you that you can’t do it. Never stop. Keep perfecting your art. It belongs to you, it is yours. Everyone has a destiny, we can’t let anyone - including ourselves - stop us from chasing it. 

As Muslim women, people talk over us (metaphorically). Everyone has an opinion, and there’s so much dehumanization and categorizing that happens. I know girls that have had to fight that. I still fight it. But we’re still here, going. For us, It’s a movement.

How can I create in the current climate?

Because there have been no gigs, I’ve had so much time to write and experiment with sounds. I’m lucky because I’ve always recorded in my room so I’ve just been continuing that. I’ve had more time to think about how to present and reflect on my pieces too. There are so many ways to create, it’s just about being present with yourself, and knowing what story you’re trying to tell.

KANAH FLEX – DANCER / MOVEMENT ARTIST

Born-and-raised in south London born, self-taught dancer and movement artist Kanah Flex was discovered busking by FKA twigs in 2014. The autistic dancer struggled to express himself, before finding his calling in the world of dance. A free spirit with a dedicated following on social media, the father of two challenges society’s ideas of normality, pushing his followers to achieve their goals. 

How has the current climate impacted your art and the way you create?

I feel as if climate change has forced me to exercise all of the other gifts that I have shunned in the past, due to sheer laziness or the comfort of being inside the box. I feel like even though my physical might be on lockdown, my spirit is free. 

How can I make a change?

The only change I am going to start with is myself, it’s impossible to change anything before that  - I must start with me. Self-discipline is very key to change. 

 How can I inspire others?

By staying true to myself, my family, and my people

How can I create in the current climate?

I make things work with what I have and what I am surrounded by. I cannot play the victim in these times, even though the climate has changed, my creativity hasn’t. I’m always thinking of innovative ideas.

  • Animation:Ali Kamara 
  • Creative Direction:Frazer Howie 
  • Video Editor:Joseph J Marshall 
  • Music:Simon Franks 
  • Video:Rich London

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