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Desiree Marshall: The genius behind Afrodelik Designs

11 Jul 2007

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I attended the Toronto Naturals Hair and Beauty show in late May, and I must say that I had a great time. It wasn’t just the information that I received about natural hair care products that I appreciated, it’s that I found, after years of searching, the most perfect t-shirt!

As I walked around the room soaking up all the culture, I saw tons of vendors selling their products. But there was one thing that stood out for me.  Being a self-proclaimed “funkdafied chick,” I am drawn to anything that oozes a cool 70s vibe.  When I spotted the cutest t-shirt with a character that looked like she was straight out of a blaxploitation film, I had to get a closer look.

I ran up to the rather friendly girl who was selling the t-shirts and asked where I could find more of the fashions. She said that the company is Afrodelik and she was the designer.  She also informed me that she currently only sold them at events.  Surprised, I told her that I not only wanted to get my swagger on in her t-shirts; I wanted to share her talents with all of Toronto.  I proceeded to ask her if I could interview her and she graciously accepted.

We met in a quaint restaurant in Little Italy and talked and talked like we knew each other for years. We both love all things 70s, we both shun anything with a logo, and we are both a bit chatty.

What I found out about Desiree Marshall is that she’s a free spirit who chooses to not only create great looking t-shirts, she wants to provide us with a history lesson as well.

When did you start drawing?

I actually started drawing when I was ten years old.  My brother was a great artist and I was really impressed with the things that he could do.  It kinda made me think of my creative side, so I decided to try drawing and I realized that I loved it.  I used to draw Disney characters—goofy, Mickey Mouse.  

As I got older I started drawing these caricatures.  I did some of Run DMC, Tracy Chapman, Prince—all of the people that I really loved.

When did you start designing t-shirts?

In my early 20s I started thinking about starting a t-shirt company because I thought that it was the best way for me to express my art.  It was fun and I wanted to do something that was fun.

I would use puffy paint to draw the characters on the t-shirts.  Once the t-shirts were done I would just keep them.  I never wore or sold the t-shirts.  I would show them to my parents and sister and brother, and then hang them in my closet.  I still have them.

I took a little break from drawing and I worked as a customer service rep.  On my lunch I would draw. I would use their paper to draw my characters and use their photocopy machine.  I was constantly drawing while I was doing my job.

When I drew the caricatures of the celebrities I was told that I needed permission to reproduce them on t-shirts.  And then I thought, “I could actually create my own characters!”  So I spent a while creating my own characters.

During this time I had an art book that someone had given me, and I started drawing these characters.  That’s what I did when I got home from work.  I would draw and draw.  I loved it! I drew everyday until I filled the book.  I saw this progression in my art work.  I was like, wow!  It went from these really bad caricatures to something that actually looked like it could be sold.

What motivated you to start your own line?

I registered the name and I started doing my t-shirts, but actually instead of painting them by hand, I drew them by hand and took them to a screen printer.    I thought that it was a great product, but I still didn’t sell them! I would wear them, but not sell them.  I thought of it as a hobby, not as a true business.  For me I think that it was kinda scary to start a business.  Even though I registered the name, I thought that I would start the company later.

When did it become a legitimate business?

In November 2006

How did it evolve from a hobby to a business?

I lost my job in March 2006.  I was a video editor for a TV broadcasting company and I seriously couldn’t wait to get my ass outta there! But I didn’t have the courage to leave.  So I kinda asked for it. I used to go to work like I didn’t want to be there.  I gave off that energy to the Universe, so I eventually got laid off.  Even though it was a sad day, deep, deep, deep, down I was very happy.  I thought that it was the opportunity for me to do what I want, so I applied for this government program.  It’s a one year program and it teaches you how to start your own business. I’ve been doing it since September 2006.  I’m still in it and I have a mentor.

The other great thing that happened was on my last day of class, I had to do a presentation in front of 5 business people that I never met before.  They give you feedback on your presentation.  This one woman……I knew she connected to what I was saying.  She gave me her business card at the end of my presentation.  She called me the next day and said that she was doing this program on TV about life coaching and she wanted to coach me through my business.  I was like, “thank you!”  It was a sign for me.  It made me feel that it was the right time to start my business.  I’m still filming it.
How did you come up with the name?

It took me about 6 months to come up with Afrodelik.  I’m a bit of a perfectionist.  I wanted something that fit me……fit me right.  A lot of the names I came up with had the word “Afro” in it.  I love the 70s era!  I love the coolness of it.  I could relate to those women.  I thought they were sexy and hot. I think the coolest women, to this day, were the ones with big afros.

Was it important for you to do a line with an urban flair?

Yep, because Afrodelik is not just clothing, it’s educational wearable art.  It educates people about my culture.  For me it was my education about myself.    Growing up I went to a French school and I didn’t have a lot of black people in my surroundings.  I didn’t learn anything about my history…nothing.

When I started thinking about Afrodelik, I thought about doing it for kids. I wanted to at least help black children know about their history.  That’s why I do collections—the Afro City one is fun and funky, and the other one I do is called Africa.  In the Africa collection I feature African cultures . All of my tags have some information about each of the designs .    I’m here to educate the best way that I can which is through my art.  Whether it be humourous or serious, I feel like I have a job to educate people—kids and people outside my community. I want to make a difference in the world.

How do you sell/promote your clothing?

I finally have my website up and running. It’s www.afrodelik.com and you can purchase items from the website.  The e-commerce site will be available very soon, but you can still contact me via e-mail or by phone to purchase my products. I even make house/office calls. Since I’m just starting out, I sell my t-shirts at events. I try to find events, like Afrofest recently, that I feel would be a good fit for me.

To promote my line, I gave a couple of t-shirts to P. Diddy, Amerie, Jill Scott, and just recently Eric Roberson and Meshell Ndegeocello.

What are your plans for your line?

I’m still in the beginning stages, but I don’t just want to stick with t-shirts. I love t-shirts and it’s the best way for me at this time to express my work, but I want to go to hoodies, caps.  I also want to go into a more sophisticated line.  I want to have my artwork on nice shirts using luxurious fabrics. I want it to be classy. The African collection is a bit more elegant and I can see it embroidered on fine fabrics.

After speaking to Desiree for an hour and a half, I unfortunately had to wrap up the interview.  She was a pleasure to interview, but more importantly, I knew from the moment that I left the restaurant, that her company will be very successful.  You go, girl!

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