Bahamian streetwear brand Emaj is making waves locally and internationally, attracting the attention of millennials, utilizing local musical talent in its promotional efforts and injecting a level of style and sophistication in streetwear that puts it on the level of any international brand.
“It has been received very well in the local market, I am so grateful and thankful for the Bahamian people that have been coming to the store, that have been buying and supporting. Young people are really into streetwear and they have really embraced the brand,” noted Eldica Austin-Jackson, founder of the brand that encompasses a trendy store located at Elizabeth on Bay Shopping Plaza, Bay Street, and a state-of-the-art e-commerce website.
The company has no plans of slowing its momentum: new swimsuits and masks have already arrived from its manufacturers and a slew of new clothing will arrive next month.
“The cost of living is so high in this country, I wanted to create clothes that Bahamian people could look good and feel good in, that can stand next to foreign brands and still be affordable,” expressed Austin-Jackson.
“Right now, I’m focused on growing the brand even more, doing more promotions, coming up with creative ways to help the brand. The creative process for Emaj is through research; I get a lot of inspiration from my surroundings, I pay a lot of attention to market trends, social media, music, I sit down with my team and we sketch, we look at what is trending. We want to give our people stylish, trendy, easy-to-wear clothes.”
The story behind the name “Emaj” is an interesting one: it’s Austin-Jackson’s initials, however, the symbol used in the name is a modified hieroglyph that kept popping up every time she did a painting. “I’m obsessed with hieroglyphs and that was one that I modified. It means ‘initiative’ and I figured that as I took the initiative to start this brand, I would use it in my logo.”
For Austin-Jackson, it’s also a symbol of strength, being able to rise above adversity and conquer the challenges of life.
“Losing my husband last year was the most…I can’t even explain it. I’ve been to hell and back. Two months after losing him, I started work on creating this brand and it kept me sane and helped me to move forward. I poured myself into creating the brand, the store, designing the clothes, working with the manufacturers; it was therapy.”
Originally, when Austin-Jackson started Emaj, it was custom painted T-shirts that she sold online. Last year, after she lost her husband, she ended up rebranding and going into streetwear. She designs everything in the store herself. The style is very minimalistic and very art-centered.
“For example, if you look at our Cryptic Queen collection, which is a collection of female T-shirts, it is all my artwork. With regards to our jeans, I had myself in mind. Most jeans today are high-waisted, there is mid-rise, but with my body type, I needed low-rise jeans, which suit my figure perfectly, those are the most flattering for me. Additionally, I’m very tall and my legs are long, so I always end up with a problem with finding jeans, so I wanted to create jeans that are long enough for tall women.
“When I designed them, I also wanted jeans that would flatter the butt. I used my friends’ bodies, I drew up the patterns and then I sent them to my manufacturers, even down to the fabric I chose myself.”
The store was designed with Bahamian pride in mind. The goal was that when Bahamian people came into the store, they felt that they were someplace amazing. Austin-Jackson wanted them to feel as good as they feel when they walk into a high-end store in Miami, Los Angeles or Atlanta.
“Because the store is downtown, I’m in the perfect location to reach the tourist/international market. Before the pandemic, there were tourists coming into the store, so the brand had already started traveling. We already had a few orders we had to ship to the United States. Through Instagram and other social media outlets, we are reaching the world.”
Austin-Jackson, who considers herself an artist, streetwear designer and website designer, studied fashion design and construction at Bahamas Technical and Vocational Institute (BTVI). “I’ve always had an interest in art, before starting my own company I worked for Alexiou and Associates, which is where I got a lot of design inspiration and guidance from. A lot of what I didn’t learn at BTVI, I learned on the job. I worked with high-end architects and interior designers. In regards to my art, I’m self-taught. My late husband, who was an architect, was a huge inspiration for me. He actually helped me to develop my art style.
“I’ve always wanted to create my own brand. The reason I went to BTVI to study fashion was not to sit down as a seamstress sewing clothes for people – I wanted to learn how clothes are constructed so that I could communicate to my manufacturers exactly what I needed.”
In terms of future plans in the pipeline, moving forward, the store will not just be a streetwear boutique, as Austin-Jackson is installing her personal art collection onto the walls of the store and turning it into a gallery space. That process has already started.
“Because of my location, when the tourists return, I want to give Bahamian artists another gallery space they can show their work in, so we are turning it into a concept store. Before the pandemic, we used to throw art parties in the store, which were very successful and I’m hoping to host events again.”