Fashion Update: Interview with Haydar of Kiser NY

by Lady Glock


Every one has a favorite t-shirt. I don't care who you are or what you do. You have a favorite t-shirt. It could be that one that is so soft and comfortable because you've worn it a zillion times. It could be that one that you got at a concert that was totally amazing. It could be that one that got you laid. Any way you look at it…you have a favorite t-shirt somewhere.

In the New York fashion scene right now there are tons of labels that want you to make one of their shirts your fave. One of these labels is Kiser NY.

Started by Kiser Haydar Barnes and Samandar Khelghati circa 2003/2004, Kiser NY has already been getting a lot of press. They've already been spotted in magazines like Cargo, Nylon, Mass Appeal and DNR. More recently, AJ wore one of their shirts on one of his last appearances on 106 & Park. Like I said in a previous post, these guys are going places.

In between shows and other various fashion events, Haydar Barnes, half the creative team of Kiser NY, found a moment to relax and answer a few questions.

How did you get into the fashion/t-shirt business?

I graduated with a Graphic Design degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology in 2002 and started working for a corporate design firm that did a lot of work for Sony, Minolta and SAP. While I was slaving away doing generic design for a company that made millions off my sweat, I was excited and inspired by the blossoming t-shirt explosion in NYC. I would hit up stores like UNION and be so inspired by the work that was being done. So when I lost my job at the design firm a year and a half ago, I decided to do the t-shirt thing full time and invest completely in my passion.

Who are you trying to market?

We are trying to market to what is loosely defined as the “hip-hop” generation. The “hip-hop” generation at its core is a generation that appreciates “the underground” and appreciates the fact that we all have something unique to say. We define our target market as anyone who appreciates that creativity should be diverse and thought provoking.

Do you think music influences your shirts?

Music deeply influences our shirts. Everything we design is inspired by the music all around us. When I design I also create a soundtrack of songs that tend to mold and shape my finished work. For the collection on our site, I was listening to allot of Arabic pop, Fela Kuti, John Lee Hooker, and Aesop Rock. For the new collection I am working on I am listening to a lot of old Wu-Tang, Stevie Wonder, Black Star, and M.I.A. So basically my collection is constantly evolving with my creative direction.

How does your Baha'i Faith influence the clothes you make?

Our faith is revolutionary in the sense that it???s the first religion that is based on the individual owning his spiritual destiny. The prerequisite for being a Baha'i is individual investigation of the truth, so every Baha'i is required to study all other religions and explanations for our spiritual existence. We understand life as one of the many developmental stages for our souls and we take everything that life throws our way as an opportunity to develop our souls in a positive way. We don't have preachers or clergy so everyone is responsible for his own spiritual development. It is with that sense of spiritual ownership that all Baha'is approach their everyday lives. So because our designs are conceptual in nature inevitably our beliefs come out in our designs, not in the sense of being preachy but to share what we have learned spiritually with the rest of the world.

Which t-shirt is your personal favorite?

My favorite t-shirt is the “salaam” shirt. The text says “Peace” in English but at first inspection it looks like Arabic. With this shirt I am trying to question our perception of “them.” Most things are not as they appear at first inspection. We look at the Middle East in a very stereotypical way, the fundamental reality of the situation is that “they” are “us.” I lived in Israel for 4 years during the so-called peace and during the Intifada. Peace is a very simple almost cliché concept but it will be very hard to achieve until we start to look deeper at people and situations.

Any advice to young fashion designers?

I'm not sure that we are in any position to give advice. The most important thing I have learned is that there is an established system to every business, musical genre, society, government, etc. When I first started I did things according to my own system and spent very little time investigating the way marketing, promotion and sales takes place in fashion. My ego always told me I was right but the market told me I was wrong eventually. I wish I had not wasted so much time and money being ignorant. Do the research! Everyone and their moms wants to be revolutionary these days but they elude themselves with the romance of what they see in movies and read in books, they then try to apply that to random situations. My advice would be for fashion designers to study and master the system that exists, then try to put your individual stamp on it or change it. It???s a lot of hard work and very little glamour. The days of putting simply your name or logo on multiple generic clothing items and being successful are over.

What are the top five songs playing on your Ipod/CD Player?

M.I.A ??? Sunshowers
Fela Kuti ??? Roforofo Fight
R Kelly ??? Honey Love
Damien Marley ??? Welcome to Jamrock
I Wayne ??? Cant Satisfy Her