Written by: D’Shonda Brown
The #ShopBlack Interview Series is a new installation that shines light upon budding and booming Black-owned businesses ran by millennials and Gen-Z’ers who are heavily influenced by hip-hop culture. Introducing Kubrat Salaam, the founder of Kubitees , a hip-hop inspired tee brand that has been sweeping the nation since the age of thirteen. Read below the in-depth interview between D’Shonda Brown and Kubrat as they dive deep into African heritage, the apparel business, and hip-hop influence.
Hey, Kubrat! Absolutely love your tees – I wish I could have more of them. Who is Kubrat Salaam, what is Kubitees, and how was your brand born?
Thank you so much! I’m Kubrat Salaam, but most people call me “Kubi”. I’m a first generation Nigerian-American born in Inglewood, California and raised in the Inland Empire. Currently I attend the University of California, Riverside where I study business administration with a concentration in marketing.
Kubitees is my online store where I sell everything from art prints and crop tops to tote bags and hoodies, but when I first started Kubitees, I was only hand-making t-shirts and trying to sell them around my neighborhood and friends. A lot of people don’t know that I actually only sold a handful of shirts over the course of two and a half years. Also, many people don’t realize that “Kubitees” is just a combination of my nickname “Kubi” and the fact that I was selling “tees”. Shoutout to my fam for helping me come up with that name!
Back when you were 16, you were featured in the Atlanta Black Star where you were highlighted for your “15-piece spring/summer clothing collection called ‘The Bridge’ that unites American styles with African fabrics in affordable prices”. As a Nigerian-American, how important is the diaspora to you? How do you feel that the evolution of cultural appropriation among African-inspired trends, fabrics and patterns have affected fashion today?
As saddening as it is to say, I never heard of the word diaspora until I got to college, but now that I fully understand what it is, and how it impacts me, I can confidently say that I’ve come to seriously admire and value the diaspora. I think what I love most about it is how regardless of where a Black person derives from in Africa, more times than not I can instantly share some type of unspoken connection with them. That’s such a powerful experience to be a part of, and I think it’s important for all of us who fall within the diaspora to make that connection stronger as generations go by.
I think that the evolution of cultural appropriation in African fashion has made today’s fashion realm very inauthentic and aloof to how these appropriations are impacting people’s livelihoods. A lot of these big companies don’t care that they are using people’s cultures to make a profit, or that the symbols and fabrics they’re copying have deeply rooted meanings. It’s pretty upsetting and it’s become so normalized to the point where many people are choosing to glaze over the appropriation just because something is trending or because it’s “cute”.
Besides tee shirts, you also make Afrocentric wall art from red bottoms to badass Black women to maps of Africa. When did you start making art, and what are some of your favorite pieces that you’ve created to date?
A lot of the art that I sell is actually not art I’ve created myself, but rather art that I’ve collaborated with someone else to create. My very first collab was with an artist from Nigeria who goes by the name TBJ. The art collection we created has been the most successful collaboration I’ve had to date, and I really think it’s because each piece is so intricate and well put together. Everything out of that collection is absolutely beautiful so I think all of those prints are definitely my favorites. Don’t get me wrong though, I’ve done collaborations with artists from Canada, Indonesia, Ghana, and so on, and each of them really just has such a unique and captivating style.
Sometimes I’d pitch ideas or give direction of what I have in mind for collaborations, but every artist truly blows my mind with how well they execute final pieces. I actually became so in love with collaborating and how impactful it was, that I just went ahead and put it in my company’s mission statement that this is what Kubitees does and will do fo-eva. Each collaboration I’ve done has directly supported an independent artist somewhere around the world and it’s really the best feeling knowing that I’m helping a creator earn exposure and some dough.
I’m sure you’ve been watching the news so unfortunately, you must be up to speed about the abortion laws that are slowly being passed around the country. One of your shirts released back in May, “My Pussy, My Power,” was created and you’re donating a portion of these shirt sales to various grassroots organizations that can give women seeking abortions better resources. How do you feel that Black women are being affected by these laws and how do you hope your platform can help spread the message of awareness?
I think that all women, whether they’re black or not, are negatively impacted by any law that takes away any form of their power. However, I think that Black women are specifically being affected by these abortion laws in the most detrimental ways because a lot of us are already having to survive in environments where there is a lack of resources. Whether these resources surround access to food, access to housing, or access to abortions, at the end of the day there is a deficiency and it is disproportionate to that of our non-Black counterparts. Therefore, when you take away the ability of a Black woman to get an abortion, you are indirectly taking away the ability for a child to be raised in a functioning, supportive home. The “My Pussy, My Power” shirts can only do so much at spreading awareness, but the real goal isn’t to educate people who are most likely already educated about the situation at hand. The goal is to take action and support organizations that are actively combating these laws.
One of the first pieces I bought from your collection was the Childish Gambino shirt! So, naturally, I have to ask how has hip-hop and Black entertainment influenced Kubitees?
That’s actually one of my favorite shirts from my shop and I actually designed it myself! Thanks for purchasing! I really just want to give my customers what they love and what they can’t find often. My store is slowly but surely becoming a reflection of the everyday Black person, or Person of Color. Yes we’re so diverse, but at the same time we have a lot of common interests. We love popular Black artists, we love our blackness, we love to love on things that bring us happiness and on things that are comforting to us. So with this being said, I am influenced by my people’s interests, and my people’s interests happen to coincide with hip-hop and Black entertainment.
You’ve been in the entrepreneurship game since you were 14-years-old. How has Kubitees transformed since you first started back in 2013, and where do you see it going?
Man…Kubitees went from hand making shirts with a freakin’ embroidery loop and freezer paper to collaborating with artists, selling accessories, doing vendors shows, and so on. It has grown so much and I’m actually so happy that I was a naive little girl who kept going even after making virtually NO money for two and a half years. As time went on though, and as my tastes and interests became more cultivated, so did Kubitees. I really just look at my store sometimes and say, “Damn, who woulda thought?” But you know, everything happens for a reason and I’m confident that with God’s plan, my perseverance, and the help of supporters like you, Kubitees has the potential to reach bigger heights.
Kubrat can be found on Instagram, @KubratSalaam and, you can also shop her tees now available for purchase online and on Instagram @Kubitees or www.kubitees.com .