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 Whitney Washington, Brooklyn-based designer who tells the stories of powerful musical influences before her through embroidery, beading and musical mediums of her own. Read below the in-depth interview between D’Shonda Brown and Whitney as they embark on a journey through Whitney’s start as a designer to where she sees her designs going in the next few years.
Hey, Whitney! Thank you for your interest in speaking with me about you and your business. Why don’t you give us the cliff notes version of who Whitney Washington is?
Hey, D’Shonda, thanks for the opportunity!
So, the cliffs notes version? Where do I start? I’m a Jackie of all trades, master of a few! If it involves dreaming up an idea and bringing it to life with my hands, a camera, or through music- that’s me! Through my label, Whit Wash, I’m able to pay homage to the strong black women who inspired me to uncover my own unlimited potential as a woman of color and artist. Whether I am drawing, designing clothes, doing embroidery, or writing a song, I know that my vision can be realized because ambitious, unapologetic women have done it before me.
You’re a Brooklyn-based creative – home of Mos Def, Jay-Z, Fab, Lil’ Kim, Biggie and so many more greats in hip-hop. How has the hip-hop culture influenced your work?
The hip-hop culture has influenced me to tell a story through my work. I never want to take on a project that I don’t fully believe in, or one that doesn’t have any meaning to me. There’s no value in that. I think being unashamed to expose your flaws, but also love yourself enough to know you got the sauce, gives soul to any art. I’m a native of Memphis, TN, so growing up, my parents were into funk and soul vibes from Isaac Hayes and The Bar-Kays and my brother introduced me to the heavy drums and synths from Playa Fly, 3-6 Mafia, and 8-Ball and MJG. I felt that. But, I always knew I would move to NY. Watching Lil Kim, Fab, and even Slick Rick on TV pulled me to Brooklyn, because I knew there was even more world for me to see, hear and discover. Hip-hop has taught me to be real, whatever mood I’m in. And if people hate it or love it, at the end of the day- they’re gonna love it!
You dye textiles, sew, bead and embroider amazing designs ranging from Rihanna to Angela Davis – and even Scottie Beam was seen wearing your Sade sweatshirt on State of the Culture. Embroidery has been utilized as a narrative for Black South African women’s experiences of suffering and healing. How do you use your talents to tell your stories and the stories of others?
Yes! I’ve got a lot going on in this mind:) I’m a very detail-oriented artist, and I like to get my hands dirty. Learning new ways to manipulate textiles is always a story within itself because with dyeing, for example, you never know what you’re going to get! So the results always inspire a new idea or a new way to see things. My Line Drawing series is a collection that features iconic figures drawn only using lines. These icons are 1 of 1, so to give the drawings some exclusivity, I added a lil’ sparkle by embellishing the pieces with gold beads. Incorporating embroidery and beading into my art and fashion designs makes my work timelessly authentic. The textures give my pieces life and they’re great conversation pieces, too!
On your social media, we’ve seen you pay homage to everyone like Misty Copeland, Halle Berry, Prince and Nefertiti. What inspires you to create these pieces and how long does it take to create each piece?
It was actually a mistake that I even started the line drawings. For a class assignment, we were supposed to use paint to change a famous color portrait into a grayscale painting. I chose a Frida Kahlo piece, but honestly didn’t have enough time to make a whole painting. So I used markers to draw lines of different widths to convey shading on a grayscale. The professor thought it was super successful so I started drawing more people! Each piece takes about 3-4 hours to complete. I’m always thinking in terms of series, so I’ve had a “Legends” series, an “Iconic Black Women” series, and I’m working on an “Up in Smoke” series featuring Cheech & Chong, Bob Marley and Snoop to name a few. I also do commissioned pieces.
What’s next for Whit Wash Designs? Any other exclusive pieces dropping soon?
The line drawings are fun, and I just completed a commissioned Nipsey drawing. At the moment, though, I’m focused on perfecting my chain stitch, embroidery and… music! Since I graduated from Parsons School for Fashion Design in May, I realized that I want to combine fashion with my burning desire to create music that tells a story. Under the pen name Thread Astaire, I’m able to serve drippy looks and saucy lyrics that are authentic to me, cooked up by my own hands. When I’m on stage, everything that I’ve created comes to life! At one point as an artist I felt lost, but the universe is slowly helping me put it all together.
Whitney can be found on Instagram, @TheWhitWashShop and, you can also vibe out to her new single “Can’t Leave Me on Read,” now available on all platforms as well as on Instagram @Thread_Astaire_Music .