Jamilah Knight is a Brooklyn-based graphic and fashion designer and the founder of Fly by Knight, a lifestyle apparel and accessory brand celebrating Women of Color. Described by Buzzfeed as “epic sweatshirts and T-shirts inspired by pop culture icons and all things Blackness,” Jamilah appropriately named the brand after the acronym F.L.Y., for “First Love Yourself.” Raised in Kansas City, KS, Jamilah graduated with a BFA in Fashion Design from The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT), a State University of New York and divides her time between running this successful clothing brand and freelance graphic design projects for a variety of clients.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
JK: Entrepreneurship means freedom to me. It’s the opportunity to be a creative problem solver and meet new challenges daily.
How did your company come to be?
JK: In 2015, I began showcasing my artwork on social media and received a lot of positive feedback. Inspired by that response, I decided to create products centered around my artwork to fill a void of original, current and empowering apparel for Women of Color. My goal is to use my brand and platform to help other women find ways to love themselves more and follow their dreams through our uplifting product offerings, motivational speaking and mentoring.
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
JK: As a business owner that relies heavily on street festivals, pop-up shops and outdoor markets during the summer months to make revenue, we’ve been severely impacted by all of these events being cancelled as a result of COVID-19. Also, due to retail store closures, we lost another revenue stream from our store accounts. The pandemic eliminated all other avenues for revenue outside of online sales. Because of this, we’ve had to shift our focus to selling our product exclusively online and increasing our online visibility.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far? Share a key high and a key low from your journey if you can.
JK: My proudest moment was when my company manufactured over 2,000 tote bags for The New York Times’ Award winning “The 1619 Project” special commemorative Newspaper issue and ongoing initiative of the same name in August 2019. Additional bags were also sent to and distributed by the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. At the time, it was the largest order I had ever gotten and it was such an important and powerful project to be a part of. My darkest moments have been a culmination of unsuccessful markets and product launches. Sinking lots of money into events or products and never seeing any kind of return on them. But you live and you learn.
How is your company changing the landscape?
JK: Most of our products are made to order which reduces waste and we are passionate about creating quality apparel that will last. All of our products are original designs that uplift and empower Women. We want our customers to see themselves represented in our apparel. I am most happy when I see Women in our products feeling confident, beautiful and proud.
What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you would do differently?
JK: I wish I knew how much support would be waiting for me once I started. I have felt so loved, uplifted and supported from my family, friends, community and in the press. My only regret is not starting sooner.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
JK: I’m always on a mission to solve problems for my customers, one of which is a lack of representation in the apparel industry. I think as long as I can continue to solve problems for my customers in new ways my business will continue to grow.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
JK: I find inspiration from my supporters. Whenever I feel exhausted or depleted, someone will message me or share a picture of them wearing one of my designs and it invigorates me.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
JK: Success to me looks like using my special gifts and talents to do everything I was put on the earth to do and having the means to do so. For me, I believe my mission is to use my art to create, inspire and serve.
Has personal or professional “success” changed for you since the COVID-19 pandemic?
JK: I think my personal definition of success is the same, but I saw how critical my product was to the current political climate during the “Black Lives Matter” movement protests. I saw record sales and website traffic in the month of June because I was already creating apparel that made people feel seen and empowered.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
JK: Most of the time, I work alone but I do work with other vendors to manufacture some of my products. My advice would be if there’s something you don’t know how to do, the information is out there. I get on YouTube constantly to learn new skills or I reach out to other people in my network that may have the answers.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? How has it changed in recent months?
JK: I have certain days for certain tasks. For example: shipping days, designing days, social media content creation days and web design days. Since I handle all areas of my business, it’s important to dedicate certain days to certain tasks so I don’t get too overwhelmed. In the last few months, I have found ways to become more efficient and thoughtful when I do need to leave my house in the interest of limiting my time outside and social distancing.
What keeps you motivated during this time?
JK: My motivation comes from my community of supporters. Every time someone shares one of my designs in their Instagram story or makes a purchase it gives me that extra push to make it through the day. For some of us, there’s really been a unique opportunity to use this time to try to take better care of ourselves and the things we were neglecting like our mental health and self-care. Taking better care of myself and staying connected to my family and friends helps me stay motivated during this difficult time.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
JK: I want to be known as the kind of entrepreneur that never gave up no matter what obstacles she faced. A woman that moved away from her hometown of Kansas City, KS and everyone she knew and loved to follow her dreams in the big city of New York. I have peace knowing that I followed through with the dream I had my whole life and reached heights I never knew I would.
What is a quote or some words of wisdom that help get you through the tough days?
JK: “I am standing on the shoulders of my ancestors, I cannot lose”
Show up before people even realize there’s a party. It’s easier to advance when you’re competing against yourself, and it’s more fun and motivating when others realize it’s worth showing up too.
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