Najwa Moses is striking. Najwa Moses is bold. Najwa Moses lives her life full speed ahead. She’s working hard towards making herself a brand, and from the interview we had a week or so ago, I’m convinced she knows what she’s doing.
She’s a podcaster, a videopodcaster, a writer, a fashionista, a marketing maven, a self promoter, a fashion do, and an unabashed fashion don’t all at the same time. And in this era of changing media, she’s one of my new heroines. I caught up with her in a fun phone interview recently, and we chatted about anything and everything.
One of Najwa’s first roles in fashion was doing business development for a not-for-profit organization through the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. “My job was to help promote the work of local designers, helping them get to trade shows, helping them do numbers, PR, whatever whatever. One of the first things I created was called a shopping party. All these shopping parties — Shecky’s, Gen Art, all of them were quote-unquote “inspired” by the concept I came up with,” she declared proudly.
“Wow,” I interjected.
“I know, right! I don’t get credit for that? When you’re 20 years old or 21 years old and you don’t have a big company with lots of money behind you… when you put something out that’s a novelty idea, you’re really leaving it out there for other people to pick up. And that’s unfortunate. But I’ve learned, and you know what, they can’t take creativity away.”
That pick yourself up, dust yourself off attitude has taken her from strength to strength. Najwa’s shopping party was called The Closet, and it involved a lot of indie designers who weren’t aware of their potential. She started the event in 2001, and she learned as she went along. “I understand how things work a little bit better now.”
The last time they held the event was in 2005. At the time, she was also writing for NPR, covering New York Fashion Week, and immersing herself in the culture of style. Still, she found herself yearning to do her own thing. “That’s when I learned about podcasting. It was like — you want your own radio show? Come learn about podcasting. I was like, hell yeah! Jumped into it, did a bunch of great audio interviews, got a brand new website and I was like, oh no, this website must have video. I lost my mind, forgetting how expensive video is,” she laughs. Her website is Styleaholics, and it’s as fabulous as you would expect.
Najwa’s got a lot of personality, and she talks at the speed of traffic in New York City. For example, she had me cracking up when I listened to this Showbuzz podcast, where she recounts visiting Kutztown, Pennsylvania. Pioneering forms of new media doesn’t come cheap, but Najwa’s trying to be savvy about it. Now she has her own YouTube channel, where she features her videopodcast “The In List.” She’s interviewed fashion icons and fabulous celebrities including Diane Von Furstenberg, Kelis, and Marc Ecko (I don’t know what it is, but I find him completely fascinating). She’s starting to make some commercial inroads, too — check her out pimping the Toyota Camry at one of her fashion events. It’s all part of her brand-building master plan.
“I cross many worlds. I don’t just stick with the black fashionista world, or the fashionista world. I am also into the music scene, the food scene, very international high end stuff, or very underground scenes. I think I represent many different types of people and subcultures.” No kidding. In addition to the podcasts, videos, and writing for sites like AOL’s Styleist and Bluefly, Najwa is also the ambassador for Ugly Talent NY, a character model agency started in 1969 that exclusively traffics in “interesting” faces. Multicultural? Old? Tatted up? Obese? Or generally unusual? Ugly NY is looking for you. “The models range from a 300lb Sumo wrestler to a Styleaholic like myself-and I’ve personally have never been happier to be UGLY,” says Najwa.
Which brings me to another defining trait of Najwa’s. Her style. I had to ask her what’s up with that defining look. “My style is just really eclectic. I’m always a little left of fashion, and at the same time, I have to pay attention to that and understand that not everyone will look at me and say oh my God, that’s brilliant. For me, it’s about creating a statement and making sure everyone is noticing me. Because you want to make sure when you walk into an event, all eyes are on you. And in New York City, there’s a lot of people for eyes to be on.”
Believe it or not, being a plus size chick who dresses flamboyantly is working for her. “I’m not a size two. People well say oh my God, is that a detraction? But you know what, it actually helps me. Because it’s like, who is that curvy girl with those big ass boobs and that big ass hair coming in here? You can’t help but notice me. And I’m confident. And I believe in the designers I’m wearing, so it is what it is. Even this year, I’m like, how can I go crazier?”
Her in-your-face style gets her noticed, and the attention can sometimes be negative. Wire Image photos of her get picked up in the blogosphere, and Najwa’s been clowned on some of my favorite sites, like Crunk & Disorderly, A Hot Mess, and Bossip. At first the reader reaction bothered her. “I love the bloggers, because they keep it real. I’ve been SLAMMED by lots of the black blogs. But you know, press is press is press. The first time it happened, I was like oh my God, and I went crying to my mother. The second time, I was like… ok, well, I got some traffic to my site. The third time… my friend sent me an e mail and said to me, you’re a superstar. I’m being featured on the same websites as Will Smith, Britney, Angelina Jolie… if I’m being talked about on the same site as these A listers, I’m doing something right. I got about 300 comments on one of those sites. That means something,” she declares. It means Najwa’s turning heads and making a statement. I applaud that difference. We can’t all be rocking the same cookie cutter hair, clothes, and makeup, right? Someone’s got to march to their own beat.
“I feel like in the black community, if you’re even a little left of center, it is a problem. I’m a hip hop person. If you look back at those old videos, like Afrika Bambaataa, they were wearing SPACE SUITS! People would be questioning their sexuality, today. But at the end of the day, the experience of having people talk junk about me was phenomenal. I live in a world where everybody loves Najwa, and everything I do is cool. Putting myself on front street like that and hearing people talk about my style was a trip.”
This year, Najwa is planning to up the ante and change her hair drastically. I tried to get to the root of the matter, so to speak. But that was the one topic she was careful about divulging more on. “One day, I’m gonna do a YouTube video and I’m gonna show people where I go get my hair done. I’m sure it’ll be the biggest video I’ve ever made. But until then, no one’s gonna know the secret!” Come on, Najwa! Give me more than that. “OK, my own hair is natural, it’s been natural for 13 years. This is the biggest, longest hair I’ve ever worn, and I’ve worn it like this for the longest time — two years. I call this my rasta fro. It’s kinda like Rudy Huxtable when she was little, she wore those big ponytails and brushed it out into a big bush? But it kind of comes down into a dreadlock kind of thing. I’m big into experimenting with color, right now my hair is jet black with hot pink in it. And the men are just loving it! I call it the Diana Ross Dark n’ Lovely era,” she explains.
Someday, Najwa wants to go mainstream. She realizes her fashion choices might work against her in that realm. She rails against what she calls “the vanilla pink movement.” “I’m tired of it. It’s basically these websites that are hot pink and white, with these cookie cutter girls — mostly white brunettes with bobs, and if they’re black, they’ve got bobs too. They all wear the pencil skirt and they talk like this, la-la-la-la…” there’s more in the game than just vanilla pink.”
Being social and knowing how to work it is taking Najwa Moses to the next level. Being fearless helps. “I will just go out there and DO something. Sometimes I need to think about the end results a little bit more. But if I’m immediately inspired, I’ll just go out and do it. That’s just the entrepreneur in me.” The entrepreneur in her has just launched a new earring line, Salte, which is as big and fabulous and crazy as the designer herself. In her own words, “made from 100% leather and cut, sewn and painted by me, each piece is slightly unique. My debut collection is called “The Hollywood Set”; themed after the crazy roles of those in the industry.” I can’t lie — some of those earrings are too big for me. But some of them are just FLY. For example, The Blogger, patent leather earrings dedicated “to the Blogsphere for putting traditional media on its ass.” Hell yeah, Naj!
She’s asked me to offer a special giveaway to readers who aren’t afraid to be fabulous. So this is an Afrobella first — my Afrobella of the Month is offering an Afrobella giveaway! Would you like to rock a pair of blogger earrings in black, bronze, or ice? Leave me a comment saying which color you’d like, and why you’d be proud to rock Salte. Najwa’s totally going to read these, so let her know what you think about her earrings, her style, and the big moves she’s trying to make.
I chose Najwa as my first Afrobella of the Month for 2008 because I admire her moxie. She kind of embodies that spirit of change I mentioned for 2008 — a sprinkle of that chutzpah could do me good.
Congratulations, Najwa Moses! You’re Afrobella of the Month!
** edited at minutes to midnight — wanna see more Najwa? She’s gonna be on the Rachel Ray show on Friday 18. That’s today!!