Keegan Simon: The Man, The 1ndividual

Originally published in print issue #131 of Metro Magazine on March 14, 2014.


Keegan is just different. That’s what he says to me while perched on his sofa during our interview on Tuesday afternoon. Dressed in jeans, beat up yellow canvas shoes he calls “Keegans” and a red 1ndividual shirt of his own making, Keegan’s passion for the legacy he has created for himself is palpable.

Completely at home in the “invisible” printery where he creates his magic, (its location is a could-be-better-kept secret) the 29-year-old designer has spent the last few years organically growing his idiosyncratic brand as a labour of love, and some might say he’s finally breaking out.

Everything about Keegan ties into the way he sees the world. His demeanor is relaxed, easy and even shy; but get him talking about his ideas and you can immediately see the light switch on in his mind; he immerses himself completely in the experience of his brand.

“Mine, mine and mine” he says of his distinct visual style. “You can’t get more individual than 1ndividual. I like to have fun with the things I’m making. The brand is just me.”

To hear him tell it, he just makes things that other people happened to like. He creates to satisfy himself and his own creative whims.

“It’s the little things. I’m an idiosyncratic, esoteric person. I like to make sure that if you find one of my Easter eggs, you’re either very lucky, or crazy like me. I will write and do things that up to now, people won’t pick up on. You have to give people something to talk about. You can’t spoon-feed them. And then you laugh at people when they don’t get the joke and you laugh again when they ketch it. It’s honestly not made for people. It’s made for me.”

It was only when his friends started “borrowing” his clothes and not returning them that he realized he’d hit on something that other people connected to.

“[The brand] is how I look at things. People laugh, people cuss. People love it, people hate it, but at the end of the day, I’m the only person in Trinidad and the Caribbean doing what I do.”

Nothing explains this better than the labels on the packaging of his t-shirts. The product description claims 1ndividual Aesthetic will repel bullets and knife attacks. Closer inspection reveals a warning: “The 1ndividual Aesthetic Apparel cannot repel bullets or knife attacks. Don’t be crazy.”

Speaking of his packaging, Keegan can now proudly call himself an Addy award winner. His spray-can design took the Gold medal at the regional level; an amazing achievement when you consider that he conceived of all this by himself.

“My packaging won an Addy. It’s the best packaging in the Caribbean right now. I said it before and people didn’t believe me, but now the new cans that I come out with will have “Addy award winner” stickers on them and I’m going to rub it in people’s face!” he says with a grin.

“I won an Addy with no agency, and doing it for my own product. It’s unheard of. In an agency it takes a whole group of people to accomplish that. I’m blessed. That’s honestly the best way I can say it.”

You’d only think his braggadocio was unwarranted if you haven’t seen his product. It’s very clear that his art infiltrates every aspect of his business, and it’s his disregard for the traditional boundaries of art that make his t-shirts so compelling.

“I made it my business to find unique ways to expand my art. Who says art has to be confined by a canvas? When it comes to these things I have a Warholian mentality. I will make my art so mass-produced that the mass-production in itself becomes art. Warhol understood that. Why can’t mass production be art? Why can’t screen-printing? Because it’s more accessible? That’s irrelevant. Every fault is a fashion because it could potentially be one of a kind. Imperfections scare me, but that’s how creation starts. You don’t mean to make it that way, but that makes it one of one, and someone will buy it.”

It’s that distinctive vision that made Carnival 2014 especially busy for Keegan. This year saw him moving from off-the-cuff “collaborations” creating apparel based on soca tunes he liked, to working directly with some of the biggest names in soca music. His signature 1ndividual style popped up in the artwork for Bunji Garlin’s “Differentology” remix, Kes The Band’s “Country Gyal”, and Machel Montano’s “Haunted”, “Junction” and “Ministry of Road”. Somehow he also managed to find the time to work with DJ Private Ryan, Tribe, and Anya Ayoung-Chee.

“It’s very amazing to be part of those things, and to be part of the team, and realize that it doesn’t stop there. It goes on. And that’s just one aspect of Carnival. I didn’t sleep for Carnival, but it paid off because it’s a once in a lifetime experience that you can’t even imagine.

“Carnival messed me up,” he laughs “but I gave myself two months as a learning experience to work it out. And it was hard, but now I know better.” And know better he does. Now he’s preparing to take over every major Carnival market in the world, with plans to create pop-up printeries in Jamaica, Toronto, Grenada, London, New York, Boston and Miami, just to name a few.

But how did he get his signature 1ndividual star to rise so quickly? “I just sat down and people called!” he says smiling. This is no small feat either, when you realize that Keegan works almost exclusively by referral, eschewing the traditional means of promotion. You won’t find 1ndividual flyers, ads or commercials. Instead, you’ll always see him decked out in his own gear in a fete, and you’ll get 24 hours notice via facebook that he’s having a secret sale. He’ll leave it up to you to find out where. If you really want a piece of the magic, you’ll find him. He’s been told that people come to 1ndividual for him and not the product, and it’s easy to believe him; he has an easy vibe that makes even newcomers feel like they’ve accidentally stumbled into the best lime in town.

When it comes to the local fashion industry however, Keegan simply isn’t that fussed. He’s not interested in traditional entry points into the market if they limit his democratic vision.

“How I operate, there’s no such thing as models. It’s friends of mine, colleagues; real people. If you want to skip down the runway you can. If you want roll down you can. If you want to interact with other people, you can. It’s literally individuals. You don’t have to be skinny and posing like Zoolander. You can’t have everything all stush. Give me anybody. Fat, skinny. I would like my mother to walk down the runway because I have no shame. These are the people who are going to wear my clothes. Why sell a dream unnecessarily? These are the situations where you look completely different. I’m not doing this to be better than anybody. I’m doing it to be different. If you’re different you can’t be compared to anything. You’re in a category of your own. The worst you can do is fail. And if you fail, at least you tried it your way. ”

It’s that vision that allowed gave him the clout to operate with creative freedom when working with known perfectionist Machel Montano this year.  Keegan had a hand in creative directing Montano’s entire Ministry of Road “campaign”. The track has gone on to win both Soca Monarch and Road March.

But even though it’s only March, Keegan is already looking to the future. He’s currently working on super secret projects that he anticipates will make big waves. When I asked him where he saw himself in 5-10 years, his answer was matter of fact: “Rich. And Important” he said with a laugh.

Keegan does have plans to eventually open a store, and a not-quite-as-secret “visible” printery, but only because he can. “That will be a concept all by itself.”

Either way, it’s easy to see agree when he tells you that his brand is “different and forward.”

“Forward thinking, forward producing, forward wearing. Just forward. There’s no comparison to anything. It’s just forward and different.”