Conversations Series, Father's Day Edition: Des
Hanahana Beauty is adding a new series of entries to our Journal lineup! To go along with our Conversations talks, this platform will share candid conversations with black creative + entrepreneur women + men across the diaspora, along with a mix of photography, audio + video for an interactive multimedia experience, for us, by us.
Hey you guys, as you may know, we recently launched our new Conversations series, which is an amazing talk series where we're having conversations with women of color building a sustainable world. So we thought it would be great to start Conversations for The Journal + being that it's Father's Day, we did our first conversation is with Desmond Owusu, who is one of the co-owners of Fat Tiger. He's a designer, he's a creative, and honestly someone who inspires me, and he's Ghanaian + a new father, so this is the raw conversation that I had with him. Shoutout to the best editor in the world, Adwoa, for transcribing this. I hope you enjoy this + also listen to the additional audio as you read—why not, right? And be sure to follow Des at @_desmoney + check out all his amazing projects! Let's get right into it.
Abena Boamah: When did you get the idea of the book? How did that all come together? Too Fly Not to Fly.
Des Owusu: I just love kids, man.
Abena: It’s a whole alphabet book! This is so dope. When did that come?
Des: So I used to be a teacher, I think I told you.
Abena: What? No, I didn’t know that.
Des: Yeah, so during that time I had met this girl named Bri ’cause she was talking one of the guys, and one day—’cause our first spot that we had was at the Corner, we were there early, and we had a showroom, and I would leave the school to come to the showroom to design and do shit—so I came in there one day and the girl was there, and they were like, “Oh, Des, she teaches!” and “Bri, he teaches!” So we started talking and we just noticed we shared a lot of the same interests, like we wanted kids to have material specifically made for them. And at this time, I wasn’t doing photography yet. And I saw the idea off maybe Hypebeast or Tumblr, where this white lady took her kids all over America and they would go to the desert somewhere, Nevada, and they would create these different sceneries, but specifically for letters of the alphabet. So it would be like, P, but they’d be in this desert and it would be like a “desert princess,” and I’m like, damn, that would be so fuckin’ ill for black kids to have that same shit.
Des: So I saw that and I told the idea to Bri, and she was like, “Yeah, we should definitely do it.” But we needed a photographer, and at that time all my photographer homies were just too busy. But we waited, we sat on the idea for maybe a year or two. She ended up moving to LA—she was a kindergarten teacher, she taught at Marquette Elementary. We waited for two years, and in that two-year time, I had learned to take pictures, but I was an iPhone photographer or whatever. So I started with the photography, and I was like, you know what, I think I could do this, let’s do this shit.
Abena: So I’ve heard you talk about your daughter in one of the audio things. I literally was crying like, oh my God, this is so beautiful.
Des: Oh wow.
Abena: So how has having a daughter changed your creative work? Or has it? Especially, you know, you were saying you were thinking it’s time for a new book, so how has it kind of changed your outlook?
Des: It’s deep man, bringing a whole ’nother human into the world. I think the most important thing that I’m learning is that the human life is so precious. We live in a world that’s kind of unspiritual, and not to get super-religious or -spiritual, but we live in a world where it’s just like, move, go, move, go, and we don’t take the time to look at the sky or look at the flowers or appreciate the weather, you know? And when you have a kid, it just slows everything down, you know what I mean? Because being in this creative lifestyle, everything is like [speed sounds] you know. And even where we’re at now with social media, it’s so much information and everything’s moving fast. But when you have a baby, it’s like you’re watching a plant grow—you’re feeding this plant, and whatever you put into this plant, it’s gonna affect it. So it’s made my creative work way more purposeful. I try to have better plans now when I come to the store, just ’cause I know I gotta go back home and help out, or I can’t be away for too long, but I think at the end of the day though, family and having a kid, it just gives you a lot more purpose, it grounds you, and it just makes you want to do better. I’ve always wanted to do better regardless, that’s just the type of guy I am, but now I got a daughter! It’s like, damn! Bro, you gotta get your shit together, on all levels, you know what I’m sayin’? From how I’m eating to even—like, I play her a lot of music too, that’s my first way to expose her to different things, ’cause I know I can’t sing, so I gotta find certain cheat codes to still expose it to her a lot—so even being aware of the music that I’m playing her, I don’t want to shelter her from anything, I want to expose her to things when I feel like she’s ready.
Abena Boamah: Yeah.
Des: Like I said, it’s definitely made me be more aware of myself, you know, and more aware of the world, and just more aware of human interaction. I was tellin’ my homegirl that I work with, Mia, [that] now I look at everybody like, damn, that’s just somebody’s baby, man, you know what I’m sayin’?
Abena: [Laughs] Yeah!
Des: Yeah, so it’s made me a better, better person, man. I guess, another conversation—we don’t have to go this deep—but bein’ a black father.
Abena: Yeah, I was about to say it’s about to be Father’s Day, obviously—your first Father’s Day. And not even just being a black father and all the stigmas and things that come about it . . . I feel like being a creative, people put like “rapper,” “creative,” “this, “that,” in this bubble of also not being an in-the-house father, like, “They do this so they don’t really have to be there,” but I feel like you’re there, you’re very involved. If you could give a message to black fathers, creatives, people, men, in general, that are in this role or maybe going to be in this role, what would you say? That was a lot, but . . .
Des: No, no, no, I get it, I get it though. ’Cause it’s even tough for me. Being a creative is like, yes, you do have the freedom to wake up whenever you want to or do whatever, but at the same time, it’s like, you know, you have to kind of create your own structure, because you have to work hard to set yourself up to be able to provide for your family, whether that means workin’ late, wakin’ up early, you know, you have to kinda figure that out. And with me, right now, I guess my challenge is just making sure I’m there, because I’m there in the morning, I may not be there throughout the day, but I’ll come back at night. But I want to get to a point where I can be around when I want to, and I don’t know if it’ll ever get to that point, and I pray to God it does, but like, I do want to build my family to a point where we can all survive independently but we’re still a unit.
Abena: For Hanahana, this is is the first time we’re doing anything with + showcasing black men, but it’s obviously very important. Would you have a message for your daughter right now? The reason why we started Hanahana is I just started making shea on the fact of I was teaching, and it was fun for me to make shea butter, and that was my self-care thing, but while I was going through it, it was like whoa, like, I actually feel very confident in myself because everything that I’m putting on my body right now, I make it. That’s wild! And I see my skin is poppin’ right now, you know what I mean? I feel like you have to unlearn a lot of things as a young girl. Even as an African, you hear a lot of things being said, to know your beauty and know your worth. So if you could give a message to your daughter and she could listen to this whenever, what would your message be about?
Des: Great question. I was just talking to [someone]—this was just yesterday or two days ago, it was actually one of the younger Tigers that works here—we were talking about women and how women are always used as like a wage in wars. Like, if you go back to ancient Greek times, Helen of Troy or whatever, or . . . I don’t know, even with like a rap battle now, the Pusha T and Drake thing where Pusha’s talkin’ about Drake’s alleged baby mother and Drake made a comment about Pusha’s fiancé. I feel like it’s very important for women to know they are the most powerful thing on earth. However, society makes them . . . it’s almost like society makes them powerless, in a way. Or they’re oppressed, you know what I’m sayin’? It’s like this powerful energy—it’s almost too powerful, that we gotta try to hold it down. So I want my daughter to understand that like, “Baby, you’re so powerful that you can do whatever you want, but you gotta know that mothafucka’s gone try to hold you down.”
Abena: That’s dope. So our slogan is “Stay Smooth + Confident,” because it’s like, you know, when your skin looks smooth + confident—if you wanna move smooth—
Des: If you smooth and you confident? Mothafucka can’t touch you!
Abena: Right? Exactly! Exactly, so what makes you feel smooth—like either what you’re doing or it can be what you put on, whatever—what makes you feel smooth + confident?
Des: What makes me feel smooth + confident?
Des: Hmm, let me see . . . I think what my smoothness + confidence comes from is just me doing things from a good place . . . I want people to come together, I’m really on some whole unity shit. Let’s make the world better. Because I know that, because I feel that, I think it makes me move a certain type of way, and I’m not really afraid to be who I am, and that’s where the confidence comes from. Just, my work, you know what I’m sayin’? My work helps me to be smooth + confident, but I guess my whole goal in life is to really—and I’m startin’ to talk too much, this is kind of my whole [thing] to bring it all together—try to create entities that are bigger than me, you know? I’m tryna create, from my brand to Fat Tiger, working with a not-for-profit like Shabazz—I wanna make things bigger than me so that when I’m gone, I still live on, or the work is still bein’ done. So just doin’ that work and knowing that everything is bigger than me helps me move a certain type of way. I’m trying to just do that and also balance self-care, though, ’cause that’s another thing. We’re doin’ all this work, and we gotta take care of ourselves too.
Abena: Yes! How are you taking care of yourself?
Des: That's why I appreciate Hanahana Beauty.
Des: My favorite joint right now is the lavender joint?
Abena: Can you talk about Ghana and what you’re going to do there?
Des: Okay, okay. Man, it’s been a long time coming. So last time I went to Ghana was 2002, so I was like fourteen years old, and I actually went with Betty Shabazz because they took their top three students to Africa. And I remember watching Ghana, at the time, advance and I was like, damn, you know, Africa is not as rural as people make it seem. But even then, I always noticed a disconnect with Africans and African Americans, so I think subconsciously I’ve always had it in me to try to figure out how, in my own way, to connect the two. So I’m goin’ to Ghana basically to shoot a little bit for my brand, We All We Got Squad, and I’m also plannin’ to do a popup as well. But my main mission is to kinda like, you know, link up and show both sides that we can exist together. And also to create that relationship—like how you’re goin’ back, that shit is super-inspiring—because reconnecting that relationship is what’s going to fix things and what’s going to make us stronger and defeat the bullshit.
Abena: Yes! I’m so excited for you, especially because I feel like sometimes when you go back home, people’ll be like, “Don’t go.” Like, it’s weird! And there’s a lot of first-gens that I feel like have been wanting to go back home for the longest time. It was the same way for me, I hadn’t gone for a minute.
Abena: And I was like, yo, this is wild, why am I still here. And people were saying, “You can’t do this, da-da-da-da-da,” but if your head is on right, you’re just like, yo, it doesn’t even matter. I wanna be here and experience it, like, if this is what it is then I just wanna be here.
Des: And that’s all it is. Even being in this world, you know, has helped me. Just being an artist in general, it just gives you a different set of eyes. I want everybody brown and everybody black—everybody everywhere—to just realize the power of our culture, and then to own it, you know what I’m sayin’. Like the appropriation shit—I was researchin’ and I think, maybe it was Balenciaga, they had cool-ass versions of the “Ghana Must Go” bag, but they killed it right before!
Abena: Yes, I saw that! And I was like, this looks dope, but you know exactly who this is from and where the idea from!
Des: Exactly, exactly. We gotta own that shit. Whatever it is.
Des, thank you for goin' deep with us in this incredible first Journal Conversation!
We're so grateful for everything you shared + we can't wait to link up with you back home.
Happy Father's Day, every day, all day!
Stay Smooth + Confident
- Abena Boamah