“At the end of the day, I want this brand to stand for more than just fashion.”
Shek Tarawallie wants more than just money. He wants the legacy that comes with it. The success of his company and fashion brand, SWVR, indicates that his goal is not far-fetched. However, his subtle success in the fashion industry was not an easy journey. Despite having no design experience, investors, or loans, Tarawallie emerged as a premier streetwear designer in Maryland. In an interview with the designer, we talked about the origins of SWVR, his drive, his sacrifices, the influence London had on him and more. Read the interview below!
Where did your passion for fashion originate?
When I was young, my mother used to dress me up. That was her thing. If Instagram was a thing back when I was a kid, I would have definitely been one of those [IG famous] babies. Instead of buying things for herself she would buy clothes for me. That’s how my aunts used to compete. As I got older and more independent I couldn’t afford the latest fashion trends. So I tried my best to still be fashionable with the little I had. Then, I was sent to London for high school because I was acting up. For those who don’t know, London is literally a fashion district—almost an epicenter for fashion. That’s where my fashion taste really started to refine itself. This is where I learned that you don’t need to wear the most expensive brands to look or be fashionable. So I would definitely give my mom half of the credit and the other half to London.
What inspired the creation of SWVR?
In London, I learned the art of hustling. When I would come back from visiting my mother in the US, my classmates and friends begged me to bring back bags of Skittles along with other American snacks. Apparently, the Skittles in America taste different from the ones in London. So when I came back to the States, I always had a substantial amount of money. Once I was back (in the United States), I enrolled in a community college. One morning, as I was waiting in line for the new Lebrons I saw one of the kiosks opening up. The kiosk guy randomly told me, “I’ll make you 36 shirts for $300.” I remember looking at him, doing the math in my head and thinking, “Is it that easy to make shirts?” Although this guy thought that I was interested in making shirts at that moment, my mind was just blown away at how easy the process was to make and sell t-shirts. From there, I had a graphic designer create the logo, set my pricing scale, and it kinda went from there. Sold t-shirts out of my locker and slowly but surely built my base as a creator. It all started at a community college.
How did you convince your parents that fashion was for you?
My parents are 100% down now but earlier in my life it wasn’t realistic for them. For three years straight, I didn’t go out at all. I working as a shoe salesman and then I would go home and study. When I was done, I was learning how to sketch and design in my basement. I didn’t see my friends and I didn’t party. My parents noticed that and were scared but I knew that I had to prove to them that I could do it all. That’s where a lot of my drive comes from. I knew my parents didn’t approve but I knew I had to prove to them (and myself) that I could get good grades, graduate from Towson, become an entrepreneur and be a good brother and son. The great thing about showing them constant progress is that they have to either un-love you for loving fashion or they’re gonna have to give in. I did everything I said I would and secured a Fortune 500 job. Being a creative African is a difficult thing and is something we should talk about more. I think that’s what this generation is going to do.
Being a creative African is a difficult thing and is something we should talk about more.
How did you deal with the mental strain that was caused by the lack of support from your parents?
To get to Towson for school alone was a 2-hour commute. After classes, I would go back to Penn Station to go straight to work. To get there, I would take the train to Union Station & then get on the red line to White Flint. Then to get back home, I’d ride the red line down to Metro Center, from Metro Center to New Carrolton, and I wouldn’t get back home until late at night. After doing that for two years straight, my parents finally gave in. First and foremost, you have to really want this for yourself. Are you willing to push the boundaries of your body, your relationships, your mind and more for it to all come together? Just because you are talented doesn’t mean you will be successful.
Do you have any regrets socially?
I wouldn’t necessarily say I regret the (lack of) partying. I had a lot of fun and great memories. However, one of my regrets is the fact that I was so focused on thinking about the future back then, that I missed out on the things that happened in-between that. Missed a lot of birthdays. Missed going away parties. Memories that friends talk about now and because I was never there, I could never relate. Those things really suck but at the end of the day I knew that my purpose was more than just “being alive.” The thought of that always kept me balanced.
What would you do differently with your business if you could start over?
Well, I had no mentor/tutor or anything like that. When I first started, it was myself and our graphic designer at the time. That’s it. Just two guys working together to “break fashion.” So of course issues would come up, but I got lucky in a lot of different ways. If there was anything I would have changed about our approach, maybe it would be to not be as ambitious. I wish we had slowed down and fully understood what the collections we were creating meant to our audience. But I was so ambitious at the time and wanted to try new things every chance I got. If anything, I probably should have monetized more of my products and moments.
In this day and age of companies playing the numbers game, how do you stay relevant?
The only reason I’ve been able to last this long is the simple fact that I was able to stay organic. People really think SWVR is a way bigger brand than what it really is. Although, I have interns and people helping when they can, at the end of the day, it’s really just me. The reason being, I don’t let the world influence what I do. If I want to make it, I’m going to make it. And that is my joy in all of this. In terms of numbers, I just focus on what I do have compared to focusing on what I don’t have. Instead of chasing 10,000 followers, let me stay consistent with these 2,000 followers that I do have, and they will do the rest.
With $191.78, Shek has been able to take a unique route on the African dream and is accomplishing his goals in his own way.
Listen to the full interview below!
*Portions of the interview was shortened for clarity