Fashion Designer Mychael Knight Talks Business

June 1, 2010  |  

Opportunities to work in his craft presented themselves immediately.  The first came from shooting the breeze with a college friend, Satchel Jester.   “Satchel actually used to do some event planning for Jagged Edge for their runway shows,” he said. “He used to do all their fashion shows so I would just and  hang out in the studios.  They had a men’s line, so for a few of the fashion shows, I would do female pieces to complement their male pieces.  That’s how I started catching on with them and all the other celebrities that happened to be there. That’s how I started to gain my clientele.”

Knight didn’t stop there. He did whatever he could to make a living.  “I would do small little collections with a boutique here or I would do a collection for a Bronner Bros. [hair] show.  My career is so crazy because it runs the gamut,” he explained. “At one point, I was doing prom dresses really, really heavy.  That’s actually how I met Ciara.  I’ve known Ciara since she was in high school before she was Ciara.  So I was doing all the prom dresses, then I actually had a shift in career where I was doing a lot of stripper stuff and it was all just because I needed to make some money.  It moved to where I was doing a lot of promotional cocktail dresses for [brands like] Alize and Remy and Courvoisier.”

Thinking outside the box has always been big for Knight.  “Even in a moment where some people probably would have went out and tried to go get a job, I knew there was no way in hell I was gone go back to that office,” he said.  “I am an entrepreneur.  I’m a businessman so I was figuring out how can I make what I have and work for what I got.  Just like I found that the music industry is a route to a kind of work through fashion, [I figured] the strip club industry is big here, they always need little costumes and I can sew.  When you’re an entrepreneur or businessman, when times are trying, you have to figure out a way to kind of re-shift and make things work for you.”

That’s exactly the attitude that led Knight to “Project Runway.”  Today applying for the show is a no-brainer for haute couture hopefuls,  but in 2004, its influence had yet to congeal.  That didn’t matter to Knight who found his way to an audition in Miami.  Although he was rejected for the very first season, he didn’t let it go and made the next round.

According to Knight, “just being a young struggling, emerging designer” drove him to give the show a try.  “It was an opportunity for me to win $100,000 to launch my own label,” he said.  “I knew it would give me some exposure, [but] I was not thinking I was going to have all the opportunities I have had.”

By the season’s end,Knight, who won several challenges and made it to the final three, was a fan favorite.  “Although I didn’t win, it definitely put a really good taste in a lot of people’s mouth and it opened up a whole next level of other business opportunities.  I designed a shoot for Nike. I did some custom t-shirts for Starbucks and had a jewelry line.  I also have another branch of my company that I wasn’t even thinking about, which is public speaking and lecturing—so that’s a whole other facet.”

As he continues to grow his brand, fans have erroneously assumed that he added the ‘y’ to his first name.  “The show just happened to spell it with an “i” and, of course, I didn’t know until after [the show] but it’s always been spelled with a ‘y,’” Knight explained.

Such gaffes have been minor; his trajectory has not.  Instead of launching a clothing line, for example, he chose to launch a fragrance, MAJK, in 2008 that he sells on his eponymous web site. “Being on Project Runway helped me skip ten steps.  It created a household name for me.  There’s a confidence in the brand so anybody who is a fan of me more than likely feels like, ‘I like his clothes and I like who he is — I bet you I’m gone like his fragrance,’ and it sells.  It really sells.  I think that’s how a company works online for me because I have an established name for the brand.”

The decision to go with a fragrance wasn’t whimsical for Knight, who happened to know someone in Atlanta who was in the business.  “I won the fan’s favorite money.  I knew everybody wanted something from me.  I knew I couldn’t produce a clothing line to make it available for the masses, but I knew I could [reach the masses]with a fragrance.  It’s affordable and I made it unisex.  Every base was covered.”

Despite his massive success, Knight keeps his operations very intimate. “Although I do have my own business and I have a brand and it’s very recognizable, it’s still a very small company,” he said. “It’s just me and my assistant.”

Still, doors continue to open for Knight.  Since the show now airs internationally, it’s opened another fan base ripe with opportunity.  “I always say I’m playing catch-up to the name Mychael Knight,” he admitted.  “I’ve been running behind it for the last four years trying to catch up to it just because it’s so far ahead of me.”  But he has no doubt he’ll get there.  “Even with all this, I have so much further to go.”

By Ronda Racha Penrice

It’s very hard to forget Mychael Knight’s star-turning performance on the second season of “Project Runway,”  Bravo’s juggernaut that has since moved to Lifetime.  Young, black designers aren’t quite as visible these days. Yes, hip-hop clothing lines have become a norm but even then, it’s the rapper backing the line that gets the spotlight, not the designer.  Mychael Knight is a throwback to Patrick Kelly and Bryon Lars in the sense that they too primarily designed women’s clothes and gained recognition in the predominantly white fashion industry.  How he has done it, however, is very twenty-first century.

A military brat, Knight was born in Germany and raised in various parts of the U.S., with major stops in Montgomery, AL and Augusta, GA.  He attended Georgia Southern University in Statesboro near Savannah and relocated to his now home base of Atlanta after graduation. The interest in fashion came early and organically.

“For me, [designing] was really like God-given because at the age of nine I just started sketching out of the blue,” said Knight.  “One day I was just home and I was living in Augusta at the time and was watching TV.  I saw something on TV and I thought ‘ooh that was cool’ and I started designing.  That’s exactly how it happened.”

His parents encouraged his talent, as did his high school art teacher.  “My parents definitely supported a lot.  Whether it was just buying me fashion magazines or illustration supplies so I could draw or whatever it was, they just made sure they nurtured that interest,” he said. “In high school my art teacher knew that I had an interest in fashion so she actually created a special studies class for me on fashion illustration.”

At Georgia Southern, Knight really began cultivating his craft.  The school didn’t have the biggest name or the most fashion-centric location, but its instructors and friendly budget suited Knight’s needs.  He made the most of every opportunity, designing for the dance team and school fashion shows, not to mention his fellow classmates.  The trend of turning jeans into jean skirts really kept him busy.  “I wasn’t even thinking I am a fashion designer — I was thinking I need to eat.  I knew I could make a dress, so why not?” he reflected.

Eventually he did begin to see himself as a designer and his senior show emerged as a pivotal moment.  “The show [normally consisted of] about six pieces but I decided to do a thirty piece collection, which was the first ever at the school,” said Knight.  “I completely produced the whole show myself, cast my own models, trained the models, put on bake sales and wing sales on campus to make money to buy fabric.”

Relocating to Atlanta convinced Knight that he was not only a designer, but an entrepreneur.  With the exception of an internship with Wilbourn Exclusive, a custom-design firm, and a three-month stint at a collection agency, Knight has always worked for himself.  The permanent shift to self employment was unplanned.   As Knight explained it, he got sick one day and called off of work.  The next day, he felt better but still didn’t go to work.  By the third day, they called him and asked if he was coming back and he said no.

Opportunities to work in his craft presented themselves immediately.  The first came from shooting the breeze with a college friend, Satchel Jester.   “Satchel actually used to do some event planning for Jagged Edge for their runway shows,” he said. “He used to do all their fashion shows so I would just and  hang out in the studios.  They had a men’s line, so for a few of the fashion shows, I would do female pieces to complement their male pieces.  That’s how I started catching on with them and all the other celebrities that happened to be there. That’s how I started to gain my clientele.”

Knight didn’t stop there. He did whatever he could to make a living.  “I would do small little collections with a boutique here or I would do a collection for a Bronner Bros. [hair] show.  My career is so crazy because it runs the gamut,” he explained.

“At one point, I was doing prom dresses really, really heavy.  That’s actually how I met Ciara.  I’ve known Ciara since she was in high school before she was Ciara.  So I was doing all the prom dresses, then I actually had a shift in career where I was doing a lot of stripper stuff and it was all just because I needed to make some money.  It moved to where I was doing a lot of promotional cocktail dresses for [brands like] Alize and Remy and Courvoisier.”

Thinking outside the box has always been big for Knight.  “Even in a moment where some people probably would have went out and tried to go get a job, I knew there was no way in hell I was gone go back to that office,” he said.  “I am an entrepreneur.  I’m a businessman so I was figuring out how can I make what I have and work for what I got.  Just like I found that the music industry is a route to a kind of work through fashion, [I figured] the strip club industry is big here, they always need little costumes and I can sew.  When you’re an entrepreneur or businessman, when times are trying, you have to figure out a way to kind of re-shift and make things work for you.”

That’s exactly the attitude that led Knight to “Project Runway.”  Today applying for the show is a no-brainer for haute couture hopefuls,  but in 2004, its influence had yet to congeal.  That didn’t matter to Knight who found his way to an audition in Miami.  Although he was rejected for the very first season, he didn’t let it go and made the next round.

According to Knight, “just being a young struggling, emerging designer” drove him to give the show a try.  “It was an opportunity for me to win $100,000 to launch my own label,” he said.  “I knew it would give me some exposure, [but] I was not thinking I was going to have all the opportunities I have had.”

By the season’s end,Knight, who won several challenges and made it to the final three, was a fan favorite.  “Although I didn’t win, it definitely put a really good taste in a lot of people’s mouth and it opened up a whole next level of other business opportunities.  I designed a shoot for Nike. I did some custom t-shirts for Starbucks and had a jewelry line.  I also have another branch of my company that I wasn’t even thinking about, which is public speaking and lecturing—so that’s a whole other facet.”

As he continues to grow his brand, fans have erroneously assumed that he added the ‘y’ to his first name.  “The show just happened to spell it with an “i” and, of course, I didn’t know until after [the show] but it’s always been spelled with a ‘y,’” Knight explained.

Such gaffes have been minor; his trajectory has not.  Instead of launching a clothing line, for example, he chose to launch a fragrance, MAJK, in 2008 that he sells on his eponymous web site.

“Being on Project Runway helped me skip ten steps.  It created a household name for me.  There’s a confidence in the brand so anybody who is a fan of me more than likely feels like, ‘I like his clothes and I like who he is — I bet you I’m gone like his fragrance,’ and it sells.  It really sells.  I think that’s how a company works online for me because I have an established name for the brand.”

The decision to go with a fragrance wasn’t whimsical for Knight, who happened to know someone in Atlanta who was in the business.  “I won the fan’s favorite money.  I knew everybody wanted something from me.  I knew I couldn’t produce a clothing line to make it available for the masses, but I knew I could [reach the masses]with a fragrance.  It’s affordable and I made it unisex.  Every base was covered.”

Despite his massive success, Knight keeps his operations very intimate. “Although I do have my own business and I have a brand and it’s very recognizable, it’s still a very small company,” he said. “It’s just me and my assistant.”

Still, doors continue to open for Knight.  Since the show now airs internationally, it’s opened another fan base ripe with opportunity.  “I always say I’m playing catch-up to the name Mychael Knight,” he admitted.  “I’ve been running behind it for the last four years trying to catch up to it just because it’s so far ahead of me.”  But he has no doubt he’ll get there.  “Even with all this, I have so much further to go.”

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