Rashaad Holley wants the number 25 to symbolize a rebirth of black males.
Holley’s brand, Vingt Cinq, means 25 in French and represents an important age for black men in the U.S., due to inner-city violence.
“There’s a popular Kanye lyric, ‘I wasn’t supposed to make it past 25, guess what, I’m still alive’ and that stuck with me,” Holley, a Buffalo State student and UB alumnus, said. “There are no fashion designers coming from the part of Buffalo where I grew up. Me aspiring to be one is different, it’s not something that kids think about being.”
Holley graduated from UB in 2016 with a degree in business focused in marketing. Instead of entering the workforce, he decided to pursue a second degree in apparel design within the Fashion and Textile Technology department at Buffalo State.
Holley’s goal is to “bring luxury to the urban look.” He’s taken the roughness of the eastside of Buffalo and uses it as inspiration for his clothing line. His great aunt’s death and his distance from his birth father showed him the importance of familial bonds and guided him through his work.
“People always say my garments are clean and I like that a lot because that’s not something you generally think comes out of the ghetto and that’s exactly where they’re from and where I’m from,” Holley said.
But Holley didn’t always a see clean path in front of him.
In 2015, Holley worked for a local street wear startup on the eastside of Buffalo while managing the business. After a disagreement with his colleague, the two parted ways.
Holley went in his own direction.
He was out of work and decided to help his cousin run an afterschool sewing workshop with her elementary school students.
“That got me into it and taught me how to utilize a sewing machine,” Holley said. “After I parted ways with my old business partner, I decided I wanted to take what I was looking forward to doing with that company and make my own articles of clothing.”
Holley started teaching himself how to design and make clothing by watching YouTube videos.
His first fashion show was the Black Student Union’s Black Explosion fashion show in 2016, during senior year at UB.
He now displays his works at multiple shows each semester. On April 22, he won both Best Student Collection and Best Collection at Buffalo State’s Runway 10 show, where he beat competitors and alumni from as far as Beijing.
Erin Habes, professor and coordinator of the fashion show at Buffalo State, said Holley’s achievements are monumental for a first-year student.
“The students that usually win this show have been here for a couple of years,” Habes said. “For Rashaad to do what he’s done in one year has impressed everybody and deserved to win. The fact that he won both student and overall awards is very rare, but I’m not surprised.”
Holley is a student in Habes Intro to Fashion class. Since most students in the class are freshmen, Holley’s work stuck out from day one.
“He's got the drive and hustle, which is exciting to see, he's in it to win it, hard work paying off,” Habes said. “Rashaad has an incredible style and a level of luxury that he brings to his sportswear collection. I appreciate his sense of color and the fabric he uses. Even though his shirts are simple crew jerseys, the quality he puts in makes them exceptional.”
Holley draws inspiration from designers across multiple genres. Vera Wang, Karl Lagerfeld, Jerry Lorenzo and Coco Chanel are among his favorites.
Music also plays an important role in Holley’s designing process. Whenever he’s working on a garment, he sometimes plays a song or album for hours on repeat.
“I personally love listening to one song 10 times in a row, I let the music tell my story,” Holley said. “You have to walk to music on the runway, I have to utilize music to dictate my style.”
Throughout his progression as a designer, the time it takes to make each article of clothing has dropped drastically.
“It was taking me between six hours and two days to complete a project,” Holley said. I’ve cut it down considerably, now a t-shirt only takes an hour or two depending on how complex I’m making it.”
Holley added that if he’s learning a new technique or trying an intricate design, the process can still take him multiple hours to complete a garment.
But it didn’t start off so easy.
Holley grew up without knowing his father and relied heavily on his friends and family to get through rough patches in his life. Now, he dedicates his work to live up to their expectations.
“I don’t even know my father’s name, so growing up, I took a strong dependence on my friends,” Holley said. “It’s part of our culture, the friends in your neighborhood are family. Now that I’ve matured, I still have those bonds and it’s a real blessing since a lot of people don’t have real friends.”
Holley’s biggest inspiration is his great aunt Ruth who passed away in 2008. She raised him, his mother and grandfather. After every major accomplishment, he pays tribute by visiting her grave and leaving a copy of a program from his most recent show.
“She was my parent, she was the love that I needed growing up,” Holley said. “Everything that I do, every little bit of me and who I am is a reflection of her and I really work to make her proud.”
Holley also draws support from the models he uses during his shows. He described them as a family. They’re there for him within a day’s notice if he needs them to model.
Mohamet Mbaye, a sophomore business administration major at Buffalo State, has modeled for Holley four times and described him as “one of the humblest, genuine people” he knows.
“He’s my favorite designer that I’ve modeled for, he’s super appreciative of everything we do and he’s hard working. The clothing he creates for me is never going to be below my expectations,” Mbaye said. “Every time he calls and asks me to model for him, I don’t even think twice about it.”
Mbaye describes Holley’s presence backstage as calm and collected. Some of the model’s best memories with Holley have been the moments before walking the runway.
“He puts so much trust in us, it takes all the stress away from doing these shows,” Mbaye said. “He tells us to go out there and have fun, he’s supportive of us being ourselves on the runway.”
Holley finishes his program next year, but is unsure what his plans are once he graduates.
“The world is my oyster, as long as I continue to work hard, the possibilities are endless and I really don’t know where they’re going to take me,” Holley said. “I want to stay close to the streets and everyone that I love and be a positive role model for everyone that believed in me.”
Holley thanks God, his friends, family and all of his supporters for constantly believing in him.
“At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where you came from, how old you are, you can be whatever you want to be,” Holley said.
Max Kalnitz is the senior arts editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.