Up Close with Mika Kari of Black Teal Brick and Steel
Mika Kari is the designer and founder of Black Teal Brick and Steel. I had the pleasure of getting to know her better, and learn about her new collection that recently premiered at Philly Fashion Week. After speaking with Mika, one would be able to see how much love she has for life and for the experiences it brings. It is those two very important factors that help create this line. She founded Black Teal Brick and Steel in 2013 after doing freelance work. Having the freedom to create whatever she imagined is what pushed her to launch BTBS.
Why did you decide to have a designer name and is there any meaning behind the name Mika?
I like to keep my designer persona separate from my personal life. Hence, I go by two different names. My family knows me as Mandee, but the runway calls me Mika Kari. The name “Mika” is Japanese. Japanese street fashion was a world I uncovered in high school, and it was a big part of the reason I became a fashion designer. The culture inspired and intrigued me. I took the name Mika (美 (mi) “beautiful” combined with 香 (ka) “scent”) because my spark for designing began with Japan. I found the name to be fitting.
How did you start your design journey?
I started my design journey with my Grandmother when I was very young. She was a factory seamstress, and my love for designing really began with her. She will always be my inspiration. I did go to college, VCU Arts, for fashion design as well, and shortly after graduating I created my brand “Black Teal Brick and Steel.”
Can you tell us a little bit about your new collection? Why did you choose to take it “back to the basics”?
As I see the world around us become more and more complex and difficult, I wanted to be able to bring forth a collection that was simple. A collection that focused only on what was necessary and stripped down designing to its most raw form. It was a new concept for me, and a challenge that I was excited to take on.
What was your inspiration for this collection? Did the fabrics and colours play a roll in terms of your inspiration and theme?
Raw simplicity inspired me for this spring collection. My inspiration carried straight from the designs into the fabrication and color palette. What says simple better than knits? I wanted to make this collection completely from knit fabrications. I chose ponte knits, viscose knits, and variations of jersey knits to create the entire look. I also wanted to keep the color palette natural, focusing on grey and brown shades. I added a nice pop of coral to the colors, to keep the spring feel for the collection.
Why did you choose to premiere this new collection at Philly Fashion Week?
Philadelphia is a city that I call home. I think it’s a great place with a lot of fashion talent brewing, so I love being a part of the fashion week here. I wanted to stay connected to my roots, so I chose to debut the collection at Philly fashion week this season.
On your Twitter I saw that you went to a U-Kiss concert. I am also a Kpop and drama fan. I would like to know who you like in the Kpop world? Does their style or the Korean fashion style play a role in your fashion sense and the way you design?
This is so exciting! I love meeting other Kpop fans. The Korean pop culture scene has played a MAJOR role in how I design and see fashion. I really admire how they push the envelope and are always at the forefront of fashion. There are so many people and musical acts in the Kpop world that are very dear to me. Of course Ukiss is my favorite kpop group, but there are many artists that I find to be inspiring. I’ve recently been listening to Vixx a lot more. I love a group that changes concepts and pushes their musical and fashion boundaries. I think Vixx and girl the group After School do that very well. My favorite vocal singer though would have to be K.Will. His voice is fantastic and I listen to his albums often. I have to at least mention Big Bang if we’re talking fashion icons in Korea. They are such a major influence in the Korean fashion scene. The list could go on forever. When I discovered Kpop music 5 years ago, I felt that I had finally found my fashion utopia. Their design aesthetic fit me so perfectly that I know I was born on the wrong side of the globe. Korean fashion and pop culture will continue to fuel my inspiration for designing. Also, watching Korean dramas as I sew helps pass the time. I usually watch an average of 4 seasons of kdramas while sewing my collection every season.
You say you design for women who are culturally conscious. For yourself is there anywhere that you’ve been that has had a big impact on your design aesthetic and why?
I haven’t had many opportunities to travel yet in my life, so I know there will be numerous places in the future that will impact me strongly. If I had to pick somewhere, I would have to say the city where I went to college, Richmond, Virginia. I feel it was there that I had the opportunity to meet so many people of different backgrounds and cultures all in one place. Living in Richmond for 4 years really educated me on other people of the world. Our campus also had a sister school in Qatar, which continuously opened my eyes to new experiences and interactions with people of other cultural backgrounds. I came from a very diverse high school, but it wasn’t until college that I was able to really put the world into perspective.
All photos taken by FBH The Agency. All photos are from the spring 2014 collection of BTBS on the Philly Fashion Week runway.
To learn more about BTBS visit their website and be sure to keep up with Mika on Instagram and Twitter.
Article Written by Jonika. You can follow her at @JonikaJun