Tiana Denine Harris of digitalKENTE began her professional design career as a surface designer before using her knowledge of graphic design. After receiving her post-baccalaureate degree from the School of Art Institute of Chicago she interned at well-known children apparel brand Carter’s Inc as a technical artist intern. Tiana always had a love for fashion and was curious what would be a graphic designers’ role within a fashion brand. Her experience at Carters taught her to create fashion ready artwork in the form of plaids, stripes, placement art and various types of repeat patterns. Her first kente-like prints were created in 2006 during her internship. The idea of digitally re-creating kente-like patterns stayed with her 6 years later after returning from teaching graphic design in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. She began creating a series of digital tapestries in 2012 for the see.me group exhibit “Art Takes Times Square.”
The see/me exhibit gave her the opportunity to pullulate what she’d been absorbing and germinating in her mind during her teaching and living in South East Asia; all the beautiful colors, textures and vastness of dark skin that she was surprised to encounter in that part of the world. Tiana’s artist statement for this exhibit put into words what she’d been feeling after her experience on the other “dark” continent. digitalKENTE is an exploration of color and culture. Tiana is deeply convinced with the number of Mesoamerican Indians, Latinos, Africans…dark skin far outnumbers our European counterparts. So why do we (dark-skinned people) still look towards Caucasian standards as a measurement of our beauty or our worth? This is one of the many questions she challenged with her graphic work earlier in her college matriculation with a series of graphic tees called “Caution: Revolution-Walking.” Each t-shirt worn was literally a “fashion statement.” With the digitalKENTE print aesthetic, Tiana combines modern craft and ancestral pattern to create one-of-a-kind surface designs for people as vibrant as their color choices. She remixes indigenous textile motifs from melanin-rich cultures around the world to rejuvenate the “tribal” print market to create artwork that is bold, multi-dimensional, culturally aware and un-apologetically colorful. digitalKENTE collections are meant to evoke a sense of nostalgia. Every digital warp and weft create shapes and colors that remind the wearer/user of the cultures they visited, cultures they belong to, or cultures they want to experience.
Wearing of traditional kente cloth is normally reserved for brides who want to keep tradition and pay tribute to their ancestral roots. More and more brides are bringing their cultures to the forefront of their weddings. digitalKENTE’s technique alone of creating each print using the computer turns the traditional aesthetic into a modern repeat-ready print. Prints can be dye-sublimated, or screen printed onto the brides’ choice of fabric. The one-of-a-kind motifs can be tailored to fit the bride’s heritage representing a specific culture or for a general tribal look.
How does digitalKENTE create their one-of-a-kind creations one might ask? Research, research, research. When initially creating the brand name Tiana did extensive research of the origin of Kente cloth, the meaning of the technique and colors traditionally used to ensure she didn’t create art irresponsibly. When creating a new motif for the upcoming season she researches trends on WGSN, scours Pinterest and creates trend boards of new colors and textures found on the runway. She is also a member of the Textile Design Lab an excellent resource for surface designers. They create design challenges and offer classes to keep your design library fresh. Once colors, textures and cultural influences have been decided they she either sketches out designs or jumps into Adobe Illustrator to play with new shapes and color combos.
Prints created by digitalKENTE can be applied to any surface. Working with digitalKENTE is a collaborative effort. Brides can collaborate with them to create a custom palette for gift wrap, stationery items for an invitation, menus, wallpaper and any application you can think of. digitalKENTE is continuously working on pitching their business to well-established brands like Vera Wang to broaden their horizons and offer brides the opportunity to wear a custom designer wedding gown with a twist. The possibilities are endless. She recently created a Wakanda-themed costume for a client’s pole dancing competition this past summer. Earlier this fall she created a mini showroom in the Box Shops by Related (portable pop-up space in the West Loop of Chicago). Now she is preparing to exhibit her surface designs at Premiere Vision 2019 in New York City this coming January. digitalKENTE is constantly raising their profile and reaching out to new clientele. What a unique and creative way to infuse culture to your big day!