Darin Jamal Tom is charting his own path in Gallup, New Mexico. A fashion designer with roots in his culture, but a commitment to couture, Tom is out to bring young, chic, wearable fashion to Albuquerque during this year’s Gathering of Nations. Weekly Alibi spoke with Darin Jamal Tom about his background and his new line debuting this Saturday in Albuquerque. The following is an edited version of that conversation.
Weekly Alibi: How did you become a fashion designer in Gallup, New Mexico?
Darin Jamal Tom: It just came naturally. I didn’t go to school for it. Patternmaking came naturally to me and the aesthetics of fabrics. I started making things for my family and friends, and people started to notice. A couple years ago I entered some fashion competitions and I actually placed. That was the real boost of confidence.
New Mexico has a paltry fashion industry. Without the commercial drive, do you see your fashion work driven by something else?
Probably just the cultural necessity. Where I’m from in Gallup, usually during graduation season, everybody wants to have something made for them. So, there is a pretty lucrative market there. The vibe down here has always been the same couple notes. I feel that I have a different point of view to where I can give people something different, something that’s younger. Something that caters towards me and my friends. We like to dress in a different way. It’s great to infuse that with our culture, but also keep it modern.
Your work has been focused on wearability. What is your philosophy as you approach new designs?
I always start with a person because I’m completely inclusive. I’m also driven by the queer aspect of it all. The fact that some of these clothing pieces can alternate gender, but also, they are geared towards people of different sizes. I think that is very important. I get inspired by all of my friends, and all of my friends are very different from each other. It’s great when my friends tell me that they can all wear the same thing and it will fit them or they can style it differently.
Are you finding your work is heading in a direction?
Lately, I’ve been asked to collaborate with people who want to do highly wearable street wear. It’s something I’m excited for. The climate in fashion right now is very avant garde almost. Things are definitely wearable now that weren’t two or three years ago. People are more experimental. I want to dive into that market.
How much is your work informed by the past of where you are from?
I’ve always dug into my past and my culture, but not in such a literal way. I’ve noticed some designers locally mooch off their culture, put it on a T-shirt and wear it around. It’s too easy to do that. I want to make something that is not so literal, but still has Navajo aspects.
Do you want to say something about appropriation?
I’m Navajo and I make clothing, but I don’t want to pigeonhole my clothing with Native designs or try to reinvent the wheel because its already been done. There are a lot of designers I know that are in that realm where they do make traditional clothing, skirts and velvet tops, and they’re very good at it. I feel like that lane is already taken. I felt it was my duty to do something completely different. Something that is not so cookie cutter. I just want it to be young. To be chic. To be modern, but also something that is not too much of time and could be timeless.
Tell me about your new line.
Because my show is going to be at this gay club called Twist in Albuquerque, I decided to infuse more of a queer narrative. All of my models are actually my friends and all of them are actually queer as well. We need this kind of representation for sure. Definitely something well made. Something that people want to wear, but also that you don’t have to be queer to wear. Something that makes you feel great about your body. There are a lot of sheer things.
It’s also about styling as well. I’m making bags. I’m working on a face mask. It’s like a group of people going out on the night, but also these pieces can transition to daywear. I do have some jackets. I’m trying to stay away from formal dresses, but I do have one gown that I’m working on that is supposed to resonate with the missing and murdered indigenous women of our country.
How do you take on something like that? How do you bring that into fashion?
It’s going to be more about the presentation. I still haven’t figured out the logistics, but I do have an idea in mind. It’s a very big sentiment, but I just want to be respectful. It is out there, it is everywhere. I want people to know that we are in mourning of these woman, especially the transgendered women. It hits home more in that way for sure.