SHE IS CHÉ & CHÉ IS SHE
A CONVERSATION WITH THE MULTI-TALENTED & FREE SPIRITED ARTIST, JANICE ICHE, ABOUT EXPRESSION, FEARLESSNESS & BRAND IDENTITY.
Janice Iche’s own artistic identity at first sight is somewhat intangible... from our first meeting, her aura, her look, her energy rightfully screamed free & unadulterated expressionist. Her frank curiosity is persistent and evident in her art, her questions & statements are unscripted, wonderfully defiant and exposing... a little raw even, enough so, that it endows her work with true meaning. Her natural acceptance of herself, her individuality & the precocious confidence she exudes is magnanimously refreshing and it's this very quality exactly that makes CHÉ, her brand, stand out, so we had a conversation with the extremely versatile creative for more perspective into her & to set the record straight on what it is exactly that CHÉ represents... but the truth is, this only just barely scratches the surface of who she is.
Nowadays everyone is trying to cultivate a personal brand. What was that process like for you, coming up with CHÉ?
CHÉ was/is such a personal project for me because it started out as me somewhat trying to fulfill a promise I had made to my late ex (who is the one who suggested that I should start and name my brand CHÉ, with that specific accent lol) and just how detailed he had envisioned this brand before his passing really motivated me to do it. Also, I am at a time in my life where I am feeling very rebellious, particularly in front of others. I have always had some kinda of fire and passion within me and CHÉ is giving me the chance to express it. CHÉ is also giving me the space to be freely myself, fearlessly. I presume whoever is buying into the brand in whatever way is seeking or resonating with the kind of freedom I am expressing and searching for. Also, the first two phrases that I began with, ‘FUCK YOU, I WANT TO FUCK YOU.’ and ‘DO YOU CARE?’ had already been a part of my life. I had painted the fuck you one in the beginning of my painting career on a small 5x5” MDF and it had just been sitting around my house so when the time came to start the brand, I remembered this little painting I had made and it sounded feisty enough for what I was going for. I had also painted the words do you care on my living room wall so it had been staring me down for a while too before it landed on a tee. So I’m happy with how organic everything has been though now growing the business is requiring me to detach from the brand at that personal level and implement more planning and organization which I am happy to be getting some help with because man, I’m not a business person.
Have you always been interested in doing something in fashion, even before the idea of CHÉ came into being? And in which way is fashion relevant to you?
I’m not really interested in working in fashion even though I’ve found myself doing so twice now. I had a clothing brand when I was 18 called Iche’s Lesso Designs where I used to sew lesso clothes and sell them. I wasn’t passionate about it but it made me good pocket money at the time. Ché is far from what fashion is... It’s art first of all because everything I’m putting on these pieces has a resounding message so it’s more about that message than how it is presented. Though I feel I do have an eye for certain aesthetic that helps me find the best ways to present these messages in clothing form. I’ve also always liked to look good. My mum and aunt legit wouldn’t let me leave the house if I looked anything less than what they expected so I learnt how to make the clothes that I had work and most of them were simple pieces like the t-shirts I’m doing at Ché. And I love fashion for it is also an art, a form of expression. I wouldn’t say I’m doing fashion particularly but I love it as a form of expression and I try to look good everywhere I go.
So, for someone such as yourself who takes style very seriously, what in your opinion makes a brand successful or worth committing to? Like when you pick out something for your personal closet, what makes you go "i gotta have that"?
Surprisingly I'm not so keen on brands, not even my own haha! I just like things that look good and speak to me on multiple levels so that could be several different pieces from different brands but I couldn't tell you their names lol. Though I believe intention is the secret behind everything. Inserting very deliberate intention into your work or brand will make it always be able to speak to a certain group of people and that's what I do.
Then how would you describe the core identity of CHÉ, what makes it unique by it’s own respect?
Che is unique because I pour a lot of my self into my work. The core theme of Che is FEARLESSNESS. I embody fearlessness when I create pieces for Che and people who buy into my brand also embody fearlessness by owning and wearing these thought-provoking pieces of clothing.
Yeah, you mentioned in our last conversation, how CHÉ is driven by the desire to evoke some kind of reaction in people, a response like "FUiW2FU". Can you elaborate more on that?
The phrase FUiW2FU expresses frustration and desire. The frustration you feel when you desire someone badly but they do not feel the same about you. Simply that. Whatever other people perceive of that statement is beyond me but what I want to do is just get that reaction or the impulse for them to think about something they may never have come across on a t-shirt before. That is art to me.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Artists, friends, experiences? I mean what inspiring thing or notion is deserving of becoming a CHÉ center piece like “FUiW2FU” is? And what is the first question you ask yourself when working on a project?
I draw inspiration purely from life. Mine or anyone else's that I have felt and related to deeply. There is no criteria for what makes it past the idea phase though perhaps honesty is the criteria. It has to be honest and relatable, so it can be anything. The way I work is quite unconventional, I prefer for inspiration to just come to me rather than me going out to chase and find it. So I do my part of living my life as honestly as I can and everything falls in place when it is time. So I don't ask myself any questions but I go back to my archive of things I have written and expressed over the years and pull something out of that.
So have you always been so creatively expressive? Is it safe to say you feel that you have the creative freedom to do what you want? And do you ever feel like you need to address specific issues because you have the platform to be heard and seen?
Yes, I’ve always been very creatively expressive. Since I was a little child, it was the only safe way and avenue for me to communicate my self. So for me, Art is very personal and spiritual. I recognize and understand its role in my life and in the society. I feel like I need to address specific issues because I have gone through them myself and I have seen many others go through the same or worse. I spend a lot of time pondering ways to change the world and I try to do my best to implement what I learn through this search. And yes, I do believe I have the creative freedom to do what I want. Freedom is mine, no one can give it to me. I give it to myself.
And do you think in your opinion, Nairobi is a good city to be a creative?
Nairobi is a GREAT city to be a creative because it is our home, our country and we are already HERE. We know this city and this city knows us so who better to create here than us? I mean, this is putting into major consideration the significance and role of art in a society. So for me, there is no better place to work. And the city/country needs people to shape the art scene so who’s going to do it when people are flying out? I feel very obliged to my society/country to do my part in contributing a better environment for all of us and our diversities to co-exist and thrive together.
Well, Nairobi is in a way, a small town and it's crazy how easy it is to meet someone you know or how everyone to some extent knows everyone, so tell me what’s your opinion on that? Is it a good thing or bad or both?
Wow, I think it’s a great thing! It’s exactly why I came to Nairobi! I feel so excited and lucky that almost all my peers in the scene are a reach away. It facilitates engagement with each other which is so vital because we are not shaping this scene individually but collectively. So I love that we can meet and collaborate and share vibes and ideas though it really isn’t embraced much yet here but I believe we are all on our individual paths to the same destination. Which to me is a space in our own country where the art and music we make is valued and appreciated. We have to work together to get there. And we will, people are waking up to the realization that we can’t do anything alone. We don’t even have to collaborate, but just sharing each other with each other... it’s so important.
You’re a painter as well and you also mentioned you’re not particularly in a hurry to sell and monetize your art, can you tell us why?
I do not like the already set-up structures and games that people who came into the industry before me have put up. I want freedom and total autonomy over my work and how I run my businesses. So I'm not trying to just hop onto a system that was there before when it is not working for me as I need it to now. So I am taking the time to learn and figure out my own rules and systems of running my own work and then I will monetize my paintings. I was told that my name is not big enough to sell my paintings for the prices I deemed right for them. So I ask myself, at what point will I become "big enough" and who is determining this point? I felt very undervalued and under-appreciated so I decided to get my name there first (in my own way) then I will monetize the paintings. Also, my art is very personal to me. I do it first for my own expression, making money out of it is a bonus. And there are many ethical nuances behind the selling of art that I am not comfortable with yet or I do not agree with. I'm taking the time to make my own rules and build my own very specific empire.
We’ve spoken with quite a few people in regards to how Instagram is a creative source to connect with new artists and other peers, how do you find the process of just hitting someone up and saying let’s work?
I have met a lot of my friends and mentors via Instagram, with me just reaching out to them and asking for a meet up or a conversation at the very least and vice versa. So it’s been quite easy for me. Some instances haven’t worked out but I don’t fuss about what isn’t mine.
Nowadays content seems to lose it’s longevity, once something’s been posted on Instagram, it's like that's cool, then we forget about it & move on, yet that creative or artist spent a lot of time working on that piece/song, that was just consumed and spit out in a matter of minutes...
I say that's life. Cycles come and go. That artist/creative will keep creating and everything has its season so we can’t be holding on to things that are in the past. People need to make mental space for the new art that is being created every single day so I say that this tendency is just a mirror of the kind of time we live in and it’s okay. I’m very happy to have the internet though because the archive remains and whoever wishes to revisit any piece of art or song can do so freely. Timeless music/art remains timeless, nothing can take that away from it.
You mentioned a little about your ex and who he was to you and how he was involved with CHÉ. They say bad moments motivate great art, in a way. There’s a quote that goes, “In the dark times / Will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing / About the dark times.” Is that what the song ‘Mutuma’ was to you? And has that phase in your life poured into your work and in what respect has it influenced your way of life right now on how you approach making art or... just life in general?
Wow. It’s crazy because I feel like he’s living on through me. I think I got to see him, know him and be with him very intimately shortly before his death for a reason. I wasn’t as fiery as I am now and this is a major characteristic that he had. And I have this mad energy within me that I just have to partly credit to him because he inspired me greatly during our time together. And he always knew things. He just knew so I feel greatly changed especially after his passing. I mean, he had such a love and passion for life that I out of nowhere now have. And this pours into every single thing you do once you are just happy and grateful to simply be here. He taught me this. Also that fear is a nothing. He showed me that I could conquer my fears and not the other way around. This has helped me greatly in going after the things I want in life. There's so much he taught me that I practice in my daily life today that I wasn’t doing before that I just can’t speak on but I think overall, he taught me love. For people. To recognize that WE ALL need it and that’s all that we are all here to do. It’s amazing. He’s amazing and he changed my life greatly. Almost all my art is created from a place of pain so.. yes. I mean, of course. And I’m a VERY deep person so it’s kinda inevitable for me. I just dive in there. But that song is only one aspect of it, all the art I am creating since then has become even more intentional because I now see the importance of this especially in the societies and communities around me.
So, what’s up for the future? Is this the beginning of more?
The path reveals itself to me as I go. And yes, you will continue to see more from me.
RAPID FIRE SHOTS:
What’s the best thing about living in Nairobi?
What does your perception of Nairobi look like?
Many different people & tall buildings.
What do you think the future of art looks like in Nairobi?
Oh, it’s amazing! The future is lit.
What’s your insider Nairobi tip?
I’m lowkey so I stay lowkey. But I’d recommend going for art & music events.
How would you define your Nairobi?
Passionate - Determined - FIRE - Energy.
Photographer: Charles Guthua (@s.afiri, @guthua_ugo)
Profile: Janice Iche (@janiceiche)
Brand: CHÉ (@che.shopke)