Adam Small, at age 19, runs a full-time fashion brand, has two fashion shows under his belt and is constantly making clothes for both local and international buyers.
“I was always a creative kid, always into art,” Small said, explaining how he began by making duct tape wallets, painted hats and simple screen prints.
“When I first started it was really organic, it wasn’t really me trying to build this massive thing.
“I think learning from people around or people through social media, or taking examples from other brands and trying to bring that into my brand, has really helped me […] I’m super young and not at the point I want to be.”
At 14, Small began his first brand, Atomik Studios, which he has since retired.
He plans to continue to grow his skills, his talent and his own brand following his free-flow passion.
“Fashion is kind of a cool thing for kids now,” he said, having experienced how rapidly culture has changed to accept young men pursuing sewing, painting and making clothes.
A new kind of runway show
Most recently, Adam Small collaborated with Galata Fira on Birds Eye View, which tried to break the conventions of what is expected at a runway show.
Through various forms of artistic media — sound, music, fashion, modeling and dance — they attempted to convey both theme and narrative.
“The audio is a full narrative in itself,” Small said.
“You’re really there to listen to the story and the clothes [are] meant to give context to that story. It wasn’t a fashion show, a collection for us to sell or for people to buy.”
Birds Eye View was meant to convey ideas related to self-perception and self-awareness in our lives, to emphasize “the idea of living outside your mind and taking a step back from yourself and observing your mind from a bird’s eye view.”
“We had a section called ‘Childlike,’” he said.
“As a child you’re so pure and you don’t have any of these constructs […] to an adult a chair is just a chair, but to a kid it could be the highest mountaintop or it’s a like a drumset or a race car.
“A chair to a child is so many different things. And so really taking those constructs away and then getting deeper into that, living in the present, living in the moment.”
Show me your teeth
Ideas come and go, mix and reconnect in sometimes surprising ways. Small’s anarchic inspirations have a specific and almost unconscious methodology. Even individual pieces are layered with themes, motifs and iconography.
Small described his creative process through one particular piece — a pink sweater stamped with a painted skull design with white tombstone-like teeth — discussing how he decided to “div[e] into the topic of longevity, longevity as a brand, in the sense of ‘When you’re gone, what’s left?’”
“So I was playing with this motif of teeth, like human teeth,” he said.
“I remember when I was really young I went to France and in the catacombs […] the teeth really stood out to me because they were the one thing that stayed super pristine, white, and the rest of the bones just turned super gross and brown, decaying.”
The pink colour of the shirt, then, related to flesh but the white teeth played into the concepts of legacy and longevity. To many, a piece of designer clothing is simply an aesthetic, but Small shows the ways in which creativity can be layered with meaning.
Small said he believed fashion could be perceived as “one of those things that seems so exclusive.”
“I kind of just want to be a more accessible version of high-end designers,” he said.
“I don’t want to dumb down the work at all. I want it to be that same quality.”
Now, Small is diving into gangster films and the almost fantasy-land grime of New York City, N.Y., for one point of inspiration.
On hard days, both passion and intense gratitude keep this artist motivated to constantly create new pieces and expand his brand.
“I really, really love what I’m doing and I would hate doing anything else,” Small said.
“My creative partner [Galata] moved from essentially the slums of Nigeria when he was seven. He’s like ‘You can’t be a fashion designer there. It’s not possible.’ The fact that it’s even possible to do this out here is pretty mind blowing. That’s a big motivator.”
This is what happens when someone discovers their passion and pursues it.
“I just love making clothes.”
You can follow Adam Small through Instagram, @adamsmallyy and @byadamsmall, for regular updates, information and pictures of his creations. Clothing and accessories can be found at byadamsmall.com.