Creating and running a brand is no easy feat, along with an abundance of start-ups and brands that have oversaturated the fashion space, which makes it hard for any new fashion label to get recognition. For Tier, the same cannot be said.
Started just over six years ago by three college friends Nigeria Ealey, Victor James, and Esaie Jean-Simon, Tier has grown into a remarkable CFDA-and-Vogue-funded fashion brand that has taken New York City, and, soon, the world, by storm. Their hard work is truly unmatched and has caught the eyes of some of the biggest names in fashion and music from Winnie Harlow to Big Sean, Mulatto, and JT from the City Girls.
Tier and its co-founders are doing more than just running a brand, too: They're changing the narrative of how the world perceives Black Americans and their culture. During a time when the country and the rest of the globe felt nothing but anger and frustration from built-up racial tensions, the Tier team decided to change the conversation.
The brand's latest collection, dubbed "Project 3: Joy to the World," is a celebration of Black people and their beautiful and joyous culture, featuring sweaters, hoodies, tees, dresses, and more decked out with exclusive art pieces by Pierre Jean Baptiste that highlight the Black experience. "This is our moment to shed light on the positivity in our community," Ealey tells NYLON.
Ahead, we sit down with the three co-founders behind Tier and talk more about the brand, the inspiration behind the art and conception of "Project 3," as well as their views on Black History Month.
How did you all meet? What made you want to start a brand collectively?
Esaie Jean-Simon: We all met in college and post-college. Victor and I already graduated at the time but we still remained around the college campus of LIU Brooklyn and Brooklyn College. Within that, we all were friends, we were a part of the same fraternity — we're all Kappas — and a part of the same chapter as well. We recognized each other for our fashion. Coming from Brooklyn, sometimes we were a bit competitive but we recognized realness and each other’s style. Collectively we enjoyed [fashion] and that gravitated us to each other.
At one point Nigeria and Victor approached me about starting a brand and getting our minds together to create something that will last a long time and that we could call our own. We would always have meetings about starting a brand and when it came to fashion we all saw trends coming before they even happened so that was even more initiative to start a brand and have the confidence getting into the lane.
How did the concept for your new collection and the title "Project 3: Joy to the World" come together?
Nigeria Ealey: 'Project 3' really came about during quarantine. We were all in our homes away from the world while watching everything that was going on. Between seeing all of the social injustices and the police brutality that's been going on come to light after witnessing the tragic situations of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, on top of a global pandemic, it was just added trauma, anger, and frustration to what was going on.
At that time, we were in a space where we were working on our brand and using that time to really sit back and think about what do we want to do. How are we going to adapt to these times, how do we want to come out of this, and where do we want to be now and in the future?
I remember seeing Pierre post his work on Instagram and seeing the type of art that he was putting out that was reflective to his growth and what he was doing at that time. We ended up having a conversation and at first it was more so us feeling angry once again about what was going on. We were originally going to reflect those types of images — images from anger, frustration, and of just being tired. Then, after we spoke and thought about it more, we really wanted to take that moment and not add more to what's already going on. Let's do something that's going to reflect who we really are as a people, as a race, and as a culture. And that's where the name 'Joy to the World' really came from. Showing how much joy and how much beauty that us as Black people, as Black creatives, bring to the world. And that's in every aspect — in music, art, culinary, tech, everything.
What was that conversation like with Pierre on what the actual art would be?
NE: It was a different conversation where we had really sat down and thought about what we wanted this collection to represent exactly. We wanted to represent the Black community as a joyful playful area where things and places like the Family Reunion painting comes from. Even the Jonny Pump painting, it stems from us enjoying ourselves. We are taking these 'things' that are in our area or taking this situation where, we may not have resources and things to have as much fun as the next, we make do and enjoy what we have and we are a family and community. That's what we want to reflect in this project: a sense of community, a sense of family, and a sense of joy. A lot of times you hear the stories of the angry Black man or the angry Black woman and they’re just not true. This is our moment to shed light on the positivity in our community and that goes to art, music, fashion, and every industry out there that we've had a founding or contributing hand in.
We wanted [The Black Dollar] to represent currency and show that this is how we can build up ourselves more. All these different colored hands show how many people are in touch with and benefit from what we do. We wanted to represent something that we need to build on our own and within our culture.
What made you want to expand into women's wear?
NE: I’m really in tune with the growth of Tier Women, personally. I grew up in an all-women household, with my mom, my grandmother, my aunts, and sisters. So I was always in tune with things that women like to wear. Now, we are at a place where we have the means to produce more and it was an opportunity to start introducing more women's wear. This is something that is going to continue to grow over the course of time, from activewear to loungewear to event wear, it's just something that I'm dedicated to do the research on.
We have a lot of women on our team that are here to give us real-time feedback and knowledge, and they don't hold their breath. They'll say, 'This is too short,' or 'this doesn’t curve right.' Anything that's wrong they speak up and give us insight because at the end of the day we are men and there's always going to be things that we don't know. So it's about being able to do the research and also take the feedback to continue that growth.
In your eyes, who is Tier's new collection for?
NE: It's for our culture. It's for our people to celebrate our culture, and it's just that. There's no hidden agendas, there's no anything else. It's for us to be appreciated and celebrated and represents community, family, currency, and happiness. When people see this, we want them to take it and celebrate themselves, yourself, your culture, the things about you that make you you and make you happy. And if you respect that, whether you're a part of the culture or not, you're going to support it.
As Black creators, who have also dabbled in education, how do you reflect on Black History Month?
Victor James: We're really highlighting hidden figures — so myself, Nigeria, you — everyone that's on this come-up of creating and adding to Black history that I feel like a lot of educators don't highlight enough. So within that, how can I shed some light to my students on how they can become a part of Black history in a positive way? Not just in a way where we were able to tear down something negative but because we contributed to it. We are sort of like trailblazers to set the path for people behind us. How are we adding to history?
NE: I do think that it's a great time for us to not only celebrate but also research and pay tribute and homage to those in the past that have fought for us to be here, as well as those who are making a positive change and impact now. They should also be celebrated and be living examples to the future and say, 'This can be you.'
This is our time to show the youth the positive examples. If they don't see it within our culture, where else do you expect them to see it? It's more-so educating on the history of us and our people, but like Vic mentioned earlier, getting them in tune with the now. There's so many amazing creators, companies, brands, and businesses that are Black that the youth need to know about, in terms of knowing your history, honoring your history, researching the now, and representing the now, so we can have a better future moving forward.
EJS: Although I wasn't in education as a dean or a teacher, I do think that we have to come together as people and do our research and shed light on those hidden figures and be those motivating pillars for the community and the people around us.
Back in the day, the internet wasn't as wide as it is now. The way one tweet or one post can be seen worldwide is amazing. So we use our tools to get our ideas out and who we are as creators and be those examples for our community, but not only just our community but be those examples in a positive light.