The Outcast Who Became an It Girl

There are many childhood memories director-DJ-designer Vashtie Kola would care to forget. But there’s one from the fifth grade that she wills herself to remember—a reminder of how far she’s come. “We didn’t have much of anything. And I remember getting made fun of for my Kmart sneakers,” she says. (Her lucky schoolmates all wore Nikes.) “The entire class made fun of me because one kid started making fun of my sneakers.” This year, Kola just directed a fashion film for that discount chain. “I grew up on Kmart!” she says proudly. “It really hits home—and it is so satisfying.”

Roughly two decades after her pre-adolescent torment, Kola became the first woman to design a Air Jordan sneaker, launched her own fashion label (Violette), directed a music video for rapper Kendrick Lamar, and spun records at her popular DJ night, which has drawn celebs from Dave Chappelle to Zoe Kravitz. “The kids in school made it clear that I’d never fit in,” she says. “But that allowed me the creative freedom to be daring and try this and try that. That really shaped me.”

In fact, much of the multi-hyphenate’s achievements germinated during that time, when she also got flack for being interracial. (Her Trinidadian parents are ethnically half-African, half-Indian.) With fashion labels beyond her reach, she bought clothes at the Salvation Army, cut them up, and sewed them into new pieces based on her own sketches. So basically, you were Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink? “Yes!” she says, laughing. “I didn’t have a date for the prom, and I made my own dress.”

Kola entertained herself by religiously watching MTV, back when it played music videos. This inspired her to helm her own film shorts and ultimately major in film at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, that great city for outcasts. There, Kola started a ’90s-themed dance party with a friend in 2006, that doubled as a space to nurture a social ideal. “Every party we went to, not only did we not like the music, we didn’t like that pompous, ‘Who are you, and why are you at my party?’ We wanted an environment conducive to meeting new people.” A creative force behind this melting-pot-of-cool concept, she was soon anointed an It Girl.

Which is an odd appellation for Kola. “I was really a tomboy,” she says. “I wanted to do things that spoke to the kind of girl I was”—thus making her nothing like a typical, primped-up It Girl. Even behind the decks, she maintains a humble aesthetic. “I didn’t own makeup until a couple of years ago,” Kola admits. “I started wearing it as my career took off. But for me, I’m still about keeping it simple.” After all, why would she want to change herself? The world is still trying to catch up to her.

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The Outcast Who Became an It Girl