I’m not the only one with post notifications on for Ampwata, the Instagram account that’s home to the bright, hand-dyed shirts made by designer Jasmine Plantin. The tees, released weekly in batches of three to six, typically sell out within two minutes of their arrival online. Lucky buyers receive a one-of-a-kind creation, stitched with the line’s logo (a play on Speedo’s) and adorned with the words of Haitian poet René Depestre on the inside bottom seam: “By the strength of my wind you will emerge from yourself.” Plantin never repeats a colorway, and she thinks of each batch of tees as a chapter in an ongoing story whose plot is a quest for community and collaboration, particularly for people of the African diaspora.
Each release of shirts comes with a set of stories related to the ocean, a theme that Plantin settled on after diving into her own origins. “With my mom being from New Orleans, a port city, and my dad being from Jacmel, a beach town in Haiti, I kept seeing this element of water that was very present. So that was always the core [of Amp Wata], and I think I’ll always come back to that in some way,” she explains. In September, a set of green and yellow tees was announced alongside a PSA about Grown in Haiti, a reforestation initiative on the island, and videos of zero-waste surfboard shaping. A rust-red drop was accompanied by information on the Mi’kmaq tribe’s fight for maritime sovereignty in Nova Scotia. Having post notifications on for Amp Wata means not only first access to eye-catching clothes, but also regular moments of education (with a syllabus that includes its fair share of crab memes).
Since the pandemic started, Plantin has been thinking about how to establish a place for reprieve and connection online. Yes, she’s seen The Social Dilemma, but especially at a time when IRL communion comes with risk, Plantin aims to create a sense of safe space with Ampwata—the shirts are simply the physical manifestation of the idea. She’s been inspired by her friends at Discwoman, the electronic music collective that quickly started streaming on Twitch when it became clear that raves were on hold. “I do think, especially within marginalized communities, you find a certain solace in social media,” Plantin says. “I think exploring how to shape these virtual spaces in a positive way is really exciting.”
Originally from New York, Plantin started the year in Portland, Oregon, where she moved to work for Nike as a designer focused on color direction. Now, she’s working remotely from her parent’s house on Long Island, where we connect via Zoom. Art decorates every wall behind her, and Plantin explains she’s well-equipped to work on Ampwata here: Her mother is a longtime patternmaker whose home studio is outfitted with sewing machines and vats and drying racks. “She’s the one who taught me this whole dye process, so it’s great to be able to go back and forth with her, and get advice on any new techniques I’m either learning or developing.”
Plantin was approached by Nike after she collaborated with the New York brand Noah on a collection of 200 hand-dyed sweatshirts for the Whitney Museum Shop. (Noah cofounder Estelle Bailey-Babenzien recently shared a selfie featuring Amp Wata: “Wearing this shirt literally gives me life.”) Although Ampwata is so far a smaller project, it has a kinship with Noah’s responsibility for the earth and their immediate community. At a time when fashion’s severe waste problem is becoming ever-more evident, intentionally made, limited-run garments just make sense. Plantin hopes that by showing her design process and emphasizing the individuality of each shirt, she will remind buyers that they are collectible, not disposable. The base garments she uses are 100% recycled, and her upcoming collection (releasing the second week of December) will repurpose vintage souvenir tees from tropical countries. It’s a series she’s calling Tidalectics—a term coined by Bajan poet and philosopher Kamau Brathwaite. “My thought is to align with Brathwaite’s perception of history, particularly Black history in the Western Hemisphere, being cyclical versus linear,” Plantin says.
Plantin uses clothes as a sort of time-traveling tool, whether they’re reminding wearers of the past, as with Tidalectics, or part of a utopian vision where slow fashion rules, and art is available to everyone in the form of a t-shirt. She’s not alone in this revolution of ideals: she finds inspiration in fellow intentional creators like illustrator Julia Garcia, and denim designer Alexis Colby. At a time when the world is gripped in uncertainty, it’s comforting to know there are people like Plantin, mixing dyes in a Long Island studio, forming the future.