In The Studio With Leila Jinnah: Navigating Identity Through Accessories

Leila Jinnah lives—and designs—with intention. Not in a broad, metaphorical sense, but quite literally; not one thing is on her body by accident. Down to her socks, headbands, and jewelry, each item is thoughtfully placed, adding to the narrative that Jinnah wants to tell. Growing up with what she describes as “a constant identity crisis,” the solution was always found in expression: how could she adequately express herself through what she wore? It was a craft she learned to master, and through that, find her ever-evolving self in the process.

“When I was growing up, I moved around a lot, and I’m bi-racial. I had a very consistent identity crisis, so accessories were kind of how I established my identity. It’s how I individualized myself and projected how I was feeling. It’s helped stabilize me and allowed me to express myself in a consistent way.”

As an accessories designer, Jinnah has brought this same focus and thoughtfulness to every aspect of her craft—from the factory that she works with in her Bushwick neighborhood, to how and where she sources material.

“Everything is thoughtful,” she says. “I really care about where things come from, or where are they made, or how are they made, or who’s making them. The woman who sews all the hats, I sit with her while she does it and talk with her about her kids, and it’s all very personal to me. It can be for me, since it’s local production, and accessories are such a personal thing. That’s what I love about it.”

Growing up…accessories were kind of how I established my identity. It’s helped stabilize me and allowed me to express myself in a consistent way.

Finding identity in accessorizing can sound like a bit of an oxymoron—accessories are interchangeable, while identity feels more permanent, and grounding. But Jinnah brings a new perspective, and one that’s increasingly relevant in an age where we can identify with—and express—multiple narratives simultaneously. It’s important to recognize and honor each of them.

“If I’m feeling louder, I’ll wear a big hat, or if I’m feeling really feminine, I’ll wear something sparkly or sleek,” she says. “I love to cover my hair in different ways, and protect it but have it be a moment of expression. If I don’t have the right little things, I feel emotionally uneasy…like if I don’t think that everything is at harmony, or authentically myself. Even if I’m not wearing the right socks!”

Though accessories are interchangeable, and abundant, Jinnah is an advocate for slow fashion—bringing her inclination of intentional living to the forefront once again. Her work flows with her stream of consciousness—how is she feeling on any given day, and how can she authentically express that in a way that’s unique and personal? Accessories are often the answer.

“I feel like everybody else’s work is louder than mine, but I like for my work to be a little subdued,” Jinnah says. “I pull from my depression, and my difficulty with my identity a lot, but it comes into a place of beauty and acceptance of that. Just like little stories, little narratives. My experience as a woman, and being in my body. It’s caused a lot of strife in my life. Confidence, and all that kind of stuff. I really love these little moments, and I feel like I just want to get the emotion across.”

Clearly Jinnah has come a long way from the identity crisis of her youth, though it’s still a dominant theme in her work. Looking forward, she’s got her sights set on the people who surround her—specifically, enriching the community via mentorship programs or other endeavors that help kids to answer the same questions of identity that Jinnah faced, and still faces.

“I don’t think anyone really knows who they are. It’s just everyone’s journey I think. I’m a little bit of an alien everywhere I go, but I let it enrich everything rather than make me feel insecure or not confident because nobody knows who they fucking are. We’re all just figuring it out.”

Stay tuned for more from inside the studios of our favorite emerging designers.

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