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Quiet rebel

Designer Duane Jones uses his fashion to make subtle social commentary

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Duane Jones, pictured at left, wears one of his t-shirt designs. This one is inspired by the pronunciation of North Shore in his home country of Bermuda.
At right, another design with the word Rifle replaces the i with a pen. Photo credit: Left-Lamont Robinson, Right-Duane Jones

Duane Jones, pictured at left, wears one of his t-shirt designs. This one is inspired by the pronunciation of North Shore in his home country of Bermuda. At right, another design with the word Rifle replaces the i with a pen. Photo credit: Left-Lamont Robinson, Right-Duane Jones

Duane Jones was studying graphic design and art in Bermuda when he started his foray into fashion.

“I noticed whenever I was given a chance to choose a project, it would involve clothing in some way,” he says. One of his first projects involved designing a line of t-shirts.

Soon Jones left Bermuda and headed to Halifax, where he studied communication design at NSCAD.

He started his own graphic-design company, Glitterati Communications, in 2006. He says he noticed his clients were growing their own businesses using his design work. He also noticed he often had less creative control over those designs, and was unable to push boundaries with client work.

“I wondered what would happen if I didn’t have anyone telling me to do X, Y, Z,” he says. “It came to me that doing my own projects was probably the way to go.”

Then he got into fashion again, launching a brand of t-shirts under the name Be Glitterati in November of 2011.

His native Bermuda inspires many of his designs. Shirts with the graphics Nawf Shore and Sawf South were inspired by the pronunciation of those locations in his home country.

Others are based on his life and work as an artist. One shirt bears the word Rifle with a pen sitting in where the “I” should be. Jones says in this case, art is his weapon. Jones considers himself a quiet rebel. “I am not out there banging down windows and doors, but I like to make social commentary in a subtle way,” he says.

Still others help marginalized groups find their place. His shirt with the design “Don’t worry, be gay” is a call to action.

“I think I was controlling the public a bit with this one,” Jones says of the shirt. “When I first put this out there I thought I wonder how many people are going to say something about this. Then it evolved. That’s the way you were born; be comfortable in your own skin.”

Jones realized if he wanted creative control, he’d have to run his own business.

“People will tell you your whole life being an artist or being a designer, you can’t make money at that,” he says. “They mean well, they are trying help you, but you convince yourself that because you are an artist you can’t also be a businessperson. I think early in my career people would kind of take advantage of me and I think this is a rebellion against that.”

Jones recently rebranded his company to better reflect its offerings and mandate. He changed Be Glitterati to Art Pays Me, a name that he says represents the literal journey of his work. He sells his products on www.ArtPaysMe.com.

Running a fashion business is not without its challenges. Jones, who is married with two children, has a full-time job besides running his businesses. He’s learned to use his time better, allotting particular nights for particular projects or his family.

“I learned to be a lot more efficient,” he says.

He’s been getting business advice from local mentors. Lisa Drader-Murphy invited him to her Turbine studio in Falmouth. For two hours, she gave Jones advice on the industry such as bringing production in-house and not chasing popularity.

Jones says his wife Natasha helps keep him grounded. “She keeps my head out of the clouds when I get too out there,” he says.

He also showed off his collection during Atlantic Fashion Week in November. “I was a little nervous about putting it out. I was tempted to design a whole new line for it,” he says. “But for the first time a lot of people saw my stuff. It was the boost I needed to say, “Hey, this is the right thing for me to do.” Jones has done four shows since.

Mo Handahu first met Jones when he wrote an article about her for his blog. Handahu, a Halifax-based designer who operates under the brand Lion Hunter, advises him on promotions, especially on social media. Handahu herself has a significant following on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“I told him that it’s very important for him to have a regular social media presence and to be a brand that is very cohesive and a brand with a name that he can actually see going really far,” she says.

She also advised him on his recent company name change. “Even if you’re not ready to announce the new name make sure you secure all the social media handles that way nobody else has them,” she says.

Handahu says she appreciates the authenticity Jones brings to his designs. “I think he’s kind of loyal to where he’s from,” she says. “He’s always talking about Bermuda, sharing love and showing love to some of the hometowns on the island. I love that about his work. But also I think it’s not what you’re seeing right now on social media. His stuff is different and it’s not just words that are on a t-shirt that are popular right now. There is thought in what he’s doing, and I really appreciate that.”

Jones has more plans for his collection. He’s already branched out beyond t-shirts by creating a line of neckties. He wants his own retail space, and would like to distribute his brands at select retailers across North America. He’d also like to have a storefront with a studio inside where he can not only sell his products, but also hire a team that can help him design more clothing.

“Anything is possible when you are intentional and put your mind to it,” he says. “I said this is what I wanted to do, this is the timeline I give myself to get there and these are the steps.”

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