TV: Do you collaborate with Issa for any of her looks on the show? How involved is she (or any of the main cast) in that process?
ST: Issa and the team have developed each character so thoroughly that working off of the script itself is a detailed collaboration. I am largely entrusted with the costume decisions for the show, but there is an approval process for each look, which Issa leads. Sometimes there are about eight people weighing in, and I’m not going to lie, it can get pretty intense. Sometimes I’ll think I’ve created a great “lewk,” and Issa or one of the EP’s [executive producers] just isn’t feeling it. To quote Erykah Badu “I’m an artist and I’m sensitive about my shit” [laughs]. But like everything in life, you gotta pick your battles. So I have to decide what’s worth fighting for, what I can compromise on, and also where I need to make sacrifices in the name of what’s best for the character and story.
TV: How important is it for you to source black designers and brands for a show like Insecure, that depicts modern black life?
ST: Not only is it important to me to buy from and support the network of black and, often, independent designers in the industry, but it’s also equally important to our characters. They’re ‘just like us’—diligent, mindful shoppers who are knowledgeable about the importance of supporting black-owned businesses. The show is a reflection of how young, black people move through the world—including thinking critically about ethical consumption.
TV: Issa’s graphic tees are definitely a standout on the show–they center black culture, pride, and humor. How did those become a staple for her character? What are some of your favorite t-shirt brands to feature?
ST: Issa’s graphic tees are an indispensable part of her character. That element of her personality was established prior to my tenure as costume designer, so I can’t fully take credit, but what I love about her tees is that without any verbal cues, we can align Issa with social, cultural and political movements of the past and present. She knows and is willing to be a mouthpiece for Black history. Plus, we can infer a lot about her life from them—that she’s pulling up at meaningful marches, concerts, and town hall meetings to support what’s important to her, and grabbing that free merch becomes part of her ritual. The selection process for these are always super special, and I prefer to source vintage tees with a context. They serve as an ode to the community.
TV: What are some of your favorite t-shirt brands to feature?
TV: Blk Market Vintage, especially, is an amazing resource. Kiyanna Stewart and Jannah Hand started their business sourcing black cultural artifacts across the nation in 2014. They always have a great find that will make Issa’s tee moments impactful. In episode 3, Issa wears a truly iconic t-shirt from No Sesso. I can’t wait to see it on camera.