“Embrace your uniqueness and be eclectic!“
Interview | Melissa Mayumi Singletary | Fashion designer
Half-Japanese/Half- Caucasian American. I was born in my mother’s hometown of Fukuoka City, Japan and raised in Cajun Country in my father’s hometown in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. I moved to New York City in 2003 and have been happily living an East meets West lifestyle ever since.
What is your cultural background?
My mother is 100% Japanese and my father is a mix of mostly English, German and Spanish ancestry.
In terms of ethnicity / culture how would you describe yourself?
Hapa! Although Hapa was originally the Hawaiian term for a person of mixed ethnic heritage, it is now commonly used to describe all people of mixed Asian descent. Hafu is the Japanese term for Half-Japanese, but I prefer Hapa because it’s just fun to say!
What aspects of your culture are most important to you?
I really appreciate that the Japanese have a deep respect for hard work and order but an anything goes approach to fashion and art. I believe living a life of structure and accountability while freely expressing yourself artistically is the secret to a blissful life! Americans are proud individualists who welcome change. This positive outlook means each of us has the power to create a bright future for ourselves no matter who we are.
Has your cultural background influenced your life/ and or work – hobbies? And if it did could you give some examples?
Yes, it has absolutely influenced my fashion choices. I try to combine an East meets West sensibility into everything I wear. My mother and I design my clothes (she sews them) to incorporate traditional Japanese and Asian print fabric into Western style dresses. We are currently working on a modified obi that would be thinner and simpler so it is more suitable for daily wear. Also, I am searching for kimono prints in more wearable (and washable) fabrics such as jersey or stretch cotton. If anyone knows where I can find this, please message me!
In what language do you dream?
English. Since I grew up in Louisiana with no other Japanese people (besides my mother), I did not learn to speak the language. I’ve been studying it for the past year and am now partially fluent so hopefully I’ll start to dream in Japanese soon!
My earliest memory is also the best day of my life -the day my little brother was born. I was three years old and I remember my mother walking up the driveway smiling and holding him in her arms in a blue blanket. He is the greatest gift my parents and the universe ever gave me. As biracial children in Louisiana, we did not fit into any group, but we always had each other.
Growing up you …
Growing up I lived in a small town where 0.03% of the population was Asian. In order to avoid ridicule, I tried very hard to hide my Japanese side, both in appearance and activities. It was not until I moved to NYC where I met other Japanese people that I realized so many of what I believed to be my unique personality traits and interests were actually quite common amongst the Japanese.
What most people don’t know about you is…
I am obsessed with the NFL (American football). My father is a huge fan so I grew up watching it and never stopped!
Cannot live without?
The fun answer – Red lipstick and mascara, craft beer and sake, sushi and french fries, colorful fashion and art, cardio and the excitement of living in NYC. The real answer – my boyfriend, my brother and my mother.
What inspires you?
Creativity in others inspires me. Social media is an amazing tool to connect the artists of the world (fashion designers, makeup artists, painters, photographers, etc.) with those who appreciate them. I wake up every morning excited to see all the beautiful images people have posted of their creations. It’s a great time to be alive!
Currently working on?
In addition to the modern kimono style clothing previously mentioned, I am studying Kanji and taking Nihon Buyo (Japanese traditional dance), Ikebana (Japanese flower arrangement) and Sumi-E (Japanese ink painting) classes. I’m immersing myself in as many traditional Japanese art forms as I can to make up for all the lost time when I repressed my heritage.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
It was given to me by my Ojiichan (Japanese grandfather) literally on his deathbed. He had terminal cancer and was completely physically incapacitated but mentally totally alert. He grabbed my hand and said in Japanese, “When times are difficult, you must work very hard. The result of your work is not important. It is the effort you give that is the real accomplishment.” This advice changed my entire perspective on life.
What are you listening (music) to at the moment?
My brother’s latest record – Dr. Strangelove’s “No Reciprocal.” It defies genre, but it’s kind of psychedelic trip-hop and it tackles serious issues such as racial injustice with clever lyrics in a catchy electronic format.
If you ruled the world what would you do?
I’m obviously not qualified for this role so I would endeavor to assemble the best team of advisors, experts in every field, who would work together with the ultimate goal of bringing about fairness and justice while reducing extremes and iniquity.
Message to the world.
Embrace your uniqueness and be eclectic! Adhering to the standards of any one group is a boring way to live. And don’t be afraid to stand out. Standing out = Outstanding, and that’s a good thing.
Where can people find you? (Venues / Web / Social media)
Thank you for your time & energy
The Blend Within | Connected by Similarities