DIRECTOR. DJ. DESIGNER, NEW YORK
Vashtie Kola wears many hats—director, designer, DJ, creative consultant—and it doesn’t stop there. Her drive is unstoppable and as a result of this, her career knows no bounds. After all, Kola alternates between directing music videos for the likes of Solange, Justin Bieber and Kendrick Lamar, DJ’ing the sickest parties and collaborating with major brands like Beats by Dre, Puma and Toshiba. She’s also the first woman and non-athlete to design a Jordan sneaker—I'm still coveting those, by the way. To sum it up, she’s a multidimensional, artistic powerhouse, a.k.a everything we aspire to be. I picked the downtown sweetheart’s brain about all things work and success. Our conversation revealed that her success is a result of one thing: hard work.
Krav: Let’s start at the beginning of your career. You went to the school of visual arts but at 11, you already knew you wanted to direct. So over the years as you grew up, how did you maintain your interest in the film medium?
Vashtie: I don’t really waiver once I make a decision. It takes me forever to make a decision but once I commit to it. I’m committed. I have been an artist and stayed an artist since I was five or six. And I knew that I wanted to pursue art but it wasn’t until Jr. High that I decided I wanted to pursue film because I felt like the medium of film would allow me to have a greater impact with a larger audience. Movies really inspire me and I like the idea of storytelling, being able to inspire and share a voice that other people might identify with. It wasn’t hard for me to keep that goal in mind over the years.
One of the things you’re known and admired for is how you’ve expanded your career into various facets of media and the creative world. People are definitely inspired by that. So, what do you attribute to you being able to do so successfully?
In general, I think it’s just the interests that I have. It was an innate desire. Sometimes it’s easy to see what other people do and say you want to do it, but if you don’t really have that interest on your own with the understanding that maybe you’ll never get a big check from it or you won’t get famous from it, that’s a different kind of mindset. I didn’t correlate my interest into money or fame. I like sneakers, I like street wear, I like designing, and I like the idea of curating events where friends or many people could come together. If people have the natural desire for all of those realms, they should pursue it but also I think there’s no problem if you only like to do one thing. Or, if you still haven’t figured out what you want to do, that’s fine too. It’s all about finding your own voice. That’s difference and what’s makes my projects successful— my own voice and my own vision.
To piggyback off of that, with the way media is swiftly evolving, it’s pushed to my generation that having more than one skill is necessary. So for you what has been the key to learning and mastering more than one skill?
Sometimes young people look at what I do and feel overwhelmed because maybe they want to design, direct or DJ, but they’re trying to do everything all at once. I don’t know if you’ve read the book Outliers—it talks about putting in your 10,000 hours of practice—I think that’s it. In order to not get overwhelmed, do one thing first successfully and then you can branch off. That’s what I did. I went to school for film and even though I was designing in school and doing random other things, I really just focused more on the directing aspect. Once it started to fuel itself, I was able to focus on other things. Again, I want to stress it, I don’t think that everyone needs to be multifaceted. Sometimes, having one passion is great. I didn’t DJ until maybe, five years ago. Life is discovery, it’s about experience.
You interned for various production studios, so what effects did interning have on you that still stick with you today?
Starting from the bottom and working up. I moved to New York, I came back from film school ready to work and then I show up and I’m getting coffee. My internships weren’t necessarily the best, but its grounding because you realize that you have to start somewhere. I meet a lot of young people who don’t feel like they need to put in that time. I think that it’s really crucial because my work ethic is even stronger from interning. I don’t hesitate to get on my hands and knees and clean something or get down to the nitty gritty. Having the hard work instilled in you at a younger age through internships, it allows time for you to build the framework. Even if you don’t get to do anything you want to do as often, it’s paying dues and paying dues is very important.
What is your biggest piece of advice for students interested in following your footsteps and becoming the multidimensional, creative powerhouse that you are?
You have to pay your dues and you absolutely can’t ever think that something is below you. Just as a human being. I’d also say that you’re going to have to work very hard. If it’s something that you’re truly passionate about, it won’t feel like hard work. Honestly I can say very candidly, I’m exhausted and stressed out a lot of the time and it’s sometimes a difficult line to straddle, working for yourself, doing many projects and trying to segment your brain into different worlds all at once. At the same time, I am very grateful because I don’t feel like I’m overworking. There’s a difference there.
Who and what are some unlikely things and people that influence you creatively?
I always say that puff (Diddy) is someone who really inspires me because of his work ethic. Before Puff, there was no Puff. There wasn’t that guy who was doing what he was doing publicly and as charmingly as he does it. People who create their own lanes definitely inspire me.
Violette is your clothing label and I know one of the reasons you created it was because you could never find boys tees in your size. But tell me more about the concept and what your line means for girls who love streetwear.
The line was created for girls like me. For the most part, I was a very hardcore tomboy. I didn’t own makeup until a few years ago. There’s a scene in the movie ‘Devil Wears Prada’— I mean I can’t be a film student without referencing that movie, right?—at the end of everything she’s gone through and she has a flashback of putting on chapstick in the beginning and then she’s in the mirror putting on like, a lip gloss. You see the growth of when she went from being completely not caring about her looks to being high fashion to then being a bridge in between the two that really made more sense for who she is. I feel like now I see that in myself, I’m still that tomboy but I have moments where I’m a little more feminine now, especially with DJ’ing.
Your influence has crossed borders and what I think is so special about that is you’ve continuously remained who we all know as Vashtie. As young adults we’re somewhat impressionable. Why is staying true to yourself, especially as you maneuver your industry vital?
It’s just about knowing yourself, being comfortable with yourself, knowing your boundaries and knowing your interests. If you don’t know those things, regardless of work or in your personal life, you can be taken advantage of. It’s important to stand your ground and be true to who you because it’s easy to get sucked into things you don’t necessarily believe in or feel invested in. The problem is most people do know who they are but sometimes money can influence things. The idea of fame can influence things. I could’ve easily, in past moments, accepted checks for things that I didn’t necessarily agree with. I naturally don’t want to do anything that doesn’t speak to me or feel authentic. I think it’s important to just be true to your voice, it’ll amount to more in the long term.