DOPEciety is a creative collective of visual artists and designers. Denisio Truitt, a Liberian-American artist and writer, is the “brainchild” behind the brand which reflects her dual identity. She began DOPEciety by selling t-shirts that showed her original artworks featuring the “Dean Gle” mask. After the success of her t-shirts, Denisio partnered with Michael Wilson and the two expanded DOPEciety into a fusion of eccentric art, music and culture. Every month DOPEciety hosts and curates events featuring emerging artists. I had the pleasure of getting to know more about Denisio and her success with DOPEciety.
TM: When did you create DOPEciety and what vision did you have for it during the start-up stage?
DOPEciety started in Spring of 2013 as a small collection of t-shirts with all original artwork created by me. I wanted to create a line that reflected my dual identity of being both Liberian and Black American while simultaneously speaking to the ancient and the futuristic. Duality has always been a big part of my art but I first began incorporating the use of masks in my artwork during my senior year of college in 2005. I began using masks, specifically the Dan “Dean Gle” Mask (Liberia, Sierra Leone) in a lot of my portraiture which evolved into the t-shirt designs. At the beginning I had no real goal or vision. I just wanted a new way to express my artwork.
At what point did you realize the growth potential for DOPEciety?
That has only been a recent development. A little over a year and a half ago I met fellow creative Michael Wilson. At the time DOPEciety had made a little bit of noise but was stagnant and not producing any profit. We discussed our respective goals and visions for our businesses and quickly realized how much they aligned. In early 2014 he became a partner in DOPEciety and has stepped in as both a business manager and co-creative director. Together we’ve expanded the apparel line to include men’s tees and even branched into event curation here in New Orleans.
What was life like growing up with two different cultural influences?
At times confusing, at times alienating, but more often than not rewarding. I grew up with an immigrant mother from Liberia and a father from North Carolina. Plantains and fish fry’s on Fridays. I spent summers in both the American South and West Africa. You’d be surprised how similar the two cultures are. I think that is probably what drew me to live in New Orleans, one of the most African cities in the US. Here I find the perfect amalgamation of both of my cultures in the language, cuisine, and even the climate.
How did this affect your work inside and outside the classroom?
I would say that my dual culture has always affected my work in that it has been a nonstop source of inspiration. I love to find the connections between what is traditionally African vs African American and the implication of said ties.
Who was your biggest influence as child? Did that change once you grew as an artist/entrepreneur?
My biggest influence as a child was probably my grandmother. She owned her own boutique in Liberia and was a creative in her own right. She encouraged creativity in both her daughters and in me. She helped raise me and had an amazing imagination, millions of fascinating stories and folklore to tell. She passed away in 2005 and I see her now as a guardian angel of sorts. I dedicate all of the art I create to her memory.
When did you decide to pack up and move to New Orleans to expand your business?
My very first visit to New Orleans was only last February (2014) but it was during that first month that I spent down here that I knew I wanted to live here. As I touched on earlier, I’d never been in a place that felt so much like Liberia in the United States. It felt beautiful, dangerous, and alien, yet familiar all at the same time. The reservation of West African culture here made it an ideal place for DOPEciety to flourish. I am still learning this new place and treading lightly but for once I feel like I am exactly where I am supposed to be.
What has it been like collaborating with various artists and designers?
Its been fantastic! I always knew that I wanted DOPEciety to be a platform to celebrate and collaborate with other artists. This is something I hope to do more of in the near future.
How important is evolution in the creative business field?
It is critical. DOPEciety has become something very different from what I initially envisioned and I feel like it was necessary in order for its survival. Especially being housed within the constantly changing fashion industry, its pertinent for us to grow and shift with the times while still remaining true to our vision.
You’ve expertly utilized social media and social activities to garner new customers and fans. What tips do you have for upcoming designers in the start-up phase on how to go about advertising and communicating with potential customers?
Whatever social media platform you are on, you have to cater your marketing to it. We’ve had the most success with Instagram and feel it’s a great tool for showcasing apparel. But it’s important to keep in mind that people don’t like to feel like you are only trying to sell something to them. We try to keep it creative and artistic focusing more on a captivating image rather than just simply trying to sell a shirt. Also it’s important to be interactive with your audience! We do our best with it yet still know we could be better!
What’s to come from DOPEciety in the upcoming months?
We have some amazing collaborations in the pipeline, as well as some local events. The redesign of DOPEciety.com is nearing completion and should launch this Summer! Also, we’ll be traveling to the East Coast for a few weeks in August so be on the lookout for potential events in DC, Philadelphia, New York and possibly (hopefully) a few of other places!