Changing Laces: Getting Cozy With Donette of Cozy Girl Squad
Streetwear culture has been progressively making its way into the mainstream, and with that comes conversations about its many intersections. Enter Donette Lowe: owner and creative director of Cozy Girl Squad, a creative collective for women in streetwear culture. Focusing on eliminating the lack of representation that women face in streetwear culture and helping to changing that narrative, they create content and will soon produce events for that purpose. We kick off #BossAssMay with this firecracker and all around go getter.
FLASH: How did you get started with Cozy Girl Squad?
DONETTE: I’ve always worn sneakers and streetwear and moving to New York in 2015 really let me be free. I’m from Kansas, and Kansas is very conservative and very Midwest, so wearing sneakers and streetwear back home is not okay. Back home, looking like that is just, no. I’m a girl, there’s no way that’s okay. Moving to New York gave me that freedom to wear what I want and think, ‘okay, nobody’s gonna look at me crazy.’ I can wear Timbs to the club, this is amazing! I did an interview with an old friend of mine, and after the interview, I had on a Champion sweatsuit and I was poppin' with my Air Maxes, with my Afro puff going. I was fresh as fuck, but I was broke, so I was in the bodega buying noodles. This guy comes in, keeps staring, then motions to me and said, ‘you’re so beautiful,’ and before I could say thank you he was like, ‘but why?’ and motions up and down to my outfit. He said I needed to wear a dress or a skirt because I was so gorgeous. I was like, ‘oh my god this is such a real thing, this is what niggas really be thinking out here!’ I was furious, I was livid, so I marched home and angry tweeted and said I’m gonna start a group of girls that don’t give a fuck about society’s standards of femininity. I’m the captain, I need a lieutenant, #CozyGirlSquad. It got two retweets and people were like ‘yeah!’ It was like that meme of the one person in an empty ass room being the person who always likes your tweets. I hashtagged it, and put it in my social media bios, and I ended up launching it as a site and decided I wanted to give a voice to more girls like me. I used to do just interviews, but now it’s growing to what it is now. It’s been a few years of working.
F: Does streetwear influence all facets of your life, or just sartorially?
D: All facets of life, I take the streetwear mentality to how I move around a lot. Streetwear culture is very underground, like a subculture, and part of it is to be self sufficient and to encourage those around you to not just invest in the pieces but the lifestyle. When a lot of streetwear companies first came out, it was nothing but a logo t-shirt, and their logo wasn’t lit. What was lit is how they moved in their neighborhood and how they moved as a collective, and people wanted to be a part of that lifestyle. It’s not that Stüssy’s logo was awe inspiring when he first dropped, it was that Shawn Stussy is icy and lives a dope life. He was able to combine hip hop and surf culture, he makes surf boards in California, and I wanna get jiggy with his whole shit. So I’d want to buy the t-shirt so I can feel like I’m a part of his shit. With my life, I try to live it that way. I always tell people I want to be your favorite influencer’s influencer. I don’t want to be the influencer, I want to be the influence. The way I move in business, my day job, all of those things, I’m always trying to do it myself and I’m always considering how thoroughly I’m doing things. I don’t need to half ass it, I want to do it to the core so that people can get jiggy with who I am and the lifestyle I’m trying to promote. Not just if I wear cool clothes, or if I get Nike shit and think, ‘oh my god I wanna be like her cause she gets Nike clothes,’ no. Be like me because my lifestyle is A1, buy my t-shirt cause you want to be a part of my lifestyle. That’s really how streetwear kind of runs things for me.
F: Was there a specific person within streetwear culture who’s inspired you?
D: When I want to look into the history of streetwear, Bobby Hundreds is a walking encyclopedia. He’s dope, and someone I read what they say a lot. He’ll really educate you on shit; like you don’t take money from outside sources. They grinded and funded everything themselves. Him and Shawn Stussy are my OGs that I love; I used to think Ronnie Fieg of KITH was dope until I found out he’s a cultural appropriator in the most lucrative way one can be. He teeters on the edge of pissing you off. Aleali May, she’s not a streetwear designer but she is part of the culture. She’s not as inspiring to me now because she’s now a fashion girl and people are paying her to wear the clothes she does. Now, she’s a full on influencer. Before that, when people were starting to get a whiff of her, she was poppin' in her streetwear, I was right there with her.
F: Do you feel as though there are gatekeepers or guardians in sneaker/streetwear culture? How do you feel they handle relationships with women in terms of providing a platform for them?
D: There’s definitely gatekeepers. Just like within fashion, its all about editorial approval. Hypebeast is probably your biggest gatekeeper. You’re not cool in streetwear until Hypebeast posts your photo on their site, or if you know someone at Hypebeast. For the most part, the gatekeepers are all guys and are typically at outlets like HighSnobiety and Complex, who tend
to generate the popular opinion. Name specific, Ronnie’s definitely a gatekeeper; another outlet came to his store to interview the girls on his staff. Not one of those girls they picked dressed in streetwear or sneakers, or was Black. They handpicked those girls to represent the store, so to represent one of streetwear culture’s biggest voices and pick the white girls, the white passing girls, the racially ambiguous girls, that’s how they handle women in streetwear, but really any thing right now.
If you’re a girl, you already don’t get enough credit and if you actually are Black or look like you are, you definitely get zero credit. I can guarantee in a few years when this shit is out of style, half of those girls in these photo shoots are not gonna be wearing sneakers. If they are, they’re going to do it in a very different way. They’re not gonna do it full cozy where they’re okay with their clothes being big or wearing men’s clothes. It might go back to where you gotta wear the skin tight jersey dress and do it that way. When it's about letting us in, you’re picking the Asian one, again, the racially ambiguous one, and the white girl because it’s cool for them to
wear dirty shoes and baggy clothes. It’s chic, it’s fashion, it’s all these dope things. If I do that, you’d think I didn’t try and I just rolled out of bed like this. You’d think I didn’t put any effort into anything I’m doing. Even if you take color of out it, that’s how they treat women, and that’s how those same guardians engage and approach women. They think that we’re just here trying to get in and knocking at the gate, so desperate to get in that we’ll put anything on our bodies and will do the most just to get in. Instead of the girls like me, and people that I know that have a genuine love and interest in streetwear and sneaker culture that ain’t even step in the gate. Open the gate if you want, if you open it to me I’m breaking the gate. You have all these male guardians, self-proclaimed OGs of the culture, because they can name every pair of Jordans MJ played in, etc. They don’t really respect women.
F: You spoke about them [the gatekeepers] using racially ambiguous/white girls, why do you feel they choose not to give Black/Latinx girls that chance to get that shine?
D: We’re not cool. Everything that Black people do is not cool until someone of another color does it. We don’t look cool enough in streetwear to them. Even Aleali May is Black from what I can remember but she is also racially ambiguous, she’s passing. It’s like that girl’s shirt that says ghetto until proven fashionable, streetwear is just the same. It’s ghetto, it’s raggedy, it’s bummy, until it’s proven fashionable by someone of a different race.
F: Do you feel as though streetwear is being given to the fashion girls just because of their status?
D: I can’t speak for all of them as people; I do feel like a lot of women across the board like streetwear but right now it’s been given to the fashion crowd. It’s fashion to wear Air Forces, it isn’t something that’s only cool on the street anymore. It’s okay to work at Chanel, and part of your outfit when you go to work is to wear dirty sneakers. There’s an outlet called Coveteur, a super high end fashion content website, they’ve got super dope imagery and have been in the game a while now. Now, they’re doing something called Sneaker Week, where they feature people [white women] with dope sneaker closets. They just profiled Maddie Blank, who used to work at GQ, and is essentially a Rich white woman that wears designer clothes and sneakers. That’s who they chose to feature. There’s so many Black and Latina women who’ve been in this shit for years, not when it was cool, not when it was part of the main flow of culture. Look at Vashtie; I think she’s dope but they let her in because she’s a small, light skinned girl with curly
hair who dated Pharrell. I know someone’s gonna get upset and come for me, but I don’t think we acknowledge how much the patriarchy has a say in how we move and how much we get into spaces. We want to amplify each other and amplify our own powers, but nobody is kicking down doors as a woman in streetwear. It’s still men letting us in, it’s still men centric, it’s still male driven. I respect the fuck out of Vashtie but if you would have told me that Vashtie was built like Serena Williams and had her complexion, and then would have said her name I’d have said you were right, ‘power to the people, we did that!’ Vashtie was the first person to have a sneaker with Jordan, Aleali May was the second. Both are light skinned women with long hair. How passionate can I be? I love and support both of them but I can see it for what it is. A lot of it is just surface level interest. If you got money and you could look like a Hybebeast editorial? It’s like you’re famous, instantly. Boom, Instagram--there’s a white kid, I don’t know where he’s from, but he’s got money. He kicked off his start being photographed in streetwear, nothing about it is fashionable and it’s very cookie cutter with his matching outfits, but brands pay him significant amounts of money to put on the clothes they gave him for free, to take a photo and post it on his Instagram. That’s what we’re dealing with. So it’s not just the people that are promoting that idea of what’s popular now and how it should look, it’s the companies too! They’re going with that idea to get the sales, and it’s not cool.
F: Did you always envision working for yourself?
D: No. When I was in undergrad and everybody was all about entrepreneurship, it sounded so terrifying. I didn’t wanna invest my money and my time into a failed venture, do you know how many entrepreneurs fail? I want benefits! I didn’t want the responsibility of running a business
also because of fear. I don’t have a business degree, I’m still learning a lot and still fleshing out business parts of my businesses. It was definitely a complete 180 from where I am now; I’d just work for someone else, make good money, and vacation. I still think being an entrepreneur is extremely risky and that goes against my better nature and type A personality.
F: Are there any challenges that you face being an entrepreneur?
D: So many, the whole thing is challenging. The biggest challenge is between the money and the time; they’re one in the same but when trying to run a business unless you are wealthy enough to where you don’t have to work or you have a dream job where you’re making six figures and barely have to leave home to work, or they have copious amounts of vacation and
freedom at their jobs. I have neither: I don’t get paid a lot, and I don’t have a lot of time. So finding the time to run my businesses and be present, not just send texts and emails off to people, and think of ideas and check into the actual running of my business is a huge challenge. Second would be the money, cause it’s all coming out of my pocket. No matter how many little side hustles I try to do to make it work, the money can’t come in quick enough without me taking money from money from my actual paycheck and putting into my business bank account.
F: How important is it to have a team with what you’re doing?
D: When I first started, it wasn’t important because I didn’t know what I was doing. There’s no point in bringing people on to an idea that hasn’t been fully developed yet. For a long time with CGS, I didn’t need anyone until I began rebranding. Before, I was deleting things off of the website every week. Now, in the way that I want to run it and the things I want to accomplish and quickness of content I want to put out, it’s really important to have a team. I can’t do everything alone. I started with one intern and she was a great help because it was someone who I could bounce ideas off of and have someone there when I needed help. Like, if I’m trying to run this event and I’m at work, I’ll need someone to take this phone call. Now I’ve graduated to having an assistant, intern, and designer on my team and they play integral roles. Right now, the designer is working on the website. I’m not proficient at that! I can do it and have definitely done it, but now I’ll have an actual website that looks cool. My assistant was out recently, and she’s constantly working like I am, she’ll be hanging out and will still take inspiration pictures for the next shoot. It’s super important to have a team, you just have to make sure your idea is fully fleshed out, because if you bring people on to an unfinished idea they’ll be just as confused as you and end up wasting their time.
F: Did you have a moment of transition that made you want to take on Cozy Girl Squad?
D: I worked with a guy who tried to steal Cozy Girl Squad, and when I had to take it back, and as a woman saying to a man, ‘you do not own this. This is my intellectual property, before I even knew what intellectual property was. This is my idea, this is my brand, when I had to have that moment and take it back for myself, that’s when it kicked in. You know, God is real. And that’s probably what God was saying the whole time, that I should have been doing this myself, I didn’t need him or anything that he was bringing to the table. I should have just done it myself and make it how I wanted to it to look. That was May 2016, and I launched at the end of
F: Does anything keep you up at night, if so, what?
D: I have anxiety, so everything keeps me up at night. I do my best remembering of things that I didn’t accomplish throughout the day at night, so I’ll be in the bed 99% asleep and I’ll be like, ‘I didn’t send that text message, or I didn’t send this email.’ Cozy Girl Squad related, it’s always
the money. I think about all these ideas I have: I want to design my own clothes, but where am I getting the funds from!? Trying to create a way to make more money to fund CGS, that keeps me up. Monetizing CGS definitely keeps me up, I have all these ideas, I kind of have a business
plan, I always ask myself what is it going to take before I can live off of CGS. If I can quit my job tomorrow and do CGS stuff, that would be the goal. That’s it basically; trying to figure out how to quit my job and give a big fuck you to corporate America, wake up when I want to, and go on vacation when I want to because CGS is so poppin'.
F: Do you have any habits that help keep you focused?
D: I put everything into my calendar: I have my CGS calendar, my personal calendar, as well as each of my team member’s CGS calendars into one. That’s how I keep track of what needs to go on, what I’m doing and what everyone is doing. Everything down to me taking a breath, that’s how I’ll know who’s going to be available and who’s doing what. It’s on my phone and my computer. I’m getting a lot better at communicating to people as well, so I can tell people what I need and when I need it by, versus getting frustrated and trying to do it myself. That’s definitely a trick that’s helping me focus; it may seem like a small thing but it really works. If I know I have to really go in and grind it out, I’ll need a clean space. My space has to be super clean, I’ll put my phone on do not disturb, I let people who I speak to a lot know that I’m not gonna be reachable for whatever time, all of those things.
F: Talk about future endeavors and things in the pipeline for Cozy GirlSquad.
D: We’re doing a relaunch event, so that should be very exciting. That’s gonna be our reintroduction to who we are, and where I can show off the team and collective. So many people are looking for it, and I like the suspense. I’m glad people know what’s coming. We’re also going to be doing a lot of video content: mini series, films, etc. we’re definitely going to keep doing editorial shoots and those things, I do want us to get into community service endeavors because anything can be dope but if you cant find a way to give back its empty. I wanna get into carpentry and start building installations, so I’ve been trying to teach myself how to do that. I’m handy! I’d love for someone to want to hire CGS and say, ‘I want you to freak the inside of my wall for an event,’ and we know how to do that and create it. That’s the goal for CGS, to be content creators and have people hire us to do a number of things. The long term goal is to have a huge team, and go on a three week vacation. I want CGS to get to a point where I can dip off and hide in Barbados, and it will still be running. I have a bad habit, I’m one of those people where I’m like, ‘oh, not rich yet, can’t sleep!’ It’s definitely something where I won’t allow myself to sleep cause I’m always thinking of the things that aren’t done.
F: What is a FLASH girl to you?
D: When I think of FLASH I think of raw, unadulterated girl. Since Janelle Monaé’s ‘PYNK’ video I have a thing for vagina clothes, my homegirl works for a jewelry brand and she showed me this vagina necklace, and that’s what I think a FLASH girl is. Someone who’d wear vagina clothes not just because, but because she’s bold and goes into life stating what and who she believes in and whatever she wants to feel on the outside. She’s dope, and she lives her best fucking life. And if she wants to wear vagina pants like Janelle Monaé she’s gonna wear vagina pants!
Photos by Shanté Carlan