In just three years, Saudia Islam’s knitwear brand went from a way for the designer to deal with anxiety to one of Kim Kardashian West’s favorite Black-owned businesses. Islam says knitting changed her life. In June 2017, the Philadelphia-based designer—who now counts Kardashian West as a fan of her going out-ready knitwear—was struggling with anxiety and depression. She had just deferred going to college, and decided to start experimenting with knitting as a form of self-care, never once thinking about the possibility of it becoming a full-time job. “It actually came out of necessity,” she says of her label. “I read somewhere that craft and creativity is a great coping mechanism for people with anxiety, so I went to A.C. Moore and I bought a couple of things: canvas and paint, crochet needles, knitting needles, and yarn.” Islam particularly found comfort in the art of crocheting and knitting, and it lead her to launching her full-on knitwear brand, JBD Apparel, just a few days later.
Islam didn’t expecting the pieces she was creating to sell in the beginning. She simply enjoyed the art of creating them, and how it made her feel while doing it. “It truly calmed me,” she says. “It’s a very tedious, repetitive process. When your mind is going in circles all over the place, and you can't really focus on something, it’s very calming to repeat the same thing over and over. That's all that crochet is, really: you complete stitches over and over.” The art of crocheting wasn’t total unfamiliar territory for Islam. She had dabbled in the art form when she was 19, and her mother was also a talented crocheter as well. “She's the one who taught me how to crochet,” she says. “In middle school, I also started a crochet club.”Photo: Courtesy of JBD ApparelPhoto: Courtesy of JBD Apparel
As she continued to find her knitting groove, Islam ramped up her skills by teaching herself new techniques online. “YouTube taught me a lot when it comes to making simple patterns,” she says. Once fully immersed into the world of knitwear, she then realized something that was missing within the space, which often leans towards more fall-winter pieces such as sweaters or scarves. “My main market at the time were, like, my friends,” she says, “and they weren’t going to walk around in a winter sweater in the middle of June.” She started applying knitwear to lighter, summery pieces as a result, including crop tops and skirts. “I knew that I wanted to do something outside of the traditional concept of crochet,” she says. “That’s always been my personality—I’m not too typical.”Founder and designer Saudia IslamPhoto: Courtesy of Jolie by Dia
One of the first things she made was her bodycon Zenith set, which continues to be a best-seller for her. Produced on a knitting machine, the crop top-and-skirt combo is not at all what you would expect a knitwear piece to be: it’s sleek, modern, and even sexy. The set further skyrocketed in popularity when Kim Kardashian West wore it in pink last month. “[Before Kardashian West wore the set] someone inquired about that set at least once a day—but now it's a ridiculous amount,” Islam says. The Kardashian moment happened organically: Islam got a DM from someone on Kardashian West’s team, saying the star found her on Instagram and wanted to put in a custom order. Kardashian West has since worn her Ion 2.0 top, which is hand-crocheted and another best-seller of hers, and has dubbed JBD Apparel one of her favorite Black-owned businesses. “Everything has completely changed overnight,” she says of the resulting demand. “We’re now developing an entire team. I can't fulfill the type of inquiries that we're getting—I would lose my hand.”Photo: Courtesy of JBD Apparel
To keep up with the momentum, Islam is currently re-developing the brand’s e-commerce website—keep it bookmarked. It’s not up and running yet, but when it is, new styles will likely sell out fast!—and working on a new spring-summer collection that will launch by the end of July. The Zenith set will be making a comeback, and menswear is on the horizon, too. “We are really working hard to come up with things that are unique and creative,” she says. “Things that we have not seen within knitwear, and things that we have not seen within traditional textiles, either.”