VOICI tells DMV history through streetwear
The clothing brand, founded by three DMV natives, tells its consumers, ‘this is’ their story
Editor's Note: This article appeared in The Eagle's March 2021 virtual print edition.
Voici, pronounced “vwa-see,” is French for “here is” or “this is.” Now, it also means a streetwear brand that presents a cultural history of the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area.
“It's like, ‘this is your story,’” said Jordan Saint-Louis, CEO and creative director of VOICI.
Saint-Louis founded VOICI in the summer of 2020 alongside his two friends and fellow DMV natives, Jerry Zouantcha and Taofik Lucas-Walker.
Saint-Louis initially reached out to Zouantcha about shirt designs and Lucas-Walker, a professional soccer player and model, about potentially modeling new clothes in May. They each realized that they had no items of clothing that represented their hometown, despite the fact that so many other cities had popular clothing brands.
In an email to The Eagle, Saint-Louis said that he always wondered about starting a fashion and/or streetwear line, “as a way to communicate and connect people through clothing.”
“Why not give people that sense of pride?” said Zouantcha, VOICI chief marketing officer and events planner. Zouantcha is a senior on the American University men’s soccer team graduating next fall with a degree in health promotion. He also plans to pursue a master’s at AU in health promotion management.
Saint-Louis, Zouantcha and Lucas-Walker wanted to create a brand of streetwear that educated people on the history of the D.C. area and encouraged them to learn more about it themselves.
“People buying the clothes for us is very much secondary,” Saint-Louis said. “It's more [important] that people start to care.”
They released their first collection, “VOICI: The DMV Chapter,” in July with the intention of educating the public about DMV history and culture through their streetwear.
“You have a lot of creatives, a lot of designers and a lot of artists in D.C., but they put out their own clothing brands with their own designs, but are they really representing the DMV?” said Lucas-Walker, VOICI chief design officer and talent manager. “So what we're doing is something that we realized nobody else is doing within the DMV.”
VOICI’s designs feature an array of D.C. cultural references and icons, and their photo shoots for the clothing are taken all around the D.C. area. Some shirts have pictures of famous D.C. natives, such as jazz musician Duke Ellington, while others have either D.C. slang or historical references.
To incorporate these designs onto their clothing, Saint-Louis, Zouantcha and Lucas-Walker had to learn more about the history of the D.C. area themselves, which included research through museums and talking with people in the area.
“It was an educational thing just as much as having designs that were relevant to the DMV,” Saint-Louis said. “But we were actually learning about our history and ... educating our generation, like, ‘yeah, this is how D.C. used to look.’”
Their latest collection, which wrapped at the end of February, was called “Chocolate City,” a reference to D.C.’s nickname. It honored the Black history of the area with shirts featuring prominent Black Washingtonians such as television talk show host Petey Greene and musical artist Marvin Gaye. Other clothing items in the collection said “Chocolate City” or had designs inspired by the Homestead Grays, D.C.’s former Negro National League baseball team.
VOICI’s founders wanted to ensure that their streetwear not only represents D.C. and the surrounding area but also benefits their community.
For the “Chocolate City” collection, 60 percent of all profits will be divided between three D.C.-based organizations: ONE DC, a group fighting the effects of gentrification in D.C. through community organizing; Southwest Soda Pop Shop, a Black family-owned ice cream parlor and restaurant; and the Petey Greene Program, an organization that educates incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals. Sixty percent of the profits from the Grays clothing items will go to the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, where Saint-Louis, Zouantcha and Lucas-Walker were able to conduct research to create the Grays streetwear content.
In part, the coronavirus pandemic gave VOICI’s founders time and space to get their streetwear brand started. This summer’s Black Lives Matter protests inspired them even more to pay homage to the Black history of their community. But now that the brand has wrapped up another project, VOICI’s founders are beginning to recognize how the pandemic is slowing them down.
“It’s a ‘glass half empty, glass half full’ situation,” Zouantcha said. He and the other VOICI founders want to be able to work with more businesses and locals and visit places to continue creating content that represents D.C.
“Without COVID, I think if we did start VOICI at the same time we did … [it] would have been a lot more impactful,” Zouantcha said. “We could have reached more Black-owned businesses, we could have interviewed more people, [we] could have reached out to more communities, visited more parks, visited more neighborhoods.”
VOICI plans to work on a collection that will feature 50 to 70 soccer players in the DMV area this fall. They are also currently working on a new collection with Reggie Becton, an R&B artist from Prince George’s County, Maryland, that will represent Becton’s music, which is inspired by the DMV and focuses on mental health and masculinity.
After that, Lucas-Walker said their next project, set to release in 2022, is “very, very special,” but still a secret for the public.
As for the future of their streetwear, VOICI’s founders hope to produce more online content that can serve to educate people on the DMV’s history and culture. They said they hope their brand can last, for the sake of maintaining the legacy of D.C.’s history and culture, and that, in the future, it will be indicative of the D.C. area all over the world.
“I could be all around the world, but at the same time, I feel close to home when I'm wearing a Marvin Gaye shirt, Petey Greene shirt, a Chocolate City shirt,” Lucas-Walker said. “Just representing where you're from, not just to look trendy.”
VOICI’s mission statement is, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” This quote represents a lot to the company’s founders but mostly, it feels like an inspiring call to action for them.
“We kind of like to say that we're the ones who can do this,” Saint-Louis said. “We're the ones who can create a certain amount of change or affect our community the way we want it to be affected.”