Written by Stephanie Koathes

Globetrotters: Kemar Swaby Jamaican Designer in NYC



Jamaican designer is fulfilling his wish to see as much of the world as possible.

The graduate of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts Kemar Swaby has been busy building his clothing brand Karma Muse in his adopted city of Brooklyn, New York.

Let’s check in with this fascinating Jamaican globetrotter.

How long have you been living in New York?
Four years.

Describe life there.
It’s fast-paced.  There are lots of things to do, many different experiences and people. It’s a perfect place to make friends from around the world. It’s one of the few cities where I could see myself living for a long time, but not one where I see myself raising a family. It’s not for everyone, New York City makes or breaks you, you have to be able to roll with the punches or you will get knocked out.


Why did you leave Jamaica?
To do my masters. It was an uphill battle when it came to making ends meet as a creative entrepreneur in Jamaica. Jamaica has world-class creatives but we are often underappreciated. It was also very expensive to feed my wanderlust to see the world from Kingston.

What are the main differences between life in New York and life in Jamaica?
Organisation. Haha I love when things arrive on time and people follow through with their deadlines; that was my big problem running a business when I was in Jamaica.

Was it difficult for you when you first moved?
I knew coming to the USA would be difficult, I expected it to be hard and I embraced it. I love a challenge. The hardest thing was the ever-changing nature of NYC and underestimating certain things that you wouldn’t think would catch you off guard.

Tell me about Karma Muse. What motivated you to start it?
Karma Muse kind of started itself. I had created promotional T-shirts for my final year thesis show at Edna Manley. With the help of my family and the expert selling skills of my cousin, all the shirts were sold out the night of the show and even more requests lined up. Then, I thought if people love it so much I should start a business around it.

Photo credit: kemarswaby.com

Photo credit: kemarswaby.com

Which countries have you visited? 
Trinidad and Tobago, Canada,  Italy,  the Netherlands,  Spain, Greece,  Sweden, Japan, Thailand, Mexico, France, Finland, Cuba,  Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan, and the United States of America.



What’s on your bucket list?

Bucket List: The world + the moon? I don’t really have a bucket list, I just want to see as much of the world as possible in my lifetime.

It’s not always easy travelling on a Jamaican passport, any advice Jamaicans who want to travel?
The hardest part is getting all the documents for the visa process, but after a while, you get used to it. Have 10 different shots of you for your passport photos, and just smile. From my travels, everyone in the world loves Jamaicans because of our culture and Usain Bolt. And, once you’ve gotten one visa, then, it is easy to get more.

Which country/city has so far been your favourite?
Tough question. I guess my current home city or maybe Tokyo or Rome.

Why is travelling important?
Experiencing a new culture and people is amazing, not to mention both the natural and man-made creations of the world. For me, travel builds both your character and outlook in life, you start to think on a global scale rather than on a local scale. It’s easier for you to relate to more people in the world and find similarities with them.

How does it feel when you visit Jamaica? 
It’s a homecoming really, it refreshes the soul and rejuvenates the mind and who I am. I have a big family and I try to come back when I can but it’s hard when you want to see the world.

Photo credit: kemarswaby.com

Photo credit: kemarswaby.com

Festival or bammy?
Festival man fi life!

What do you miss most about Jamaica?
Festival? Joking. But mostly the food and family but I truly don’t miss it until I have been gone for a long time. I think because home will always be home and I know when I come back it’s like catching up with a best friend who you haven’t spoken to in awhile. When I am in Jamaica everything just goes back to normal like nothing changed.

What is the biggest challenge about living in New York?
Not becoming too comfortable, NYC is unpredictable. Many different things come at you from different areas of life and you just have to push through.

What do you enjoy most about New York?
I like not knowing what could happen next, it keeps me on the edge and always pushes me to innovate. I have travelled quite a bit and there is something about the endless possibilities of NYC that always fascinates me, even on a seemingly boring day it’s still quite interesting.


How have your travels impacted your world view?
It opened my mind up to new possibilities, and also I feel a lot more informed as it relates to how the world functions. Most people think what you see on news or TV is the true depiction of a society but it’s always different. The one thing I always tell people is you can always buy things and compare them but you can never buy or compare the experiences of another person when you travel to a new destination.

Where would you like to see Jamaica in 50 years’ time?
Jamaica is in a fragile place right now and needs to become less focused on short-term material gains and look towards the future. I truly believe some of the upcoming generations will be able to make a difference.  But this change can only happen if we’re willing to sacrifice some of the old ideals which the structure and institution have enforced.

Check out Kemar’s website to find out more about him and Karma Muse. If you want to be a globetrotter too, visit Find Yello to locate a travel agency or airline and start planning those trips!


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