It’s taken me into my mid-thirties to fall in love with t-shirts. I blame that on a few things.
1) Adulting is a lot more tolerable with a fresh v-neck cotton blend, and
2) We out here in a time of I-gots-zero-left-to-give-so-you-gonna-get-this-message-without-me-saying-it-even-if-it-breaks-my-bank.
We have come a long way from the tight, unbreathable, crew neck summer camp/family reunion tee days and I am here for it. Lemme get my t-shirt and hoodie with some representation, subliminal side-eye and intersectionality, please. If you’re anything like me, then you need to jump online for one of the newest and hottest additions to this side of the hoodie rocking game and that is Incense, Trap, & Yoga. You read that right. Incense. Trap. AND. Yoga. I had the pleasure of sitting down and chatting ‘home girl’ style with ITY’s creator, Stephanie Rhythm Keene, to talk about her business, representation and to gain some style input for opening night of the Black Panther movie (cause I’mma be Coming to America/In Living Color/Easter Sunday fly, boo).
Black Nerd Problems: Okay, first and foremost, give us the lowdown on the site name. Where did Incense, Trap, and Yoga come from?
Incense, Trap, & Yoga: The name originally came from a playlist. I’m a bit of a playlist aficionado and I had a play list that was called Incense, Trap, and Yoga. A lot of my playlists are as much of a vibe as they are for their intended purposes. The purpose of the playlist was one that would work for a yoga practice that happened to include trap music, some soul music. That was the intention, but it was to also serve a vibe. It was a playlist I would listen to a lot. Then, when coming up with the brand and trying to figure out a name that embodied who I am and what I wanted the items to come across as, I was like “OH! Incense, Trap, and Yoga!” That’s where the name came from. It’s a little bit of a lot of things.
BNP: In a digital world, where there seem to be overnight “pop up” shops giving us apparel and mugs with pop culture references and Black Twitter quotes, what makes Incense, Trap, & Yoga different?
ITY: All of that is true… and I don’t think that anything is wrong with those brands that are “in the now” and based on the latest trending hashtag. Every now and again, if it’s cute enough, I’ll get caught up in that and buy one. The main difference with Incense, Trap, and Yoga is that to date, I’ve made sure that any concept or design that I’ve put up has been original. That’s not to say that, like, the idea of every single thing is original, but I don’t have anything that’s based on what someone else said. That’s important to me for a couple of different reasons, but mainly to distinguish the brand from anywhere else that you could get something that says, like, I don’t know… [insert popular quote here]. Also, that comes with licensing. I don’t have to worry about getting sued for using this really dope 2Pac quote that I like a lot. I’m not opposed to that, but it just pushes me to work harder and figure out my own stuff. I like to figure out things that interest people that come out of my mind and my creativity. That’s the main difference. I also think that in terms of longevity… I’m a person who wears t-shirts a lot. I have t-shirts from over ten years ago and I want my brand to be something that still makes sense ten years from now. I want you to be able to look through my shop and see something you identify with, even if you’re not a person that’s on social media or person that can keep up with the latest slang or the latest running joke. I want it to last longer than that. I want Incense, Trap, and Yoga to be different.
BNP: You have some new items in your store. One thing jumped out to me. Talk to us about “Yes Fats. Yes Femmes. Yes Blacks.” What inspired that?
ITY: You know there’s this Philly organization that designed a Pride flag with brown and black stripes, in addition to the rainbow? There was a reason for it, right? Well, there’s been all of this backlash from white queer folk who feel like those additions were unnecessary. The conversation that stems from that, to me, just further proves why it was necessary or why people felt that it was necessary in the first place. So, the shirt is speaking to that sort of known “no fats, no femmes, no blacks” tag that goes on in queer dating sites. So, any time that I’ve done a shirt that is coming from a place different that my own experience, I make sure to talk to people that it is true for. I put up a shirt that support Palestine today and would not have veered to do that without checking in with Palestinian friends and asking “is this appropriate, is this something that you would wear, is there something that you would change about it, how do you feel about it? What are the organizations that the proceed donations should go to?” So, I checked in with some queer friends to have this conversation about the shirt. The shirt is supposed to be an affirmation of those things that are often marginalized and discriminated against even in the queer spaces. That’s what I want Incense, Trap, & Yoga to be; a place where people of color, but Black people in particular, can find affirming messages and literally wear those across their chest, a life affirming message to walk out into the world with. I’ve so much feedback from people who like the idea of walking into a room and the shirt making the statement for them already. That’s just what I continue to strive to do with the website.
BNP: Everything has been so serious so far, now I’ve got some fun stuff. What is the one item in our store that you cannot live without?
ITY: The one item in my store that I cannot live without? That’s a really good question. I’m gonna say the “Woke & Twerkin'” collection, cause there’s a mug and a tee and a tank and there’s a crop tee! I guess, the irony of that is the fact that I can’t twerk. I’ve had people reach out and say “I wanna wear that, but I can’t twerk” and I’m like… that’s not even the point. My twerkin’ is like mad suspect, but I will wear this shirt and you will get this suspect twerkin’ and you will deal. That shirt was one of the first ideas that I had and the idea of it has been on paper long before I had the idea of opening a store. So, it’s sort of one of the founding principles [of Incense, Trap, & Yoga]. So, I just figured that it was really important because it is one of the clearest statements of the fact that Black people are not monoliths, I’m not this one thing. I can throw this James Baldwin quote at you and I can also throw it in a circle. I mean, I can’t, but in theory… you know, I’m not above it. If I was good at it, I’d do it more often.
BNP: Okay, so if you could adorn any celebrity (fictional or non fictional) in your apparel, who would it be and what would you have them wear?
ITY: It would definitely be Mahershala Ali. That is the absolute first person to pop into my head, with good reason. I believe that he is stunningly beautiful inside and out. The inside part, because I feel that he very deliberately speaks to and for marginalized people whether or not it is a group that he belongs to or identifies with. I really think it’s awesome and I try not to congratulate people for things that I think they should be doing, but it also would be very easy for him not to do that. So, I think that’s dope. What would I put him in? I know he did just have a baby, so I think he would look beautiful in the “black father” tee. I would still make him pay for it, cause…. Yeah, I think he would look good in the “black father” tee and I think he would represent it well.
BNP: Nice… well, I’mma get a little personal then. Dress me for opening night of the Black Panther movie. What am I wearing, from head to toe?
ITY: From head to toe. Okay. It’s Black Panther, so this is so much pressure. Okay, let’s start with the jewelry. Your jewelry is going to come from Sankofa Arts by Tiffani Smith, yes… that’s where your jewelry is coming from. You’re going to have on a really beautiful full wrap skirt in a really fly Nigerian print. Your shirt is going to be the “black educator” shirt tucked into the beautiful skirt. And, I wanna say a head wrap in the same color scheme as the skirt, but a different print. A complimenting pattern, yes. Shoes… something fly, a bootie. A blazer, even. Yes, a blazer. I think I missed my calling, lol.
BNP: If Incense, Trap, & Yoga had a theme song, what would it be?
ITY: One theme song… that’s hard. I’m going to say Kanye’s song with Chance the Rapper and Kelly Price. Ultralight Beam. I feel like it’s got all of those different elements happening. You’ve got traditional gospel elements. You’ve got contemporary gospel elements. There’s a little bit of ratchet hip hop-hip hop and Chance’s full of joy hip hop. All of those different elements happening together and happening well.
BNP: Last but not least, what is the one take-away that you want our readers to take away from this interview?
ITY: To in all spaces leave room for the best parts of yourself and to find a way to bring that into every room. Whether that’s with your apparel, your offering in the conversation or your spirit. You should always leave room to bring some piece of your authentic self.