Briane Brittani On Art, The AJ1 and Chicago
The artist and former Jordan Wings Design Program participant shares her story and a painting inspired by the new WMNS Air Jordan I High “Satin Red.”
At just 20 years old, Briane Brittani is already ahead of the curve as both an artist and an activist. At the same time, she remains committed to helping the neighborhood she grew up in, Englewood on Chicago’s South Side. Through the creation of her own organization, “Englewood Baby,” Briane has organized successful sneaker drives, in order to help local youth get the shoes they need.
Since her Kindergarten days, Briane loved drawing and remembers sketching countless ice cream cones as a kid. In 2018, she was part of the Jordan Wings Design Program, where she learned more about turning her ideas into tangible projects and gained invaluable confidence. She then created a design, which was printed on a Jordan Brand T-shirt and sold at the 2020 All-Star Weekend in Chicago.
This is just the beginning of Briane’s story. Below, we talk to her about Chicago, her organization, her art and more. We also commissioned her to create a painting that captures her love for the city, using the forthcoming WMNS Air Jordan I High OG “Satin Red” as inspiration.
How would you describe your upbringing in Chicago?
Technically, I grew up as a statistic. My dad died when I was eight years old, which left my three siblings and I to be raised by a single mom on the South Side of Chicago, in a neighborhood called Englewood. Growing up there definitely made my life harder, but I’m grateful for that experience. Seeing the scarcity of resources and investment in my community made me want to make change happen. The experience inspired my passion for wanting to make a difference in my family’s life and the lives of others.
What were some of your earliest inspirations and exposure to the arts?
My earliest experience with art was painting in Kindergarten. I always liked expressing myself through art, whether with pens, markers or paint. I just always loved to draw. I even used to draw on the walls of my bedroom, even though I would get in trouble for doing it.
I was definitely always an artistic person growing up. I used to always draw ice cream cones, mainly because I just knew how to do it so well.
Was there anyone who really encouraged you to pursue your artistic interests? How did that make a difference in your life?
Definitely, my mom. She deserves all the credit for making and molding me into the person I am today. She has always been there, supporting me with everything I wanted to do. To have that support from the person who is helping you grow is huge. I was always encouraged by her to be myself, and to never settle. As my interest in art continued to grow, her support just kept me going. That’s one thing I really love about her.
She would always buy my paint. She would always buy anything I needed, in order for me to explore my creativity. She even pushed me to showcase my art to the world by giving me my first art show, which is something I’m forever grateful for.
What kind of medium and materials do you prefer to work with?
Acrylic paint, for sure. I like how smooth it goes onto canvas.
How long have Air Jordans been a part of your life? Do you have any special memories with them?
I have a funny memory, actually. I wasn’t allowed to wear sneakers growing up. So in elementary school, I used to take my younger brother Bryce’s Jordans, put them in my book bag and take them to school. When I got to school, I would put them on. That’s how important it was for me to wear Jordans, even if it meant that I could get in trouble.
I don’t know if this is a Chicago thing, but here, we make shoe contact before we make eye contact. Growing up in that culture makes it 10 times more important to have on the right shoes. The fact that MJ played in Chicago also really amplifies that.
What has it been like to establish your own community organization at such a young age?
I started it because I want to make sure that my nephews, Jace and Seven, have a positive upbringing. I would say that it’s been one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, because I’m doing something different. I’m doing something that doesn’t have a blueprint. It’s not something that people my age are expected to do. To be able to create my organization, Englewood Baby, and to actually go forward with giving back, and making things happen, has been incredibly rewarding.
It’s also been a roller coaster, but it’s all worth it. It’s been hard, because a lot of people don’t understand why I’m doing it. A lot of people don’t see the significance in it. I believe in what I’m doing. I’ve seen the results, and that’s what matters.
“Women play a huge role in sneaker culture.”
You ran a sneaker drive in your neighborhood. How did it go, and what did you learn from the experience?
I organized a sneaker and winter gear drive at the 32 South State Jordan Store in Chicago, where people donated coats, gloves, hats and most importantly, sneakers. After collecting the donations, I went to a school in Englewood and just let the kids choose what they wanted.
Looking back, it went really well. That was probably one of the best days of my life, mainly because I was able to see the excitement on the kids’ faces. I could see how happy they were. It showed me the importance of what I was doing and the impact I could have on a child’s life.
What advice would you give to people, especially young people, who want to help their communities like you have?
I actually have three pieces of advice. Number one is to believe in yourself. I found out firsthand that I was the only person who believed that I could make it happen. I was the only one that was going through every up and down throughout the process.
Number two would be to do it for the right reasons. Have pure intentions when you give back. It should be because you want to help people.
Number three would be to never give up. I’m saying that, because it’s going to get tough. Nipsey Hussle once said, “The only distinguishing quality from me and whoever else goin’ through this is I ain’t quit,” which is something I now live by.
You were part of the Jordan Wings Design Program here in Chicago. What were some of the highlights?
I really enjoyed my experience with the Wings program. I love it to this day, because it gave me a platform that I didn’t think I was capable of having. It gave me the chance to put my art out there and to be able to speak on it at the same time. Mind you, I had never put my art out there before. I’ve always painted in my room, and it stayed there. The Wings program definitely gave me a platform to expose my art to the world.
As a sneakerhead, how do you feel about Jordan Brand making special shoes for women in inclusive sizing, including the Air Jordan 1 “Satin Red”?
I love it. I feel like women play a huge role in sneaker culture, in general. To have a shoe specifically made for us is amazing. It shows that Jordan Brand sees and hears us, which is an incredible feeling.
I love the AJI; it’s my favorite Jordan silhouette, ever. I love that this “Satin Red” one has aspects of the classic Chicago colorway. I also really like the snakeskin accent. It’s not too much, but it’s just enough to differentiate it from the AJIs before it.
What was your inspiration behind the piece you created for this editorial?
I always want people to look at my pieces and feel a sense of home. The power line imagery will be familiar to people from Chicago, because they’ve seen it before. I took this classic imagery and modernized it by using the AJ1 Satin Red, so I could combine traditional and modern aspects in one piece.
What have you been doing to stay active in the Chicago community recently?
I’ve been on the frontline for pretty much everything. I’ve gone to numerous protests, street cleanups and even food drives, in order to give groceries away to people in my community. I’ve definitely been trying to stay active, especially during these times.
What are you hoping to accomplish in the next couple years as an artist and an activist?
As an artist, I see myself really focusing on teaching the youth everything I’ve learned about art, so far — from what type of brushes to use to helping them refine their creative processes. I see myself as a teacher for the next generation of artists.
As an activist, I see myself continuing to focus on Chicago, because there is so much work to be done, and I’m just one person, so it will take time. I plan to stay in Englewood and really focus on my neighborhood. And when Englewood improves, I will venture into other neighborhoods around Chicago.
The Air Jordan I High OG “Satin Red” is available starting August 6 on SNKRS and at select retailers.