Janji | Behind the South Africa Art Series

Janji | Behind the South Africa Art Series

Janji is a globally inspired running brand that built "doing good" into the fabric of its performance clothing. Every season, a collection is inspired by a country (Cambodia, Mexico, Philippines, etc) and to that country go a portion of the sales dollars in the form of clean water projects. Along the way, they work with artists and creatives to tell stories through their product. We chatted with Conner Callahan, Janji Creative Director, about their most recent Artist Series Kits from their current South Africa Collection. Read more below.

Q: What goes into selecting an artist for Janji?

For each Janji collection, our design team does most of the legwork (the bulk of the design) from our studio in Somerville. So this means lots and lots of research into the region that is inspiring that collection. Part of this research is to find the right nonprofit clean water partner and the right artist(s) to team up with. We scour the internet and social media platforms to find an artist with a style that we like and think would be a cool fit for the seasonal collection.

Q: How did you connect to this artist?

Like most things these days, we put out introductory feelers through DMs on Instagram and we were super lucky to get the ball rolling with the Cape Town-based duo MRS + MR LUKE, an artist couple that each has their own unique style. As part of the new world order that freelance designers or artists must rep themselves and their work on IG/social media, it has made social platforms an invaluable tool for us to connect easily with collaborators that we otherwise may have never found. We then move the convo over to email, hangout/Zoom calls and collaborate long-distance through the powers of global connectivity, a definite precursor to the current all-remote standard of work for us now. Because of all the back and forth, time zones, sometimes language barrier, and just the fact that the creative process is happening completely online, developing the Artist Series Kits is one of the most challenging and time-intensive aspects of producing a collection, but also one of the most rewarding.

Q: What is this artist's usual medium (if applicable)?

Faatimah Luke, the MRS half, builds her art by physically compiling thousands of plastic building blocks into large scale compositions. For the print that she developed for us, Lightning Helix, she created this block style digitally.

Al Luke, the MR half, uses a variety of media with a current focus on spray paint, acrylic paint and liners at a variety of scales from small canvas to massive murals on multi-story buildings.

Q: Where can we find their work?

On IG — Faatimah’s handle @lucky_lady_luke / and Al’s handle @alfromcapetown
Or their website https://www.mrsandmrluke.com/

Q: What was the inspiration behind this collection?

The higher-brow concept behind our South Africa Collection had a lot to do with the Anthropocene — that is the current geological age determinedly marked by the influence of humans on the earth and climate. South Africa is home to the Cradle of Humankind, which is one of the the first known human settlements, as well as the oldest official ultramarathon in Comrades and one of the oldest MTB stage races in Cape Epic. So there is some seriously long history of man imparting and moving across the land through their own human-power in that part of the world. Our color palette pays homage to the landscape by being almost exclusively inspired by South Africa’s nature and geological formations, and the collection as a whole is our most sustainable yet as we aim to reduce the impact of what we make. We also see South Africa as a multi-diverse blend of cultures, of oceans, of wind patterns all converging in this dynamic dance which is what led to the print development — with lots of shapes colliding and visual vibration happening.

Q: What is the artist's connection to running?

The honest answer is that we are less focused on finding artists that run or have a connection to “running” and more interested in how the artists are tied in to the culture of the place they are based and the perspective they bring on that culture.

Q: What's your favorite piece from this collection?

This is a hard one. I really like the M’s Split Short in Geo-Savanna with the asym panel in grey and the W’s Middle Short in Lightning Helix because of the detail in the print, but my favorite of the prints is Geo-Refraction.

Q: What do you hope people feel when they buy a piece from the collection?

Our goal always with what we make is to equip and inspire people to get out and explore through running. Whether physically and/or spiritually, we want people to connect to something outside themselves for a moment. It’s one of the reasons we like working with artists from around the world — to present perspectives totally different than our own.

I’m gonna get a little heady for this next bit, so excuse my anthropological musings — for the Janji x MRS + MR LUKE Artist Series Kits specifically, my hope is that people are jazzed by the geometric shapes that conjure both abstract landscapes and the building blocks of life (DNA chains), and are provoked to explore, ever so slightly or even subconsciously, the reciprocal nature of how as humans, we shape the earth but as runners, the earth shapes us back. Maybe most importantly though, we always want our prints to feel fast and dynamic when on, and these definitely do.

Q: What excites you most about global running culture?

It’s hard for me to answer this without being strongly influenced by the current mood and the past six months, how the uncertainty for so many things that we face as society at large has a lot of people feeling unmotivated, uninspired or bummed out (I will be the first to admit to being guilty of these). But I want to be optimistic about the future and there is a wonderful side to all of this too — that in places all over the world, people are either discovering or rediscovering running and how our relationship with running, as most things in life, is in constant evolution. Taking a step back from training plans or feeling pressure to get miles in just for the sake of it and assessing the larger issues at hand opens up new meaning for running and how it can help us process things, give us pause or clarity in the turmoil, or offer a cathartic outlet to try and work out our fury and anger. This is the beauty that running always has, and will provide. I think this personal reframing of what running is and can be for each of us right now, free from any expectation, is exciting.