The air is rare when one is an editor in chief (EIC). It is even rarer when one becomes the EIC of an international fashion magazine. Jan-Michael Quammie, 34, is now the EIC of Germany’s Material Magazine, since October this year. There are two significant things to note about Quammie: she gave local international model, Naomi Chin Wing her first cover and her parents, Lenora and Michael Quammie, are Trinis and are from La Brea.
The numerous photos and articles which pop up when a Google search of Quammie is done, speaks to her enviable career in the fashion industry. She has worked as a senior stylist at MyTheresa [an online luxury shopping business], Net-a-Porter.com [an Italian online fashion retailer], of Shanghai, China. She was also the fashion director of InStyle Germany.
In a phone interview with Newsday, Quammie said of her beginnings, “I got started just by being interested in fashion from a very young age. I started working in fashion around 17, properly. I started out on the buying side. I used to be a buyer at Saks Fifth Avenue [posh department store chain in Manhattan, New York], so that really shaped my profession and the other parts of the fashion industry, meeting other people in the editorial world and styling and things like that...”
But it was Quammie’s uncle, Lennox Huyghue [a merchant who had a store in Flatbush Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, in the early 90s], who influenced her decision to pursue a fashion career. She assisted him with buying for the store and worked in the store when she was around 10 or 11.
She said, “Originally I started becoming interested in fashion because of the influence that my uncle had on me from a young age. He exposed me to the industry and once I realised I had a profession in this and I could actually build a life from it and also present my point of view –which was different than other people’s point of view at the time.”
Quammie moved to Munich, Germany, and after staying in China for three years as a buying director for a Chinese retail online store for luxury designers.
When she met Material Magazine’s fashion director, Dogukan Nesanir, in Paris [after leaving InStyle Germany] and was asked if she was willing to come on board, Quammie agreed. She saw this as an opportunity since she “[could] shape the magazine into what I think that the industry needs.”
“I was totally attracted to an Indie magazine a more underground and understated magazine. And we could make it into what we want it to be,” she added.
Although the magazine has been around for the past 14 years, Quammie’s move to the top has seen an injection of her own style. Since being at the magazine, Quammie has changed its typography, content and layout among other things, re-launching it.
Although it is a fashion magazine, she wants to bring a sense of consciousness to the magazine looking at broader social topics such as the slave trade happening in North Africa. With a broad smile, she said, “It will be a woke magazine.”
Although the stories of the difficulties people of colour face in the fashion industry are well-documented, Quammie described her climb to the top as “not difficult at all.” The industry, she said, embraced her as a person and described its support of her as “overwhelming.”
However, this does not mean she is unaware of the challenges others face. “For me it was not difficult at all, but if there are any difficulties within our people and culture then it is also my difficulty as well. I am very aware that others aren’t as fortunate because of the colour of their skin...how petty is that. It is ridiculous because there are so many talented black people in this industry and they don’t get the recognition they deserve...”
She said it was important that other young people like her, people of colour, see it is possible to get to this level. Often, she said, people wrote her on social media saying they did not think it was possible and she was an inspiration.
While the Material team, before Quammie became its EIC, was very aware and conscious “of presenting people of colour in the magazine,” she believes her role now is to enhance “that and expand on what has already been done in a more global and international way.”
Chin Wing might not be the only Trini focused on since it would be a “pleasure” for her to bring more of a Caribbean view to the magazine and show different cultures and countries within the Caribbean, “and really highlight Trinidad and Tobago because that is where my roots are. That is something that I am definitely interested in.” Quammie has visited TT four times.
When she decided to place Chin Wing on the cover, besides Chin Wing’s beauty and supermodel potential, Quammie wanted to provide a platform to “really expose her as much as possible.” Chin Wing’s splash across international fashion magazines like Vogue and runways brought her to Quammie’s attention. Chin Wing was highlighted in the Vogue on September 26.
Quammie said when she was younger her parents did not see the opportunity in the fashion industry and they “were a little bit more traditional.” Although while growing up they thought her “crazy” for wanting to pursue a career in the fashion industry, her parents are “super proud now.”
“Growing up the early 90s, I told them I wanted to be in fashion, a fashion designer or a model and they thought I was crazy. They thought ‘how can you earn money from that? There is no money in that...It is not a proper business, not a proper career.’
“As it turns out...it is a proper business and it is a proper career and people can actually get proper degrees from it and earn a lot of money and be super successful...Now my parents are super proud because I found a way to navigate through the industry...,” she said.
The industry is changing. “It is not so white and vanilla anymore. There are people of colour popping up from everywhere...and I need more of that to happen.”
Even as TT moves to cement the creative industry as one of its economic earners, people like Quammie and Chin Wing provide proof of the fashion sector’s international economic viability.