Jamilla Okubo is a Kenyan-American artist, surface pattern designer and illustrator from Washington D.C  Drawing inspiration from Kenyan textiles, African American history, and fashion, she creates art and textiles that showcase all of these interests based on her own experiences. The Style HQ caught up with Jamilla to learn more about her craft and the inspirations behind her work.


How did you know this was your path – what happened, what connected, what makes you passionate about what you do?

Since I was little my mother always had me involved in art programs whether that be summer camp or after school programs. I always had a strong love for art. My favorite class in school was art and I always wanted to be the best artist in my class. But throughout high school I began attending a non-profit hip-hop organization called Words Beats & Life, thanks to my longtime boyfriend, to learn graffiti. He saw that I had an interest in becoming better and I started going there to learn from my mentor, Cory Stowers.

Then I realized they also offered breakdancing and djing, and i was hooked! My time there exposed me to so many experiences like being in gallery shows, painting murals, performing, and djing at events. From that experience I knew that I wanted to take my art career seriously so I transferred to a high school that provided pre-professional arts training combined with a college preparatory academic program. And the rest was history, haha until now. I’m a very visual person and I really enjoy creating with my hands.


What makes me passionate about the work that I do is my journey to discovering who I am and where I come from while also empowering others that look like me. Growing up I struggled with accepting myself and my blackness up until high school and my work really became therapy. It allowed me to see the beauty in my cultural identity. So when people responded positively to my work and told me that it was empowering, that they saw themselves in my work, and inspired their daughters and sons it really touched me because I never knew that my work could hold so much power.


What is your go to mantra on life and your work?

“Failure is when you stop trying”

I think you can apply the failure mantra to both work and life, because if you don’t try and already doubt yourself before trying you have already failed. It took me awhile to stop obsessing over the outcome of what I create. When I began to share my work on tumblr and started receiving a lot of attention I became more critical of my work and worried about what people would think about the next piece of art or project I shared and that really hindered my creativity.

We The People of the Diaspora- Black Culture Exploration © Jamilla Okubo