If Goldie Locks were West Indian, the classic tale’s protagonist would probably resemble Savannah Baker. However, Savannah is definitely not in the porridge-tasting business. Savannah is the owner of the V-files-stocked and Vogue-featured socks brand Pum Pum. A brand, inspired by a month-long trip to Japan and Savannah’s Jamaican heritage, Pum Pum has grown from strength to strength, enticing the likes of Rihanna and Willow Smith to name but two high-profile wearers. Besides being the owner of a brand to watch, Savannah is also a, Stylist, Photographer and Creative Director at Suitcase.
Merely days after returning to London from an extended stay in Jamaica, I met up with a sun-kissed Savannah on Soho’s Brewer Street. Seconds away from the car park that plays home to London Fashion Week, it’s a fitting place for a woman with such distinctive style.
Amidst many bags. Perched on a seat by the window of Flat White. Savannah is charging her phone, whilst answering the emails amassed during her many pulling appointments of the day. Evidently, a photoshoot is impending. Although today Savannah has put on the Styling hat, she is still juggling many other titles too, which leads to the first of many questions.
You wear many different hats such as Photographer, Creative Director, Stylist and owner of Pum Pum socks. Which one do you most enjoy?
I like all of them a lot. I think photography is my favourite, but I don’t really do that as work. I do that as more of a hobby. I don’t like to be pressured. So I like to just take shots documentary-style, I don’t like to set up shoots. Whereas, Styling is natural to me and the brand, Pum Pum, is what I embody. So I love all of them, but I think photography is like my hobby and I love clothes. I’ve always loved collecting clothes.
So how did it all start for you?
Well my first camera I got at the age of— I don’t know… I took my first OKAY magazine photo at two years old. But that doesn’t really mean anything. It all really started, photography-wise, at ten years old, when I got my first film camera. With Styling, I’ve always wanted to do Fashion. I thought it would be design, but I didn’t want to go to Art college and have to pattern-cut and everything. At that age, I knew I wouldn’t actually go in to college because I was a bit mad. So I just interned lots. From about fifthteen to now, I have done loads of internships, assisted and everything.
What is a favourite shoot you have worked on?
I’m not sure… I love working with Suitcase magazine. I’m fashion editor-at-large there. I like it because they give me free-reign. I get to travel to lots of places which is cool. My favourite part is that they don’t have specific brackets, they let you pull whatever kind of designer you want. You can use vintage, archive-- you can use whatever season and they are very cool with that. So there’s creative freedom.
You’ve lived in Jamaica, London and New York. How does the experience of living in these places influence your creative work?
Jamaica is my home and my love! You can see that in my work. I like to incorporate culture in my work a lot. So I guess these places are evident in my reference points. I’m not specifically chic. I’m not specifically street. I kind of mix it all up to create something new, if I can. So I have gathered things from all of them.
What I value in life is respect. I would treat the Queen, the same as I’d treat someone on the street. I think that’s really important. That’s what is lacking in the Fashion industry.
Which location do you think has taught you the most valuable lessons?
Definitely Jamaica! Mainly for the fact that what I value in life is respect. I would treat the Queen the same as I’d treat someone on the street. I think that’s really important. That’s what is lacking in the fashion industry. It’s why I like music and fashion rather than traditional fashion, you know? I feel like the hierarchy system should be abolished because everyone’s a human and deserves respect. Of course, if you have someone who’s really established that’s cool. Of course, people can learn from them. But I think it’s really sad a lot of people, including myself at one point, are so turned off by the industry. I nearly didn’t go through with it because people were so horrible. People who work with me are never my assistant. They are always working with me because they want to do it and learn that way. So I think Jamaica has taught me that [humility]. Some of my best friends are local boys. Some of them have nothing but will still work it out. If I buy the chicken, they’ll cook the food, you know?
How did Pum Pum socks come about?
So I started making them in 2009. I went to Japan for a shoot initially. I was there for a month because I’ve always wanted to go, so I did the shoot and just stayed on longer. It was literally just me, myself and I. I have always liked socks and I saw the cute [Japanese] socks butthey were always really childish. So I wanted to do it in more of an accessory way. I met-- who’s my business partner now-- Jemma on a shoot. She did business management and helped bring the brand together with an investor which was amazing. I’m very Jamaican-influenced and culture-influenced, so the branding is definitely based on that. I’ll wait for your question on the naming! [laughs]
Let’s talk a bit about the name, why did you choose Pum Pum?
The name Pum Pum, means a girl’s lady parts. Growing up in Jamaica, because I’m educated and from England or whatever, I can easily speak up for myself. But a lot of women there are seen as there to be bred, as they would say. Their job is to be paid by their baby fadda [baby’s father]. So I wanted— Also a lot of the music is all very derogatory to women. It’s all about the pum pum. What they want to do to the pum pum. Take a girl’s virginity or whatever, whatever. So I wanted to take the term back for the girls, in that kind of sense. Actually, I was in Jamaica wearing the frilly socks, before we had the brand, and one of my friends were like “oi pum pum socks”. When she said that I was like “that’s amazing!” but then like Obviously the reason we then chose the name was to help support the country in a different way.
That’s interesting because I was going to say that you’ve recontextualised and redefined the term. Made it less derogatory and innocent in a sense…
Yeah, by itself, it is quite a cute word. In Conservative Jamaica, if they hear it, they don’t get it. But once they hear that we are a positive movement. That we actually are working on lots of things within Jamaica, which will also influence other islands and countries that have this “it’s a man’s world” mentality. It’s all about equality. Helping women, who don’t have education, to be able to do different things. We’re going to bring inspiring women to Jamaica and try to get things sponsored, like sewing machines from Singer. So that if you’re at home with the babies, you can do other things too and not have to rely on your man.
With the name, has it ever been problematic to get stockists?
No, not at all because it’s all kind of tongue and cheek. If you know of the culture and read about it, you’ll know. Not many people do know of the term. I think many brands have quite controversial parts to them. But we’re about giving back to the country. We’re not just taking things. We had a lot of stuff made there, future stuff will be made there. So we’re giving work to people there.
In recent seasons, we have seen designers produce Caribbean inspired collections— most notably Tommy Hilfiger. So why do you think people are looking to the Caribbean for inspiration?
For me, the Tommy Hilfiger collection really pissed me off. He based it on Mustique. He didn’t give credit to Jamaica. Nor did Rihanna in the Work music video with Drake. I think if you are going to do something very Dancehall influenced, you need to say something in interviews that it was that. People who aren’t in tune or aware of Dancehall will think that Rihanna started it or Drake and I think that’s really not cool. It is the same with Tommy Hilfiger for not crediting the country or Rastas.
I think it’s just because things go around in waves. Also the music is starting to become a bit more commercial, in a good way. Popcaan did that song with Jamie XX and Young Thug [Good Times]. Assassin did a song with Kanye West. I know that Kranium, another big artist who just got signed to Atlantic, has done a collaboration with Usher which has not come out yet.
So how do you feel when someone says that Caribbean culture or Jamaican culture is “trending”?
I don’t know I feel like any thing can be trendy. I don’t know what that means, as long as it’s promoting. I’m all about promoting the country because a lot of people know about the music, but they don’t know about other aspects of culture.
I did this story for The Fader about Jamaican Dancehall culture because like Bleach London, WAH Nails are doing it and people who aren’t cultured will think “oh yeah, that’s so London”. Yes, punk’s did hair, but they did it very differently. Dancehall and Jamaican culture is about standing out from the crowd. Unless you’re a Church lady or whatever. It’s garish, mad and colourful hair. So I did this story as a homage to Jamaican style. That’s something I’m trying to highlight basically. It’s just about education. People in Jamaica need to be educated about the Western world, in a sense so that it doesn’t liquidated the country.
Do you think that mainstream fashion’s use of Caribbean, or Jamaican culture specifically, helps or hinders actual Jamaican designers, stylists or creatives?
I feel like Jamaican stylists and designers are very American in their aesthetic because America is very close. So I’ve never really pulled from designers there. I’ll go to the markets and get stuff, but thats just me buying itto add my flair to other pieces. I’ll get things made frompeople there. But as far as designers and stuff there, it is Americanised. American cable tv and music are playing there. Also, if you’re an ‘educated Jamaican’ you generally want to be, in a way, as white as possible which is really weird for me. So I don’t really have any friends— my growing up there, I might have been around educated wealthy Jamaicans, but I never actually hung out with them because I had nothing i common with them. Whereas people on the road, as they call it, they’re my brothers.
I agree with your point about the americanisation of Caribbean Fashion. I get frustrated when I see Caribbean designers trying to be ‘international’, often American in aesthetic, instead of using their culture and indigenous creativity…
Yeah, it’s weird isn’t it?! But I think when they start seeing, the changes in the world already— like I’ve seen some articles saying “Dancehall is like the coolest next thing’ — then they will probably rethink. If they stay true to their culture and all the flairs within it, people around the world would definitely buy into it more.
There’s been an influx of Caribbean models, especially Jamaican models, recent. Who are you dying to work with the most?
I love Tami Wiliams. I love her, she’s so beautiful. I haven’t worked with her yet. Jeneil Williams, the other day I was talking about her! I’d love to work with her. Every shoot I do I always make sure I cast it because I’m really into a unique look. I don’t just want a clothes hanger. Someone really wants me to start a casting and model agency but I think I don’t have time to do that as well. I’ll show you show photos of some amazing people… I’ve already emailed Next [model management], yesterday actually, like “there’s these people!”. But they usually they want people to be signed first. In Jamaica, there’s only one agency, Pulse, which I really like. Saint International are bigger but I don’t get on with them very well and they don’t get me for some reason.
Lastly, what are your goals for this year and beyond?
I was just asked this by my agent the other day actually!. I guess… I’m launching quite a lot with Pum Pum. I’ve spent basically half the year already in Jamaica. So my goals are just pushing Pum Pum more, reaching out to and working with other magazines. Music is my favourite area, so working with a few people in music who I really want to tick off the list. I don’t know why but I really want to work with Wiz Khalifa. Not even because of his music. I just really like his look and I think clothes would look really good on him.
Future-wise, I think being a creative director of a large brand is a goal. I really want to bring the cool vibe to brands that are really good with menswear, but not great with womenswear.