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Taking Control of Your Own Fate | Kenny Naranjo

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Kenny Naranjo is a 19-year-old aspiring Fashion Designer from Colombia. He has been living in the U.S. for five years and is currently attending the Fashion Institute of Technology for fashion design, focusing on design and illustration. You can find Kenny on his personal Instagram or his art Instagram! 

Was there a specific moment in time when you realized you were an artist?
My father is an artist. It was a dream of his that never really took off, so he understood and encouraged me to pursue my art. As a kid, I drew a lot in my journals and in notebooks and loved drawing celebrities like Madonna and Cher. In addition to that, I also started sketching outfits for their music videos, imagining that they would wear them one day.

You have a very impressive and sophisticated way of designing and illustrating that turns the heads of everyone who sees it. Tell us, how did you get so good at what you do?
Back when I thought I was going to be a fine artist, I spent a lot of long nights drawing, trying to get good at it. I guess I wanted to prove to myself that I actually could do it, and I pushed myself to improve my skills. It was around the age of 12 when I first realized I could draw. Then, when I moved to the United States at 14, there was so little to do, so drawing was a form of entertainment for me while I was still getting used to the new environment.

Coming from your home country of Colombia then moving to New York City, how was the change in environment when it came to being a gay artist?
It was complicated. The transition from such a closed-minded country to the United States really pushed me out and kind of forced me to come to terms with who I am. I don’t think I was necessarily ready for it, but back in Colombia, I always told myself not to worry about that now. I realized it would change me and the relationship with my family and my country. It took me a while, but now I feel better about it. I mean, I’m only 19, but I think I have a better sense of whom I’d like to be compared to five years ago.

Was there ever a time in your life where you felt discouraged when it came to the fashion industry?
Most of my life until recently. In the town I grew up in, we didn't hear about fashion design really being a career choice or at least one you can be successful in. The seamstresses in my town used to struggle a lot financially and they would only rely on what people wanted from them—like fixing garments, not their own creativity. It was kind of programmed in my head that fashion was not an option, but when I first visited New York City, I realized that it was the path I wanted to take. I found the Barnes and Noble located at the Fashion Institute of Technology and I remembered seeing a lot of Asian boys walking around and just thinking to myself about how amazing they looked. There was a sort of “ding” in my head when I came to the realization that my life didn’t have to be stuck in fine arts. I completely changed my life plans after that. I went back home and packed away my fine art supplies and realized “I have to get a sewing machine and learn how to sketch fashion figures.”

How has your time in NYC been compare to your life in Colombia?
It’s different because, in NYC, we have so many cultures—so many different people walking around. Along with that, there are so many opportunities for everyone. It's a place where you can take chances and have, for the most part, an equal chance to succeed. I find the similarities in the fact that for the five years I’ve been living on Long Island, I never had many friends, I never had the chance to hang out with anyone and it was sort of like that in Colombia. Now that I’ve been in the city, I’ve gotten the chance to make new friends and be myself again and do amazing things.

Does your 100% Colombian background affect the way you perceive certain things in the art world?
My dad lived here throughout my entire life so I was very influenced by American culture and him as an artist. He tried to explain and submerge me into as much American culture as he could. He had books about art that I would look at  for inspiration. When I was younger, I never really thought Colombia had a rich history, but of course I came to realize that I was basically living in art. It was in the streets and in everything the craftsmen did even the architecture. Coming to NYC, I’ve learned to appreciate it.

Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to be a designer or illustrator?
I think the first thing you have to do is find out what your weaknesses and strengths are and work on them as much as you can. They say practice makes perfect and you certainly don’t need to go anywhere or follow anyone as long as you make the time and find the resources. Of course, it doesn't happen in a day and it all depends on so many factors and how hard you try, but if you keep going at it, you will succeed.

Who are your fashion/beauty icons? Whose look inspires you?
Ever since I was a kid, I have looked up to Shania Twain. I just found her fascinating and different. On top of that, she used to be the only thing my father used to listen to. After a couple of years, he bought a Madonna album and for a while, that was whom I looked up to. I also loved Thomas Anders from the German group “Modern Talking”. I loved the way he dressed. His mix of femininity and masculinity was perfect to me. Later on, once I got access to the internet, I was inspired by Cher's career and Bob Mackey's influence on her, Lady Gaga and the chances she took in fashion, Agnetha Faltskog, and also Thierry Mugler. The greatest fashion designer of all time.

Aside from doing makeup for fun and entertainment purposes, do you think you’d ever wear makeup in public one day?
Yes! I'm slowly making the transition. It’s hard because you don’t just go from zero to a hundred in one day, but ever since I moved to NYC, I’ve been feeling more relaxed and free of judgment, so the only thing holding me back right now is me, but eventually, that's going to stop. Putting on makeup has been essential to me since I was a little kid and was playing with my mother’s makeup. I used to put her foundation on my lips so I could look sick and wouldn’t have to go to school. Now, I do it more because I want to use it as wearable art. I would love to portray my artistic skills through my makeup.

What is next for you? Do you have any hopes, dreams, or plans you are excited about?
I’m very excited about my future plans—I want to see how I improve as a person and how my current weaknesses are going to change. In my head, I have this person I want to be, and every single day that goes by, I'm getting closer and closer to that version of Kenny. Eventually one day, I’ll get there.