Isaac Saqib started Mercy X Mankind in 2014 while in college. Fast forward 5 years later the luxury street wear brand has been seen on celebrities like Young Thug, Rickey Thomson, Kyrie Irving and many more. I had the opportunity to speak with Isaac about his brand, process and his recent collection, read our conversation below.
Esther: Tell me a bit about yourself, Isaac before Mercy X Mankind. Who were you before your brand?
Isaac: I started the brand when I was 20 years old, so before then I was just a teenager in college focused on getting an A on that next chemistry test lol. I was a bit lazy, a little naive thinking that I’d be able to make it to med school without putting in much effort. But most of all, i think i was just living day to day like any teen without any real passion for effecting the world.
Esther: How has Mercy X Mankind shaped your individuality?
Isaac: Since I didn’t go to school for fashion, starting the brand from a place with no contacts in the industry, no real knowledge of history, trends, marketing, sales and much more was really very hard. I would say it was about a 3 year learning curve for me to even understand what I was actually doing lol.
Starting Mercy X Mankind shaped my individuality by forcing me to delve into so many different aspects of a company being built from the ground up. Everything from finding and communicating with factories in Manhattan and overseas at one point, photographing my own lookbook (which actually came out pretty cool if i say so myself haha). In my Instagram bio I have the tag line “behind all scenes @mercytomankind.ny”, because thats exactly what it is. I’ve met so many different types of people in this journey, learned about many different industries and overall grown a lot over the course of 6 years.
Esther: What is your creative process like, if you have any?
Isaac: My mind operates in a very chaotic fashion when it comes to creating, so my creative process is reminiscent of just that. When I’m sketching, I dont really care of how “pretty” or clean the figure is coming out on paper, but that I’m able to understand it for myself. When I’m choosing fabrics for a collection I’m building, I’m not limiting myself to a certain trend in the market or what I think people will think, but what I think fits the concept. Theres been many times where I’ve walked into fabric stores with nothing in mind and came out with fabrics for 5-6 samples.
That being said, as I’m growing I’m also learning that I need to be more structured when it comes to design and thats why we recently opened up a small studio space for Mercy in midtown 3 months ago.
Esther: How do you stay unique, true to yourself and your ideas in this industry?
Isaac: I’m constantly looking for inspiration from all aspects of life and looking at how i can give market trends my own twist.
The pieces that we create at Mercy X Mankind are sometimes heavily inspired by works of art (music, culture, history, film etc) and sometimes have underlying messages that you really have to dig at to understand. Theres times where even my own life experiences and struggles inspire pieces or even full collections. I believe what makes me unique is that I have a perspective that many dont — the Pakistani Muslim dropout who’s doing luxury “streetwear”. I dont know of a single person who does what I do. There are many Virgil Ablohs out there, not a single Isaac Saqib though haha.
Esther: What is the inspiration behind your recent collection “Metempsychosis”
“Metempsychosis” is defined as the supposed transmigration of the soul from one body to another after death. Upon creating the collection, I was going through a time period in my life where my ideals, aesthetic and thinking of crafting and designing garments was going through a sort of “rebirth” or “transmigration”. I wanted to bring my audience into my most personal space, to demonstrate the level of intimacy and closeness I had with my brand. Thus we broke down my entire actual bedroom furniture and recreated it in a studio setting, down to the painting hanging above my headboard.
Esther: What has been your favorite collection you’ve worked on thus far?
Isaac: “Metempsychosis” was definitely my favorite because I saw it as a pivotal point in my thinking of how I was going to portray the brand to the world. It was almost as if something clicked in my head and I finally knew what exactly it was I was going to do going forward. That and of course the beauty of it all. I’ve always been a fan of big ideas, deep stories and beautiful storytelling. So the fact that i was able to execute that concept the way I wanted was truly enjoyable.
Esther: Celebrities like Young Thug, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie and Kyrie Irving have worn your designs, how did that happen? How did it make you feel?
How things like that happen is almost always a mystery to me, I’d be lying if I said I expected it. That being said, I believe the pieces we make at Mercy X Mankind compete with everything else thats out there and that figures like Young Thug, J Balvin, JuiceWRLD and many others vibe with the vision we have in mind. The story of how Young Thug wore our piece is out of this world so I must say that when that happened it was a feeling of excitement of course, satisfaction and just overall gratefulness. Long story short, I had to have a friend break through the front window of my house, head down into the basement where I had a small studio, tag up the piece and send it overnight for it to be in time for a photoshoot. All the while not even knowing if it’d be used. All praise is to God for any blessings i’ve received, I dont think I’d be here without my faith.
Esther: Everyone knows following your passion is not always an easy path, can you describe a time where you had to overcome a mountain in the way of your dreams? How did you overcome it?
Isaac: I’ve encountered many hardships, lost many friends and definitely rubbed some people the wrong way in the process of following my passion, but i think some of the biggest obstacles have been not abiding by the expectations of others, continuing to strive even when it all seems for nothing and being mentally ready for things to go wrong lol.
My parents come from humble, traditional backgrounds and always expected me to be a doctor growing up, especially my father who is a doctor. Explaining to them that I wanted to make clothing wasn’t the first option they had in mind haha. Thankfully so, now with all they’ve seen, I believe them to be my biggest fans yet.
Esther: What advice would you give to an up and coming designer that wants to be where you are now?
Isaac: Just make good shit and dont quit. Be open to opinions, be open to learning as much as you can and try to stay humble with each success. Keep your mental sanity in check because theres no point of being successful if you lost your mind getting there.
Esther: Reflecting on how far you’ve come in your journey as a designer, are there any things you wish you could change?
Isaac: The only thing i wish i could change would probably be stressing less and not worrying so much about how things are going to work out, but then again, that stress is what drove me to overcome some of the biggest failures in my life. So no, i don’t think i would. Im a big believer in destiny and fate so i truly believe all the things that happened, had to happen in order for me to be in this spot.
Esther: What are your goals for the rest of 2019 and early 2020?
Isaac: Well i mentioned earlier that we opened a studio in midtown, so getting that in order to streamline development and production is a big part of my scheduling right now. I’m also working on a collection that is set to debut in august that I believe is impactful, relative to our culture climate and just straight fire lol. We’re also planning on showing for fashion week in September so look out for that.
Early 2020 i want to hit our first retailers. Being in stores has always been a monumental goal of mine so being able to showcase our product on shelves and racks instead of just online is my next goal for sure. Other than that, I haven’t been to Paris yet so theres that.