By Olisa Jr
At just 17-years-old, Canadian Highschooler Ajay Woolery is already building a cult-like following for his Gen-Z focused collective, The Creative Kids. “Growing up, I read a lot of publications like Dazed, i-D, Highsnobiety and the rest, but they never truly highlighted the work of kids our age unless they already had some sort of fame or buzz,” he candidly shares, adding to the list of reasons he started the collective.
Like TCK, MSM is focused on creating for and engaging with the Gen-Z and contemporary culture in our time. We sat down with Ajay to discuss his hopes for the collective, confronting personal ideas of expression, and ultimately what it means to be a young creative today.
You’ve got the Crew Zine releasing soon. It’s meant to mark a year since all of this started, what does that signify for you and TCK having come this far?
Ajay: Crew Zine is a culmination of all of last year’s work, especially with our platform having grown so quickly. We’re trying to highlight those stories we’ve been able to share with our community so far, and also adding new stories from younger creators. We’ve also opened up submissions to the community, welcoming writers, artists, fashion designers, and many more of the people in our following.
Creating that sense of community is something you’ve touched on a lot in the past, and I wanna ask, how much do you think that has guided the work you do with TCK, and the impact it’s had?
Ajay: It goes back to the original idea of where we started. I was always looking for younger creatives who were making really valuable and thoughtful work. Individuals get to see there are people in our generation doing amazing work. It also helps these young creatives gain exposure that they might not get on their own.
Amazing. And for you, sort of serving as the genesis and creator of it all, tell me a bit about yourself?
Ajay: My family is originally from Montego Bay, Jamaica. We immigrated to Canada in 2008.
I think most immigrant families would expect their kids to become a lawyer, or a doctor or something of that sort, and that has been kind of communicated to me and my older brother, but at the same time, within my family, there’s a really great reverence for the arts, so I was exposed to a lot of different things at a different age — also getting to travel a lot. I’d say when I was really young, my brother exposed me to a few black creatives and that definitely introduced me to the art world. Fashion sort of came along in high school when I was looking into the intersection between the creative industries and media.
How would you describe The Creative Kids to someone who’s never heard of it before? And talk me through how it first came to being?
Ajay: Back when the pandemic started, I was starting to build my portfolio out while looking for other creatives to connect with and share their story. So, I decided to build a platform or community of that nature. I made a Tik Tok and created a video asking if anyone was interested in photography, fashion, design, or even writing, and said if you’re interested follow us, and by the end of the night, it got like 10K views, and by the morning we hit a thousand followers.
Would you say the nature of what TCK was a year ago is different from what it is now?
Ajay: Well, from the get-go we’ve been asking the same foundational questions like what inspires your work, or how did you begin. We also just shared a lot of things that we saw in our feed that we liked, and I guess it’s grown into what it is now.
You also have a large poo of creative talent to choose from when working, and I’m curious, are there certain things you look for in a person when you make the decision to interview them or feature their work?
Ajay: I’d say I’m an incredibly critical person when it comes to the work I do, and we try to uphold those same standards in the work we put out on our platform. We really look for someone who’s creating a story that’s authentic to who they are. You know, a lot of the work that we received in the early stages when we put out calls for a graphic designer or editor and those things, was really trendy in a sense. We tried to look for people who understood the value of what they were creating.
And how did you handle situations where you and the collective felt the work being submitted wasn’t true to that person or wasn’t what you were looking for?
Ajay: That’s happened a few times but I think we’re diplomatic in communicating when we don’t necessarily connect with work that’s submitted.
And to firstly say, it’s amazing how you’ve been able to create a sense of structure already in such a short time, and I’m guessing you’ve got a wonderful group of teammates by your side…
Ajay: On our team we’ve got Tifanny, a friend through school, who’s helped us as an outside critic, reviewing some of the work we put out. Within our core team, we’ve got Sahara who handles interviews, writing and bringing on more creators as we go along. Though I’d add that there hasn’t been any role that each person latches onto solely, we kind of help each other out with each part of it. I tend to focus on the Journal and Sahara sort of looks at what’s next.
Do you feel as though who you are or how you choose to express yourself is highlighted enough in the work that the collective creates?
Ajay: I think as a black creative, or someone from a racialized background, there’s also a lot of limits to the opportunities that we experience. And though I have been fortunate enough to live in a good environment and have access to a great education, I recognize that there isn’t enough opportunity for some in different situations. Even in the way that we’ve been able to collect submissions and communicate, I think that also permeates through our,.and my, thought process. And we also try to think critically about whether or not work is reflective of someone’s life, and we try to avoid people who attempt to capitalize on culture or its certain parts.
We’ve also started a project called Class of 2020-Something, which is a workshop series that aims to connect younger creatives to professionals. I think it all goes back to identifying who we are and making opportunities for people like myself — Immigrants, in most senses. Ultimately, the aim is to democratize these things, so if we don’t acknowledge the roles of some of these systems, then we wouldn’t be able to make the connections that we are attempting to make.
Moving onto the Community Profiles — what have you come to like about it when attempting to interview or understand the creatives you choose to highlight?
Ajay: The Community Profiles sort of differentiate from the Creator Spotlight, in the sense that these are much smaller creatives whose work is just as valuable as those who already have thousands of followers. We’re trying to highlight the creatives with less opportunity or share stories that aren’t as noticed if that makes sense. Being able to share them feels much more fulfilling because you get to see the impact that comes in through their work much more.
What’s the next step for The Creative Kids?
Ajay: I think for our next step, we’re looking more into the workshop I mentioned earlier, trying to connect younger creatives to the professionals in their respective fields. Trying to provide our audience with something tangible, and also creating those connections, because where we’re trying to take our work in the next year, requires a community bond. Also trying to shift it from only an online platform to physical, incorporating meetups, where we set up prompts and have people collaborate to build a singular entity, is something we’re looking to work on.