On a recent Saturday, before a crowd of 300 people at the cannabis dispensary Root’d in the 510, Senay Alkebu-lan unveiled his latest fashion collection and new venture, Futurisme Studios.
Senay’s mother, Mizan Alkebulan-Abakah, kicked off the show with a ceremony, pouring out libations as people called their ancestors into the room. Following each pour, attendees echoed her words in unison, saying “Ashe,” a Yoruba term that encompasses various meanings, including the life force that permeates all things.
“The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible,” she said.
Twenty-eight different models followed, walking a runway while wearing long black dresses, asymmetrical skirts, black jumpsuits, sweater dresses, backless collared shirts, and rusted tracksuits. The collection features layered chains, metal hardware, pockets, yellow accents, and Black Panther logos. One backless pair of pants included the word “revolution” printed on the leg.
At the close of the show, Senay walked the runway in a white one-piece mechanic’s suit. Next to him stood a woman bathed in light, her baby bump outlined by a stunning white two-piece set.
“I just kept telling myself I’m a mother, I’m an angel mother, I’m a wife,” said the model Felicia Gangloff-Bailey.
With a finely tuned vision and an acute attention to detail, Senay explores history through his art. The intricacy woven into his creations, coupled with his political and social knowledge, serves as a point of inspiration for the next generation of artists to make something of substance.
“You know, we’ve got enough clothes on the earth at this time to last us for a while. And every new garment is a garment wasted. So if you’re going to waste some garments, you’ve got to make it worthwhile,” said Senay in a recent interview.
Futurisme delves into the history of workers’ rights movements and Black contributions to electronic music while anchoring these narratives in present-day Oakland with classic El Camino cars and the TURFFEINZ dance crew.
“Futurisme is more about the philosophy, strategy, and methods of Pan-Africanism as a means to achieve equality, global peace, and equity for all people,” said Senay.
As part of Futurisme, Senay said he plans to roll out new music very soon and he is planning on hosting performances, as well as live streaming events. There will also be a pop-up shop for the release of the campaign and eventually some pieces that will be available for sale online.
Putting on the final touches 24 hours before the show
The night before the show, Senay was at a print shop in Oakland, finishing up the final pieces of clothing for the show, and creating t-shirts for another project he’s involved in. He stood next to a large screen printing machine with his hands behind his back, listening closely to the shop’s owner, Rene.
In the center of the room, surrounded by 49ers memorabilia, two classic cars, and blank t-shirts and hats, was a large screen printing machine. In the course of about two-and-a-half minutes, the apparatus makes about eight rotations until it reaches its original position, making a mechanical noise each time it moves to the left, layering dye onto t-shirts that have been loaded onto the device.
Rene called his wife to let her know he would be home late.
“Let’s see if you can keep up,” Rene said to Senay as the press began rotating. The two worked in unison to print a pile of over 200 youth t-shirts for Senay’s day job at Kingmakers for Oakland.
The first layer painted a silhouette of a man with the soles of his feet touching and the phrase, “Health is your wealth.” The second layer added neon green accents to the silhouette.
Senay inspected the finished products as they dried, swiftly detecting any imperfections, even the tiniest black dot of paint that was out of place.
When they finished, Senay started to create a new screen press for his next design. The mesh frame is solid blue, but as Senay takes a power washer to it, the silhouette of a panther is slowly revealed.
How film, music, and family shape the creative process
Most of Senay’s projects start with a story and a soundtrack he conjures in his head.
“I’m kind of approaching this project like a film production,” he said. “That’s the way I think.”
The film Senay imagined goes like this: there’s a young woman who works in an auto factory in Detroit. She’s an overly qualified mechanic by day and a DJ by night. When she was 12 years old, she lost her parents in a factory accident and now she can feel and hear them communicate while she’s working on machines. She creates techno music to talk to her dead parents. In this imaginary world, people organize raves attended by factory workers who use these large gatherings to party—and as an opportunity for labor organizing.
Senay’s grandfather was a photographer for the Black Panther Party, the 1960s revolutionary organization founded in Oakland. He was also a Muni bus driver who organized a bus drivers’ union in San Francisco. He said his grandfather’s legacy served as the political foundation for this Futurisme collection.
Senay was also influenced by his parents, who are both artists. He described their musical taste as eclectic and of high quality. Even if it wasn’t always “good,” they introduced him to things that were experimental and interesting. He listened to everything from 1980s pop to Black Sabbath, dancehall and reggae, experimental music, and Ace Frehley.
Another big inspiration for Futurisme is the film “Black to Techno,” which revolutionized the way he viewed techno from a cultural and spiritual standpoint. The film reveals the connection between Black folks working in factories, taking what they had been listening to at work all day, and creating art from these sounds. Senay described this as a type of “vibrant expression.” Most people don’t think about Black people when they think about Techno, he said, despite their significant contributions to the genre.
“I think all of his creative expressions are rooted in his tenderness—for the history and ideology he seeks to represent, and the family he wishes to honor,” said Raven Shavers, an artist and friend who met Senay in 2018.
Creating art that’s about more than just ‘satisfying markets’
Senay created Madow Futur when he was 17. The brand is best known for its prominent use of the Black Panther Party’s logo—a powerful panther in a crouched position bearing its teeth and claws. The original Black Panther Party icon was an adaptation of an Alabama Civil Rights Movement organization’s logo drawn by several women. For the Madow Futur fashion line, Senay had the panther redrawn by his father, the famous graffiti artist Refa One.
“He encourages curiosity in folks to seek out the Panther’s legacy,” said Shavers, “which is not history that can stand to be lost to time.”
Chaney Turner sold Senay’s Madow Futur clothing at their former apparel shop Town Biz Oakland. People loved the brand because it resonated with Oakland’s history, filling wearers with a deep sense of pride, said Turner. The inventory sold rapidly, with the bomber jackets, in particular, flying off the shelves.
Madow Futur quickly became an integral part of Oakland’s culture and fabric, but Senay was keen to expand his brand. “You know, I started this brand when I was 17. And it had my 17-year-old fingerprints all over it,” he said.
He was nervous of making the transition and didn’t want to lose his audience or let anyone down. He felt people had certain expectations of him. “But that’s silly,” said Senay. “I’m guided by things much greater than satisfying markets.”
Senay said he isn’t concerned if the garments are easy to reproduce. Some pieces in the collection are one-of-a-kind, some are upcycled—created from used or thrown-away materials. Other pieces are made to order while some are reproduced by the dozens.
The new creative work brought five-year-old sketches from his notebook to life and showcased Senay’s love for techno music.
“I enjoy making music more than making clothes. So this is a great opportunity for me to show that off and bridge those worlds together,” Senay said. “I feel like my parents planted various seeds of unusual music and I took each of those seeds and pushed them to the extreme.”
All these influences—the essence of the worker, Detroit, the Black diaspora, and techno—converged in Senay’s mind to create a soundtrack and fashion line Futurisme.
“I owe it to you as someone who’s put in so much hard work for me these past few weeks. And I owe it to myself as an artist and to my community, to make sure that these ideas get seen to the max potential, and to their full expression,” said Senay.