TJ Sawyerr is proving to be a beacon amid the modern surge of young pioneers dousing a whole jar of culture. The brave, poignant social commentary within his words laced against its sharp, deep-rooted vision is a far cry from the child prodigy that once impressed the likes of Madeleine Ostlie and Martine Rose. Yeah, you heard it right.

As a charismatic kid, Sawyerr’s visceral vision is a fearless statement of intent. With a meditative intensity able of sending shivers down your spine, his turbo-charged anthem is an exciting glimpse at the power London’s youth can conjure with an underlying sense of identity. Today TJ’s matured into a man with a little more serious taste. Outpouring with emotion, he recalls being young in a huge cluster like London can be the ultimate hitch, hazing all chances of moral and social growth. Moreover, Sawyerr ruminates over the cultural turmoil of the city: “I feel like the main factor that hinders our ability to deal with big issues such as knife crime in London is the pronounced divide between the youth and adults […] I blame that dynamic partly on the older generation’s ignorance to the reality of youth culture in the city, and an underlying attitude of racism and stereotyping that exists in parliament, meaning that this divide has never been bigger” he reflects. Channeled by a force willing to overcome the pigeonholes dictated by collective hierarchies, Sawyerr, and his powerful hooks are fuelling a reflective example for society.

Eager to learn more about one of the most intriguing newcomers we’ve stumbled across this year, we caught up for a chat with TJ to unpack youth nostalgia, culture, and what’s next in-store.

What’s up TJ, can you tell us what you do?

Yo, what’s good! This is actually a question I struggle to answer a lot of the time. I’d probably call myself a creative, even though that’s a really broad term, I don’t like to confine myself to one field of work. Modeling is my main thing as of now, but I’m definitely exploring the realms of creative direction and production, as you will all see very soon.


What are your concerns about Britain today?

Obviously aside from this fucking Coronavirus situation, and the undeniable political shit-show we’re immersed in right now, my biggest concern is probably people who put milk in before cereal.


I heard you’re a strong activist for youth culture in London. What pushes you to operate for your community and what are the struggles you play against?  

While, in many ways, being young can be the ultimate disadvantage when it comes to trying to bring about change, it can also be a really positive thing. I feel like the main factor that hinders our ability to deal with big issues such as knife crime in London is the pronounced divide between the youth and adults. While the older generation can provide important insight and advice to help to deal with these issues, the youth movement, unfortunately, doesn’t want to listen to 40-year-olds lecturing them all the time about what they should and shouldn’t do. Their advice just doesn’t resonate in an effective way, and for me that is understandable, being a teen myself. I blame that dynamic partly on the older generation’s ignorance to the reality of youth culture in the city, and an underlying attitude of racism and stereotyping that exists in parliament, meaning that this divide has never been bigger. I live in Clapham, an area that has consistently been badly affected by knife crime, and I feel strongly that the only way we can really inspire a change to this pattern, is if the educated youth, such as myself, use their voice to not only inspire a change in young offenders and gang affiliates but also to reject and fight against the large-scale stereotyping of, most specifically, the colored youth of London.

Oh shit but wait, I’ve also heard you’ve landed with a brand new project that’s done pretty well across the Brit scene so far. What is it and how did it all come about?

Haha yeah! It’s all been a bit of blur if I’m honest with you. I announced my first solo project ECSTASY in mid-April and the response it has received is genuinely nuts. I originally started working on it as a personal project, documenting the reality of London youth culture through my eyes, but only as a bit of fun, never with the intention of showing anyone, let alone releasing it to the public. It was really an impulsive, ‘fuck it!’ moment when I decided I wanted to drop the project, and, from then, my work rate has just doubled, really pushing to try and turn this distant dream into a reality. Now I’m set on a July/August release, and I can truly say this is my proudest body of work. It means a hell of a lot to have the support of so many people that I’ve previously looked up to in the industry, especially considering how much I’ve had to put into it with no team, no editor, nothing. This shit is pure TJ and it’s gonna blow minds! Don’t sleep.


Stirring the fashion jolt, you went from regular schoolboy to joggling the modeling world. Now, spill some facts…

Looking back on how things started is both weird and confusing for me not gonna lie. How Madeleine Ostlie and Martine Rose (shoutout Queens!) saw potential in a 14-year-old, baby-faced, gap-toothed kid with a shit trim, I will never know. But they took a chance on me and it was the biggest blessing I could ever have asked for. I remember so well having to skip school to go to my first casting and to think that I’ve come this far now, all while staying in full-time education is mad. When I was starting out, whenever I used to mention that I was still doing my GCSEs, backstage, or onset, I’d always receive the same stunned reaction from everyone. The classics were “but you look so much older” and “you speak with such confidence and experience for someone that young,” always such an element of surprise and intrigue. I’ve always been a well-spoken and charismatic kid, and I think that’s the main reason I’ve been able to thrive in this industry at such a young age. I actually quite enjoy being the underdog, the young one in the game, because I suppose it motivates me to defy the odds, and that’s something I’ll continue to do whether you like it or not.

What inspires you to explore culture in London?

For me, the most amazing thing about London is the fact that our culture is made up of so many sub-cultures from around the world. Though I’ve lived in South West for the majority of my life, I have spent time exploring every corner of the city and I find it fascinating how many different types of people fall under that broad term Londoner. That’s something that I’ve always wanted to dive deeper into and was the fundamental inspiration for ECSTASY.


How do you (and your generation) think you will change Britain?

I think in this day of ever-evolving technology, there’s a level of uncertainty as to how the future of our country will look. Will it be flying cars and talking toilets? Who knows? What I do see, is my generation paving the way for the youth of the future, empowering the youngers with a voice that has rarely existed in the past. It’s people like Greta Thunberg who are leading from the front and defying age stereotypes to make a change, and I believe that as time goes on, and we continue to speak out, these age stereotypes will cease to exist in the future.


Do you think creativity and culture come as imperative weapons for the future of society?

Even though in an ideal world they would be, I don’t think creativity and culture will ever be imperative, mainly because it is entirely possible to thrive in this society of ours with little to no cultural awareness at all (Boris Johnson being a perfect example). However, I do think that more and more so in the future, those who are the most appreciative of culture and creative innovation, will be the ones who make the biggest change and rise to the top of the ladder in society.


Tapping on cultural appropriation: how well have you fitted amongst London’s creative (and not) community?

To be honest, aside from some slightly risqué cultural references by big labels (CDG FW20 for example), I think that the fashion and creative industry is one of the most accepting and diverse fields when it comes to race and culture so I haven’t had any problems integrating myself whatsoever.


Who are the rulebreakers that influence you the most?

Black the Ripper, who obviously tragically died recently, was someone who really inspired me, not with what he stood for necessarily (not tryna catch a case) but more so with how we stood for it. He was someone who had strong beliefs and stuck to them, never letting the opinions of others (or even the threat of extensive jail time) put him off. I had the pleasure of meeting him and speaking extensively with him on a couple of occasions (both coincidentally on the 20th of April) and to hear how driven and passionate he was genuinely inspirational. Having a mentality as motivated as that is what leads to success in this day and age, so he would be the ‘rule breaker’ who’s efforts have resonated with me the most. Well, him and Biskit because I aspire to give as few fucks as him one day.

Talent: TJ Sawyerr @tj.saw1
Photography: Dan Supple @dansupple & Alexander McLuckie @alexandermcluckie