By definition, “quintessential” represents “the most perfect example of a quality or class.” But for Kaia Baker, it is the very core of her passion for fashion. 

The word itself became cemented into Baker’s vocabulary very early on. “The word quintessential came from this book called ‘Tribes’ that my dad, brother, and I would read when I was younger.” The book by Joel Kotkin describes how “global tribes” have crafted the world’s economy thus far, as well as how they will continue to do so in the future. Baker launched her brand in 2019, becoming the CEO of Quintessential at just 17 years old. “In a way, 'quintessential’ describes a worldly, well traveled, intellectual human being, and I want my customers to embody that,” said Baker. “I want my designs to inspire that type of lifestyle.” 

Kin to a Filipino, Puerto Rican, and African-American background, fashion was and is Baker’s vehicle to staying connected to her cultural roots. Inspired by her identity, Baker’s first collection featured a kimono bomber jacket. The young designer grew up very close to her Filipina grandmother, or “Lola,” who would bring her back kimonos from the Philippines whenever she visited. “My first collection paid homage to my heritage,” said Baker. 

Growing up in West Orange, New Jersey, Baker often found herself occupying creative spaces, from dance to music. “Music is the biggest inspiration for me,” said Baker. “And then fashion is the catalyst for how I portray my emotions from that.” Drawing inspiration from artists like Lauryn Hill and Alicia Keys, the soft yet powerful dichotomy that is evident in Baker’s favorite artists are also evident in her designs. Her signature kimono included a  reversible side with blue fur, highlighting the “flashy and fly” nature of her blackness. 

Baker’s own eclectic taste is a true marker of her unwillingness to conform to today’s trends, neither personally nor professionally.“I really don't even pay attention to what other people are wearing. I just draw inspiration from what I think is fly.” Regardless of the current fashion climate, Baker remains true to her own personal style at all times. In our FacetIme interview, her slick bun revealed an eccentric pair of pearl earrings that she found at a sample store in Brooklyn, which commanded attention against her otherwise colorful, yet minimal outfit. “I feel like a lot of people now try to embody this sameness, but I'm really just trying to stay true to who I am,” said Baker. She maintains this mindset as it relates to her brand. “A lot of our pieces are super exclusive,” she said. “I want people to feel like they’re the only motherfucker with this piece on.” 

In 5-10 years, Baker sees herself bridging the intersection between fashion and other creative industries. “I want Quintessential to expand, not just in fashion, but in the music, production, and film spaces,” she said. “I just want to explore different types of storytelling through art.” As the head of a fashion brand at just 20 years old, baker has found beauty in the journey, rather than the destination. “As a CEO, you have to have a lot of confidence and trust in yourself. You have to believe  that people are going to enjoy what comes natural to you.” Her advice to other young creatives is simple: fall in love with your process. “There really is beauty in establishing your brand while you're young,” she said. “My brand is how I'm going to contribute to the world.”

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