Charlotte streetwear designer Jonny Kaine is connecting his heritage with vintage Black American culture

By Cameron Lee

March 19, 2024

Photo: Keilan Alexander

Jonathan Kainessie, better known as Jonny Kaine, is big on legacy. The 23-year-old West Charlotte native with Sierra Leonean roots aims to transcend generational gaps in Black culture through his fashion designs. With his latest drop, he pays tribute to culture-shifting figures like Malcom X, the Charlotte Black Hornets (a Negro Carolina League baseball team), and political hip-hop pioneers Public Enemy. 

Charlotte R&B artist Cyanca and Tony Wright II wearing Kainessie’s latest “Legacy” apparel line in a photo shoot for Jonny Kaine Fitted N’ Apparel. Photo: Keilan Alexander / Creative Direction: Arial Robinson / Stylist: Ananda Monet

“I think that there’s a disconnect, and what they [older heads] think is, what they did, you know, is not coming down and transcending our generation, but I’m an example that it is, and I’m honoring that,” said Kainessie. 

Many may know Kainessie as the DJ for emerging Jamla/Roc Nation rapper and fellow Charlotte native, Reuben Vincent, but he has been establishing his fashion brand, Jonny Kaine Fitted N’ Apparel since 2021. His first official drop was a “Buzz City Series” collection of fitted hats, customizing some of his favorite baseball caps growing up with his signature Afrocentric stylings. Kainessie released his first major fashion piece in 2022, the Jonny Kaine Fitted N’ Apparel “Quilted Authentic Letterman,” a varsity jacket that harkens back to streetwear fashion of the early ‘90s when brands like Karl Kani and Cross Colours dominated hip-hop culture. 

Kainessie (far right) with Third World crew (Reuben Vincent, Jalani Maxwell, and Nuku Muingbeh) at Dreamville Fest in 2023. Photo: @its12vy

“I really just wanted to bring light to a time where I feel like Black culture was very unapologetic…So for me, I feel like the timeframe that shows that the most is the late ‘80s, early ‘90s, the Spike Lee era, that whole type of vibe,” said Kainessie. 

While Kainessie’s inspiration for his fashion is very much rooted in connecting Black culture, his eye came from thrifting with his family at places like Value Village and Goodwill as a kid– an experience that helped shape his fashion sensibilities. 

A photo from Jonny Kaine Fitted N’ Apparel’s “West Africa To West Charlotte” collection released in 2023. Photo: Keilan Alexander

“I have the type of parents where they would go to Goodwill and find the Polo Ralph Lauren…they instilled it in me, it’s not about how much you spend, it’s about what you buy, you know, quality.” 

And quality and originality is what drives him. His mantra “100% Organic” is built on being authentic and natural. 

“It’s a lifestyle, it’s a way of life. You know, it’s the way that you move and do things that are meant for you, and not forcing anything…you’re moving organically,” Kainessie said.

Kainessie celebrates the recent release of his “Legacy” fashion line at Fitteds CLT. Photo: Isaiah Davenport (@ogsway) 

He also likes to keep his releases somewhat limited in quantity, as he hones his storytelling skills with each drop, usually accompanied by a short narrative film and a stylized photo shoot. His latest short film for his “Legacy” capsule, directed by Charlotte videographer Kiyana Christopher, tells the story of a young kid trying to live up to his lineage of Black professional baseball players in his family. With an impressive production crew and cast featuring creative direction by Arial Robinson, story by Elijah Smith, and a cameo by Archive CLT founder, Cheryse Terry, the film adds palpable texture and a sense of home for the release. 

Kainessie released a short film for his Jonny Kaine Fitted N’ Apparel “Legacy” capsule directed by Charlotte videographer Kiyana Christopher. Photo: Jaylen Brannon

Kainessie, who has been DJing for Vincent since 2021, met the budding rapper shortly before his first hat drop, at Fitteds CLT. He was heavy into vintage apparel, and Vincent asked Kainessie to style him for the “Look What You Did” music video shoot in Raleigh, a song from Vincent’s Jamla/Roc Nation debut, Love Is War, released in early 2023. They quickly found common ground with similar backgrounds, both growing up in Charlotte with West African roots. Vincent, whose family is originally from Liberia, and Kainessie’s from Sierra Leone, formed a collective, Third World, along with Vincent’s cousin Nuke (Nuku Muingbeh), longtime friend Abdul Yates, and artist Lani (Jalani Maxwell), a company that serves as a hub or umbrella for their collective talents. 

Reuben Vincent, Jonny Kainessie, and Danajah Marie pose for the release of Jonny Kaine Fitted N’ Apparel’s 2021 “Buzz City Series” hat drop. Photo: Kyle Roberson (@kyleonkrypton)

“We all have the same mindset, same similar backgrounds, you know, way of life growing up,” he said. “So understanding that, what we’re doing is not just impacting us, it’s not just impacting Charlotte culture, but it’s impacting, you know, people thousands of miles away.”

Kainessie, who grew up in a music loving household, started DJing when he was 14 years old, catching the bug after fondly remembering helping his father carry crates as a child during the vinyl turntable era, falling in love with the rhythms of Afrobeats, R&B, and hip-hop. Now he is accompanying Vincent on national tour runs with the likes of Pusha T and Dreamville’s Bas, who they will be joining for more than 20 dates across the country this spring. He also designs all of the Third World and Reuben Vincent merch that is sold on tour. 

Kainessie not only pays homage to vintage Black American culture with his clothing, but to his West African roots in Sierra Leone and his childhood home in West Charlotte. He represents all of the “third world babies” through his brand, Jonny Kaine Fitted N’ Apparel, and hopes to inspire current and future generations to connect with their roots. 

Charlotte R&B artist Cyanca and Tony Wright II wearing Kainessie’s latest “Legacy” apparel line in a photo shoot for Jonny Kaine Fitted N’ Apparel. Photo: Keilan Alexander / Creative Direction: Arial Robinson / Stylist: Ananda Monet

You can purchase apparel from the Jonny Kaine Fitted N’ Apparel “Legacy” line through his official website. His spring and summer collection will be releasing in the coming months with some additional collab drops throughout the year. You can follow Jonny Kaine, Jonny Kaine Fitted N’ Apparel, Third World on Instagram for updates. 


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