Brittany Anikka Liu

The Creator Behind the Internet’s Favorite Jumpsuits Embraces Identity in Full Color

From mango-print to bold florals, Mixed by Nasrin takes some big leaps in the name of fashion

Fashion designer Nasrin Jafari of Mixed by Nasrin.

Mixed Asian Media: JoySauce is proud to present something very special—a partnership with the ultra talented team over at Mixed Asian Media. In JoySauce’s mission to cover stories from the Asian American and Pacific Islander diaspora, we’ve always considered it incredibly important to include mixed AA+PI perspectives. Since their team already has that piece on lock, we’re delighted they were willing to join forces to help us share even more fresh, funny, interesting, irreverent stories each week. Take it away, MAM!

When I first walked into Nasrin Jafari’s Brooklyn Navy Yard studio space, I was immediately awed by a clean, white room filled with multitudes of colors, shapes, and textures. Neatly wrapped clothes. Piles of brown boxes with personalized cards. Large, green plants. A gorgeous painting of a woman dressed in vibrant African clothing. And a display of art made from egg shells. There is beauty everywhere you look, as the fashion designer shares her space with fellow artists. I sat down with Jafari to talk about her upbringing and what she envisions for the future of her clothing brand, Mixed By Nasrin.

Stephanie Mieko Cohen: What is your full name and what is your racial background?
Nasrin Jafari: My name is Nasrin Harumi Jafari. I’m half-Japanese, half-Iranian. My dad is Iranian and my mom is Japanese. They both immigrated to the United States in the ’70s. My dad was a cab driver and my mom was his passenger.

SMC: Are you serious? That’s such a New York City meet-cute moment!
NJ: Yeah. One thing I didn’t fully appreciate about my mom when I was younger was how much it took for her, as a Japanese woman in her 20s, to leave Japan and do a solo trip. When she moved to California to marry an Iranian man, her family shunned her for that and they became a little bit disconnected because of it.

SMC: I get that. There’s always going to be tension when bringing two cultures together. You are from L.A.—I am too! Where in L.A. are you from? Any siblings?
NJ: I’m from Glendale. Yes, I have an older sibling who’s eight years older than me. She lives in L.A. [and] is an artist of all sorts. She’s a musician, singer, and also has her own small business as a vegan cheesemaker. Our dad also has his own business—he’s a wholesaler. So I think that kind of entrepreneurial-like spirit runs in the family.

SMC: What was it like for you being mixed-race in L.A.? Did that change when you moved to New York?
NJ: You know, living in two major cities like L.A. and New York, I genuinely haven’t felt much discrimination. I think the tension was more internal and more in the household. Japanese and Iranian cultures are so different. Japanese culture is very solitary and quiet. And Iranian culture is very family oriented—lots of parties and loud music. There was a lot of clash in the way they wanted to bring me up. My mom cared about being on time and getting things right and on the dot. And my dad was like, “It's fine, she should enjoy.”

When I would go to Iranian family parties, I definitely felt like I wasn’t Iranian enough and I wasn’t Japanese enough. I was kind of in the middle and didn’t quite fit in. The other layer is having grown up in the U.S., I feel very American and my parents were like through and through Japanese and Iranian. It wasn’t until I was older and went back to Japan, that I could really appreciate where my mom had come from and why she was the way she was. Same with my dad.

SMC: Did you feel like one culture had a stronger presence over the other growing up?
NJ: There was a good balance because my mom took care of a lot of the school stuff and I went to Japanese school on Saturdays. And then more of the family social gatherings were on the Iranian side. So they held different spaces in my life in a way that really made sense to each culture. It was the best of both worlds.

SMC: Do you have a favorite food from both sides?
NJ: I love kebab. I don’t eat meat, but I now eat fish, so I’ll have a salmon kebab and rice. Those two cultures both have incredible food. Persian food is meat, rice, and stews. It’s very warm home cooking and has that hearty feel. Japanese cuisine is simple, delicate, and very fresh. I love udon and tempura. My partner is also half-Japanese, so he’s the first person I’ve ever shared a culture with, which is really cool.

SMC: Oh, that’s amazing!
NJ: Yeah, it's wonderful. I think in mixed identity, we both feel like we want to—and can—be so many different people. He doesn’t limit me and I don’t limit him. We see each other and how we can show up for each other in our own lives and our relationship. Also simple things, like the shared love of food. He loves to make okonomiyaki, that’s our thing. We also went to Japan together last fall. So that was a really cool moment where everything kind of came together.

SMC: That’s so special! OK, let’s chat about the brand! Did you always have an eye for fashion?
NJ: You know, not really. I went to college thinking that I was going to major in political science. I was interested in running for office at some point. I think in the first couple years of college, I realized I didn’t really wanna go down that path. Then I really went into education. So all of my college years were really focused on that. I wanted to start a school. I worked in admin for a bit because I wanted to figure out all the angles in what it takes to run a school. And ultimately at the root of that was wanting to learn and grow with other people. That's what I love to do.

Now having pivoted into running a fashion brand, I find that there’s a really clear line between wanting to start a school and wanting to start a brand. At the core of that is working with other people in a way that everyone is learning and growing. [They are] stretching themselves, they’re inspired, and ultimately are creating something out of nothing. As I’ve reflected on my journey a lot, I feel like it looks very left field to have been a seventh grade teacher, but I think when I connect the dots, a lot of it really makes sense and it's very much connected by a common thread.

SMC: You become a more well-rounded, understanding person when you have different careers. I actually see the connection because you’ve got your structure by running a business and working with people. But teachers are also inherently creative, right? You’re coming up with a curriculum. How would you describe your transition from teaching to designing?
NJ: I came [to New York] when I was 18 for college and I’ve just never left. I graduated from NYU, worked in education for some years, and then left that. I didn’t know what I was going to do next. I was interested in graphic design, so I started teaching myself Adobe Illustrator and I was doing logo work. That soon turned into pattern designing and [that] turned into a physical product.

SMC: When did Mixed By Nasrin officially launch?
NJ: We’ve been around for about a year and a half—it will be two years this summer. We launched our debut collection in summer of 2021 with three silhouettes: our classic jumpsuit, a wrap dress, and this oversized draper shirt [which I’ll wear today in the shoot]. 

In fall 2021, we came out with some maxi dresses. At that time, I was going through a really big personal shift in my life. I went back home to L.A. and was running Mixed there for a few months. I️ knew I was going to make my way back to New York City, I just didn’t know how. Everything was very uncertain. That winter, I️ got an invite to show at New York Fashion Week. We did the show [and] it was fantastic! Sales had tripled and there was a really clear kind of pivot moment in the business.

This year’s spring 2023 collection is our first time using solid colors, which is really exciting. It goes back to this message of you don’t have to be one person or the other. Because we all show up differently every day, and I feel like the solids and the prints speak to different people, whether they’re two different people or two people within one person, if that makes sense. This is also our first time working with linen and our first time with Cassandra, who is our creative director. (Fun fact: Cassandra is also mixed!) 

We’re coming out with suits that our community is super excited about. I’m leaving for India in one week to go to our factory onsite for the first time. I️ love our factory. They are New York- and Delhi-based and just feel like an extension of the team. I’m very excited to go and just get the ball rolling on our future collections. It's all moving really fast.

SMC: Sounds like you have a lot of exciting things coming up! A lot of times mixed identity can come with feelings of confusion and seeing the glass as half-empty. And I️ read a little on your website that you wanted to flip that narrative into something more positive. Like, taking back your power which is made evident in the incredibly bold and bright colors in your clothing. Can you talk to me about that more?
NJ: Again, so much of my life has been mixed. Not just culturally, but also in what I’ve wanted to do. I’ve always felt pulled in many different directions. I loved being able to dabble here and there, but sometimes I felt like I was a master of none kind of thing. I think, oftentimes, the narrative around mixedness is that it’s a burden, it’s difficult, and we don’t fit in. There’s negative connotations around it. But I think we can learn how to embrace that tension and really allow these different identities of ourselves to coexist.

Maybe that doesn’t mean all at the same time in one moment, but maybe in how we show up on different days of the week or in different phases of our life. To not have to feel like you have to suppress the side of you because it doesn’t quite fit into the box of what you or other people can fully comprehend. I think with our economic landscape changing (i.e., working from home or doing more gig work), the culture is shifting. People are able to see themselves in a more fluid way. I also think people are dressing more colorfully. I think the past decade was all about the neutrals. And with the pandemic, everyone had this hard reset of looking at their lives and thinking, “Who am I? What do I want? How do I wanna live?” I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that so much more color has come back into trend because of that.

SMC: It’s so funny, when I got dressed this morning, I was like, “I feel like her clothes are so colorful. Should I wear something more colorful?” And then when we walked in today, you were wearing black. Haha! On that note, what’s your favorite color?
NJ: It depends on when you catch me. I love green. I also love chartreuse and pink. It’s hard to say!

SMC: What do you envision for the future of Mixed By Nasrin?
NJ: Great question. We are checking out a new space today and looking to expand our studio. We won’t have a retail shop in the next year or two, but we will have a studio that we would love to open to the public. We would have monthly events not just for shopping, but around this concept of mixedness, whether that looks like panel discussions, workshops, or networking. I really want the studio to feel like a kind of a hub where people can come through, sit down, meet other people, and really connect. I’m excited about having a physical space that the community can really live in.

SMC: I love that you're so open to the community and wanting to foster those relationships. Congratulations! And you know MAM will absolutely be there!

Follow Nasrin and her brand on Instagram @mixed_bynasrin or on her website

Published on May 16, 2023

Words by Stephanie Mieko Cohen

Stephanie Mieko Cohen is a Los Angeles native who made her way to New York City. She is Yonsei and is a proud member of the NYC Hapa fam! Performing since the age of five, Stephanie has appeared on Broadway, National Tours, Regional Theatre, Television, Film, and in the Voiceover world. She is a certified Vinyasa yoga instructor and an advocate for mental health awareness, equality, and spreading kindness. In her spare time, Stephanie enjoys crafting, writing, eating as much Mexican food as she can, reality television, and playing with kitty cats. Follow her on instagram @stecohen