Rohan Marley: Thread of a Lion
Written by Kathy Iandoli
The passing of Robert Nesta Marley in 1981 marked the unfortunate death of a true musical revolutionary. Since then, the spirit of the Tuff Gong has echoed through every song he created and in the remarkable talent among his amazing children. Our first embrace of son Rohan Marley occurred when her majesty Lauryn Hill named him the father of her children. Despite his successful career in football, the world had never witnessed the true creativity bestowed upon Rohan from his father - until now.
While the image and likeness of Bob Marley is plastered across the t-shirts of fans, ganja-smoking groundlings and unfortunately quasi-activists, Rohan Marley has chosen to create a clothing line that he feels pays proper respect to his father’s legacy. Teaming with long-time Marley fan, designer Stefano Aldighieri, Rohan Marley has created a clothing line that embraces the lion without exploiting it. Tuff Gong clothing is a welcomed addition to the gear of the street disciple, both lion and lioness. The vintage stitching provides enough comfort to both lounge and march, yet still in tune with the Rastafarian roots.
When we sat down with Rohan Marley, he playfully vibed with us about his wife Ms. Hill, the effect of his father on both his clothing and life, and his unspoken dream of bringing his music to the forefront.
AllHipHop.com Alternatives: Looking at the clothing on the Tuff Gong website, the designs are crazy! How did you manage to promote the Tuff Gong movement/your father’s legacy and incorporate it into the clothing?
Rohan Marley: Well being into clothing myself - you know my sister is a fashion designer and has a [clothing] line - so I like nice things. My old lady [Lauryn Hill], she’s such an impeccable woman that dresses so nice that it rubbed off on me, and I wanted to do something that would have the essence of my family. Looking at my dad, I grew up watching him and loving his style. I always wanted my stuff to fit like his stuff. I was just always inspired by how he wore his clothes differently, and his music - just the whole everything you know?
Then I decided - you know someone asked if we had an interest in a clothing line. I’m like, “Yeah we do.” I listened to myself, came up with the ideas, and met with Stefano Aldighieri, whose background is way extensive. So we decided to run with it man and get inspiration from all over the world and my dad mostly, ya know? Yah mon, so that’s where it came from. It came from his style mainly.
AHHA: What was it about Stefano’s [Aldighieri] vision that made you want to partner up with him?
Rohan: Well I went into a store on Robertson [Street] while I had the concept in my head, and this guy was like, “I’m the contact for this company blasé blase.” So I said, “Give me a card.” He said, “I’m really kind of busy, but there’s this guy [Aldighieri]. He was the Creative Director for Levi’s and the Seven line and he just stopped. He doesn’t want to do anything, he’s just relaxing, but loved your dad. He wanted to take a year off hiatus, but really loved your dad so you never know.” So I said, “Well alright I want to meet him!” So I met with him, told him my ideas and stuff. He said, “Yeah this is good. Let me see what you’re doing. I don’t really wanna do anything right now. I’m just taking a break.” I came back with some sketches and we joined forces. He loved the ideas, the vision and everything. He loves the whole movement, because of where he’s from. His background - he’s very much into the whole Black Panther movement; he’s roots.
The both of us saw eye to eye and we adapted our visions together, because we have the same purpose. We didn’t want to work with sweatshops, but all of the things my father stood for. That’s what we wanted to represent with Tuff Gong clothing. So [Stefano] loved my designs and we just moved from there. He put his designs together and now we collaborate in everything we do, from colors to watches. We just do it as a team. It was just a mystic vibe. Marc Jacobs wanted to hire him - he’s a top dude; he’s top quality.
AHHA: On the clothing designs, there really isn’t a heavy presence of your father’s face. Was that intentional?
Rohan: Yeah because I am Bob Marley. He’s a movement. Yes we have some images of him, but it’s more of a movement. It’s the fit and the spirit of the garment. Like when you put on the clothes, there’s a Marley fit. You see my dad. It’s the whole cut. It’s the Marley vibe and the Marley essence. We have some things of my dad, yes, but we wanted to do more for the product rather than use my dad to sell the garments. He’s already the inspiration anyway. We put on the clothes and it fits like how he wore his clothes. It’s all him. It’s intentional, but not intentional. That’s the way it is.
AHHA: When you see images of your father on posters and shirts everywhere, do you see that as paying homage or exploiting his memory?
Rohan: It’s not exploiting really, but you can’t control it either. We call that bootlegging. That’s why we chose to have our own [clothing line] that’s not bastardizing my father’s image. Tuff Gong was something he started in the ‘60s, so we continued with the company and run it like how he’d run it. I’m not something that sprung up from the wild. This is the root. We are the roots, and all of the things you see out there, we started these things. All of those Rastafari movements through generations and forefathers, we must continue with [that]…and continue my father’s message. We want the company to be at a point where it can help itself and help people, ya know? You might not see my dad’s image on the garments, but you see his words. In each of our garments, there’s a line from one of his songs in the waistline, so it’s embedded inside of you.
AHHA: Your father recently had a street named after him in Brooklyn.
Rohan: Bob Marley Boulevard. Yup! I was there! I represented for the whole family there.
AHHA: How did that come about?
Rohan: I guess the people of Brooklyn really wanted to do it. [The Marley family] didn’t really have anything to do with it. Because of the community being of Caribbean and African descent, they wanted to have a representation of the Gong. When you see the name, it means peace and love. It’s a good thing in a way because things won’t change overnight, but the more visibility the [Marley] name gets, the more people it will help. It’s like seeing the name of Jesus Christ. Not saying that my father was like Jesus Christ, but what he represents, ya know. Like Hallie Selassie I, what his name represents. It stands for unity, togetherness, and strength. That’s what Tuff Gong is. That’s the name he chose to use back in the day. So we’re just continuing the movement.
AHHA: Having a father who’s a legend, and a wife who’s a living legend, how has that affected your relationship with music?
Rohan: It hasn’t affected, more like infected. [laughs] I’m more comfortable with [music]. You may not know this, but I am also musical. I have some musical qualities and an ear for music, so I contribute in that way.
AHHA: Do you think you will ever put your music out there?
Rohan: Yeah, if I can find a song that I can sing. I’m like this: if I were a musician, I’d only sing Bob Marley covers. [laughs] I’d only sing his music, because when I sing my father’s music it brings tears to my eyes, so it’s like a feeling it gives me. And yeah, one day I’d like to give that to the people because it’s something special, but for now I will stick to the garments and put my soul and what I believe in into it. But one day, right? Anything is possible. We have the ability to do anything.
AHHA: Speaking of fathers, how has fatherhood changed you?
Rohan: Fatherhood hasn’t really changed me much or made me more responsible because my purpose is to nurture my seeds and look after the youths. Fatherhood is just something I grew into. It’s about being more open-minded and humble. [Fatherhood] doesn’t change you, it teaches you.
AHHA: Will you be making a Tuff Gong children’s line?
Rohan: Yeah, once this men’s line gets some wings. [laughs] Once everyone knows about the men’s line we can give it to the sons and daughters. Most definitely though, because we want everyone to be part of the movement. It’s not a fad; it’s a movement. Once you become part of the movement you have to contribute to society and pursue other avenues for our brothers and sisters - Black, White, Chinese, Indian, any color or creed because we work with everyone. Our goal is to help humanity and make a change, someway, somehow. By any means necessary, whether you have to do it through garment, or acting, cooking, anything - walking down the street.
AHHA: A while ago there were some ads with you and your brothers modeling clothing.
Rohan: This one guy was doing a shoe - a Bob Marley shoe. I thought it was us [Marley family], but it was just a license. I was young at the time. That was back in the day - years, years, ago. Yup, it was me. But I wouldn’t do it again, because we didn’t have any affiliation. It was just a license. Anything you see me in now, we own. [laughs] I’m just joking.
AHHA: Will Lauryn [Hill] or your kids be modeling Tuff Gong clothing?
Rohan: Well I’m not sure about Ms. Hill. Hopefully one day she’ll have her own clothing line, and she’ll model her own clothing. But once I have children’s garments, of course yes [my children will model]. Or if I find something that she likes. She’s a unique woman, so it has to be something special that she thinks suits her, of course she will indulge. I can’t speak on that because I don’t control her ways. [laughs]
AHHA: Ms. Hill always had an amazing fashion sense. Has she offered any input into the clothing?
Rohan: She’s one of my inspirations. She teaches me about putting things together. She’s responsible for some of the ideas. She’s a very, very smart woman and has a lot to offer. I always take her advice. Always do. She is very beautiful. I have not enough words to describe her.
AHHA: There are definitely not enough words to describe Lauryn Hill.
Rohan: I call her Ms. Hill if you don’t mind [laughs]. I don’t call her that, but I like to call her that when I’m not speaking to her [laughs]. I like to keep it on that level that she likes. Missy Elliot wants to be called Missy Elliot. That’s just she goes by now. Ms. Hill.
AHHA: Ms. Hill it is.
Rohan: And that’s how it is. [laughs] I also played football in Miami - we can change the subject now. [laughs] All of my friends are the best in the league, top notch NFL. They’ll be wearing Tuff Gong as well hopefully. My father’s music is the spirit and the clothing is the flesh. So what you never used to see, you’re gonna see it now.