More Than Just Streetwear
It’s summertime ‘96. I remember it like it was yesterday. A shy, awkward 15 years old surrounded on the block by comic book nerds, dope boys, gangbangers, and high school jocks–all with one thing in common… Streetwear.
Each one of us was different. From our family life to the way we saw the world as teenagers to our personal interests and even down to the way we matched our fit with our kicks. But love for hip-hop, punk, skate and surf-inspired brands are what brought kids who wouldn’t even offer as much as a head nod to each other in the hallways at school together on the corner of G-block and Huntwood for hours to talk about streetwear.
Frequent topics of discussion (more often, heated debates) covered 1) what our favorite ballplayers and rap icons were rocking, 2) which brands were the hottest, 3) Which brands were falling off, and 4), my favorite topic of all, which brands were up and coming. As a 90s kid born and raised on the West Coast and a product of the Bay Area, the labels that shaped my aesthetic and influenced my style the most were POLO, Stussy, Tommy Hilfiger, and LRG. Not only did rocking these brands in my neck of the hood make you a certified “cool kid” they also represented a moment in my life when I finally realized that fashion is not some far fetched dream, but it was actually possible. Well, if Shawn, Ralph, and Tommy could do it why couldn’t I? Streetwear and hip-hop both pushed me to want to create something that brings people from different walks of life together. No matter if you are black, white, gay, straight, male, female, into Marvel or DC, College graduates, or blue-collar hustlers, streetwear is for everyone. At its core, streetwear pushes individuality while still remaining a member of an enigmatic cult that forever represents youth, rebellion, creativity, style, and unity.
This is why I fell in love with streetwear as a teen and still carry this spirit with me to this day.
Now, let’s fast forward. Over the last two decades, I’ve dabbled in creating merch for rap groups I’ve been a part of (yeah, I know everyone wants to be a rapper and I definitely went through my phase. Alexa, play Sunny Stack$), contracted for club promotion agencies, and even spent time as a sales rep and brand consultant for a promotional product manufacturer assisting local businesses, event organizers, artists, and record labels with designing and selling their merch. In this time, I made a couple of failed attempts at creating brands of my own as well.
Anyone heard of Visionary Nativ or Stackbanditz? No?
It didn’t matter that my ideas never blew up, it did not stop me from wanting to create. I used each failure as a learning experience which only pushed me to want to gain more knowledge about the culture and industry I love.
So, I dove right in.
Everything from researching articles on Highsnobiety and GQ on the latest styles and brands to watching Complex presents The Blueprint videos featuring streetwear legends Marc Ecko and Bobby Hundreds (I actually had the pleasure of meeting one of my idols, the innovative Bobby Hundreds, during his ‘This Is Not A T-Shirt book tour), the more I googled the more obsessed I became. Listening to the tales of how Daymond John created FUBU and the reasoning behind Jerry Lorenzo’s Fear of God imprint reaffirmed in me that anything is possible. However, it also made me realize that I was a long way away from accomplishing my dream. Even Though I had gained some experience in the past working in manufacturing and designing I was still ill-equipped to take on something this grand. And though I take every word that Daymond and Jerry speak as if it was a verse from the Fashion Bible, it’s not like I have access to them to guide me on this journey and help me bring my vision to life.
Thankfully, all this googling led me to someone that could.
In 2017, as I was YouTubing for hours and watching every video I could on how to create a clothing brand, I came across a fly gentleman by way of LA named Jon Phenom. Jon, nicknamed by his peers as the Clothing Brand Mentor due to his two decades in the fashion industry working with such brands as Ezekiel, Orisue, and BLVD Supply among others, consistently posted 3 videos a week on the skills needed to create a successful brand in today’s climate. His videos were broken down in layman’s terms for those of us who were still a little green in the industry. He tackled various subjects covering everything from logo design and product to marketing and sales. He also emphasized on many occasions that building a community and connecting with people is the most important thing you can do when establishing a quality brand.
This message spoke volumes to me.
The sole purpose behind wanting to create a lifestyle brand is to bring people together from a variety of backgrounds to showcase our individuality but also promote equality and empower others under a marque that represents this purpose. Jon emphasized that a brand is only as strong as its community. So, after watching his videos numerous times, all while taking notes, I was more ready than ever to push myself to the next level. I knew I needed a mentor at this stage of my journey, so I decided to reach out to Jon directly via his Instagram. I began by thanking him for sharing his knowledge with us and aspiring designers and entrepreneurs to dig deeper. To be honest with you I wasn’t expecting a reply back. I figured this guy must be super busy and wouldn’t have time for little ol’ me and my aspirations. But, low and behold, within a couple of days, Jon hit me back.
“I used each failure as a learning experience which only pushed me to want to gain more knowledge about the culture and industry I love.”
A few DMs back and forth led to us exchanging numbers and him taking me under his wing. He has mentored me on how to build a community around my lifestyle project and entrepreneurship endeavors. To this day, we check in throughout the month and keep each other abreast of what is going on in fashion and the world in general. Anytime I need a refresher I check out his videos on youtube or review one of his courses at his Clothing Brand Academy, both great resources for anyone who is looking to start a clothing brand and doesn’t know where to start. Jon is a virtual cheat code for getting in the game and leveling up. To think that this connection came about simply because of our love of streetwear.
I am in the early stages of this entrepreneurship journey. There are many days I wake up and call my team and tell them “we should quit, I have no idea what I am doing.” I ask myself why am I doing this? Why am I wasting my time? My money? Is anyone even paying attention? Do they even care?” But then I realize that for as long as I can remember, this has been my dream. To create something I can share with the world. Something that embodies art, culture, style, creativity, and community. At the end of the day, this isn’t about me. This is a lifestyle project and we are all involved. I know that this vision will not only change my life but the lives of those around me in the hopes of spreading our mission like wildfire.
This is not about creating a t-shirt with our logo on it for notoriety. It’s deeper than fashion. We want to embody everything that is streetwear. Matter of fact, this is about more than just Streetwear. Whatever we decide to create will represent our dream and our journey and, hopefully, we can inspire others on the way to go after their dreams as well.
Isn’t that what we’re all here for?
Somewhere in between the corona pandemic, presidential election, social injustice protests, work, school, and our quarantine-themed social life, your creative juices are flowing and you’ve had this intense urge to start a side hustle. But will your friends and family support you?
I don’t know about you but I feel as if there is a major void in hip-hop. Something is missing. But what is it?
Whether I’m at home or work, lost in thought reading, writing, drawing, planning, or stuck in some sort of analysis paralysis trance, I can’t shut my mind off. I’m a creative.