Change Agents Vol. 1
Originally Posted 8/25/11
Alpha Dog - An Interview with Alyasha Owerka-Moore
Today we are excited to bring you a brand new feature to the blog. We are kicking off an interview series called Change Agents, where we sit down with people within industries of interest to us, whether that be clothing, music, art, design, etc., to hopefully bring you discussions that will be of interest to you.
Our first conversation is with someone who is near and dear to us at Adapt, a designer who has paved the way for many brands such as ours, and has been instrumental towards our motivations to build the foundations for the label. Alyasha Owerka-Moore has founded, art-directed, and/or designed for many companies within streetwear and affiliated markets, including Alphanumeric, Mecca, Phat Farm, Adidas, Fiberops, DUB, SHUT, Droors, American Dream, and the list continues. This interview was to be originally focused on Alphanumeric, who's original run from about '98-'03 was heavily inspirational to our own aesthetics here at Adapt (I am in possession of the most vintage A# gear on the planet according to Transworld Skateboarding), however as the discussion continued Aly touched upon a myriad of interesting topics relevant to the industry as a whole. Talking points include his graffiti days, the origins of Alphanumeric, Freshjive, Shawn Stussy, E-40, Wu-Tang, Michael Lau, Bobby Hundreds, The Alpha Dunks, The end of Fiberops and Alphanumeric, the state of streetwear today, future plans, and more. It ended up stretching 16 pages in length when transcribed, so we are breaking it up into 2 parts, the first of which is included here. We will be VERY impressed if you guys stick with us through the whole thing. Click below to read Part 1, Part 2 will be posted next week. Thanks again to Aly for making this possible.
Evan: Thanks for sitting down with me for this interview, I’ve been looking forward to getting it going. To kick things off, if you can start with some general background, and leading into what made you want to pursue a creative field and clothing in particular.
Alyasha Owerka-Moore: I was born in 1970, just outside of Amherst, Massachusetts. Both my parents were teaching at UMASS and they met there. My mom’s Russian and Lithuanian, and my dad’s black and Cherokee indian. Cut to the chase, I was born, my parents split up when I was about 4, my mom and I moved to New York in 1977, which is a magical year, because it’s also the Punk Rock year. My mom received a Rockefeller Fellowship to teach Art Education at the MET. I played a shit-ton of Dungeons and Dragons.
E: I was more into Magic.
Aly: I don’t think that was around back then. But I watched kids play it at the gaming center. It’s pretty rad looking. I used to play Warhammer 40,000 for a while.
But then in 1984 or so I got into skating, and contrary to popular belief there were lots of black kids skating in the city. It’s funny, we can talk about the ‘Skurban’ phenomenon and of course people think of skateboarding and they think of California. There were lots more kids than people think skating in New York in the early ‘80s. I had also always been into art as well, I went to High School for Arts, and my mom always had me in art programs. I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. But skateboarding really got me paying attention to graphic design.
E: In what aspects?
Aly: Board graphics, Ad layout, I just thought that stuff was really cool. One of the things I really liked about skating was that it was completely autonomous. I’d never really been good at team sports, but also the artistic side of skateboarding. In every skateboard magazine there were articles about people that skateboarded, and painted, and did sculpture, and graphic arts, and just were creative. I always thought that was really cool, and a huge thing for me being 14 years old. So then I would draw my dream board graphics. In about 1985-86 I met Rodney Smith and Bruno Musso, and then later we ended up cutting the first hundred or so SHUT Skateboards on my roof in Brooklyn. So then myself and Eli Gesner and Jeremy Henderson, Wiley Singer, and Ducky, and a guy name Hugh Grand and Ken Sigafoos were hand-drawing graphics. That really got me even more inspired and involved in graphic arts. And of course my mom. She was super super supportive the whole way through. Skateboarding was nothing but positive for me. I was writing graffiti as well. I am still part of BYI, Brooklyn Yard Invaders, Beyond Your Imagination, Bright Young Intellectuals…
E: What’s your tag?
Aly: My first tag was TEXT, and then I wrote RELAX for a while because of the Frankie Goes to Hollywood song. And then I found out what the song was about--whoops. And then I started writing One-1 or One-FIRST. I had some funny weird ones like Broccoli, just being silly. Just absurd words. I’d go bombing with WOLF1, Chino, Rae, Bonz Malone and my best friend at the time, Stanley Lambert, who wrote DASH 2, not to be confused with Dash, and Scotch, and Keo, Eli from Zoo York and SHUT. This was an important developmental point, as far as paying attention to letters and typography. I was also into 60’s lettering, 60’s surf letters and psychedelic lettering. There were a lot of albums around the house, and I always thought the typography was cool. My dad played a lot of jazz as well, and my mom was a big jazz enthusiast, so a lot of the Reed Miles, the Blue Note stuff, was all a big influence.
E: Are there any particular designers, not necessarily within clothing, that inspired your style or currently inspire you?
Aly: Man. Yeah I think Paul Mittleman, who was the creative director for Stussy for years. We’ve known each other since about 1984, and he was a big influence on me, just as far as general aesthetic and fashion, and then my ex-girlfriend, Heather Worley, who actually ended up designing for Knoll. But she hipped me to a lot of mid-century stuff, and actually the majority of stuff that I know about fashion and my personal style now, which I guess would be considered vintage fashion, she hipped me to in High School. Shelly’s of London, Ben Sherman, Levi’s Sta-Prest, a bunch of stuff like that. Early Doc Martin stuff. These were the original influences prior to me getting into the fashion industry. Obviously when I got into the industry you start to discover more things and more people that become influential on you, but I would say that Paul and Heather were probably the two biggest influences early on.
E: So just curious, was Shawn Stussy not the creative director at the time?
Aly: Yeah, well Paul wasn’t the creative director at that point. He was working for Shawn, he may not have been designing for Shawn at the time. He was helping him with some things, hipping him to certain aspects of the marketplace, in a proto-streetwear sense. Kids in the city were big on it, it wasn’t this suburban beach thing. And for us, Stussy seemed like more of a city brand than a surf brand, even though it wasn’t. It was one of the first brands that really touched a ton of demographics internationally, and completely organically. There were never Stussy billboards or anything like that.
I think another person that influenced my design was a guy named Tony Converse who used to skate for Santa Monica Airlines, who was from LA but lived in New York. He always had rad vintage stuff and was always getting stuff tailored. He hipped me to a lot of stuff that are still engrained in my personal aesthetic.
E: The bulk of what I want to get into is regarding Alphanumeric. Can you first briefly describe the origins of the brand?
Aly: Basically I’d worked with a bunch of proto-urban brands, and a bunch of action sports brands, and I’d always felt that things were missing, and that there were parts of the marketplace that could be capitalized on. Why wouldn’t a company that makes outerwear cater to the same kid that skates, and is into hip-hop, and punk rock, or whatever, but is from the city. The amount of North Face jackets that were sold in New York when I was a kid was out of control. So why not get some of that market share. So the idea was kind of just an all around youth lifestyle brand as opposed to just an action sports brand. It was really about action sports, but was more to show that kids were into a lot more than just one thing. You could actually like punk rock and hip-hop at the same time and they were largely synonymous. This is obvious to a lot of people, but to 7th Avenue it wasn’t. You could also be into skating and import racing, or any number of these different sub cultures, and that they were far less polarized than 7th Avenue or the garment industry would have liked them to be. They just didn’t understand so they wanted to put everything in these small boxes.
As far as the name goes, for me it was all about mathematics and alphabets, it’s the way you describe everything in the world. The key to communication is via math and alphabets. So it was more of, ‘This is the way we are communicating to the kids.’
E: It’s always had the themes of education and the acquisition of knowledge. I remember reading that you went straight into design out of high school, you didn’t pursue any higher education is that right?
Aly: Yeah, it’s somewhat ironic.
E: I’m just curious how that plays in and why education was so emphasized, but then you yourself didn’t follow that path. How does that all relate?
Aly: Yeah it’s a strange irony in that both of my parents were educators. But I decided that I was going to drop out of High School to pursue skateboarding. My mom and I made a deal and she was like, ‘Look, you’re a man now. If you aren’t in school I can’t really support you. If you decide to drop out, you have to take your GED, think about going to college, and get a full time job because now you need to contribute to the household.’ So I got a job, and was skating a bunch, and then the job thing took precedence because then you realize that you actually have to pay bills. Skating in the late 80’s was a lot different than it is now. Frankly, I was an OK amateur, but there was no way I was going to go pro. Anyways, on the educational end, I think it was always engrained in me. I do tons of research, I’m always reading, I’m always trying to better myself as a human being by self-education if you will. And regardless of going to school or not, or having an institutionalized education via College, I’ve always had a thirst for information and knowledge. As a kid I was labeled as learning disabled. It wasn’t that I was learning disabled, it’s just that the way the curriculum was presented didn’t interest me, and so I just became completely disinterested and disenfranchised with school, and this is at an early age, this is like age 7. It didn’t mean I wasn’t smart, and it didn’t mean I didn’t like learning, it just was the way that information was conveyed to me. So it was a really important and personal project for me, because it was like, well how do we convey the message of education without sounding cheesy, and without standing on a soapbox, and definitely not trying to sound elitist, but more like, ‘hey man, just the perpetual quest for knowledge is important, and it’s part of human development.’ And that was the underlying theme throughout the whole brand.
E: You already touched upon the crossover of different ‘street’ cultures and general youth culture, but one other thing I think was interesting, especially within a skate company framework, was the general ethnic makeup of A. The people that wore and represented the brand, and B. The riders that you sponsored. A lot of minorities. Was a lot of this a conscious effort or how did that end up manifesting itself?
Aly: A big part of it was that I had moved from NY to SD, and the kids that rode for us were very familiar, even though I’d only met some of them while we were looking for a team and some that I knew. I’ve known Kareem (Campbell) forever, and we are actually 2nd cousins, but it was more like, this isn’t a run-of-the-mill mix. If you went to NY this would be a normal grouping of people, but for the status quo of what a skateboard team was supposed to look like, it was either all jocks or all misfits, or all ‘ethnic kids.’ I shouldn’t say every company was like that, but for the most part very few people really touched on race. We didn’t make a point of saying anything about it, but people definitely noticed it, to the point where we had people coming up to us saying, ‘what are you a YO brand?’ and we are like ‘what’s a YO brand? Oh, a hip hop brand, because there are a few black people on the team?’ It was really funny, some of the comments we got from people were really interesting. Verging on ignorant.
E: I always found it interesting, but definitely in a positive way. It was subtle, but if you paid attention to it, it was something that was clearly there.
Aly: Yeah, I mean we made a point of it, of subversively showing people, but we always made sure that it was this group of kids, from all different ethnic and socio-economical backgrounds, but the fact of the matter was that everybody rode for Alpha and was into similar activities, whether it was skating, surfing, snowboarding, import tuning, BMX. One of the cool things that I’m really happy about was that most of the people that had ridden or where involved with Alphanumeric are still in touch socially. Which is really cool, we make a concerted effort to stay in touch. We bonded around something.
E: In Northern California where I’m from, it was somewhat difficult to get the product. It didn’t quite have the awareness of a DC, Element, Emerica, or any of the more well-known, established brands. Was any of that intentional, or was it more just being a smaller brand and having less distribution.
Aly: Definitely less distribution, a lot of frustration in trying to get bigger distribution. Maybe a few things too early, but it wasn’t intentional. We had people saying, ‘wow are you trying to be super exclusive?’ No, we’re trying to sell stuff. If you want to tell people that we’re exclusive, if it works and helps sell it, by all means go for it, but it wasn’t something that we had planned on or strategized.
E: For me there was definitely a feeling of, ‘oh if I see it, I should probably get it because I probably won’t see it again.’ And that’s just the bay, which is not very far from Southern California.
Aly. No, not at all. We did a lot of our very first events in the bay, we did a lot of stuff with Mike from TRUE, we did a lot of car shows early on. Mike from TRUE is definitely a huge supporter and a huge asset and really helped the brand a lot. Helping raise awareness, he was really super supportive and went above and beyond what most retailers would have done. I don’t think it would have been nearly as big on a whole had Mike not gone out of his way to help raise awareness about the brand for us.
E: I know you are a fan of a lot of different types of music, but I feel like hip- hop culture was definitely at the forefront of how the brand was marketed. Was that because that was more influential to your mindset at the time, or is that because you were trying to make a distinction between maybe what was considered traditional with some of the core skate brands.
Aly: No, it had nothing to do with making a separation. It was just what we were listening to at the time. In ‘98, Wu Tang, Raekwon’s Cuban Linx came out, Luchini by Camp Lo dropped, Mos Def was crushing, John Forte just dropped an album. The Money Boss Playas, Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz, all of that shit was cracking at that point in time. It was just a really epic point in hip-hop, a lot of get up and go, I dunno if that sounds cheesy--it definitely sounds cheesy-- but it was rocking. But there wasn’t so much of a divide at that time, in what was mainstream, and ‘backpack’. You’d go to a party and hear Mos Def right after Biggie. Or Wu, I mean it was just crackin’.
E: There were even some Cash Money references in the later styles.
Aly: Yeah we definitely drew from a lot, we had fun with it. I think people were being really careful with a lot of things at that point in time, and it was just like ‘fuck it, go for it.’ And everybody in the office, we would all kind of bicker about certain things, oh that bands sucks, or this band sucks. I’d spent some time in the bay in ‘94 doing American Dream, and I got really big into E-40, and I’d bring that into the office, and the guys would go ‘Aww that’s wack.’ I was super into it, I’ve been an E-40 fan since ‘94. Sprinkle Me is my shit. I like Dru Down, I like Luniz, I probably never would have experienced that stuff ‘til way later had I not lived in the bay for a little while.
E: Thanks for giving the bay some love. Can you speak on early L-R-G at all? I know that for me, I felt like Alpha and those first few seasons of L-R-G graphics were along the same lines in terms of really breaking ground and doing something different. I was just wondering if you had any relationship with them, or if you had any thoughts on what they were doing.
Aly: They were going to school down here when we started. We’d met a bunch of times at parties, ASR and stuff, and then they started L-R-G. At that point in time, it was still a very conscious vibe from both brands, it was kind of like, I’d actually gotten into a weird thing with Jonas, because I was critical of him, at the same time applauding the brand. I was like ‘look, you should say uplifting the masses instead of overthrowing the masses.’ But at the same time the dude went on and made amazing things. Rest in Peace, but definitely, they were kind of a little younger than us, and just kind of kept the sentiment going I guess. I’m not going to say that they drew their complete influence from us, because that wouldn’t be fair to them at all, but you know, definitely on the same wavelength, same path.
E: Alpha has always had a particular color palette, the shades of grey, yellow, the baby blue, navy. Is there any particular reason for that, or was there any inspiration behind that?
Aly: Absolutely, I was a huge Evangelion fan. Evangelion and Gundam. A lot of the color blocking and jackets, and particularly the outerwear for snowboarding, was largely influenced by either the Gundam pilots uniforms or the actual Evas in Evangelion, and some of the evil pilots as well. Also, a lot of it was, colorwise, designed to merge with Air Max 95’s, which they had rereleased in multiple colors, which I was luckily privy to. I had access to a few CADS prior to those sneakers coming out.
E: Did that also play into the actual patterns of the jackets and the pants as well?
Aly: Yes absolutely, largely based on the geometry of the mobile suits, or the mobile suit pilot uniforms.
E: Was Alpha’s commonly used grid motif primarily based on graph paper, or a mathematic grid, etc.?
Aly: A couple things. One, from graph paper, and two, a camo pattern which supposed to deflect night vision. Desert night camo.
E: In terms of your actual role, were you more art direction or did you do the actual linework and the graphics themselves?
Aly: The graphics were mostly done by Savior San Quiche, Omar Quiambau, and Alfred Hawkins, and the cut and sew was done by myself for the most part, and then the Women’s was done by a woman named Eva Chau.
E: I don’t remember much Women’s other than some graphic tees.
Aly: Yeah it didn’t really stick. Some of the stuff I thought was really cool, and Eva did a really great job.
E: One of the most popular, and earliest Alpha graphics was the V-TEC engine design. Did you guys run into any issues regarding the use of that image?
Aly: No comment.
E: Haha. You also had a series of figures with the popular toy designer Michael Lau for some Alphanumeric branded characters. Can you speak to how that came about? (Editors note: if in possession of these figures please send specimens to the Top Pigeon for documentation and archival purposes. Thx.)
Aly: I saw Michael’s artwork at a shop in Hong Kong called Phase2. I FLIPPED OUT. Later a mutual friend Brian Siswojo introduced us. We’ve been friends ever since—this was back in ’99.
E: We mentioned some of the music homages, and the anime influences, was there anything else that hasn’t been touched upon that was influential in sort of the design and presentation of the garments?
Aly: Just a lot of our own inter-office vernacular, a lot of nicknames that we deemed each other, a lot of them came from that. All the stuff we were into, whether it was music or cars or skating or golf.
E: Can you speak to the end of Alpha’s initial run from the late ‘90’s to the early 2000’s?
Aly: Unfortunately not really. We kinda bumped heads with out financial backers, and it got to the point where there was a big blowout, and they kinda walked away from the situation. Not that they walked away, but they were very adamant about something, and I was like, ‘there’s not going to be any mediation?’ NO. Well if that’s the case and you’re going to be that stubborn, then there’s no reason to continue to be working together. Inter-office stuff between theirs and ours. Then admittedly, I was probably a little full of myself, thinking that something else was going to pop up immediately, and I’d be able to bring a whole staff to a new place and start something new, which obviously wasn’t the case. But, you know, I left, and then it was just this slow exodus of people leaving, and it kind of just slipped into obscurity. There were a few talks about trying to patch things up but it just never came to fruition unfortunately. A very strange period in time.
E: And then over the last 4 years or so now, the re-emergence? I feel like, maybe I’m not seeing it, but I feel like now there’s been a break again in new product.
Aly: It’s done already.
E: So at this point, there’s no desire to continue, it’s pretty much done forever?
Aly: Yeah, unfortunately. It just seems that way, it doesn’t seem like it’s really going to go anywhere, unless there is just this really rad group of young kids that can revitalize it. It just seems like it’s more of a waste of time. And some things are kind of better off left alone I think. There are just so many factors. Proper marketing budget, pricing was a huge issue for us, trying to compete in a price-point market or whatever else.
E: As objectively as you can, how would you assess Alpha’s overall effect on the current streetwear landscape? Would you consider it to be a pioneering brand of modern streetwear, or do you not consider it to be the same thing…
Aly: I totally do. And people will argue points, but the people that knew would know. I mean we made technical outerwear with taped seams, we made hand-numbered selvedge denim in 1999.We did a lot of stuff that is kind of what you have to do to have a brand in streetwear these days. It’s funny because there is this reverse osmosis where all the streetwear brands are trying to develop skate teams now. I don’t know why, for whatever reason, not being too concerned with it, I don’t really know what peoples general modus operandi is regarding wanting skateboarding to be part of their deal, probably to get more doors honestly, because you can get a core skate door if you have a good skateboard team and you actually sell to skateboarders and sponsor skateboarders. So you not only get your cool guy boutiques, you get skate doors. So you if you can get into Pac Sun you get a couple hundred doors.
E: That’s kinda the reverse of a brand like Diamond, who from what I understand started out more as a core skate-focused brand and over time was accepted by the streetwear community.
Aly: Yeah and we were doing that in ‘98. As far as the melding of a bunch of subcultures, or creating a platform that resonated amongst a bunch of different subcultures, yeah sure. We did a lot of that shit before most of the streetwear brands even existed. Not saying that we were the only ones, but we definitely did a lot of this before other people, and kind of broke a lot of barriers I think.
E: On that point, did you read Bobby Hundreds Top 50 Streetwear Brands list?
E: It was very well put together. I personally felt that Alpha deserved a spot on there.
Aly: It was there, in Fiberops. I think him putting in Fiberops was more mentioning me, and the projects I had done. At least that’s my interpretation. I don’t know. It’s his list, it’s his opinion. I got at least 10 phone calls from people. I take Bobby very seriously. I love the guy, he’s become a great friend. I think a lot of people in streetwear take themselves way too seriously, and they are more in the industry for their egos. Whereas I don’t feel that’s the case with Bobby, and other people would argue with me, I’m sure I’ll get more phone calls after somebody reads this. But in actuality, he was asked to do the list, he gave his opinion, it’s his opinion, its how he sees it. He’s from a younger generation than I am, because a lot of the dudes that called me were cats that are my age. I’m like, yeah man, it’s a different generation. The perspectives are different. And you have to respect that. I think people like me they kinda get over themselves and don’t worry about it. It’s a list, it’s not THE list, it’s A list. And people have probably already fucking forgot about it. So it wasn’t that big of a deal to me. And so I ask people, like you try to make a list of your top 50 streetwear brands, and write at least one paragraph about each one. That’s a pretty daunting task. If I wrote a list, if you wrote a list, if Paul Mittleman wrote a list, nobody is going to be happy with anybody’s list. It’s just that Bobby is so high-profile that of course people want to cut him down, and people are saying that he has an ulterior motive, and that its to big himself up and such and such, but people forget that he started off as a writer. The funny thing is we spoke and the only thing I said is that, I was surprised L-R-G wasn’t on there. He said they are an urban brand. It made all the sense in the world. We are in an age where the lines are so skewed. Today, most of what were streetwear brands are urban brands at this point in time. Not most, but a lot. Or are financed by companies that own urban brands. Alpha got pigeonholed as such. I remember somebody going, what is this, Fubu for skateboarders. I was like wow, that’s lame. But streetwear is over anyways for the most part, it’s a different deal now. Not completely, but it’s a way different animal from even 8 years ago.
E: Are there any brands that you like? What brands stand out to you now? Do you feel anybody is doing anything innovative? Looking at where you are now, it seems that you aren’t really into this market at all. You seem very removed, and I understand that, but does anything stick out?
Aly: I think the guys from Brixton. Brixton sticks out more than anything right now. Primarily because they have a very defined brand image. They know who they are, they aren’t trying to cater to a bunch of different things, which in essence makes them a stronger brand. It’s very funny to me to see all these brands that a year ago were super Technicolor Dreamcoat, and are now making J. Crew and thinking that people will buy them because they are clean and simple and everyone is into Americana and men’s contemporary. What happened to your brand identity? You’ve completely forsaken who you were as a company and your brand ID for a new look that is ‘in trend’ when streetwear for years had been what created trend and now it’s following trend more than anything else. Whereas somebody like Brixton had started off, and has been and always will be kind of what it is, it’s like J. Crew, J. Crew has always been classic Americana stuff. Ralph Lauren, as far as I know, has only tried to follow a trend once, and that’s when they put together that license for Polo Jeans. What did that last, 4 years? Because they felt that it was kind of a stain on their credibility. Like we don’t need this. We’re Ralph Lauren. We make Americana. It’s what we do. That’s it. Ralph Lauren is not making all-over-print anything, except maybe that skull motif which is more of a monogram than anything. So you don’t need to cater to trends to sell clothing, it’s about creating a strong brand. That’s where a lot of people in streetwear and 7th Avenue, and the garment industry as a whole, lose it. I think Brixton is one of the companies that I’ve just been really impressed with as far as like creating a strong brand ID and sticking to it.
E: One of the things that has frequently been utilized in graphic tees are logo flips, originating with Freshjive and others. It’s pretty much a staple approach at this point. Are you particularly averse to that, as I don’t recall seeing any of your stuff as such.
Aly: Freshjive does that. They were the kings of that. I come from a generation where everybody had their own style, you didn’t make records that sounded like somebody else’s records, you made a record that sounded like your record, and was as good, and got more plays. Now the mentality is like ‘oh, I’m going to make a record that sounds just like this guys record, but it’s my version.’ Which is why a lot of brands look like one big brand, and why a lot of contemporary pop music sounds like one long song. Not all of it, there’s definitely stuff that sticks out. It’s just interesting, that’s something that you wouldn’t dare do back in the day. There were a few brands, primarily Freshjive that did the logo flips, but there was a handful and that was their deal and everybody else did their own thing. Then it was really important to have your own brand identity and your own look and your own feel and your own aesthetic.
E: I always kind of thought of it as sampling.
Aly: Absolutely. But I think there is so much to sample from, that it becomes a bummer when a whole subculture is sampling from the same place. Like who’s not right now. Who’s not pulling the same classic Americana references right now. It’s kinda like ‘alright, ok guys, a year ago you were a raver brand and now you’ve got choppers in your ads.’ In some ways that’s unfair to say, the people behind the brands are definitely evolving and exploring new things, and genuinely getting into things, but I think when people start to get into things because it’s trending and it’s what their supposed to be doing, they just want to follow, it becomes disingenuous. Such and such has choppers on his shirt, so I want to put choppers on my shirt. I just think it’s corny, and for me the reason we started making our own shit was because so much stuff WAS corny. It’s digressed, or whatever you want to call it, it’s kind of mutated back into this thing that it wasn’t ever supposed to be. There are some people that are doing cool stuff, but it’d just be nice to see people paying attention to actual design as opposed to completely remixing. But it’s cool—there’s a really rad documentary called Everything is a Remix. It’s a 4 part series, it’s got 3 parts so far. Pretty fascinating, really well researched and compiled and presented. It kinda substantiates a lot of where my head is at. Taking parts of things and integrating them into what you do. Absolutely, but when it becomes blatant plagiarism it’s like—have you seen that movie where they’re all wearing the white face?
E: Dead Presidents.
Aly: Yeah, Dead Presidents. I was at Magic a year ago, and no exaggeration, 8 different brands had Dead Presidents t-shirts in the same season. People are still doing Scarface knocks. Shit was dead in ‘93. They just keep beating the same references, and it becomes commonplace. It just becomes mundane and boring. But then again, there’s a generation that hasn’t seen that stuff. I suppose if I was 16 I might be like ‘whoa, that’s really fucking cool ‘cuz I’ve never seen that before.’
E: Yeah I think that is a part of it, I think some people may just not be aware of what has been done. But I’m not sure if that gives you a pass or not.
Aly: The flipside is the brazen bravado, like ‘we’re the streetwear aficionados. We’re the front-runners. We’re breaking ground.’ Not really dude, kinda late to the game. Maybe in your neighborhood you’re the coolest kids. I wish there was more humility. It’s not a matter of me being like, ‘oh you guys gotta look up to me because I’ve been in this for so long.’ It’s more of, just be humble. Work hard. Because then you don’t give anybody a reason to dislike you. The only reason they can dislike you is because they’re jealous you’re busting your ass and actually making something happen. But when you get up on a soapbox and start spouting out all this ignorant shit that’s unfounded, it kind of gives people more of a reason to dislike you, and a more justified reason to dislike you and/or your brand.
E: Yeah, it’s hard when everyone is pulling from the same pot.
Aly: Early streetwear, there were so many brands that pulled from totally different places. There were rad full-on punk rock streetwear brands. There was a brand call Blunt that was like a mod and rude boy brand. Everything was like scooters and ska and mod stuff, even some later Freshjive, mid ‘90s was all about mid-century modern stuff, Rick moved away, he was building a brand, he was building a clothing company. A lot of other people got stuck in this model and this formula that became very easy to keep going, but it ultimately has become the downfall, this homogenous thing as opposed to a bunch of independent kind of cottage industry clothing companies that all supported each other and put on tradeshows together and actually innovated in the fashion industry. Now there’s no innovation.
E: Do you think a lot of that is due to the internet, in the sense that you can immediately kind of see what everyone else is doing? Whereas before you had sort of a lot of different independent groups, and when you can’t see in real-time what others are doing you naturally will create your own lane.
Aly: Absolutely. People aren’t as much into buying product as it is buying brands. It’s more like oh this brand appeals to me. This brand got this many hits on Youtube. This post got this many likes, so that means I know what I need to get. Somebody’s telling me there’s this focus group, and this kid was talking about how he’ll post something on a blog, and that’s what the cool kids will want to buy. It’s like no--cool kids don’t give a fuck about your blog. The cool kid is gonna create his own style and post it himself, and other kids will follow that.
E: That’s also a bit frustrating as a smaller brand, you have to contend with kids that just want to buy a more established brand because of the name, and you know that if that tee graphic was transferred to a lesser-known brand it would never sell. On the other hand if you have a brand that can do that, I guess it says something if you can pull it off.
Aly: It’s a weird one. It’s a very Orwellian period of time. Everybody wants to be famous. Everybody wants to be associated with something instead of doing their own thing. It’s strange. Especially for me, coming from an age where it was really about doing your own thing. Like the stuff you guys do, it’s obviously your own thing. Now it’s more like, I just want to look like everybody else. That’s not what this is about.
E: Ok, back to some other interesting stuff. What exactly was your involvement with Mecca?
Aly: My role? The dudes that started it quit, and then they need some new designers. And I was hired as one of the designers. I didn’t found it, I was just a pinch-hitter. My friend Phil, he used to manage the Jungle Brothers and I did some production for them, and after Phat Farm he was like, ‘are you doing anything? The guys that started this brand quit and I need to hire some new people, are you interested?’ And the people that financed Mecca also financed Alphanumeric, so those two kinda went hand in hand. The kids that ended up working at Mecca started the company Akademiks, so I had to pinch-hit as the creative director for Mecca for about a year, and helped them hire a new design team.
E: What about Dub? Did you work for them at all?
Aly: Yep. I was the senior designer. That’s why I moved to California, to work for Dub and Droors.
E: I had never read that but it just seemed similar to some of your other stuff, and clearly had a hip-hop following.
Aly: A big part of that was, I had been in the music industry prior, and had always been thinking, ‘there’s all this North Face and Patagonia stuff that sells in New York, why wouldn’t you try to get some of that market share? So I just started sending boxes to friends of mine in the music industry. Juju ended up wearing a jacket on the Beatnuts Stone Crazy album cover, Mos Def wore some stuff in a video, some of the Wu guys wore stuff in videos, John Forte, and just anybody I knew in the industry I just would send boxes to and it kind of resonated that way.
E: Back to Fiberops. Is that no longer being produced?
Aly: No. My business partner passed away, Tabo, the guy I started it with and one of my best friends. I tried to keep it going for a while, went to different financial backers and such to try to bring it to the states, and it just kind of ended up not being in the doors that I wanted it to be in or that I thought it should be in. It’s kinda another one of those things—‘oh yeah you did Mecca, this stuff can go in the same doors as Mecca.’ It’s like dude, are you looking at the product? That has kind of been the bane of my existence. People are like ‘oh you did this you do that?’ No I DID that because it was a job. What I do is totally different. It’s been in asset, but in many ways it’s largely been a hindrance in terms of launching new projects. It’s been a little frustrating. So Tabo passed away, tried to keep it going, it just became really hard to do by myself. Ended up with a bunch of people that wanted to put it into these doors that it really didn’t belong in and wouldn’t have had much longevity in. There were some doors that it was in and people were like ‘I don’t get this at all.’ It’s like ‘yeah no kidding, it doesn’t belong in here.’ So that’s what happened to Fiberops.
E: That seems strange because within the industry it’s pretty clear that it’s a different type of brand, but I guess since your dealing with more financially inclined people that don’t really know the markets, they are looking at it just from a monetizing standpoint.
Aly: Right. Like Neighborhood for instance, if you put Neighborhood in a store that sold 10Deep it would never work. It doesn’t make sense. You can’t put Neighborhood next to Crooks and 10Deep because aesthetically they are completely different things. All good brands but it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t flow. The price points are different, the quality levels are different, the aesthetics are completely different. It doesn’t mean there’s not going to be a customer that goes in there and is like ‘oh wow, I gravitate towards this,’ but at the end of the day you put brands that are comparable next to each other. Fiberops was maybe 5 years too early. Now if I brought it back, it would almost be too late. But it is what it is as a brand, I wouldn’t change the aesthetic, but everybody is doing what we did 5 years ago now.
E: It’s Alpha all over again.
Aly: I dunno. I’m going to try to open a bar. There you go. Booze: always in trend, never goes out of style.
E: That’s very true. So back to you, where are you at right now, do you have plans for the future, is there particular stuff you are working on?
Aly: A lot of ideas, a lot of loose business plans. Things I would like to do, but nothing concrete. Just a bunch of freelance immediately, I’m having a few conversations with some people about different things that are all kind of their things. It’d be me going in and working as a creative director or designer. As far as myself I don’t really have the money to start a new brand, I’m not really driven enough at this point to start slanging tee shirts anymore, I think I’d get more depressed than anything. I’m fucking 40 years old and I’m hitting the street like I’m 20 again. Not that I’m above it, I just don’t—I got bills to pay.
E: Your aesthetic at this point, isn’t as much geared towards graphic tees, more focused on cut-and-sew and a higher-end product. Would you move more into that market or are you just not interested at all?
Aly: I’d love to, but I try to and I’m never taken seriously. A lot of times people don’t even look at the product, they just go ‘oh wow you worked for Mecca and Phat Farm and this company and that company. That’s not really what we’re looking for.’ It’s kind of a double-edged sword. At age 40 there’s this huge disconnect with the streetwear market as far as I’m concerned. I haven’t seen anything that’s really wowed me in a long time or got me inspired. For me it’s not just a hustle, I did it for so long because I was passionate about it. I was a consumer, I was involved with all this stuff, and now there’s nothing for me to—I don’t even think if I was a kid I’d have the connection with streetwear that I did. If I was 20 I don’t think I’d be into it. I could be wrong and I’ll never really know, but going into my 41st year I don’t want to be involved in an industry that I don’t really have a connection with, and that I don’t even really like aesthetically. So when I say open a bar, I’m half sarcastic but in many ways I’d like to do that. But there’s some interesting big ticket things and big ticket conversations, and if I can figure out how to do them and be happy and ultimately, be productive, if I can figure out how to find that happy medium, yeah I will take them. The people I’d be working with are really fun people, but I don’t know. It’s the very beginnings of conversations, some things are still very vague to me. But I’m in the conversations.
E: There’s always time for new beginnings.
Aly: Absolutely. That’s the best way to look at it. And I hope I don’t sound like Debbie Downer, it’s just more of like, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, and at the same time, even though I don’t connect with what’s going on right now, and I’m not crazy about it, there’s a generation that enjoys it. It’s like hip-hop. I’m not crazy about what’s going on in hip-hop right now, but it’s only 40 years old. It’s going through all these revolutions and different changes and all this stuff happening. A lot of this new stuff is not even for me. It’s for that kid that’s fucking 15-25 that connects with that lifestyle. So you know, it’s the classic ‘one mans trash is another mans treasure,’ or the concept of the word Good. What’s good for you might not be good in my eyes. It’s a real remedial concept but one I think that’s definitely applicable to me and what’s going on right now. So it’s cool to see the different things going on, I just don’t really connect with them so I don’t think I’d be an asset to them.
E: What would you say you pull inspiration from right now?
Aly: Music. A lot of music. A lot of inspiration from vintage furniture. And from making things. I’m constantly making skateboards, or building bikes, or messing with stereo equipment. Reading.
E: To wrap it up, I know you had mentioned in another interview that a certain skate deck was your favorite product you’ve designed. What are you most proud of in the clothing game in general, in terms of what you’ve accomplished, or people that you’ve worked with, or anything. I know that’s a big question.
Aly: Hmm. Well definitely the Krooked board. Having Tommy Guerrero ask me to do a graphic for Mark Gonzales’ company. That was, as silly as it sounds, the highlight of my career for me, the most exciting moment. I looked up to those guys and still do, even though we’re all adults now.
E: Perhaps it has yet to happen.
Aly: Yeah I mean, I was just thinking—I dunno if it’s happened yet. Part of what I’d like to do is have a little shop, and have a workshop in the back, and make things and sell them out of there. Maybe a little online shop, doesn’t need to be huge. That would be exciting.
Actually you know what I’m proud of? Helping bring back the Dunk.
E: Yeah that is the holy grail for me.
Aly: Yeah you know, there was the Wu-Tang dunk, that Drew Greer brought back. Nobody every mentions Drew and that sucks to me, because he fought tooth and nail to bring Dunks back, and he did the Wu-Tang thing, and then there was the Alpha Dunk immediately after. And they hadn’t even started SB yet. I grew up skating in dunks because they were cheap. But yeah I’m proud of that.
E: Well that’s all I have, I know it was a lot. Thanks for hanging in there and I really appreciate the time.
Aly: Not at all. I appreciate it. Thank you for being interested.