There’s some real gems in this interview; hope you guys are receptive to them. Very glad I got this interview too; been watchin’ this brand for a while, Low Key been really killin’ shit out here. The Denver, CO-based streetwear brand is one of the most innovative brands I’ve watched and they execute everything from such a genuine place. In this interview, I speak with Drew S., Designer of Low Key Ltd., about the importance of quality in Low Key’s garments, how he translated his time in jail into the “Crimewave” collection, an upcoming feature on Highsnobiety and a couple other dope topics. I’ll say it again to make sure you readers understand; A LOT of dope knowledge in this interview; read up.
King Phill: How long has Lowkey been around? Do you think the position you’re in now is exactly where you would’ve expected to be with the brand from the beginning?
Drew S.: I would have never thought this brand would be where it is currently. I always like to take a realistic approach to life so I never get disappointed; I try to keep that mindset with the brand. I always have the urge to make things better and better, learning from mistakes along the way. So far we’ve only formally made five or six capsules over a span of two years, and the fact that we’ve made such a strange impression on the streetwear scene is weird to me, but I love the reactions and fanbase we have as a brand. Our demand for certain products has far surpassed our availability to supply, as everyone involved in Low Key Industries is a student, me included as I’m on-track to have my bachelors in Digital Design here in the next year. It’s a labor of love, and as much as I do it because I feel like I simply have to, I wouldn’t be anywhere without the support from our core fans. It doesn’t matter what walk of life you come from, as long as you’re interested in being you, I think Low Key can help you achieve that. As a young brand, we still have a lot of direction and potential to utilize, and I truly hope that more and more people are able to connect to it as others have over the last few years.
King Phill: That’s crazy bro, in a positive way; I thought Low Key had been around for a while given the presence it’s developed. Your story is very positive and inspiring. What words would you have for anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps creatively?
Drew S.: My usual words of advice are “don’t.”, but don’t let that discourage you. You just really need to establish yourself as a brand. Read about brand matrices, learn about traditional clothing manufacturing processes, what a FOB is. All of these things are google searches away. I’m just tired of seeing shit printed on Gildan or pre-made shirts and trying to sell for way too high. There’s a reason I make everything from scratch, I don’t wanna print on blanks. Our garments are one-of-a-kind, and I intend to progress that mentality. This industry is tough, a lot of resellers wanna make their own stuff but have no creativity, and even celebrities making stuff now doesn’t make it interesting to me. Support grassroots, independent brands that are going out of their way to create a better future for street fashion. You’ll find yourself much more pleased at your clothing collection knowing that you’re probably the only one rocking it for miles, especially if it’s an internationally coveted item.
King Phill: I can feel that you guys take the craftsmanship of your pieces very seriously, even down to the blanks; you’re not using the lower quality blanks some brands do. How important is quality to you guys in all aspects of design?
Drew S.: As both a Clothing and Graphic Designer, I think that just printing graphics on pre-made garments is accessible (which is why you see so many emerging, and subsequently dying brands), but in order for a clothing company to be something special at its core, you have to focus on the fabrics and the process. I think the term “Blank” is too commonly thrown amongst the streetwear world. We actually don’t use blanks, all of our hoodies are completely hand designed, measured, and manufactured. There’s a labor of love hidden behind streetwear in the craft itself and I really like that. Streetwear almost owns that it’s not fashion, as much as it has become, because it doesn’t have to be designer-quality to become popular or considered well-made. I spend a lot of time making sure each garment we produce has a feeling of originality and meaning to it as soon as you pick it up. It’s not overstated or anything, we simply want to make clothes that are simple and well-made as far as construction. After going through a pretty intense fashion program hosted by HighSnobiety and Virgil Abloh, I’ve realized streetwear is much, much more than just “making stuff”. Seeing these people in the industry really taking the time to refine their details is incredibly important to me as a designer, and you can expect the level of quality to go up even further as the brand continues to progress.
King Phill: Yup, I completely agree; you nailed that shit. I really like that you put that much attention and work into your pieces. You referenced that Highsnobiety and Virgil course; I saw that online too, it’s ill that you were a part of it. How was that as an experience? What else did you learn from it?
Drew S.: Actually you’ll be the first to know we just got announced as being picked up by High Snobiety for a feature on us that’s dropping in the next few weeks, so stay tuned for that. The program was tough and sometimes disheartening, but you really gotta be crazy to manage and own a brand like this. You gotta be able to hate yourself and love yourself equally in order to get to the next step and the next step. If there’s anyone interested in the courses they’re teaching and you’re really serious about making clothes, I would recommend it. I learned a lot of stuff most people would take years to discover, but that’s all I can say. Shout out to Virgil from OFF-WHITE, Fats Sharif, Mike Cherman from ICNY, and everyone else for taking the time to mentor the next generation of designers.
King Phill: What’s the thought process behind developing a theme for a collection? “Stealth Corps” is an ill concept, it just sounds right.
Drew S.: Developing a theme for a collection is definitely a process for me. It’s hard to nail down an overlapping theme for our capsules right away, so I typically try to design away from these constraints at first and design openly; leaving my imagination to wander and then developing the collection based off a series of ideas or images that inspired me. The SS16 02: STEALTH CORPS collection was one I had been thinking about for a long time, but it was always sort of on the back-burner as we were developing our other collections. The concept of urban movements has always been extremely influential to me as someone who has always been in the city, grew up painting a lot of graffiti and exploring the underbelly of these environments. Juxtaposing that dark, concrete jungle idea with very neat and militant apparel was a theme I thought I had to do otherwise it would always haunt me in the future. It was the first collection where we designed bottoms, the Tech Sweatshorts, and put an incredible level of detail and technology into the clothes. The anorak is one of a kind, featuring cuts and fits that are rather nontraditional for the silhouettes. The Tee is even constructed out of moisture-wicking fabrics, making the whole fit extremely functional and versatile, something we as a brand have never dipped our feet into as an independent brand.
King Phill: That’s so dope man. I love when pieces are aesthetically pleasing AND functional. Do you have the theme for the next collection already mapped out or are you still plottin’ on that one?
Drew S.: I actually have about 2 1/2 seasons mapped out, just not put into production. We got hit with some heavy credit scammers over the summer and are trying to recoup from that fiasco. I’m thinking about opening Pre-Orders on sold out items that a lot of people weren’t able to get their hands on in the meantime, so everyone keep an eye out for that. There’s a newsletter on our webstore that will notify you of anything we do. Here’s a sneak-peek of what we have in the works.
King Phill: What made you decide to go with producing an Anorak, t-shirt and shorts for the “Stealth Corps” collection?
Drew S.: For the first time, I wanted to make a capsule that incorporated pieces that could stand on their own, but could also be purchased together as an entire outfit. When you see all the pieces next to each other, you really start to understand the theme behind the collection. It wasn’t so much of a forced thing as it was an organic path of creation. In my mind I was thinking “Ok, it’s summer, so shorts would make sense, but we’ve never produced bottoms, what would those look like? What if we created layers to these pieces so they all fit together like a puzzle? What if we explored fabrics in greater detail?”. I really like genre-bending in streetwear culture, and making items that can be universal. It all came to the crossroads between athletic, graphic, minimal, and casual. It really was able to encompass our core brand values while keeping the box open as always to new or different approaches.
King Phill: The collection is incredible; good shit. I saw a 3M Mesh 5-Panel that looked like it would fit into the collection too. Is that releasing at a later date or was that just a sample piece?
Drew S.: Haha, funny story about that. That WAS a sample, and then we ordered them to be embroidered and labeled to send out to retailers and online, but the person who was going to embroider them robbed us of the hats. We’re still trying to file a police report, but in this business you gotta take L’s. I apologize to everyone who was looking forward to those, I wish I could have released them with the rest of the Stealth Capsule. That’s what I get for trying to do stuff locally I guess.
King Phill: Damn, I hope everything goes well man; fuck that guy. Can we ever expect any marijuana-inspired pieces? Lowkey is based in Colorado and I saw some fat blunts gettin’ smoked in the past lookbook pics.
Drew S.: I think the Peer Pressure cap from our Nostalgia collection will likely be the closest thing we make referencing drugs or drug culture, it was meant to be more of an homage to growing up; getting passed a joint or a cigarette for the first time, hence the name of the piece. Colorado is, of course, notorious for its weed culture, but I’m a strong believer that weed should be smoked and not worn, haha. The whole Low Key Industries team smokes a lot, especially together, but it’s just an accessory to a situation, never the focus. Growing up in Nebraska, weed was and still is super criminalized, so moving here to pursue a career in design came with the perks of having weed be a casual thing. In my personal opinion, heavy drug references on clothing are tacky.
King Phill: Word, I definitely feel that. Drug references can get played out quick if they’re not done right. You guys have any events coming up? I can already tell a Lowkey Industries party would be ill.
Drew S.: I try to avoid them if at all possible. There’s enough brands doing that and I’ll happily leave that niche alone. There might be some upcoming graphics referencing addiction, so stay tuned for that. As far as Pop-Ups, we did one back at Station Denver for our first SS16 drop and it went REALLY well; I planned that out a lot. We’ve moved to a more versatile and bigger space recently for our retail space so we definitely are working on something super over-the-top; it’s all in the preparation.
King Phill: What qualities that Lowkey possesses do you think keep customers coming back?
Drew S.: I like to think that our clothes tell stories and each garment in each collection is like a page in a book. They can stand on their own very well, but having the whole collection in hand is an intimate feeling. I put a lot of thought into cohesion and emotional connection to the graphics. I want to make the customers feel like they’re buying into themselves and not a brand. For instance, the Nostalgia collection was all initially based on feelings that I had as a kid, reading comic strips and staying up late to watch anime or just the general feeling of connecting to your childhood. The Crimewave collection was a similar process. I had recently gotten out of jail at the time and was really pulling toward that feeling of the powerlessness bad choices can create. There’s a lot of deep references in my designs that I think a lot of people miss. Everything I make serves a specific purpose or story and I hope our fans can connect to that as opposed to a lot of other brands that rely on trends or hype-value to grow.
King Phill: Nice bro and I’m glad you’re out now; stay out haha. That’s the hard part for a lot of my friends; staying out. Do you think your fans/customers connect to the realness of the brand? They may not even know your story, but, I’m under the strong assumption, that they feel a level of authenticity that might not be matched by other brands around. Like a lot of other brands might create a collection based off a famous person dealing with bullshit from the law, but you’re creating from a personal experience.
Drew S.: Yeah I intend to stay out. I got 4 felonies dropped down to 2 misdemeanors, so I definitely got lucky in that sense. Jail was weird for me, I probably looked like a school shooter or something, but I was in there for long enough to where the days felt like weeks. God bless my girlfriend for bailing me out of that shit-hole. All they played was Telemundo. As far as the clothes, I don’t put out anything that I can’t emotionally react to. I think it gives the clothes more meaning than just being hype items. I get a lot of inspiration from Bill Watterson and Nietzsche philosophy; life is short, have fun, we are our own environments. I like being able to pick up clothes and feeling a connection to the graphics and fabrics, kind of like staring at a Rothco for too long; you get lost in your own head. I think it’s important to be able to wear something that makes you comfortable alone and in public. Maybe someone will see the message I’m sending (and in turn that they’re sending) and reflect on themselves. It’s not an exact science, I just want to make people “feel”. Streetwear nowadays is all about flexing on expensive names and logos. I get it, but as a designer I strive to push it further than that. Having a background in poetry and art certainly helps me turn my emotions into a fabric-based outlet. Look good, feel good, right?