Yeah, your fledgling clothing line is poppin’ now but will the doors still be open a decade from now? In 1999 two brothers, Donwan Harrell and Emmett Harrell, waved goodbye to designing for a few small brands you may have heard of (Nike, Donna Karan, Ecko, Phat Farm) to come up with their own brainchild. The product of their labor was Akademiks. Back then, Akademiks was the young rebellious punk whose MTA tagline campaign “Read Books, Get Brains” was quickly banned by New York City who had been duped into broadcasting to millions it was okay to read books and get head. Now Akademiks brand is a sort of elder statesmen in the streetwear game as well as a global powerhouse.

Today’s your lucky day—that is if you want to learn how to turn your basement brand into a respectable and profitable business that’s recognized from sea to sea. Grab your notepad and allow the co-founder of Akademiks, Emmett Harrell, show you how to do this son.

“It’s great to go to cool parties and wear cool gear but it’s more to it then that. This is a career.”

Format: What’s the start-up story for Akadamiks?
Emmett: Akademiks was started by my brother Donwan Harrell and me around nine years ago. We’ve been in the industry working for about 15 years and making a lot of money for a lot of different people along the way. We got together with the owner of Dr. Jays, Elliot Betesh, who had a great idea of starting the next urban powerhouse brand. So we teamed up and created Akademiks.

Format: For some of the up and coming brands, what are some of the overlooked tasks that you had to complete during start-up that they may not be aware of but definitely need to know about?
Emmett: The biggest thing about being in business is you can find talent anywhere. You can be the best graphic artist in the world but if you don’t have an infrastructure to run your business none of that matters. You have to have an infrastructure for billing, receiving, warehousing. When you’re pricing what’s going to be your margins, what are the minimums, who are you shipping to, how many times will you ship a year? It’s more about running your company behind the scenes then it is on the front side where you see the benefits. It’s great to go to cool parties and wear cool gear but it’s more to it then that. This is a career.


Format: I was checking out the marketing material and wanted to ask how do some of the mission statement’s ideals (being self-made, intelligent and street savvy) show in the design of the apparel?
Emmett: We’re our own fans and our own customer. We grew up in the lifestyle and now we’re designing the product for the consumer. When you’re designing you can’t reinvent the wheel. You have to have five pocket jeans or flat front trousers or a sweater or tee shirt but putting a twist on it to reflect the audience is what we do. We add the cleverness to it. We’re the thinking brand so we do a lot with detail that has double meaning.

Format: What are some of the themes behind the 2008 collection?
Emmett: Our first collection is about peace and bringing the soldiers home. We’re trying to get ahead of the curve. Right now a lot of people are into that dark, Goth look but we want to step outside of that. Right now it’s about what’s going on outside of America. In the second group, we explore what’s going on in the Americana zone and in the third, we had this thing we did called Gold Rush. And it’s about paying your weight in gold. It’s definitely going to turn a few heads. We’re also working on a line of Green products that I’m very excited about.


Format: How much did co-signs from the hip-hop community impact the growth of the brand?
Emmett: Unfortunately, we don’t have too much of the hip-hop thing. I’m not like Jay-Z or Puffy with Rocawear and Sean John. That’s not what me and my brother have. We just have true talent and a good product and it seems to be accepted by everyone whether it’s a suburban kid or an industry executive or a crossover BMX biker. We seem to be accepted all over the place because we make a great product.

Format: Currently, the streetwear market is congested with just about anyone dropping a clothing line. How does Akademiks plan on continuing to stand out?
Emmett: When we first started Akademiks there weren’t as many players on the field. We were able to do what we wanted, when we wanted and however we wanted to. And we’ve become a pretty big monster in this industry. We’re in the top three of who’s doing what, who’s who and who’s hot. Globally, our name is mentioned. You have a lot of talented streetwear kids out there and their companies are growing but there’s more talent then there is product. But as far as the look and what’s going on, it’s definitely in streetwear and I think there’s a nice fusion between urban and streetwear to make up for what’s going on right now.


John Burnett

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  1. I love this brand. They really do have quality clothing that will outlast any other name brand. They have great sale prices on their website and the regular prices are still affordable. The colors stand out and i get compliments every where I go. Keep up the good work Akademiks!

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