It was the commonwealth that marked his foundationâ€”that transfixed his cerebral with the inalienable voices. It was the impeding of illegitimate voices that drove his mind into combative warfare. It was a VA state of mind. What started this war? Was it perhaps the virgin Queen? Was it the ceaseless free flowing thoughts of sanctity and wedlock from a human unity never lawfully recognized? I donâ€™t know. Todd Askins just seems to be focused on getting the voices out of his head. Yet underneath it all, Todd is a warlord. His ammunition is Shmack and his opposition is his occasional insatiableness with the world of streetwear. He wants to appeal to the next generation of fashion forward consumers who are blurring the distinctions of stereotypical style. I sat down with Todd in an effort to break down those four walls. During the process, thereâ€™s one thing I can guarantee you: If Todd had a daughter, she wouldnâ€™t be Virginia. And know: we donâ€™t need a hook for this shit.
â€œWhen youâ€™re buying something, youâ€™re not buying it because you need it to keep you warm. Weâ€™ve all got enough clothes to do that for the rest of our lives.â€
Format: You know, the number of true connoisseurs in fashion remains more or less the same. There are those who originate with benefit, opposite those who imitate with counterfeit. Though in streetwear, everyone eats at the same table. Having the wherewithal of this, how do you handle something so personal without becoming plastic?
TA: In the fashion game, as well as the retail game, youâ€™re making a personal product that you want others to buy. At the end of the day, itâ€™s got to sell, meaning that you canâ€™t just make hundreds of cool items and they donâ€™t sell. So there is the thought in mind of design integrity and consumption, in what you have to be able to market. Once the actual brand starts to grow more, you have the evolution process just like a human or any live thing. Once you have the evolution process, you grow as a teenager; and thatâ€™s you know, when youâ€™re trying to figure yourself out. Then you get a little bit more mature and then you have this look. You have this image, and youâ€™ve become established.
Format: I remember Lilâ€™ Wayne speaking specifically some time ago on the idea of staying personalâ€”staying within yourselfâ€”as the key to becoming successful. Both of these facets he mentioned are interchangeable, yet requisite nonetheless. What kind of challenge, if any, does that pose for you?
TA: I donâ€™t think you can be a designer and see the future; because thatâ€™s basically what you have to do. You have to design with your head, so you have to think about where people march to the beat. You have to think about where peopleâ€™s vibes are gonna be. When weâ€™re designing, putting together a line, season, or collection, we have to take all of these things into consideration. Our group of guys together is like a small tight family. We sit there, brainstorm, and talk about stuff. You might lose a little bit of yourself when designing for a larger audience, but Iâ€™ll tell you that 90% of the stuff we design out rock. Thatâ€™s a designerâ€™s true test.
Format: And what exactly is that test?
TA: If Iâ€™m feelinâ€™ it, if I wanna rock it, then weâ€™ll make it. Thatâ€™s where we come from design wise. Like, we donâ€™t want to have this dude who wants to look like everyone else. We want the dude whoâ€”that guyâ€”who, wants to pop off. That guy really pays attention to detail and takes pride in the way he looks.
Format: Automatically my mind goes back to conceptualizing streetwear and how it has manually shifted over time to where people inadvertently misconstrue it with urban fashion. Most people donâ€™t know the difference or that there even is one?
TA: Think back in â€™95. You had this whole evolution of what was then probably streetwear, but it became urban. You had Ecko, PNB Nation, Phat Farm was jumpinâ€™ off thenâ€¦and for a minute you had all of these small brands. When Ecko first started it was like streetwear. It was something new. Tastemakers and the street were up on it you know, whereas Bloomingdales, Marshalls, TJ Maxxâ€”they hadnâ€™t made it there yet. So I think that was streetwear. It was an influence of the culture at that point. It was a fusion between hip-hop and punk, you know, all these musical genres. People were skateboarding, doing graffiti, etc. It wasnâ€™t just like one dude who was on the corner hustling. Like that dude on the corner hustling was also spraying at night and doing all of these different things.
Format: So what is your take on the evolution of streetwear now as opposed to back then?
TA: I think we stretched it within the last couple of years. It is very similar to then. What weâ€™ve done in the streetwear category, is that weâ€™ve basically shaken the boat with Rocawear, Coogiâ€”all these big urban brands. Then we came through and were like â€˜we donâ€™t want that anymore. Like, I never wore my jeans that baggyâ€”I never did that, you know? This is what we doâ€™. And we still listen to the same types of music. Like, I listen to Indie. Deejays were doing mixes that were sick. They were doing mash-ups with all of those different genres, but it was still hip-hop based. So I think thatâ€™s where streetwear is now. Itâ€™s more inclusive. There are more people. Itâ€™s not just the street dudes. Itâ€™s everybody.
Format: You didnâ€™t go to a fashion school, which I think is dope. Rather, youâ€™re what I like to call, true to form. Being that you are self-taught, speak a little on the inspiration behind your technical approach when it comes to making clothes.
TA: Basically, when other people go on brands in streetwear, itâ€™s like hoodies and sweatshirts. But when you start doing denim, sweater knits, accessories and all these other things, you have to go overseas. Especially if you want to get custom buttons, rivets, shanks and all that shit. Itâ€™s expensive to have them made here. A lot of these guys donâ€™t have the money or resources to do so, but we have the resources. We have some really good partners overseas. We also thought, â€˜Fuck, weâ€™ll go over there and find them! Like, I wanna make a watch. We’ll find out how to make a watch!â€™ You just gotta be resourceful. So like the sweater knits and all that stuff, I just learned about sweaters. Weâ€™ve always kind of had a military look within our line.
Format: VA is a military whoreâ€¦
TA: Sometimes with each season weâ€™ll depart real far away from it, but we grew up in VA and around the military. Weâ€™ve got everybody here, so Iâ€™ve always seen those uniforms. Iâ€™ve just really been into the military in general. A lot of the stuff that they do has a lot of function in it.
Format: Though fashions are like induced epidemics. Itâ€™s nice to see that you guys donâ€™t take a medium such as the military aesthetic and exhaust it. How do you balance the notion of say, staying avant-garde when moving through a room full of trends?
TA: When youâ€™re buying something, youâ€™re not buying it because you need it to keep you warm. Weâ€™ve all got enough clothes to do that for the rest of our lives. But youâ€™re buying something because itâ€™s personal. Youâ€™re making a statement. Whatever brand you buy, your look, whatever it is, itâ€™s your own personal statement. And thatâ€™s where we come from. If you grew up with me, youâ€™d know that Iâ€™ve definitely never been into trends. Iâ€™ve always tried to draw off from my own thing. Any successful business person or anybody with success whether its music or whatever theyâ€™re selling canâ€™t go out and do whatever everyone else is doing. You have to figure out a new twist on it.
â€œyou have to have a product to build off of that lifestyle. Otherwise, youâ€™re just like a t-shirt companyâ€
Format: While on that subject, letâ€™s take denim for example. Itâ€™s like the papier-mÃ¢chÃ© of streetwear. With embroidery being just one of many points to probe, many of these brandersâ€™ concepts get lost in translation. Itâ€™s like trying to fathom the abstract mind of a Jackson Pollock. How do you concur?
TA: Donâ€™t get it twisted. We still mess around with some embroidery, but we do it in different ways. Like those dudes who just got on to the embroidery you know, you donâ€™t want to alienate them. But you also donâ€™t wanna come out with some knock-off looking shit either.
Format: So of your denim, what does Shmack suggest?
TA: Well for one, we keep the quality. Weâ€™ll match our quality up against any of the premium denimâ€”Rock N Republicâ€¦G-Starâ€¦True Religionâ€¦. You can feel the heaviness of the washes, and you can see the raw denim. We started working with our makers and began developing good washes which is really difficult to do. I spend a lot of time learning about denim and how itâ€™s made. All of that knowledge is key.
Format: Your shirts are custom cut and sewn. Your play on prints is somewhat silver-tongued; and while bold, innovative nonetheless. What were you going for here?
TA: In the beginning it was very easy to do whatever we wanted because we thought it was a cool image. We wanted to develop these images that were thought provoking, that would have some sort of tension you know, like a positive or negative. We never really wanted to offend anyone, but we always wanted to make people think.
Format: Bravo, but did you ever sweat the risk factors or drawbacks? You did mention the priest out of ATL who was raising hell over the Icey Prophet print.
TA: Itâ€™s just like riding that fine line. You canâ€™t make everyone happy. I understand that. With the priest out of ATL, it was just a big misunderstanding. Once we explained our reasoning and thought process behind our approach to graphics, any perceived notion of blasphemous or offensive intent was out the window. From our line, the shirts are what we use to express ourselves. So for one, itâ€™s not a huge risk if we do some shit that the public doesnâ€™t get, know what I mean?
TA: Itâ€™s not like, â€œoh shit, we didnâ€™t sell a bunch of cut and sew sweatshirts that were real expensive.â€ So we can take risks there. Wait until the people see the shit that we have coming up. Itâ€™s ill.
Format: I notice with the outerwear that you work from lots of two-toned solids. Are you not too ill about choosing from diverse pallets?
TA: Sure we are, though weâ€™re specific each time. Weâ€™ll break it up into deliveries. Weâ€™ll usually pick like two dominant colors for a color story. Weâ€™ll have pop colors that go around it so you can see an interjection. Sometimes weâ€™ll use subtle colors as opposed to pop colors to get the interjection. But thatâ€™s typically the contrast weâ€™ll use, probably more like an artist would think about something.
Format: I can surely place my bet that it isnâ€™t on Jackson Pollock. Shmackâ€™s feet are fresh off the boat in terms of design and concept. They swag off of 100% dope-amine. How have the people taken to liking?
TA: Last fall marked our first delivery, and it blew out. Our second delivery dropped on Jan. 28th. This spring weâ€™ve got some ill designs. We have the same crowbar and hatchet silhouette, but like the fabrication, the material weâ€™re using is ill so, really looking forward to that.
Format: So weâ€™ve pretty much rounded the bases. At any rate, I feel the urgency to throw out a few pre-requisites. Brand status is not just a title. Neither is in having a lifestyle brand status. Like a class, you have to pass with flying colors. Tell me your understanding of this and what your transcript reads.
TA: You know when you talk of a lifestyle brand, I think there are two things that have to go into it: one, it has to be the lifestyle that youâ€™re catering to, or that youâ€™re involved with. But then the other thing is you have to have a product to build off of that lifestyle. Otherwise, youâ€™re just like a t-shirt company. If youâ€™re just making t-shirts, say for punk rock kids, then youâ€™re not a lifestyle brand. If those kids canâ€™t get the combat boots they want to wear; if theyâ€™re not rockinâ€™ the boots, the jeans, the chains around their neck…the studded beltsâ€”if youâ€™re making all that stuff for punk rockersâ€”then yeah, youâ€™re a punk rock lifestyle brand. So I think there are two things you know, like you might be catering to the lifestyle, but ultimately, youâ€™re not a brand that carries it. You have to make the products work for that lifestyle. I think thatâ€™s like the cool word to use now-a-days. Iâ€™m not saying that people, you know, like some might have limitations and thatâ€™s why they canâ€™t do it, but donâ€™t call yourself something that youâ€™re not.
Format: Then I would definitely give heir to the notion that Shmack is a lifestyle brand?
TA: Yeah, I mean, we make the products to back it up, know what I mean? People call it that shit all the time. Itâ€™s something thatâ€™s being used real loosely right now.
â€œSo I think thatâ€™s where streetwear is now. Itâ€™s more inclusive. There are more people. Itâ€™s not just the street dudes. Itâ€™s everybody.â€
Format: On that note, whose work out there trips your fashion aesthetic?
TA: I really like Mishkaâ€™s stuff. They do some things that, I donâ€™t know man. Theyâ€™re on another level. I really like what Crooks and Castles does. On the womenâ€™s side I really like Hellâ€™s Bells. Mama is another brand. They just do some cool shit. And then like on the designer tip, I really like Helmut Lang. Heâ€™s on some crazy designer shit, like the next level. I like Marc Jacobs more for ready to wear.
Format: Any last words? Speak now, or, you know the rest.
TA: Yeah, actually I do. You know, we live in America. Weâ€™re really lucky. A lot of people donâ€™t have the same opportunities that we have here to start their own business or what have you. I wake up and I get excited to go to work every day. Itâ€™s a cool thing to have, and really, to do what you love.
More Info: http://www.shmackclothing.com/