Kansas City, Missouri is not known for much outside of Missouri, aside the Royals and a few underground rappers, but Kansas City is not the armpit of America; Kansas City stays fresh with Phil Shafer, owner of Sikenomics â€“ a brand in its infant stages â€“, creating clothing for people beyond the Midwest.
â€œKC is like the biggest small town youâ€™ll ever see,â€ says Shafer, adding that although Kansas City is surrounded by farmland, crazed sports fans, major crimes and skyscrapers make Kansas City a Midwest metropolitan.
Sikenomicsâ€™ witty logo T-shirt is sure to make Nike enthusiasts double-look, but as the T-shirt reads, â€œSike!â€
â€œThen my friend yelled out â€˜Tell `em why you mad, son!â€™ and we all started laughing, and right there I thought it would make a good tee.â€
Format: Do you use the word sike, if so, in what context do you use it?
Phil Shafer: I donâ€™t use it as much as I used to when I was a kid. Way back then Iâ€™d say it when I was joking around â€“all the time! Now, I just hear the word and turn my head and say, â€˜Peaceâ€™ to someone rolling down the street yelling at me.
Format: Please explain the creation of Sikenomics.
Shafer: Sikenomics is an extension of Sike Style. I started using SIKE as my tag name back in high school, `cause it reminded me of home, Brooklyn, New York. I used Sike Style on my sticker and wheatpaste tags all through college, Kansas City Art Institute. After school I started doing a lot of freelance design so I just added designs to the end of Sike Style for my one-man-show design company. When I started doing the clothing thing for real and wanted to establish a brand, I thought of starting a business as my experiment with economics. So it hit me: Sikenomics was born.
Format: Sikenomics is from Kansas City, a city that is known more for rapper Tech N9ne and Royals baseball than streetwear. What does Sikenomics take from Kansas City life that shows up in its clothing?
Shafer: You forgot Barbecue! I donâ€™t usually make KC-centric shirts. People in smaller towns like KC always seem to like things from the coasts so I design stuff that I think appeals to everyone and then do some special joints for KC specifically.
The Rasta-Mo shirt is a shirt I made for locals to appreciate. It has the outline of the state of Missouri on the front of the shirt, colored in with a red stripe, a yellow strip and a green stripe like a Rastafarian flag. And thereâ€™s a star over KC. This shirt gets the best responses, because people donâ€™t know if itâ€™s a weed reference or if itâ€™s some obscure African country â€“ sometimes they donâ€™t recognize the outline of Missouri. Maybe they slept through geography class.
Format: Please explain Sikenomics â€˜Tell `Em Whyâ€™ T-shirt.
Shafer: Besides being a line from the Madd Rapper, I got the idea at a house party last year where a friend was making fun of this guy that almost broke a table. The guy was pouting and looking bitter, because everyone was laughing at him. Then my friend yelled out â€˜Tell `em why you mad, son!â€™ and we all started laughing, and right there I thought it would make a good tee. So thatâ€™s why there is the little face on the shirt to characterize my friend yelling at that dude at the party.
Format: Recently, communist China has attracted a lot of negative press for its exports: poisonous pet food, tainted seafood, lead paint on children’s toys and faulty baby cribs. If relations between America and China were to halt, how would your industry, the street fashion industry, recover from its severed connection to cost-effective manufacturing?
Shafer: Who am I, Alan Greenspan? It will be the end of fashion as we know it. But really, if China doesnâ€™t address its safety issues, another country or another manufacturing outlet will step up to fill in the gap. Thatâ€™s economics, son!
Format: As a brand in its infant stages, how does Sikenomics stand out from its peers?
Shafer: Since thereâ€™s nothing new under the sun, I can only do what pleases me visually and hope others like it, too. I think that being in the middle of the country and being hit by influences from all over puts a distinct spin on my designs.
Format: Sikenomics’ T-shirt, Mulan, has an image of an Asian woman with a handgun and a Kalashnikov. What message is Sikenomics’ trying to send with this visual?
Shafer: I made this image as a button first and people really responded to it. I got some great feedback on it so I tried to flip it as a shirt. I guess itâ€™s kind of capitalizing on Americaâ€™s fascination with Asian culture and Asian women, and our thirst for violent media. Or I guess you can read into it deeper and see some kind of Peopleâ€™s Army reference in this design. Maybe it could mean something about Disneyâ€™s Mulan leading a revolution or something.
I am open to what others make of the shirts and itâ€™s more fun hear what others get out of the design rather than to set one up for them. Sometimes itâ€™s obvious what the shirt is about and other times the interpretations that I get back from people are what make the shirt.
Format: A lot of people do not know about Kansas City and its community. Please share what KC living is like.
Shafer: KC is like the biggest small town youâ€™ll ever see. Itâ€™s a big city with a crime rate and rabid sports fans and skyscrapers, but if you drive far enough you hit farmland in all directions. And when you walk down the street in KC you canâ€™t help but run into someone you know. Forget six-degrees of separation â€“ in KC itâ€™s about three degrees. I hear people complain about being here, but they stay because itâ€™s cheap: the rent, the food, the bar tabs. The underground hip-hop scene has some great talent and the local art and gallery scene is top notch in my mind. Iâ€™ve lived here since Grade 5 so itâ€™s grown on me.
Format: A lot of brands go to trade shows to meet retailers and gain experience in their industry. Has Sikenomics been to a trade show, if not, is Sikenomics planning to?
Shafer: Iâ€™ve already been to MAGIC in Vegas as a buyer for a local store, Phenom, so Iâ€™ve been shopping around for the trade show with the best fit for me. The plan is to debut in fall `08. There is still much work to be done!
Format: Sikenomics makes clothing for women. How is the process in designing for women different than designing for men?
Shafer: Well, there are boobs involved. Thatâ€™s different. Really, though, itâ€™s not hard â€“ I make unisex graphic designs and make a womenâ€™s color scheme that differs from the menâ€™s, or put it on a different style shirt. Lots of women buy my tees when they want to wear something bold and bright and not frou-frou. But I have put designs on scarves and bags and tunics specifically for girls.
Format: What’s in the future for Sikenomics?
Shafer: Several things. Hopefully some really dope collaborations in the shoe and the toy department. I am working on growing the Sikenomics brand to be a full apparel brand with nicer fabrics, more intricately detailed hoodies, jackets, woven shirts, bags and etcetera. Same Sike style, just bigger, better and more refined.