Twelve Barâ€™s rise in its industry is a Cinderella story that replaces a glass slipper with T-shirts; a pumpkin-carriage with corduroy jackets; and ball gown with denim jeans â€“ in less than 36 months, Twelve Bar expands to a full clothing line, leaving the infant stage of a T-shirt only brand with its T-shirt only peers. â€œItâ€™s a whole different ballgame,â€ says Nick Jackson, 29, Twelve Barâ€™s co-founder (Damien Webster, 32, is based at Twelve Barâ€™s London office and is the companyâ€™s other co-founder), adding manufacturing, delivering and retailing are â€œsome of the main things that keep people from making the jumpâ€ to a full clothing line.
In Twelve Barâ€™s Los Angeles office, Scott Tepper, 28, creative director, communicates with Hong Kong and London, finding little time for rest: â€œWeâ€™re talking seven days a week; 10 to 12 hour days; back and forth to Asia; midnight conference calls with Hong Kong and London,â€ says Tepper.
Despite the personal sacrifices the Twelve Bar trio makes, their attitude reflects Twelve Barâ€™s tagline: itâ€™s all love. This August, Twelve Bar makes it first appearance at MAGIC Trade Show.
“Iâ€™m fairly flattered that people are already ripping us off…”
Format: Twelve Bar rapidly grew from a small line to a full line. How did Twelve Bar manage to expand in such little time?
Scott: Basically, thatâ€™s where I entered. I came on board about six months ago and Iâ€™m filling the role as creative director. Since I came on board, Iâ€™m taking over the design of everything, but we still kick around ideas. Working to crazy deadlines, designing back to back collections and maintaining a clear vision under a lot of stress is how itâ€™s been done. A lot of grinding: weâ€™re talking seven days a week; 10 to 12 hour days; back and forth to Asia; midnight conference calls with Hong Kong and London. We did it in a very short period of time, because weâ€™re very diligent and have a clear vision of what we want to do.
Format: Did Twelve Bar always aspire to be more than a T-shirt line?
Scott: Personally, I was about to go into ventures with other designers. I had done some freelance for Twelve Bar while I was still at Akademiks and they had a larger goal â€“larger than what people see yet â€“ and approached me to come onboard. I moved to Los Angeles six months ago and pretty much work nonstop.
Format: In your opinion, is Twelve Bar a streetwear line?
Scott: It has its roots in that, but we want to be something larger. The way we view ourselves is as a boutique brand, because they made us who we are and have been supportive, but we see us scaling it to something larger, too.
Nick: Expanding on that, our roots are in the street, because that is where our interests stem from, but, ultimately, weâ€™re inspired by brands like Ralph Lauren and North Face. We will always stay in the boutique market and be loyal to it, but we are going to grow beyond that into a full apparel collection.
Scott: We kind of cringe at the word streetwear, because, sometimes, some of the stuff in streetwear is not up to par with what weâ€™re aiming to do. Weâ€™re really hard on ourselves to have top quality gear.
Format: In a previous interview, it is explained that Twelve Barâ€™s heart logo is an expression of love for all of Twelve Barâ€™s interests. What are aspects of Twelve Barâ€™s industry that it does not like?
Nick: The one thing I donâ€™t like is the fact that people are obsessed with following trends. One of the things that is very important at Twelve Bar, is we like to make what we like, what we want to see ourselves in and see other people in. Weâ€™re not influenced by what other people around us are doing nor do we follow the fads which can be a bit frustrating on a commercial level. The other thing that I really donâ€™t like, are people that donâ€™t pay us on time!
Scott: I design this for my friends and us, and I would never make something I wouldnâ€™t wear. When I see people following trends, I wouldnâ€™t say I frown upon it but I would not like us to go in that direction.
Format: Twelve Bar has offices in London and Los Angeles. What fashion differences does Twelve Bar observe between London and Los Angeles?
Scott: Well, Iâ€™m from the east coast. I grew up between New York and New Jersey my whole life, so I bring that aesthetic to it. There is a lot more in common between New York, London and Los Angeles than people think. But each city has its own particular style and trends. For instance I bring the whole early `90s Polo vibe. I was influenced heavily by brands like North Face, Nike, especially early ACG, Patagonia, early 555 Soul and Helly-Hansen. We were very into technical gear as well as blue collar work wear, like Ben Davis and Carhartt that we adopted into our steez. Nick and Damien bring a `90s London vibe influenced by such brands as Chipie, Chevignon and Naf Naf. As far as graphic T-shirts go we are all inspired by pioneering brands such as Fuct, X-Large, PNB Nation, Conart and Stussy. There is a piece of New York, a piece of London and, now, weâ€™re in Los Angeles so weâ€™re being inspired by that, too.
Format: Why did Twelve Bar choose Los Angeles over New York for its American headquarters?
Nick: The simplest reason is purely commercial. Moving from London to the States, the cost involved in setting up in Los Angeles was a lot cheaper than setting up in New York. However, we are opening a New York office in 2008, because the market on the East Coast is very important and we want to have a bi-coastal presence.
Format: How did your experiences as a lawyer at Maharishi aid the creation of Twelve Bar?
Nick: I think being involved in the legal and business side of the clothing company was a very useful insight into learning the boring things that people do not want to think about. I learned about license deals, distribution deals, shipping, cash flow management and all the boring stuff that people do not like to read about in interviews or talk about, but are really the nuts and bolts of this business.
Format: That could be why several emerging brands do not expand from being strictly a T-shirt company.
Nick: For me, there are a number of reasons. First of all, going from a T-shirt line to a full clothing brand is entering a different world. A lot of people try to do it without proper designers. Scott was doing a bunch of work with us prior to us moving to the States, but thatâ€™s why, when we started, I said, â€˜We need you to get on board.â€™ Companies need people that know how to design clothing and have experience. Itâ€™s a whole different ballgame working with overseas manufacturers, managing the process and delivering it on time; those are some of the main things that keep people from making the jump.
Format: Please explain the creation of Twelve Barâ€™s Nickel Bags T-shirt.
Scott: Basically, my boys and I grew up smoking weed and would cop haze uptown in Washington Heights where a lot of the bags had images printed on them to distinguish them. So we started collecting some of the bags, because we thought they were interesting. One guy had taxi cab baggies and another guy had C-3P0, etc. I always wanted to do something with them. The quote, â€˜If a nickel bag is sold in the park, I want inâ€™ is from a Christopher Walken movie, King of New York. It ties in very well.
Format: The rising concern with emerging brands is bootlegging. Has Twelve Bar been bootlegged and what precautionary measures does Twelve Bar take to avoid bootlegging?
Nick: On a very basic level, all the key components of our brand, we own. The logo, the name, the phrase â€“ we own it all. If anyone tries to mess with that, theyâ€™re going to be in a lot of trouble, because we own it. As far as counterfeiting, weâ€™re already getting ripped off. A friend of mine was in China doing manufacturing and he came across a fake Twelve Bar T-shirt. They tried to rip off our heart logo and messed it up and it was hanging in a store alongside fake Stussy, Bape and Supreme T-shirts. For me, Iâ€™m fairly flattered that people are already ripping us off, but as we grow and become a larger brand, counterfeiting is something we have to defend and take very seriously. The fact that people are ripping us off and not other people means weâ€™re doing something right.
Format: How have trade shows like MAGIC benefited Twelve Barâ€™s progression?
Scott: Weâ€™re going to show for the first time at MAGIC this summer, but weâ€™ve always been present there, whether through different brands or just going there to chop it up. Weâ€™ve put a preview out of the new line and weâ€™re very proud of it. There are a couple of surprises that we canâ€™t discuss, but are excited to reveal.
Format: Please explain the creation of Twelve Barâ€™s Crossword T-shirt.
Nick: With everything that we do, we like to incorporate a degree of intelligence in it. Itâ€™s very easy to make stuff that is the lowest common denominator that sells a lot over a short period of time, but thatâ€™s not what brand building is about. The idea behind it was that we wanted to do something with hip-hop, but rather than put Biggie on a T-shirt, we thought we should do something that is a bit intelligent and requires some thought.
Format: In a past interview, Twelve Bar acknowledges the 12-bar rhythm pattern, specifically, blues. How does Twelve Bar incorporate music in its clothing?
Nick: There is no specific genre of music. The idea behind the brand is that everybody we know has a love of music. It doesnâ€™t matter if itâ€™s the punk aesthetic, hip-hop, jazz or rock and roll. Most people we know and have grown up with are real music fans. In itâ€™s most simple example, the clothing we make is an extension of music â€“ weâ€™re not making a jacket to reflect what Sid Vicious used to wear; itâ€™s about the style and influence that have evolved out of these genres of music.
Format: Hip-hop culture is consistently being negatively labeled. Most recently, Michael Vickâ€™s animal cruelty charges have drawn parallels to hip-hop culture. In your opinion, why are negatives of hip-hop culture easier to find than positives?
Nick: Itâ€™s cause people make more money talking about negative stuff. If Michael Vick goes to the park on a Sunday afternoon and teaches 20 kids how to throw a football, people are not really interested, itâ€™s like wow, he ran around with a bunch of kids, but if he has 60 dogs in his house that he makes kill and attack each other, people want to hear about it. People are, generally, are obsessed with negativity. In the golden era of hip-hop, no one wanted to talk about A Tribe Called Quest and positive hip-hop, they wanted to talk about N.W.A. and â€œFuck Tha Police.â€ Itâ€™s a byproduct of todayâ€™s media and horrible commercialism.
Format: Twelve Bar has a healthy distribution with great retailers. What qualities do you look for in a retailer to want them to have Twelve Bar clothing?
Nick: We appreciate the support of our retailers. The one thing we noticed more and more is that there are very few people that have the balls to make decisions, but when you get big everyone wants to be your buddy â€“ itâ€™s all good, itâ€™s part of the game. But we have to thank the retailers that helped us grow. We look for people that like the brand, understand the vision, merchandise it and make it look great.
Scott: We want to put Twelve Bar in stores that look good, credible stores that we would shop at. Like Nick said, we want stores that can merchandise, dress a mannequin, give good floor space and acknowledge our vision.
Format: Please explain the creation of Twelve Barâ€™s Racking T-shirt.
Scott: That tee is about getting paint. I grew up writing graffiti and we used to steal our paint. We would body rack it, shove it down our pants, push carts out the store, whatever it took. I thought it was a great idea for a T-shirt. It is an ode to my younger days when I used to rack a lot of paint as well as the golden age of NYC subway graffiti. Anybody could go buy a can of Krylon so I thought we should use a can of Red Devil, because it was only prevalent in the New York area during the golden era of NY subway graffiti.
Nick: Itâ€™s too easy do a T-shirt in graffiti font that reads Twelve Bar.
Scott: If I see another Brooklyn Kid font on a tee Iâ€™m going to jump off a bridge!
Format: Twelve Bar is going to be releasing a Jazzy Jeff T-shirt. How did this collaboration with Jazzy Jeff materialize?
Nick: This is something we have done with BBE, Barely Breaking Even Records, a label based in London. They put out stuff with amazing artists including Jay Dee, Pete Rock and a lot of others. It so happens that the owner of the label is a close friend of mine and theyâ€™re doing an album with Jeff this year, itâ€™s Jeffâ€™s twentieth year in the business. We were huge fans of Jeff while growing up and we thought since our brand was about music it would be a good idea to approach BBE and Jazzy Jeff. He was really into the whole idea, Scott put an amazing tee together and it will be out in September. No one has seen it yet!
Format: Any shouts?
All the retailers who have supported us and our family and friends – you know who you are. Itâ€™s all love.
More Info: http://www.twelvebar.com/