The term coup dâ€™etat sparks memories of 1970 Cambodia or 1973 Chile, two military coups that empowered communist leader, Pol Pot, and CIA-sponsored dictator, Augusto Pinochet. There is a new coup on the rise, but this coup is not overthrowing a government or leader. Instead, this coup aims to bring quality and deeper meaning to a cookie cutter fashion industry, and it is being lead by two men from Brooklyn.
Daoud Abeid and Rasu Jilani are the heads behind coup dâ€™etat Brooklyn, a clothing line that turns heads, not only for its designs, but for its message, too. Raised in South Jamaica Queens, Rasu can easily identify with struggles and it upsets him when clothing companies capitalize on hardships. â€œA lot of [streetwear brands] are glorifying, for example, glorifying crack in the hood and these are coming from people that did not live in the hood,â€ says Rasu.
Together, the men equate the streetwear industry to a â€œget rich quick schemeâ€ that resembles the hip-hop industryâ€™s fast cash grab in the `90s. But now, coup dâ€™etat Brooklyn offers an intelligent option to looking fresh and, together, Daoud and Rasu are teaching the babies.
“Cats look at Hype Beast or High Snobiety, whatever and they think they have fame, not really. They get a couple of blogs, but cats are not making money like that.”
Format: What are the influences in your lives that instilled a sense of afro-centricity in the coup dâ€™etat Brooklyn clothing line?
Daoud: Basically, I wouldnâ€™t consider us afro-centric. I grew up around a lot of socially conscious people that were very politically aware, had they been hippies or more revolutionary activists in the `60s and `70s. I had a lot of influence with people like that. I grew up with conversations of older people talking about everything from politics to education, to history, and I have a lot of education from that way. It set a strong foundation for me, later, while going to school and going to college.
Rasu: I think social conscious or socially aware is the best term, afro-centric does not really apply to us, because we donâ€™t try to force the black-thought. I think itâ€™s something that can relate to everyone. The fact alone is that most of our clients are white. I think it speaks to everyone. Whether youâ€™re from the hood, suburban America or overseas, I think people can relate to some of the images or some of the themes that we have in our line. We try to use art to speak our minds, to really put out our perception on life and the things that are going on. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s afro-centric, I think itâ€™s more socially conscious. I think Daoudâ€™s surroundings were a little more political than my background, but as far as personality goes, Iâ€™ve always been one thatâ€™s been against the grain. What everyone else was doing, I was always inspired to do something a little different. I think growing up in the inner city people are really caught up in a lot of superficial and silly things. Iâ€™ve always strived to look for things a little more substantial. I had two majors in college, one of them was history and one of them was technology. If that plays any part of the brand, I really think so, because [coup dâ€™etat Brooklyn] has us use the things we connect with and itâ€™s portrayed in our line.
“At one point in time, everyone opened a hip-hop label and were trying to get paid off hip-hop, now everyone is opening a clothing line.”
Format: Please explain how your involvements in fashion were established.
Daoud: I have a history with a lot of the people that started the trends in the SoHo scene. From being around Union when it first opened, knowing the guys from aNYthing, Supreme, SSUR. I was hanging out with all of them before any of those stores were open, in the most part, except for Union. I have relationships with that scene and watched it flourish. I worked at Triple Five in the early stages when it went from Ludlow to Lafayette and itâ€™s like Iâ€™ve always socially been around that scene of artists. With me, the brand started, because I got to a point where I wasnâ€™t happy with my options and I saw a lot of T-shirts and things that talked to me artistically and my style sensibility, as far as color and aesthetic, but the things that were on them did not appeal to the type of person I am. It was kind of a frustration and search to try and find T-shirts that I would be able to wear and feel like they represented me. Thatâ€™s kind of where the name coup dâ€™etat Brooklyn came from and thatâ€™s how the brand started.
Rasu: It was a spin off of coup dâ€™etat and what it really stands for. In French it means to strike a blow to a state. Itâ€™s more commonly used to overthrow or takeover. Our mission is to overthrow and takeover the bullshit thatâ€™s being portrayed in the fashion industry. A lot of dumb things are being put out there. A lot of things are glorifying, for example, glorifying crack in the hood and these are coming from people that did not live in the hood. I grew up in South Jamaica Queens and Daoud grew up in several other hoods where crack is nothing to glorify. Iâ€™ve seen people destroyed, Iâ€™ve seen families destroyed by crack â€“ it really pisses me off to see that on T-shirts and people rock it, and know nothing about crack, theyâ€™ve never seen a crackhead in their lives. Now itâ€™s time to overthrow this bullshit.
Format: What is your opinion on the rise of streetwear?
Rasu: The term streetwear is new to me. Honestly, the term streetwear was born to me a couple of months ago. The whole time a lot of these brands were new urban wear and now urban is a bad word, itâ€™s pretty much a curse word in fashion. So remix urban, call it streetwear and thatâ€™s the way I look at streetwear. Itâ€™s a remix of what was considered urban, at one time, and now that urban is a bad term in the fashion industry. People call it streetwear to feel better about their brand. Are we streetwear, honestly, people are going to put you in the category, we donâ€™t consider ourselves streetwear. We consider ourselves a fashion forward brand that has a lot of aspirations that are beyond streetwear. I think when you say the term streetwear it puts my mind in a category of a whole bunch of people doing the same shit and biting off each other. Thatâ€™s what streetwear is to me. There are some hot lines, but I think the hot lines are watered down by people that bite them.
Daoud: I think that the whole idea of urban fashion relates back to hip-hop culture and the things that started taking place in New York, where people were taking things and appropriating to their lifestyle. Ralph Lauren is one of the best examples of that, so is Gucci, itâ€™s what made Nike big, Adidas. Itâ€™s like the people in the corporate world needed to name it something, because they had to reclaim it, it wasnâ€™t theirs for a while and I feel thatâ€™s where the term streetwear came from. Styles are being commoditised. People are being sold style and looks, and being indicated by music videos and magazines. The state of [streetwear] right now, is a get rich quick scheme. At one point in time, everyone opened a hip-hop label and were trying to get paid off hip-hop, now everyone is opening a clothing line.
Rasu: Honestly, cats arenâ€™t making money. The streetwear culture is the new hip-hop â€“ it is what hip-hop has been bastardized to. Like Daoud said, itâ€™s a get rich quick scheme. The reality is unless you have a real full-fledged plan and you have aspirations beyond making a couple tees, a couple hot jackets, youâ€™re not going to make money selling to boutiques. You have to build your brand, like when you start opening stores and getting into Bloomingdales, thatâ€™s when you start making bread. Cats look at Hype Beast or High Snobiety, whatever and they think they have fame, not really. They get a couple of blogs, but cats are not making money like that. Itâ€™s like the hip-hop artists that donâ€™t make money off the CDs they sell.
“I’ve seen people destroyed, I’ve seen family destroyed by crack â€“ it really pisses me off to see that on T-shirts and people rock it, and know nothing about crack, they’ve never seen a crackhead in their lives.”
Format: A T-shirt on the coup dâ€™etat Brooklyn line reads: TEACH THE BABIES. What does that phrase mean to you and how was it created?
Daoud: This goes back to what weâ€™re talking about. Weâ€™re hip-hop heads, to me, that was the first music that I fell in love with. I remember when I had to stay up to 4:00 a.m. to hear your music on the radio, because it was the only time it got played, for the most part. Being that the culture is being commoditised and all the violence that is being not being portrayed properly and glamorized, this whole culture, sure there is some strength that came out of it, but itâ€™s destructive, for the most part. People are teaching all the wrong things. The message is constantly being put out by the media and fashion, which are driving everything the wrong way, now our kids, regardless of their neighborhoods, if you look at education standards and if you look at what young people are doing, there is a decline in willingness to excel or how much effort they need to put in grades. Rasu and I, we feel that and we do teach the children. In our neighborhood that we live, weâ€™re like big brothers to the kids on our block. We take them on trips, give them books to read, we spend hours talking about school and take them to work, if we can. We come from a school of thought that a neighborhood raises a child and weâ€™re just as responsible, as a parent, for children and people have forgotten that. Teach the babies is really a reminder to people of what one of your first and only jobs in the world is; to share what you have with the people that are younger than you, so they can learn from your experiences and not make the same mistakes that you made or that youâ€™ve been witness to see other people make.
Rasu: Teach the babies is what it is. I think we forget that. We get caught up in our daily lives in the rat race to make money or chasing booty, whatever.
Daoud: That shirt is the one that surprised us most, because it spanned across all demographics. Youâ€™ll see a 60-year-old, white man on the Upper West Side wearing that shirt or a skater kid down SoHo wearing it or the guy in the club with his bling-bling jewellery wearing it. Everybody has been buying that T-shirt, itâ€™s been crazy for us. We realize that the message is strong and a lot of people can attach themselves to it.
Format: The Coup T-shirt on the coup dâ€™etat Brooklyn line has strong imagery, using an AK-47 and machete. What does that imagery mean to you?
Daoud: Coup dâ€™etat, the thinking behind it is very important. I think, from America, in the early stages, we had a revolutionary war and the fact that people in the `60s or earlier times have always had a voice that government listened to or establishments listened to and itâ€™s like a no backing down thing. If you look at when all the unions were formed or things of that nature, thatâ€™s where the coup dâ€™etat energy comes from. The AK-47 and machete is a merge of past history and present. For us, the coup dâ€™etat is linked to Haiti. For us, both being black people, a country that we look to, in respect to history, is Haiti, because it was the first to win its independence and the last to submit to slavery. The main tool in their revolution was the same tool they were given to work with, which was the machete. The AK-47 represents where coup dâ€™etat is going. Itâ€™s not always positive and itâ€™s not always negative, but the new tool has been the AK-47.
Rasu: Theyâ€™re the basic tools of revolution and the tools of coup dâ€™etat. Even people I know that are against guns and weapons, they look at the shirt and know what it means.
“We come from a school of thought that a neighborhood raises a child and we’re just as responsible, as a parent, for children and people have forgotten that.”