Garbege

Just as Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner titled a chapter in their 21st century classic, Freakonomics, ‘A Roshanda by Any Other Name. How do babies with super-black names fare?’ The authors tell the story of a father named Robert Lane who decided to call his son Winner, thinking it would give the kid a boost in life. Three years later, he had another son and out of freakish amusement decided to call him Loser.

Winner Lane ended up as a loser in life and became a petty criminal living homeless on the streets. Loser Lane, on the other hand, graduated from college and became a sergeant with the New York police force. Punch line of the story is: you either overcome your name or you fail to live up to it.

Established in 2003, Garbege holds 19 retailers including Karmaloop, Michael K in NYC and more. They release approximately 18 pieces per season including tees, cut & sew, denim and outerwear. What’s in a name?

“Garbege is a thought-provoking clothing brand. It’s about style and substance — although admittedly sometimes we’re over people’s heads.”

Format: Please state who you are and your role at Garbege.
Zak: Peace, my name is W. ‘Zak’ Hoke. I am the Creative Director and Co-Founder of the Garbege clothing company.

Malcolm: Malcolm Phipps Co-Founder and Marketing Director.

Format: Garbege was established in 2003, how has the brand evolved since its inception?
Zack: What began in London as an idea grew into graphics being printed on American Apparel tees and Brooks Brothers button-up shirts to fulfill orders for Union in NY, Fred Segal, Fun in L.A., and Harvey Nichols in Dubai. Although our humble beginnings were very exciting at times, we lacked the foresight back then to see the true potential of our talent and our business.

The seasonal twist in our artistic direction put Garbege ahead of the game leaving some people in the streetwear scene feeling our brand was growing too fast, too soon. But we’ve always been forward thinkers and our goal was never to be ‘cool & broke’. Don’t get me wrong, we believe in passion over profit. But as the brands name grew, so did its distribution and what’s wrong with making a living doing what you love? The ‘cool guys’ see it as taboo; we see it as paying rent. Money has always been the yardstick used to measure success.

Malcolm: In the past five years, the brand has gotten stronger in its graphic content and we’ve grown the business from only a tee shirt brand to a full cut and sew collection.

Format: Zak, you have experience at *ecko unltd, PNB Nation, and Todd Oldham Jeans. How did your experience at those brands play into the success of Garbege today?
Zak: Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s afforded me the blessing of experiencing two of Hip-Hops Golden Eras. During which time I worked the sales floor of the boutiques selling the premiere brands of that era: Polo, *ecko unltd, PNB Nation, Triple Five Soul, Stussy and Freshjive. I’m still a fan of those brands and even though I was just a kid, working on both the retail and wholesale sides has taught me a lot about the business of fashion.

In retail, I learned about sales, merchandising and customer service. I would read the labels, hang tags and any and everything that I could, to learn more about what I was selling to out sell those around me and get a better commission on the sales floor so that I could buy more clothes! I still live in retail and I’m always walking the stores from Fifth Avenue to Soho. Working the wholesale side/inside those companies is where I picked up a few things about marketing, design and product development. I also got to open 36 stores, build out offices and showrooms for Complex magazine, Zoo York, *ecko, etc. Overall, the experience was like a forced marriage. I believe I was there then because I am here now.

Format: Malcolm, you used to be a stylist and model. You’re also a graduate of NY’s F.I.T. Was it your industry experience or academic education that played more of a role in your success?
Malcolm: I’m a firm believer in education because knowledge is power that no one can ever take from you. But I would have to say that my hands-on experience was the best education. In reference to styling, I have to say thanks to my good friend, celebrity stylist/image consultant, Alexander Allen for taking a risk with me six years ago. I also have to credit building with friends in the various fields of the fashion industry that have been in my position before me has helped lead to my success thus far. I still have a lot of work to do and things to accomplish.

Format: Your name comes from ‘garb’ and ‘edge’. With the name Garbege, have you received more flack or support?
Malcolm: When Zak and I agreed on the name Garbege we knew that is would be a name that would have people talking. In the past five years and counting I must say that we’ve received more support than flack.

Format: What is your philosophy at Garbege in ten words or less?
Zak: Street. Smart. Art. Sci-Fi. Punk. Rock. Hip Hop. Luxe. Thought-Provoking. Global.

Format: You call yourselves a “street-inspired luxury brand”. How have you accomplished this?
Zak: In all honesty, it’s been a challenge to keep Garbege profitable because of the high quality of our product. It cost us more than it cost Marc Jacobs to make a t-shirt. He’s able invest in high quality manufacturing and sell it at a premium. That Gold Lurex stitch across the back of all of our tees adds almost $1 more to our cost and it’s been there since day one.

I’m not going to get into name-dropping, but 99% of the cats in this game are all using AAA T-shirts while we’re making our tees overseas. Yarn by yarn. Stitch by stitch. All of our goods are cut & sew. Trust me, I love it as much as I hate it because it’s more work for “me” but we want to offer kids high quality at a good price. We’ve been blessed with some very good factories, good agents and a hard working sourcing director so we’ll catch up to Nigo sooner or later.

Format: Perks & Mini, ADDICT and a few other brands were inspired by SPACE this season. Why did you select this as your inspiration for FW08?
Zak: First off, I’m honored to be mentioned alongside those brands. I post their new shit on my blog all the time. Second, we’re h-u-g-e Sci-Fi fans, particularly, Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, and Joseph Campbell. That, in addition to our affinity to Japanese anime, the choosing of our theme for fall was an organic one.

Format: You now produce a full line of apparel including hoodies, denim, and outerwear. Will you ever add vinyl toys, accessories or footwear to your collection?
Malcolm: We’ve already done a watch with Nooka called the Time Machine, which was the fastest selling collaboration piece for their brand to date. It also introduced Nooka to the streetwear market. We’re in talks with KidRobot in terms of doing a special multi-purpose toy. In terms of footwear we would love to partner with a reputable footwear company to help us get into the footwear market. We’re also looking into partnering up with furniture companies as well.

Format: You created an OBEY spoof tee. How did that come about? Please explain.
Malcolm: We were paying homage to the wrestling culture that we’ve grown up on in the late 80’s and once the shirt was done, people were like ‘that tee looks like an OBEY tee’. We have nothing but love and respect for Shepard Fairey and the OBEY fam.

Zak: I’m still trying to get one of his Hope/Obama tees!

Format: Tell us about the design process of the Reebok collaboration. How did this collaboration come about? What was the process like? And were you happy with the outcome?
Malcolm: The Reebok thing came about because a good friend of mine at MTV reached out to us because they were doing a special auction and wanted us to create a one-of-a-kind piece. So Zak and I came up with the idea of throwing art on an old school pair of freestyle women’s kicks from Reebok, aka the 54’11’s. We were happy with the outcome. Women still ask if we have anymore of those sneakers in stock to this day.

Zak: Honestly, if you look at all of the interviews we’ve ever done, you’ll see that everyone’s asked about those kicks. Someone at Reebok needs to call us up for some official shit.

Format: Garbege has often seen military inspirations throughout its collections. What is your take on the current US elections?
Zak: We’re watching the world change right before our eyes and it’s a fascinating time to be alive. New thoughts, new ideas, and the new mediums for expressing those ideas are connecting so many people. Garbege as a fashion brand has taken us on trips to China, Japan, the UK, Canada and back. With that being said, I’ve seen the impact youth culture has on a global scale. I’ve also seen how the US Dollar impacts the global economy. Yesterday’s political policies are outdated and obsolete. It’s a new day. It’s a time for change.

Format: In a world of Hate and War, how are your garments making a positive difference?
Zak: My basis for our Hate and War pack comes from a T-shirt worn by the legendary Punk God Joe Strummer of The Clash. He wore the tee in support of the Red Brigade. I’ll spare you the history lesson by summing it up the same way you opened the question by saying that we live in a world overrun by hate and war. Our mission with our line has always been about conscious awareness. Garbege is a thought-provoking clothing brand. It’s about style and substance — although admittedly, sometimes we’re over people’s heads.

Format: What does the future hold for Garbege?
Zak: Consistency.

Jules C

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