â€œThe aesthetic looks like some kmart/target cartoon bullshit that came out a bag of skittlesâ€ â€“ so goes just one of the many comments that Formatâ€™s 2006 interview with Barmak Badaei of Scifen spawned. Unphased by anonymous Internet haters, Scifen has been hard at work: re-launching their website, expanding distribution, releasing two albums with Yak Ballz, and opening a flagship store in Hollywood, CA are only a few of the brands notables over the last 18 months. Format sits down with Barmak, the outspoken Scifen founder again, who gives some answers sure to inspire even more controversy than our last feature.
â€œIf anyone has ever migrated into this culture in the sense of it being big, cool, or marketable at a moment in time, then I would love for them to migrate the fuck outâ€
Format: We last interviewed Scifen in December of 2006. Please run down some of the projects youâ€™ve launched since then.
Barmak Badaei: Well for the most part, I’ve just been focusing on the continued growth of the brand, product line, and distribution. We are the epitome of an independent business, so handling our day to day operation is a struggle and ultimately our biggest project. However, we have had numerous projects since the last interview, such as the Scifentology I and II albums with Yak Ballz, our website, and the opening of our flagship store in Hollywood, CA. With that said, be sure to pick up a copy of Yak’s new album Scifentology II–a lot of work went into this project and it’s been exciting to be a part of it.
Format: Scifen strives to maintain substance in its designs and business model. Ironically, many people within the streetwear community label the brand a sellout. How do you respond to these accusations?
Barmak: I think you put it best: itâ€™s ironic. I wouldn’t even know where that is coming from as I feel itâ€™s a completely unwarranted accusation. I don’t even know what youâ€™re referring to when you say “the streetwear community…” What the hell is that, who is it, and how could it be a community? It’s like saying, “the active-wear community are labeling Champion a sellout.”
However, I will say that we do strive to maintain a high level of substance in our designs and business model by staying in line with our culture. I would hope anyone of a viable culture would respect it to the utmost with good ethics and preservation. It’s like saying, “I know youâ€™re Russian and we really respect your heritage, yet some other ethnicities like Mongolians living in Moscow are calling you a sellout.” Then why the hell are they living in Moscow? Take your ass back to Mongolia! So for anyone in the “streetwear” community that has no viable place amongst hip-hop should worry about themselves–this isn’t for them. Although keep in mind, if you go home bumpin’ Masta Ace or Planet Asia, or get hyped watching b-boys getting down, then you are in our territory and I think it warrants a certain level of respect. Don’t get me twisted, someone could flatout hate our designs and products, but I don’t think sellout has anything to do with it. Thatâ€™s just a matter of taste. Don’t know if that makes sense….
Format: You mentioned in our last interview that Scifen is â€œpossibly the only hip-hop brandâ€ and that â€œa lot of these brands claim hip-hop but are just fans of the culture, they donâ€™t live it.â€ Name names–the people want to know.
I think the right people know what I am getting at. Itâ€™s not hard to understand when itâ€™s spoken amongst your peers. They know who and what we are referring to.
Format: What is your opinion of the general streetwear climate at the moment?
Barmak: I wouldn’t know or be in a position to make a solid comment to that question. Itâ€™s like asking me, “what is your opinion of the climate on planet Mars?” I wouldn’t know the answer because I live on Earth at the moment. I think at this point what I traditionally understand as streetwear has changed or might not even exist. Maybe I don’t even know what streetwear is–please explain the category. What I do know is that the US economy is in huge trouble and has been drenched in a recession. I think everyone is scrambling to stay afloat; whether you sell tube socks or own a bakery, shit is really tough out there. Hell, the price of gas per gallon is almost $5.00 in the US. If you know anything about basic economics, high gas prices lead to a lower money supply in the economy thus less disposable income for people to spend on clothes and such. So I have less of an opinion on the streetwear climate at the moment, and more of an opinion on our economic conditions and direction as a country.
Format: Scifenâ€™s blog exposes the brandâ€™s ties to many hip-hop artists. Recentlyâ€”among othersâ€”Opio, Planet Asia, Killah Priest, and Yak Ballz have been featured. How important is it to Scifen to solidify ties with hip-hop artists?
Barmak: Actually we aren’t trying to solidify any ties with anyone, like “hey, look at me and my friends.â€ This is our daily lives and these are the people we interact with, respect, and want to promote. It’s obvious there is a huge generation gap in hip-hop and a lack of knowledge about the culture. All we try to do is share with those that know, and educate the ones that don’t know about these people and principles that embody hip-hop. We all have our own tastes and opinions. When you eat at a good restaurant or watch a good movie, youâ€™re likely to share it with people.
Let me use another example with food as an analogy: So letâ€™s say youâ€™re Italian. Born in Italy, migrate to the states as a child and raised very cultured by your family. Now youâ€™re all grown up and your friend invites you to an Italian restaurant called The Olive Garden, which is a nasty commercial restaurant chain. For some reason, your friend swears The Olive Garden is good and that it is quality Italian food. You would flip out, knowing your grandmother can cook more authentic and better quality dishes from her hip. You would naturally educate your naive friend and introduce him to some real culture. Ultimately, this is what we strive to do as a brand within hip-hop, and this is what keeps us motivated. The funny thing is, there are tons of artists we still haven’t had the opportunity to build with and connect. No matter what some may think, hip-hop is vast and world wide.
â€œanyone in the “streetwear” community that has no viable place amongst hip-hop should worry about themselves–this isn’t for them.â€
Format: Although hip-hop is still alive and well, there is no arguing that as a genre it is relatively stale compared to what it once was. Culturally, not just musically, people are migrating. How will Scifen remain relevant as a â€œhip-hop brandâ€ when hip-hop is no longer big, cool, marketable, etc.
Barmak: “People are migrating?” What the hell does that mean? Migrating to what, another culture? That makes absolutely no sense in the terms of a culture. Honestly, I think this question is completely ass backwards, but I am glad you asked it.
I can’t just migrate away from being Persian by saying “hi, I have officially moved myself into being a German.â€ That sounds retarded. Yo, Rakim is not going to migrate into a rock artist and stop being a 5 percenter. If anyone has ever migrated into this culture in the sense of it being big, cool, or marketable at a moment in time, then I would love for them to migrate the fuck out.
I never wanted to b-boy because it was marketable or big. I simple loved it from the minute I was introduced to it. It defines who I am as a person, as it was instrumental to me growing up. I never wanted to be like Michael Jordan or go to high school football games as a teenager. I was busy listening to Diamond D, mastering my six-step trying to be like Ken Swift. Hell, I even had a tag and wanted to get up.
Look, when I started b-boying, I naturally did everything I could to learn about its history and foundation–this led to the same appreciation for the music and graffiti. For us, we don’t know anything else.
Format: Obama recently became the democratic nominee for the US presidency. What is your opinion of the current political climate in America?
Barmak: I think itâ€™s great and we have a great opportunity for some real change in this country. I feel like I am part of history, living through it. This country hasn’t had a significant social movement since the Civil Rights Movement. I feel that was the last time people had to fight for a revolution. We have had a lot of issues since, but nothing that has driven people to stand up for one common cause. The current administration has done a lot of damage to the economy and welfare of the US and the other countries abroad. Our generation is extremely unique and far more equipped for change than I think we realize. We have the power to change the future and that is an amazing feeling. I think a lot people are starting to wake up and realize that we can’t afford to miss another opportunity.
Format: An unanswered user comment in Formatâ€™s 2006 interview asked Scifen about their position on involvement in unfair labor practices, contributions to community programs, and plans to promote sustainable clothing. Please respond.
Barmak: We don’t use sweat shops, period. I personally visit all our vendors and factories. I am a human being and would not tolerate such a thing. I don’t even know where these factories exist or how these major corporations get involved with it. I wish there was more this country could do to enforce strict labor codes on foreign countries.
We just held a fundraiser and mentoring event this past weekend at our store for the Los Angeles Youth Network. Check our site for more information about this event.
As far as sustainable clothing, I highly promote brands like Livity Outernational, which is a completely sustainable collection and sourcing company for developing green goods. We are in talks with them about introducing some items into our product line. I think a lot more opportunities will arise as we grow as a company and it’s truly exciting to be able to work toward goals for the community and environment.
More Info: http://www.scifen.com/