Change Agents Vol. 1, Part 2 of 2 :: Alyasha Owerka-Moore

Today we bring you Part 2 of our conversation with Alyasha Owerka-Moore, an industry stalwart and the man behind the creative foundations of countless streetwear and lifestyle brands. In this segment he gets into everything from his thoughts on current trends, his relationship with the industry and where he sees it headed, the meaning of ‘good’, the end of Fiberops, his most proud accomplishments, and much more.

Read Part 2 here.

Read Parts 1 and 2 together here.

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Continued from Part 1. Read full interview here.

 
 

Evan: What brands stand out to you now? Do you feel anybody is doing anything innovative? Looking at where you are now, it seems that you aren’t really connected to this market at all. You seem very removed, and I understand that, but does anything stick out?

Alyasha: I think the guys from Brixton. Brixton sticks out more than anything right now. Primarily because they have a very defined brand image. They know who they are, they aren’t trying to cater to a bunch of different things, which in essence makes them a stronger brand. It’s very funny to me to see all these brands that a year ago were super Technicolor Dreamcoat, and are now making J. Crew and thinking that people will buy them because they are clean and simple and everyone is into Americana and men’s contemporary. What happened to your brand identity? You’ve completely forsaken who you were as a company and your brand ID for a new look that is ‘in trend’ when streetwear for years had been what created trend and now it’s following trend more than anything else. Whereas somebody like Brixton had started off, and has been and always will be kind of what it is, it’s like J. Crew, J. Crew has always been classic Americana stuff. Ralph Lauren, as far as I know, has only tried to follow a trend once, and that’s when they put together that license for Polo Jeans. What did that last, 4 years? Because they felt that it was kind of a stain on their credibility. Like we don’t need this. We’re Ralph Lauren. We make Americana. It’s what we do. That’s it. Ralph Lauren is not making all-over-print anything, except maybe that skull motif which is more of a monogram than anything. So you don’t need to cater to trends to sell clothing, it’s about creating a strong brand. That’s where a lot of people in streetwear and 7th Avenue, and the garment industry as a whole, lose it. I think Brixton is one of the companies that I’ve just been really impressed with as far as like creating a strong brand ID and sticking to it.

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E: One of the things that has frequently been utilized in graphic tees are logo flips, originating with Freshjive and others. It’s pretty much a staple approach at this point. Are you particularly averse to that, as I don’t recall seeing any of your stuff as such.

A: Freshjive does that. They were the kings of that. I come from a generation where everybody had their own style, you didn’t make records that sounded like somebody else’s records, you made a record that sounded like your record, and was as good, and got more plays. Now the mentality is like ‘oh, I’m going to make a record that sounds just like this guys record, but it’s my version.’ Which is why a lot of brands look like one big brand, and why a lot of contemporary pop music sounds like one long song. Not all of it, there’s definitely stuff that sticks out. It’s just interesting, that’s something that you wouldn’t dare do back in the day. There were a few brands, primarily Freshjive that did the logo flips, but there was a handful and that was their deal and everybody else did their own thing. Then it was really important to have your own brand identity and your own look and your own feel and your own aesthetic.

E: I always kind of thought of it as sampling.

A: Absolutely. But I think there is so much to sample from, that it becomes a bummer when a whole subculture is sampling from the same place. Like who’s not right now. Who’s not pulling the same classic Americana references right now. It’s kinda like ‘alright, ok guys, a year ago you were a raver brand and now you’ve got choppers in your ads.’ In some ways that’s unfair to say, the people behind the brands are definitely evolving and exploring new things, and genuinely getting into things, but I think when people start to get into things because it’s trending and it’s what their supposed to be doing, they just want to follow, it becomes disingenuous. Such and such has choppers on his shirt, so I want to put choppers on my shirt. I just think it’s corny, and for me the reason we started making our own shit was because so much stuff WAS corny. It’s digressed, or whatever you want to call it, it’s kind of mutated back into this thing that it wasn’t ever supposed to be. There are some people that are doing cool stuff, but it’d just be nice to see people paying attention to actual design as opposed to completely remixing. But it’s cool—there’s a really rad documentary called Everything is a Remix. It’s a 4 part series, it’s got 3 parts so far. Pretty fascinating, really well researched and compiled and presented. It kinda substantiates a lot of where my head is at. Taking parts of things and integrating them into what you do. Absolutely, but when it becomes blatant plagiarism it’s like—have you seen that movie where they’re all wearing the white face?

E: Dead Presidents.

A: Yeah, Dead Presidents. I was at Magic a year ago, and no exaggeration, 8 different brands had Dead Presidents t-shirts in the same season. People are still doing Scarface knocks. Shit was dead in ‘93. They just keep beating the same references, and it becomes commonplace. It just becomes mundane and boring. But then again, there’s a generation that hasn’t seen that stuff. I suppose if I was 16 I might be like ‘whoa, that’s really fucking cool ‘cuz I’ve never seen that before.’

The flipside is the brazen bravado, like ‘we’re the streetwear aficionados. We’re the front-runners. We’re breaking ground.’ Not really dude, kinda late to the game. Maybe in your neighborhood you’re the coolest kids. I wish there was more humility. It’s not a matter of me being like, ‘oh you guys gotta look up to me because I’ve been in this for so long.’ It’s more of, just be humble. Work hard. Because then you don’t give anybody a reason to dislike you. The only reason they can dislike you is because they’re jealous you’re busting your ass and actually making something happen. But when you get up on a soapbox and start spouting out all this ignorant shit that’s unfounded, it kind of gives people more of a reason to dislike you, and a more justified reason to dislike you and/or your brand.

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E: Yeah, it’s hard when everyone is pulling from the same pot.

A: Early streetwear, there were so many brands that pulled from totally different places. There were rad full-on punk rock streetwear brands. There was a brand call Blunt that was like a mod and rude boy brand. Everything was like scooters and ska and mod stuff, even some later Freshjive, mid ‘90s was all about mid-century modern stuff, Rick moved away, he was building a brand, he was building a clothing company. A lot of other people got stuck in this model and this formula that became very easy to keep going, but it ultimately has become the downfall, this homogenous thing as opposed to a bunch of independent kind of cottage industry clothing companies that all supported each other and put on tradeshows together and actually innovated in the fashion industry. Now there’s no innovation.

E: Do you think a lot of that is due to the internet, in the sense that you can immediately kind of see what everyone else is doing? Whereas before you had sort of a lot of different independent groups, and when you can’t see in real-time what others are doing you naturally will create your own lane.

A: Absolutely. People aren’t as much into buying product as it is buying brands. It’s more like oh this brand appeals to me. This brand got this many hits on Youtube. This post got this many likes, so that means I know what I need to get. Somebody’s telling me there’s this focus group, and this kid was talking about how he’ll post something on a blog, and that’s what the cool kids will want to buy. It’s like no–cool kids don’t give a fuck about your blog. The cool kid is gonna create his own style and post it himself, and other kids will follow that.

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E: That’s also a bit frustrating as a smaller brand, you have to contend with kids that just want to buy a more established brand because of the name, and you know that if that tee graphic was transferred to a lesser-known brand it would never sell. On the other hand if you have a brand that can do that, I guess it says something if you can pull it off.

A: It’s a weird one. It’s a very Orwellian period of time. Everybody wants to be famous. Everybody wants to be associated with something instead of doing their own thing. It’s strange. Especially for me, coming from an age where it was really about doing your own thing. Like the stuff you guys do, it’s obviously your own thing. Now it’s more like, I just want to look like everybody else. That’s not what this is about.

E: Ok, back to some other interesting stuff. What exactly was your involvement with Mecca?

A: My role? The dudes that started it quit, and then they need some new designers. And I was hired as one of the designers. I didn’t found it, I was just a pinch-hitter. My friend Phil, he used to manage the Jungle Brothers and I did some production for them, and after Phat Farm he was like, ‘are you doing anything? The guys that started this brand quit and I need to hire some new people, are you interested?’ And the people that financed Mecca also financed Alphanumeric, so those two kinda went hand in hand. The kids that ended up working at Mecca started the company Akademiks, so I had to pinch-hit as the creative director for Mecca for about a year, and helped them hire a new design team.

E: What about Dub? Did you work for them at all?

A: Yep. I was the senior designer. That’s why I moved to California, to work for Dub and Droors.

E: I had never read that but it just seemed similar to some of your other stuff, and clearly had a hip-hop following.

A: A big part of that was, I had been in the music industry prior, and had always been thinking, ‘there’s all this North Face and Patagonia stuff that sells in New York, why wouldn’t you try to get some of that market share? So I just started sending boxes to friends of mine in the music industry. Juju ended up wearing a jacket on the Beatnuts Stone Crazy album cover, Mos Def wore some stuff in a video, some of the Wu guys wore stuff in videos, John Forte, and just anybody I knew in the industry I just would send boxes to and it kind of resonated that way.

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E: Back to Fiberops. Is that no longer being produced?

A: No. My business partner passed away, Tabo, the guy I started it with and one of my best friends. I tried to keep it going for a while, went to different financial backers and such to try to bring it to the states, and it just kind of ended up not being in the doors that I wanted it to be in or that I thought it should be in. It’s kinda another one of those things—‘oh yeah you did Mecca, this stuff can go in the same doors as Mecca.’ It’s like dude, are you looking at the product? That has kind of been the bane of my existence. People are like ‘oh you did this you do that?’ No I DID that because it was a job. What I do is totally different. It’s been in asset, but in many ways it’s largely been a hindrance in terms of launching new projects. It’s been a little frustrating. So Tabo passed away, tried to keep it going, it just became really hard to do by myself. Ended up with a bunch of people that wanted to put it into these doors that it really didn’t belong in and wouldn’t have had much longevity in. There were some doors that it was in and people were like ‘I don’t get this at all.’ It’s like ‘yeah no kidding, it doesn’t belong in here.’ So that’s what happened to Fiberops.

E: That seems strange because within the industry it’s pretty clear that it’s a different type of brand, but I guess since your dealing with more financially inclined people that don’t really know the markets, they are looking at it just from a monetizing standpoint.

A: Right. Like Neighborhood for instance, if you put Neighborhood in a store that sold 10Deep it would never work. It doesn’t make sense. You can’t put Neighborhood next to Crooks and 10Deep because aesthetically they are completely different things. All good brands but it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t flow. The price points are different, the quality levels are different, the aesthetics are completely different. It doesn’t mean there’s not going to be a customer that goes in there and is like ‘oh wow, I gravitate towards this,’ but at the end of the day you put brands that are comparable next to each other. Fiberops was maybe 5 years too early. Now if I brought it back, it would almost be too late. But it is what it is as a brand, I wouldn’t change the aesthetic, but everybody is doing what we did 5 years ago now.

E: It’s Alpha all over again.

A: I dunno. I’m going to try to open a bar. There you go. Booze: always in trend, never goes out of style.

E: That’s very true. So back to you, where are you at right now, do you have plans for the future, is there particular stuff you are working on?

A: A lot of ideas, a lot of loose business plans. Things I would like to do, but nothing concrete. Just a bunch of freelance immediately, I’m having a few conversations with some people about different things that are all kind of their things. It’d be me going in and working as a creative director or designer. As far as myself I don’t really have the money to start a new brand, I’m not really driven enough at this point to start slanging tee shirts anymore, I think I’d get more depressed than anything. I’m fucking 40 years old and I’m hitting the street like I’m 20 again. Not that I’m above it, I just don’t—I got bills to pay.

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E: Your aesthetic at this point, isn’t as much geared towards graphic tees, but definitely more focused on cut-and-sew and an overall higher-end product. Would you move more into that market or are you just not interested at all?

A: I’d love to, but I try to and I’m never taken seriously. A lot of times people don’t even look at the product, they just go ‘oh wow you worked for Mecca and Phat Farm and this company and that company. That’s not really what we’re looking for.’ It’s kind of a double-edged sword. At age 40 there’s this huge disconnect with the streetwear market as far as I’m concerned. I haven’t seen anything that’s really wowed me in a long time or got me inspired. For me it’s not just a hustle, I did it for so long because I was passionate about it. I was a consumer, I was involved with all this stuff, and now there’s nothing for me to—I don’t even think if I was a kid I’d have the connection with streetwear that I did. If I was 20 I don’t think I’d be into it. I could be wrong and I’ll never really know, but going into my 41st year I don’t want to be involved in an industry that I don’t really have a connection with, and that I don’t even really like aesthetically. So when I say open a bar, I’m half sarcastic but in many ways I’d like to do that. But there’s some interesting big ticket things and big ticket conversations, and if I can figure out how to do them and be happy and ultimately, be productive, if I can figure out how to find that happy medium, yeah I will take them. The people I’d be working with are really fun people, but I don’t know. It’s the very beginnings of conversations, some things are still very vague to me. But I’m in the conversations.

E: There’s always time for new beginnings.

A: Absolutely. That’s the best way to look at it. And I hope I don’t sound like Debbie Downer, it’s just more of like, I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, and at the same time, even though I don’t connect with what’s going on right now, and I’m not crazy about it, there’s a generation that enjoys it. It’s like hip-hop. I’m not crazy about what’s going on in hip-hop right now, but it’s only 40 years old. It’s going through all these revolutions and different changes and all this stuff happening. A lot of this new stuff is not even for me. It’s for that kid that’s fucking 15-25 that connects with that lifestyle. So you know, it’s the classic ‘one mans trash is another mans treasure,’ or the concept of the word Good. What’s good for you might not be good in my eyes. It’s a real remedial concept but one I think that’s definitely applicable to me and what’s going on right now. So it’s cool to see the different things going on, I just don’t really connect with them so I don’t think I’d be an asset to them.

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E: What would you say you pull inspiration from right now?

A: Music. A lot of music. A lot of inspiration from vintage furniture. And from making things. I’m constantly making skateboards, or building bikes, or messing with stereo equipment. Reading.

E: To wrap it up, I know you had mentioned in another interview that a certain skate deck was your favorite product you’ve designed. What are you most proud of in the clothing game in general, in terms of what you’ve accomplished, or people that you’ve worked with, or anything. I know that’s a big question.

A: Hmm. Well definitely the Krooked board. Having Tommy Guerrero ask me to do a graphic for Mark Gonzales’ company. That was, as silly as it sounds, the highlight of my career for me, the most exciting moment. I looked up to those guys and still do, even though we’re all adults now.

E: Perhaps it has yet to happen.

A: Yeah I mean, I was just thinking—I dunno if it’s happened yet. Part of what I’d like to do is have a little shop, and have a workshop in the back, and make things and sell them out of there. Maybe a little online shop, doesn’t need to be huge. That would be exciting.

Actually you know what I’m proud of? Helping bring back the Dunk.

E: Yeah that is the holy grail for me.

A: Yeah you know, there was the Wu-Tang dunk, that Drew Greer brought back. Nobody every mentions Drew and that sucks to me, because he fought tooth and nail to bring Dunks back, and he did the Wu-Tang thing, and then there was the Alpha Dunk immediately after. And they hadn’t even started SB yet. I grew up skating in dunks because they were cheap. But yeah, I’m proud of that.

E: Well that’s all I have, I know it was a lot. Thanks for hanging in there and I really appreciate the time.

A: Not at all. I appreciate it. Thank you for being interested.

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