WORDS: Yahdon Israel PHOTOGRAPHS: Christian Torres
Agenda, Capsule, and Liberty each accomplished the two-fold task of curating their respective spaces with Makers who best reflected their unique aesthetics without clashing with the others. While they each branched off in their own directions, there was still the sense it was all rooted in the same thing: (1) presenting forward thinking brands to the public consciousness; (2) providing visibility for brands that need help cutting through the clutter of a competitive and, not to mention, congested industry; and most importantly for the Makers, (3) having a space where they can connect with Buyers who will hopefully stock and sell what they, the Makers, create. All of this has positioned these three trade shows as a nexus for culture, creativity, clothing, and commerce to convene.
The inherent challenge posed to every Maker trying to fit-in is finding a way to stand out. From wearing their cultural and political hearts on their sleeves to throwing wicked whisky curveballs, here are 12 Makers who stood out to us at Agenda, Capsule and Liberty!
Our first Maker2Know is MAYA, the creative director behind Fried Rice NYC, an apparel brand based in Lower East Side of Manhattan, dedicated to "the global minds, creative souls, and multi-sub-culturally mixed up that live in their neighborhood and inspire them." We met her in the Capsule Show, "the premiere gathering of the finest apparel and accessories brands from around the world."
On Fried Rice:
MAYA: Well first, I love fried rice. Secondly, we're from the Lower East Side of Manhattan. LES historically is a center for the whole world of immigrants. Fried Rice is a sort of metaphor for the cultural and artistic diversity of the LES that has risen from that. All these simple ingredients mixed up together to become greater than their parts. That's who we are. We want to incorporate different kinds of urban cultural elements to make clothes that represent that diversity out in the world. We really try to look at the emotionally familiar patterns and fabrics in urban fashion but also try to add a globalist perspective to that.
On what she makes:
MAYA: I'd say our biggest focus is on outerwear. It's the kind of thing you can take interesting fabrics or interesting silhouettes and do the kinds of mash ups that we do. You're taking something Asian, African and street from New York and mixing it together. Along with outerwear we do really interesting shirts. We try to take some of the familiar heritage elements and twist them in an interesting way in terms of the global influences and our quirky asymmetrical thinking.
On the story behind their "Festival" Faux Fur Coat:
MAYA: We do a [faux] fur almost every season so we always pick the most eccentric fur. We're not super eccentric, but we want to have range as far as where we can go. This piece is called “The Festival Fur” because you can wear it to a festival or you can be the festival! It's a statement piece.
Another wonderful Maker we met at the Capsule show was Ben Taylor, the founder of the London based knitwear company, Country of Origin. Everything they make—from scarves to sweaters—is of remarkable quality, the color blocking is brilliant, and it's all made in their workshop. No factories; just a team of six with Ben as the leader.
On Country of Origin:
Ben: Because we make everything ourselves, Country of Origin is about provenance. It's this intersection between the traditional methods of how to make knitwear and contemporary design.
Ben: Rather than do a full garment brand—where there's jeans, jackets and all this other stuff—we focus on one thing and do it really well.
Ben: It's kind of inspired by modernist design and painting. You see things that are painted within the early 1900s with primary colors and they look like they could have been made yesterday. It's about timelessness and modernism. Things that will always look fresh.
Rodney Patterson is a Chicago born, New York City based, accessory designer who created Esenshel (pronounced: "essential"), an accessory brand designed to be an extension of the wearer, reflecting his or her lifestyle. While hats are Esenshel's beginning, they're certainly not the end. Future collections will include other accessory items that add to the wearer's sense of self.
Rodney: Esenshel is about classic men's style hats being reinterpreted. Instead of the hat being 3-4 inches, my hats are 5-6 inches sometimes. Sometimes they're wider, sometimes they're narrower. It's just about playing with proportions.
I started the business because I purchased a hat online and had it manipulated, cutdown and removed the feathers. It got a huge amount of response to it on the streets. People were like, "Where is the hat from?" "Where'd you make it?" "Where'd you get it?" I tried to take it to a hat maker to make more but it costed too much. So I started making the hats myself.
Robert: It's a great place to meet stylists, buyers, and other small boutiques. And that's sort of thing: they come looking for new talent and brands.
On the story behind the Sombrero:
Each hat has a shape. The hat shape I used for the sombrero called a "Gus," which is actually a classic men's Western-style hat. Then I added the larger brim that turns up to feel more like a Sombrero. What's unique about that is, typically a Sombrero is a summer hat usually made of straw. This is felt.
I always want to do things that are really classic. But then I want to do something that's just truly creative and inspiring.
The Incorporated stood out to us in more ways than one. They're a Seattle based contemporary menswear line—and Maker collective—created by Mark McGinnis, that blends high, low, old, new, vintage, and everything that influences him to remind us that there is no reward without risk. Risk-taking allowed Mark and The Incorporated clan to be named by Highsnobiety as "The Best Under the Radar Brand of 2016."
On The Incorporated:
Mark: The clothes are inspired by the different subcultures I was into when I was growing up. So this is just a reinterpretation of everything I saw in the 90s. I'm the kind of a kid who never found his group so I made my own. The Incorporated is everything I've ever seen in one.
Mark: I have to create. And with clothes it's a better, more useful, way of creating. It's more applicable. When I was painting and drawing, people would say "I love this piece" or "This is awesome" but they'd also say: "There's no way I can use this."
My thing is to try and apply my ideas and creativity to be useful in people's lives. Rather than just be a fine artist like I thought I wanted to be, I decided to start making clothes as a better means of sharing my art.
On the story behind the tearaway denim:
Mark: I wanted to make a pair of tearaway pants but they had of been done already by other brands. So I just wanted to figure out a different way to do it. My production manager, Clinton, actually had a pair of pants that had a zipper down the front, and he's got his own brand and they were for that. So we did it on the side, kind of like a basketball pull-off motif.
Jilleen Liao is the founder and designer of ONTO NYC, the NYC based sneaker company that is rooted in the dynamism of its international community, focusing on accessible and effortless style that can handle the everyday. Her sneakers pleasantly state the not so obvious to help us see what's right in front of us so we're able to move forward.
On ONTO NYC:
Jilleen: ONTO NYC is a footwear brand that draws inspiration from the downtown skate culture of the 1990's. The name "ONTO" comes from the saying, "On to the next" because our shoes capture that energy of movement. All of the sneakers are made in limited volume using globally sourced, premium materials. This imparts an individual look to each pair of shoes and offers a softer hand feel compared to most men's sneakers on the market that generally favor heavier, harder leathers with more pigmenting.
On why she makes sneakers:
Jilleen: Growing up skateboarding, I have always had a connection with footwear and I have huge containers of sneakers at my mom's house to prove that. One of my first jobs in retail as a teenager, I worked at a store in San Francisco that carried deadstock Adidas from the 80's and 90's. When I moved to NYC in 2005, I somehow found myself working in another shoe store. But it wasn't until I learned to make shoes by hand during an internship that "creation" became a part of my narrative. Over the last ten years, I've had a wide array of opportunities both in domestic factories as well as factories abroad to gain experience in how to handle my ideas from start to finish. So the "why" for me is more like the "why not?"
I picked Capsule because the community of other designers and brands are very parallel to what Onto NYC represents.
The story behind the Barbees:
This season's collection was inspired by Ellsworth Kelly's 'Atlantic' piece. As an artist he was known for playing with contours of both geometric and organic nature which I find is a balance that I've tried to strike with ONTO in terms of classic silhouettes combined with unexpected details.
I am personally a fan of patent leather and I found that combining the patent with this glossy, varnished outsole lent an eye catching visual appeal to the sneaker overall. I like how profoundly black the sneaker is. When you hold them in your hands, you do feel like you are looking at something truly special.
Describing itself as "the most diverse and creative lifestyle fashion trade show in the world," the Agenda show definitely fulfilled that with its inclusion of Paakow Essandoh (pictured in the Ghana jersey, sitting down). The Ghanaian-American Texas-based Maker is behind the culturally-conscious, MIZIZI. A lifestyle brand dedicated to representing various aspects of the African and Caribbean Diaspora; and using this representation as a means to uplift the pride and self-esteem of those who are effected and identify. Paakow understands that representation, like black lives, will always matter.
Paakow: My current roommate, who I first met as a freshman at the University of South Florida, would walk around school with the dopest clothing. It would just have African fabric stitched into the clothes we wear in America. When I saw what he was doing, I realized I could market it back in Texas, where there were all these different African communities with various roots, which is what "Mizizi" means in Swahili: roots.
On why he makes clothes:
I make clothing because it's language. We wanted to make pieces that people can speak through and show how proud they are of their roots without having to speak a word.
It's one of the top street-wear trade shows in America. Of course we had to be here.
On the story behind the Black Lives Matter jersey:
So the Black Lives Matter jersey was originally released February of 2016. We wanted to unite the African side of the diaspora with the African-American side in one piece. On the front of the jersey, under Black Lives Matter, we have the "Sankofa" symbol. The Sankofa symbol is an old Ghanaian symbol that represents just reflection and looking back on the past and learning so that you can make moves towards the future. Then on the bottom of our jersey, we have the black fist in unity. On the back we have 1865, which is the year the very last slaves in Galveston were notified that slavery had ended. This is what Juneteenth celebrates.
As a trade show, Liberty Fairs is sincere in its vision that space can exist "without boundaries." One of the key ways to get rid of boundaries is to go beyond them. Push them to their limits. Innovate. Marc Bruder (left) and Ben Zerbe (right) are doing this by sticking to the basics; literally working from the ground up with Worldboots. Based in Southern California, Worldboots is as dedicated to comfort as they are to luxury. While Marc, the founder, blazes the trail for the direction of the company it's Ben, with a background in prosthetics and orthotics, who's tasked with creating a shoe that can withstand the journey.
Marc: I started the company in 2015 because I got tired of wearing shoes that didn't feel as good as they looked. Especially for the price. The brand is called Worldboots because we're taking the highest quality materials from all over the world and bringing them to one shoe. And unlike any shoe company around here, an orthotic expert, is the partner, owner, designer, and maker of these shoes.