Since hip-hop first emerged out of the slums of New York City's infamous South Bronx in the mid '70s as a new art form created by the DJs, MCs, breakdancers and graffiti artists of the streets, it has made a tremendous impact on pop culture. Whether it is music, dance, art, language or fashion, hip-hop has added a certain street-wise, stylish panache, as well as millions upon millions of dollars to the coffers of various industries.
While hip-hop's most noted contribution to popular culture has been rap music, it has also contributed just as much to the world of haute couture. In the late '80s, Polo and Tommy Hilfiger benefited financially from the support the hip-hop generation gave the two companies when they became the label of choice for rap stars such as Brand Nubians' Grand Puba and Kool G Rap & DJ Polo. Legend has it that before DJ Polo was famous he was widely known for sporting the brand that bears his namesake. The same happened with Timberland boots and clothes when hip-hoppers started sporting their gear. But the real proof of how hip-hop has affected fashion is in the rapid increase in the number of clothing lines started by hip-hop entrepreneurs. From the early Cross Colors (remember them?) to the now-popular Akademics, urban clothing lines are growing exponentially.
Today clothing companies such as Fubu, Phat Farm, Enyce, South Pole, Akademics, Dada, Roc-a-Wear and Sean John have all gone from being small specialized labels to being among some of mainstream fashion's biggest-selling lines. And young designers right here in Jackson are wanting their piece of the action.
On the Block
Looking to throw his hats, shirts and pants into the high-fashion ring is John Tierre, also known as Stax, whose Official Block Wear line—especially his popular "Jacktown" and "Got Work" shirts—is on warm bodies of all ages throughout the capital city. Like national clothing designers such as Fubu and Enyce (pronounced "N.Y.C."), Tierre started selling T-shirts with simple logo-driven designs on them, then gradually added other items to his line.
Official Block Wear was born in 1999 when Tierre, a native of Omaha, Neb., was a student majoring in business administration at Jackson State. Inspired by his love of hip-hop and fashion, the then-22-year-old entrepreneur studied the ins and outs of the fashion industry for a full year before designing a few prototype shirts to test the market.
"I was always into fashion, and I was always into art," Tierre says. "I just felt like with hip-hop there was an opportunity for a guy like me to have my own clothing line and succeed. I knew that I had to start small and really expand with it. I believed that if I did that I could compete with some of the other competitors that are out there, but I could do it better."
In a few short years, Official Block Wear had swept the city with its snazzy, colorful T-shirts sporting hip-hop, street-wise designs on the front and clever sayings filled with puns and references to everyday life in the block on the back. According to Tierre, both the design and the street-wise sayings that adorn the back—like "Snitching is an art perfected by the lame"—are really the essential appeal of his clothing line. Hence the name Official Block Wear.
Block Wear has expanded its operation from T-shirts to include shorts, jerseys, mini-dresses and jeans. The company recently struck a deal with a manufacturer in China and has developed a line for ladies and children that will be in full swing soon. This fall Block Wear will premiere their new line of 601 football jerseys, hooded sweatshirts, sweat suits and jeans, as well as new designs for long-sleeve T-shirts.
"Official Block Wear is about giving the customer quality clothes that's still all about the block. [Hip-hop is] all about representing where you're from, so a lot of my customers are familiar with the philosophy behind it. In addition to giving them quality, you also want to give them fly designs. That's what we call representing," Tierre says.
Looking fly and representing where they're from is what Dedrick and Tedrick McNair's Mississippi Flava Collection is really all about. In 2000, the twin brothers, who used to sell plain T-shirts at the Jackson Medical Mall for extra cash, launched their line as a way to foster pride in their home state.
"We seen a lot of people here wearing shirts with New York, Atlanta, New Orleans [on them]," Dedrick McNair says. "Nothing against them, but we thought that, hey we wouldn't mind having some Mississippi T-shirt or jerseys or something like that, so that's what got it kicked off."
The McNair twins, now 32, say it took a while for their Mississippi-flavored clothing line to take off simply because people didn't really understand their concept. "At first it started out a little slow," Tedrick McNair recalls. "We started out selling our clothes to family and friends, people that we knew and who wanted to support us. And as we went along, things started getting better and better."
Indeed, things have gotten much better as the duo soon found a few local retail shops like Signatures and Sports Avenue that were willing to take a chance on selling their clothes. The two stores agreed to take a few Mississippi Flava shirts and basketball jerseys on consignment. Although the clothing stores were a bit skeptical at first, their fears were soon allayed as Mississippi Flava clothes moved quickly.
"The jerseys have been our most popular item thus far," Tedrick says. "We were really surprised at the number of people from all walks of life that embraced Mississippi Flava. We have young people wearing our clothes, and we have older people wearing our clothes. We have professional athletes like Jerry Rice wearing our clothes. It is really a blessing for us to be doing the Mississippi Flava line."
This fall Mississippi Flava will bring out their long-sleeve T-shirts, embroidered sweat shirts, more wind suits, and wool and leather letterman jackets.
The twins credit Mississippi rapper David Banner's success for bringing Mississippi to the nation's attention: "By [Banner] blowing up on a national scale and claiming Mississippi the way he does, he has brought out the kind of state pride that has made people more open to Mississippi. So now when we approach people with our product, they're willing to accept it more."
Banner's Instant Classics
In addition to Banner promoting Mississippi pride to the world via his music, he is also pushing his state by wearing it on his back, and he wants you to wear it, too. He's launching a new clothing line called Banner Classics, which includes a line of throwback jerseys that can be seen on his hit videos, "Like a Pimp" and "Cadillac on 22s."
"The reason why I decided to do the Banner Classics Line wasn't because I wanted to do it," Banner says. "It was something that came out of necessity. My people, Mississippi, was spending money buying jerseys with just about every state in the union (on them) but Mississippi. The fact that we didn't have a pro team that represented the whole state inspired me to do my own clothing line."
Although Banner's line is just getting off the ground, he plans to promote even more Mississippi-themed gear to the mainstream public, including jerseys dedicated to the memory of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old Chicago boy lynched by white men in Money, Miss., in 1955. Banner wants to expand his line to the level of Nelly's Vokal or Sean Puffy Combs' Sean John line.
"Right now we're just concentrating on the Mississippi Pimps jerseys," Banner says." But we have plans to expand the line into bigger and better things. I'm hoping that Banner Classics becomes the next big thing in clothing lines."
Bred in the Streets
While Block Wear, Mississippi Flava and Banner Classics are three of the state's top clothing lines, with contagious word-of-mouth appeal, other hopeful lines such as Tunde's Hustler Street Apparel are still in their infant stages.
Hustler Street Apparel specializes in T-shirts, headbands and hats. Inspired by the success of Official Block Wear, Tunde, a 28-year-old entrepreneur from Washington D.C., who also holds down a full-time job as a landscape architect for the U. S. Forest Service, started his line last year with hopes of capturing his share of the street-wise urban audience.
"In a forever changing fashion industry it is important to stay ahead of the game," Tunde says. "Our clothing line is deeply rooted and influenced by inner-city culture, and our goal is to further globalize the style [and] fashion as born and bred in the streets."
All of these Mississippi-based clothing lines are striving to offer the world quality clothes that are cool, trendy and most importantly, affordable with prices typically averaging about $20 to $25 for a T-shirt. While they're at it, these designers are showing their entrepreneurial and creative spirits and setting an example for other young would-be businessmen and women: Sell what you know, support your own and show your pride in your home state at the same time.
Just found this article about using hip-hop to help young people: "For youth workers, all this adds up to an art form that, properly channeled, holds boundless opportunities to reach youth. Hip-hopís commercial success provides a natural hook for programs seeking to get kids thinking about the future. The influence of the cultureís celebrities, coupled with its strong roots among the urban poor, make it an enticing vehicle for youth engagement. Most importantly, hip-hopís artistic versatility carries tremendous potential in urban areas, where school art programs have diminished."
Great ideas here: