Stories produced by St. Peter's Journalism Students
It’s 3 in the morning and a single light appears inside a house on the streets of Union City, seemingly insignificant but with in that room a man tirelessly creates designs for his new collection with one goal in mind, “Am I being true to my brand?”.
The underground clothing scene is becoming more and more popular. For most, the underground is a way to break away from “cookie cutter” department store clothing and finally wear clothing that fits their uniqueness and what they wish to represent.
The underground is much more than not wearing what the masses are wearing, instead it is about passion and the hard work that is put into a design.
For Tommy Quinones of Union City, New Jersey, the idea of becoming big isn’t the reason for creating his clothing line. Quinones is an artist when it comes to his clothing line, his idea of clothing is more than a t-shirt with a cool graphic.
Quinones, now 30 years old, has always had an eye for fashion. He recalls the late nineties and the music of that era, but mostly the style.
“90s Hip-hop is what we grew up listening to and watching. That’s when Ice Burg and Jay-Z was just in the thing. I remember being in 8th grade and have blue and white dunks, people always said ‘you were always fresh’ and I was like ‘yea’,” Quinones said jokingly.
He remembers his uncle from Brooklyn and their fashion as well as the fashion that came out of Brooklyn.
“Brooklyn was the biggest fashion statement with anything, it still is. Everything came from Brooklyn,” said Quinones.
Quinones entered the independent fashion world first under the clothing brand of Semi-Nomadic but have since moved on to create his own brand Mad Limited. Having only been in the fashion business for a short period of time, Quinones has learned a lot about creating a brand.
“It all starts with an idea and then if you think you got some graphics, you put them on shirts and see if people like them,” said Quinones.
Though starting an independent clothing company seems cut and dry it still has its rough patches.
“It’s a lot of trial and error,” Quinones says. “That’s what I’m going through right now, its like I put out stuff that I thought people would like. Some stuff did good and some stuff didn’t, you just learn your niche after a while.”
By being a smaller clothing company brands can stay true to their vision and the beauty of being a smaller brand is that the creator has total control over what is put out there and what message they wish to send out.
Quinones has his own studio where he screen-prints his own shirts for his clothing line as well as other independent clothing companies.
“It starts off as screen printing, some people do vinyl and some people do embroidery, but it’s whatever people can afford,” said Quinones.
He explains that many of these brands are trying to find their niche and it’s all about the graphics that are produced. That is how a company can trump another.
Most of these companies do their selling and marketing online with websites or other sites such as Instagram. But these brands also look to sell their apparel at Pop-Up Shops.
“We build relationships with other brands through the events that you have and that’s how you network and expose yourself to other demographics,” said Torres.
While many people have access to the internet it is easy to brand a company through social media networks and create buzz. Though the idea of being an independent clothing company isn’t to become mainstream it doesn’t mean that these creators frown upon becoming successful.
“Our generation wants to work for themselves and I see that some people do it because they actually have a passion for it and you see that in their clothes. Some people just do it because it’s cool to be an independent brand now. It’s the trendy thing,” said Torres.
As well as building relationships with other brands Quinones has been able to collaborate with a well-known non-mainstream rapper, J Littles. Both Quinones and J. Littles promote each other and sometimes appear at the same events.
“You want an artist to be wearing your stuff. The smarter people are the people that are going to build with each other. J. Littles I love him as an artist but at the same time he’s become one of my good friends of the years,” said Quinones.
Even though the underground sounds like a big group of friends helping one another there is still competition between brands. With the success of a design brings those who copy it to make a profit.
“We did a flip on Polo and another brand did the same thing. It’s the way they came about it. There are brands that copy everything. If you’re going to copy something make it better, make sure it’s better and not just shitty,” said Quinones.
Not only do small brands copy one another but also bigger companies copy small brands. Recently Quinones released a shirt that was inspired by the 90s Polo teddy bear but had a street 90s spin on it.
Quinones explained that there are brands that blatantly copy one another and with the Internet information gets around faster.
In fact just last month Ralph Lauren re-released their 90s Polo bear.
Quinones explained that the Polo Bear was a symbol of what 90’s fashion was all about. This past collection that Mad Limited released was telling a story about when Quinones started to love fashion.
“He (Quinones) took the bear from Polo and it was inspired by Polo but you’re whole thing is being ‘Stuck in the 90s’ and how the Polo bear represents that time period, that’s what his brand is,” said Torres.
These ideas are created from memories and experiences. People like Quinones truly have a spirit for what they do and the underground can be defined as a place where they can flourish and be understood.
These independent brands are creating a buzz for a good reason. They aren’t just selling apparel but they are creating a something authentic that is frequently limited but can never be replicated by these corporations.
According to a source, who wished not be named, said the underground frowns upon brands that have become “sell outs”. “Sell out” means when a brand loses their identity and instead creates clothing to appeal to the masses.
This source named brands such as Stussy, Crooks & Castles and Supreme that have fallen under the category of “sell out”.
“These brands started out as small companies in the underground and when they became big they sold out. I used to like their stuff but now their stuff looks like something you could find at Urban Outfitters”, said the source.
But brands like The Hundreds has gained both underground status as well as mainstream status. For some patrons of the underground they consider some of these brands to be “sell outs”, while others think they have just improved their brand.
“It’s great when a brand is making money and when you’re a clothing company you want to make it big but you need to decide is this what you want or is this something people want. It’s a fine line between being controlled by your customers and following what you want”, said the source.
On The Hundreds website they have a section of frequently asked questions stating that they will not interview with anyone and even state that they are not looking for any writers for their blog. In this case the underground that they involved in is a very tight-knit community that doesn’t see many outsiders.
Both patrons and clothing designers of the underground have their own definitions of what the underground is. The underground can only be defined by those within the community but even then there are still different definitions of what the underground is.