Ev Bravado for Grailed: NEXTLVLHIGH Pt. 1
Our good homies over at Grailed recently caught up with NYC's own Ev Bravado to discuss his exclusive collection that launched yesterday via Dry Clean Clean Only. Ev has captivated us from the very start, and we are very excited to see that he is gaining the recognition he deserves. Be sure to check out some of the items from the drop as well as an exclusive interview with the Grailed team below.
Interview conducted by Lawrence Schlossman
Just for starters, for anyone who isn’t on of your followers or fans, who are you? What do you do? Just some general background information.
A bunch of people are probably familiar with Lease on Life from back in the Four Pins days. I mean, that’s how we know each other.
Yeah, Lease on Life was heavy on Four Pins and Complex. That’s how I’m good with Grailed now. That’s how I started, just out here in New York City being a SoHo kid, your typical Hypebeast, wearing Bape, BBC. That’s how I came up in ’08, ’09, my high school days.
How old are you now?
I’m 23. I turn 24 in June. I’ve been designing seriously for five or six years now. But I wouldn’t even call it “designing” because it’s been a lot of trial and error with the garments.
Do you call yourself a “designer” now? I only ask because I know a lot of people shy away from that word. Do you think you’ve earned it?
Maybe in a couple of years, but right now I just call myself a “freelance artist.” Right now I might be doing clothes, but I might mess around and drop a music video or something. Or try to do some other type of content.
Either way, you’re a creative guy with a lot of interests. Right now it happens to be clothes.
Well, I grew up in clothes. This was the outlet that made the most sense rather than doing music or being a painter or making beats. I just came up around clothes. My dad’s a tailor. Shouts to him because he’s the only reason I’m able to finish these garments.
He’s still working as a tailor today?
Yeah, he still does it. That’s how he brings home most of his income. He does a lot of my backend operations, like my samples, cut and sew and patterns. He’s absolutely the main reason I’m able to do any of this.
I feel like when we used to talk back in the day with Lease on Life you made a point to call it a father and son operation. I mean, correct me if I’m wrong…
It is. But he doesn’t really claim it as much. He let’s me do my thing. I don’t come from a wealthy family, so what he can give me is his time and energy and effort. I’m so blessed to have that.
That’s real support, ya know? There’s so many kids who are starting T-shirt or hoodie brands or whatever just because they’re well off and have a lot of time on their hands and mommy and daddy’s money. Not to generalize too much, but you get my drift.
I know people that I went to school with—I went to Baruch for digital marketing—were trying to figure out what they wanted to do and when I bump into them now they’re like, “I’m doing fashion now.” But they’re just doing it because it’s hot or whatever. When I was coming to class, pulling up in like Ricks or my own one-of-one stuff, they were looking at my like I was crazy.
Does that bother you?
it doesn’t really bother me because it’s just like music when everyone wanted to be a rapper.
I still think everyone wants to be a rapper.
Haha I want to be a rapper too. Who doesn’t? It can be annoying, but at the end of the day, the one’s who are true to this are gonna last as oppose to the one’s who are just trying to get a buck. They’re going to be phased out. I know when I see certain people who aren’t serious about it. But I also see kids out here who I admire that really do it who are coming from an organic place.
It’s funny you say that because I think one of the most interesting things about you that I’ve observed from afar or from just running into you over the years is that you have this really solid crew of close friends that are all very creative—friends who are also collaborators.
I’ll start with Vell Beck, who I’ve collaborated with before and that’s how we became close friends. We’re always bouncing ideas off each other. When Lease on Life Society was still around he was actually my creative director. We did a collection, Identity Crisis, last year and showed it in Chelsea and it was dope. Nobody, like stores or whatever, picked it up so the line kind of fell by the wayside. It wasn’t my fault or his fault. It was timing and for the people involved it just didn’t make sense financially. But it put me in a position where I had to step up to the plate and be that person who makes something out of this regardless. But Vell and I always collaborate and is one of my best friends. A lot of people in the industry you can’t trust, but when you have that close-knit inner circle that’s what matters.
It’s truly the greatest commodity in life, having relationships with people you trust. Back to what you were saying about how that line didn’t get picked up by retail outlets in this traditional fashion, and the fact that you’re more about hustling and going directly to the consumer, is that the new method? A paradigm shift so to speak?
Yeah, I mean, the Internet cuts out the middleman. If I was doing this back in the ‘90s, I would maybe have to go to a big trade show and that costs thousands of dollars. You could go there and get no looks. Back then or even now, the color of my skin makes certain people biased. They way I work levels out the playing field. The kids who support me know when I’m doing my drops and support me directly. When someone’s buying something from me it’s about the personal connection.
Right, they can reach you on social media. As we’ve talked about before, when you did your "In Medias Res” for Grailed that really popped off on the site and on Instagram. That really opened my eyes to how you’re one of the rare designers that have a super unique look. There aren’t many people who dress like you. And your brand really reflects that. Are you designing for yourself?
I was just having this conversation earlier with my girlfriend Téla. The stuff I make is what I want to wear and see other people wear. But the only way I can show people who to wear it is to wear it myself. It just taking things we grew up on, like graphics, and bringing that feeling back. When I used to go to BBC and cop a tee for like $80 I would think about how I would flex that in school and see the reaction. I want to give kids something like what I had that’s not just Supreme or any other brand everyone is wearing. No disrespect.
I get you. Something that’s not the obvious choice.
Kids in the street might be wearing a pair of my jeans and I’ll see them and that’s how you can form friendships just like how we used to do back in the day.
For you, it’s clearly about the personal connection.
Absolutely. That feeling is what matters. I always say that art without emotion is meaningless. Even if you don’t get it, you’re still curious. Like I could be in a bagel shop in Long Island where I live and some guy working there will ask me what my hoodie is about or what it means.
Any reaction, positive or negative, is still an emotion.
Yeah, sometimes it’s shock value. Though I do get a lot of support based on my personal outlook on life, the stuff I say on Twitter. People gravitate to my positive message and see my clothing as an embodiment of that.
Speaking of messages, there is some politically and racially charged stuff in your more recent output. Is that something you’re extremely cognizant of? I only ask because you mentioned shock value.
It’s a reaction to Donald Trump and him pushing his “Make America Great Again” agenda and seeing people sport that where I live. It screams racist to me even though you might say you’re a Donal Trump supporter and you’re not a racist, to me it’s hard to differentiate. I know that’s a generalization, but I’m just trying my best to counter those emotions. When he says he wants to make American great again, I think he’s talking about making things great for white people or the 1%. There’s a message in my stuff. You have your message and I have mine. This is my point of view. But it’s been great and it speaks to people, like the homie Joey Bada$$ who wore my stuff in one of his videos. His most recent album is extremely poignant as far as our country’s social climate right now. Listen, it’s hard being a black male, let alone one trying to make it in fashion or just do anything positive. At the end of the day, if I’m wearing a pair of Jordans I’m going to be looked at in a certain way.
That seems to play into how you and your brand stay independent and do your own thing so nobody can control your message or narrative.
I would never turn away someone who wanted to come along and lend a hand, but it has to make sense. At the same time, I’m at a point where I don’t want my money or message to go through seven different people. At this point, I can get everything I want to get done on my own.
You want to be hands on. It’s like how yesterday we were talking and you’re like, “I still need to finish up distressing these jeans.”
Yeah, what if someone else handles it in like LA or China and they come out poorly. Obviously, I’d like to make more than just a run of 25 jeans, but for right now I can make sure my customers get the product that they want and expect.
I’ve always respected you for your prices and how fair they are based on the amount of work that goes into your clothing. Is that something you’re hyper aware of?
For sure. The amount of work that goes into my denim isn’t cheap from a price or time perspective. You have to put in hours of work. A pair of jeans I might sell for $300, Off-White might put out a pair of comparable jeans or jeans with even less work for more than double. And they can do that because of brand recognition. Make no mistake, this is streetwear so the price is important.
You don’t shy away from that term, “streetwear,” like some other people do. You embrace that.
Having grown up in it I can attest to the rich culture of that world. Being from New York and knowing the people and stories behind these brands, it’s something I’m very proud of. Being high-end or luxury is cool and all, but I want to be true to myself. Calling it “streetwear” now doesn’t close the door for anything I might want to do in the future and it’s not like you can walk into any store in SoHo today and find my stuff. It’s something you have to know about. It’s always going to be super limited. If you know, you know. And if you don’t, that’s on you. People ask me to rerelease stuff I’ve done in the past, but it’s like what do I tell the kids who bought it originally because they were under the impression it was never gonna come out again? The integrity has to be there. That’s the most important thing.
You have to be honest with yourself and with others. I know you downplay it, but your social following is a huge part of what you do and with that success comes the negative reactions. How do you approach that criticism? Does it get to you, especially as someone who is projecting a positive message?
It’s cheesy to say, but let your haters be your motivators. That’s something I’ve always thrived off of. The hate I receive just inspires me to go harder. All these people behind the avatars are faceless. I just wish the best for them, ya know? All these people don’t even really know me. We’ve never had a conversation with me to truly understand where I’m coming from or what I do. I let all of that fuel me to do better because at the end of the day I’m still going to be doing what I want and you’re still going to be mad for no real reason. I always say that you can never win with hate in your heart.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on the womenswear brand called ATW that’s not necessarily streetwear like Ev Bravado, just to clarify. I’ve been work on that with Téla for a long time, getting it perfect.
Is womenswear something that really excites you moving forward?
It definitely is a new challenge. It’s a whole new market for me. It’s tackling how we see a woman in 2017 who maybe wears Vetements but wants something explicitly made for her instead of something purely unisex.
What would you say to a kid who’s seeing this and the success you’ve had a such a young age and wants some guidance?
First and foremost, put your faith in God. Acknowledge him and he’ll direct your path. I know religion isn’t for everyone, so really I guess, just be true to yourself. Be true to who you are and the universe will work for you. Getting to where I am now has been a struggle, but if you have a purpose you have to persevere. Have faith in yourself and stay positive.
Who out there right now is exciting or motivating you?
Of course, Vell. What he does is amazing. He’s sitting on a lot of unreleased stuff right now that’s coming out soon. He’s one of my favorite designers. I know he’s my bro, but I respect him as a professional peer. My big brother Abi, who’s one of the main reasons I’m even here. He’s the behind-the-scenes dot-connector who knows everyone. We get into it all the time, but he always helps keep me in line. He’s working on his own line, which is going to be dope. Some other guys would be Rye Decker, Alex Digenova and this kid from Brooklyn, Navy Wavy. Those are the homies. I rep my boys.
Finally, let’s talk about “NEXTLVLHIGH PT. 1” and the concept behind it.
So this is the second collection under the Ev Bravado line, the first being “Rebirth,” which was a rebranding. And it’s just me talking to the homies and us coming up with slogans for our lines or whatever. Ev Bravado represents a real turning point in my life. All that social media stuff and going out and getting lit isn’t really worth anything at the end of the day. This is a new path. Wasting time and money on frivolous stuff and activities is pointless. It’s looking at the bigger picture. When you’re blessed with a platform like this and you’re wasting it just partying or whatever you’re losing. Looking cool online isn’t worth anything. “Rebirth” was a new chapter in my life and “NEXTLVLHIGH Pt. 1” is me continuing on that path and literally hitting another level.