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Hoodman Clothing: Politics as Usual

    In Hip-Hop fashion, it’s more about making “a statement” than making a statement. As confusing as that may be, anything that’s perceived as propaganda is often considered cheap, and thus undesirable.   

For Edwyn Huang and his Hoodman Clothing line, it’s entirely the

opposite. At over 30 dollars a pop, Hoodman shirts are artistically

designed to promote Barack Obama, world peace, and racial equality in

the media. While these issues may appear small, the matter plenty to

Hoodman’s designer and creator. A law student when he’s not bringing ideas out on cotton, Huang uses

Hoodman as an outlet while he slangs sneakers, runs secret stores, and

collaborates with Democratic candidates’ staffs.    Beyond just

looking fresh, Hoodman stands for something, and so does its founder.

With a fresh line of reworked Nintendo prints for the summer, get to

know the man behind the stencils, and why it’s more than just stitches

to this well-traveled visionary. At Hoodman, if you’re mind is over

matter, it ain’t hard to tell. AllHipHop.com:  You do

definitely have t-shirts that walk the political line. How do you feel,

as a designer, to see people gravitate towards it, some for political

graphics and some for just style?Edwyn Huang:  Well, I use

“cool” to sell the politics. For instance,  Bill Maher and other social

commentators point out that liberals are boring. A lot of times it

almost seems like we don’t have enough pizzazz, we’re not selling our

candidates and things like that. I wanted to use cool to generate young

voters, especially among minority/immigrant communities too. You just

need more people involved with the political process. My

parents both immigrated later on, my mom when she was 15, my dad when

he was 27 or 28, so they never really schooled me on American

politics/social issues and weren’t involved. A lot of kids like me

don’t get that type of education at home so we don’t have an interest

in government, politics. I feel Hip-Hop was the first thing that woke

me up to it all and I owe a lot to the culture. I hope through street

culture, we can make it cool to be involved politically or just to be

socially conscious. I talk about politics a lot, but that really isn’t

my thing, it’s the manifestation of an interest in social problems and

cultural evolution. AllHipHop.com:  In the year that you have been doing this, have you seen proof of success in that effort?Edwyn

Huang:  Yeah, yeah, definitely.  The Ali Speaks shirt that said, “I

ain’t got no quarrel” sparked a lot of interest. We used the Arabic

word for “Iraq” so a lot of people would ask what it said cause they

couldn’t read it. And that’s why I wanted to write that in Arabic so

that people have to ask about it, to say, “What does that say?” even

though you could probably assume it always people want to ask and make

sure. And then also with the Barack [Obama] t-shirt featuring Rakim

shirt where it says “Barack O. is President,” we did the writing small

on purpose because you have to look closer. And everyone that wears it

tells me that when they go on the train everyone’s staring at the shirt

now. And now they started to understand it, at first they thought bit

was weird but now they like they’re like, they’ll just stop, [and say],

“You can read it; it’s a Rakim record.” Our goal with every shirt is to

create dialogue, whether people agree with our messages or not, having

a debate gets us closer to the truth, or at least a compromise.AllHipHop.com:  Do you find that you have an appeal outside of people that haven’t ever heard of 4th and Broadway Records?Edwyn

Huang:  I definitely have an appeal outside, and I want to retain that,

because I’m not trying to close myself off to anyone. I’m here to start

dialogue about these issues. So I’m gonna dabble in other styles, and

things like that. For instance, in our next line, I don’t want to give

too much away, but we have a Bill Maher shirt coming out that reps Bill

Maher.  Bill Maher is not somebody that is associated with Hip-Hop you

know, but I wanted to bring him to our audience for those that aren’t

already watching the show. I’m trying to slowly bring other figures

that aren’t necessarily recognized in the culture, to the culture. AllHipHop.com:  Why Hoodman?  What’s that name mean to you and why is that the name is of company?Edwyn

Huang:  Okay, that’s a good question, because when I came to New York,

one of the first stores I shopped at was Union. I went in there and it

blew my mind. Back in Orlando, there wasn’t anything like it. I

listened to all the music, got all the references in the clothes, and

streetwear just took the whole Hip-Hop experience to another level. I

couldn’t believe that there was this option of clothing to be able to

wear something everyday that I really associated myself with, that I

could really connect with, that I could really see myself in. Back in

the day we wore Tommy, Polo whatever, and that s**t had nothing to do

with me, I don’t know where to find a horse. I wouldn’t know where to

f**king go play polo. None of that lifestyle, none of it connects with

me, but I remember we all wore it.  I think in New York, we take it for

granted that the culture starts here ’cause in a lot of other places,

you where and listen to what you can find. AllHip-Hop.com:  I

talk to a lot of people who are into fashion scene in New York I know

it’s very territorial, as an outsider coming in. did you feel the

rather of that?Edwyn Huang: No, nobody really bothered me that

much about that. Because I think they saw, that I was getting at these

things from a new angle. People really liked that we got behind Obama. 

And not even just Obama too, it’s Ali.  Everybody uses Ali but I was

like “Let’s remix the anti-war quote.”  A lot of people put Mike Tyson

on and, you know I love the No Mas skate deck stuff, they have the

dopest illustrations of Mike Tyson and I actually got the Lemar Dauley

crew, but a lot of other brands just throw a picture of him up, stamp a

logo and it doesn’t do justice.  No Mas really got into Mike Tyson

substantively with the whole ring scene with Don King and then the

pigeons.  Those were done really well. There’s so much story around

him, there’s so much controversy.  There’s a person there that a lot of

people got mixed feelings about, and I don’t think you should be

throwing Mike Tyson on a t-shirt without, like, shinning a light on

some angle we haven’t seen.  I love Mike and it bothers me to see

people trying to make a quick buck making garbage t-shirts. That

happens with Biggie a lot now too. So I guess maybe, I haven’t caught

the wrath because they appreciate that I came at Ali and the Eric B.

& Rakim record from a different angle.AllHipHop.com:  For

years Obama has been on our radar, have you heard from his staff or

anybody? I guess they have no problem with you using his name, have

they given you the thumbs up or anything?Edwyn

Huang:  I

contacted them through their email, you know, ‘cause they have the

website, its very interactive. No one got back to me, and then I tried

to contact the Young Lawyers for Obama, and I contacted some people

there, they were all like, “Yeah, yeah we’re interested,” so I tried to

get a meeting with them and the person I contacted just kept telling me

to come out to events and he’d try to get at me there about the shirts.

From my experience, nothing ever gets done at those things so I just

told him, if he had time to sit down and set-up a fundraising thing

with the shirts, I was ready. No response though, just invitations to

go to walk-a-thons and cocktail parties. [Ed's Note: Huang was again

contacted by Obama Youth Voting coordinators since interview. Several

retailers, including Digital Gravel, have expressed interest in

donations to the campaign from Hoodman sales.]AllHipHop.com:

Looking at  the summer line tell me a little bit what your doing now

with the animation with a whole style and movement that we haven’t

previously seen from your line.Edwyn Huang:  I think what I’m

try’na do with these animation things is, its not as overt as the

Barack Obama, it’s not as overt as the Ali, and its more digestible for

certain audiences.  Because for real, a lot of people they say, “I like

your shirt, I like the Ali shirt, but people may get mad at me if I

wear it.” “I Ain’t Got No Quarrel With Them“ is an anti-war shirt,

people just aren’t ready to step out and represent that yet; and even

though I think they should, if they feel that way, I do understand,

some people it takes a little bit more time to come out  of the shell

and just say what they’re feeling.  But with the Mario Kart stuff, I

feel like it’s a shirt people can wear and say “Yo, I just like the

Mario whatever,” but if they want to dig deeper the message is there.  

It’s affirmative action in Mario Kart.  There’s no Black characters in

Mario.  Those games are made by Asian, people and there’s no Asian

people either in Mario; they’re all Caucasian.  I remember when I first

went to Taiwan when I was in like fifth or sixth grade, and I was like,

“Yo, these games have Asian people in them, this is crazy.” It was just

dope to see someone like me in a game.AllHipHop.com:  In

terms of the company, is it a one many army, what’s your staff like? 

Tell me from the time you get these ideas, to the time they’re actually

executed, to the time there are hanging on a rack in the store.Edwyn

Huang:  In December, I went back to the lab; I went to my parents’

house in Florida over Christmas break and I was there with my brother

Evan Huang and my art director Ning Juang.  I came up with all these

images and then Evan would help me research the content. On every one

of these shirts Ning does most of the vectoring and all the touch up

for the screen printing and gets everything ready and she directs the

other artists.  Another artist from Michigan, Leo Li, he actually did

the illustrations for the Mario Kart series of the characters, but then

Ning illustrated the mushrooms and words and all that stuff, a lot of

the backgrounds.  Because Leo was good at characters but Ning was

really good at doing backgrounds and fonts and things like that, and

live tracings.  They work as a team those two are kind of like my main

illustrators, and Ning does quality control.AllHipHop.com: I may have misheard you in the beginning but you said you have a store that you’re at right now?Edwyn

Huang:  Yeah, it’s the most ghetto thing ever. I’m broke as hell, but I

got this apartment in the East Village. Me and my boy Steven Lau, we

open the store up every Saturday for three hours.  We hit up

Craigslist; we hit up ISS.  We got like on any given weekend 100 to 200

pairs of sneakers and people come through here, they buy shirts, kicks,

etc. I’m not really selling shirts out of the apartment anymore ’cause

I got retail stores, but the kicks are always moving here.  We have a

list serve; it’s rotten.bananas.inc@gmail.comSteve is also

really involved with the t-shirts, selling them, reaching out to

stores, coming up with designs, etc. This s**t does not happen without

him.  AllHipHop.com:  When did all of this start?Edwyn

Huang:  This started actually in October. Oh this is what we didn’t

answer yet, is that name Hoodman.  The reason why I use that name is

because I targeted mainstream fashion. Bergdorf Goodman, they call

themselves a fashion house, and they carry all the big fashion

companies, you know, Gucci, Prada, whatever, Fendi. Hoodman is

the contrast to that; I want to provide clothing for people who are

forgotten in that normal marketing scheme.  There’s a good book called No Brow,

and it talks about how right now because there’s so much market

research available, people aren’t catering to that fringe culture. 

They can concentrate their efforts on the majority of people who follow

a certain look. So the hood is the converse to that whole

Madison Avenue s**t. We take what they got and flip it on ‘em.  The

kind statement is basically that people have been taking style and

things from Hip-Hop and co-opting it for so long, and I said its about

time we strike back, like The Return of the Jedi and the colors are

kind of from there too.  AllHipHop.com:  You got the t-shirt

thing going really well, its hard to make a belt political.  Do you see

yourself expanding beyond t-shirts in the future?Edwyn Huang: 

Yeah, you know this is what I thought, I said, “Whenever I do

something, I have to responsible,” and a belt is hard to make

political.  But maybe you can use material from like a local place that

you know you wanna put money in their pocket, there’s ways to do that.

But I think that the main way I would do that is if I do ever get into

lifestyle products I don’t want somebody walking down the street with

all Hoodman, you know I like people showing love to different

companies.  I don’t know if I want to outfit someone entirely in

Hoodman.  Even though it sounds stupid, most people want to market

their brand and have people covered in it. But it’s mad stupid to have

someone totally Bape’d out. You just look like a walking billboard.  I

don’t want them all Hoodman’ed out, not that they would ever be; my

customer base isn’t even that big yet.  But if I ever did accessories

and stuff I would definitely give a percentage of profits to charities.

So that even though you’re buying this belt that looks dope and there’s

no statement in the belt, your money is making a statement.  I’m a big

believer that the way that you purchase, your consumer habits, is

making a statement about who you are. AllHipHop.com:  What’s the hardest part about what you do?Edwyn

Huang: Uh, the hardest part about what I do? You know what; the hardest

part is staying myself.  I really think that is the hardest part;

because a lot of people come to you with a lot of suggestions.  One guy

really made me upset, he saw the shirt and said, “Why did you use DMX,

he’s not really that popular anymore. Why don’t you use somebody more

popular? Like T.I. or Young Jeezy, who’s really popular right now?” and

I was like, “Are you serious?” The point of it’s not to be popular.  I

use DMX because his whole persona was just off the wall and his image

attracted a lot of negative attention. The Mario Kart line was trying

to deal with negative identity issues and diffuse them through using a

child-like video game motif. Plus, he was the first one to be poppin’

wheelies with the three-wheelers and the Ruff Ryders always had crazy

motorcycles and s**t in the videos. I’m not even try’na diss T.I. and

Young Jeezy; they’re both dope. T.I., his flow is sick and

unbelievable, him and Ludacris got the South on lock, but DMX was the

one I felt best fit the them of the shirt. But definitely

staying yourself is very hard.  And then people come out of the

woodworks tryna make money on you, it’s weird.  I don’t want to get

into that, but people have made some ridiculous business offers. I want

to make sure im doing what I want to do, not what somebody else wants

me to do. It’s definitely hard to keep your vision. Because so many

people come with ideas and I’m an open-minded guy so I try to see what

they’re wanting me to do, and a lot of times it’s taking me in a

direction that I don’t want to go. AllHipHop.com:  As November

of ’08 approaches do you see yourself really turning the stove on? Do

you see yourself taking the line and throwing it at this election?Edwyn

Huang:  Yeah sure, definitely, definitely I would.  I want to make sure

readers know; I am definitely not trying to present myself as the most

conscious or knowledgable person, I’m just trying to talk about what I

know.  I’m a kid that over the last five to six years really sees a

problem, and I’m just very passionate about it.  AllHipHop.com: 

In terms of who you are as a man right now, what is on album, Hip-Hop

or not, and one book that brought you to were you are at, that you want

to put people on to?Edwyn Huang: There’s four books I always tell people to read.  Howard Zinn’s The People’s History of the United States of America.  The book got big-up’d by Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting.  

He walked into Robin Williams’ office and says, “These are all crappy

books, if you want a book read, Howard Zinn.”  Howard Zinn is wild.  A Modest Proposal [by] Jonathon Swift, like I told you.  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn [by] Mark Twain; he was ahead of his time with equal rights and things like that.  And the last one is Julius Caesar

by [William] Shakespeare.  It’s not Shakespeare’s greatest work, it’s a

very Hip-Hop type book, it’s a lot about loyalty, it’s a lot about code

of the street type things among men.  Even though it’s obviously in

Rome back in the day, a lot of what I would call hood rules, you see

them; you see it in Julius Caesar, a lot of it is coming from Brutus talking ‘bout what an honorable man does.  So I would definitely recommend Julius Caesar.

And speaking of Shakespeare, the dude that really really taught me how

to read Shakespeare was Doc O’Sullivan at Rollins College, so I gotta

give him props too.AllHipHop.com: And as far as the music?Edwyn Huang:  Music?  I always say my two favorite albums are, Illmatic [by Nas] and Paid in Full [by Eric B. & Rakim] but ATLiens [by OutKast] and Enter the 36 Chambers [by

Wu-Tang Clan] are right there. I have to fully admit, full disclosure,

dude in Philly, his name Graham Gullo, he schooled me on Hip-Hop.  When

I came up, I was a retarded kid from the South, listening to garbage

Hip-Hop.  I didn’t even hear the full Illmatic album till 2000.  I bought It Was Written, I bought I Am, I bought Nastradamus.

I bought all that s**t, but I was just so caught up buying the new

s**t, that I didn’t get the old s**t.  So we were all listening to Nas’

new s**t and my boy was like, “You didn’t hear Illmatic…. the

f**k is wrong with you?”  And we used to cut hair when we were at The

University in Pittsburgh.  We just set up shop on the Tower C floor and

I would fade people up. He threw in Illmatic while I was fading people up, and that was that. So Illmatic, that’s my s**t.

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