Garbege/GRBG: Talkin' All That Trash

Sometimes known as GRBG, Garbege hardly lives up to its name. Instead, the fashion line is a play on garment and edginess, and the New York-based and inspired brand most certainly is that. The brainchild of Zak Hoke and Malcolm Phipps, two veterans of the urban clothing industry was a competitive vehicle against your favorite rapper’s line, and with its no-nonsense approach and deep Hip-Hop roots, no celebrity figurehead is needed. With the fall line paying tribute to New York’s fictional and real underbelly, and a holiday “Greatest Hits” line in the works, the long-standing brand has plenty to celebrate. Malcolm and Zak describe their vision to, constantly integrating Hip-Hop music for examples, and show why introducing successful collections takes a lot more than some crazy colors and a catch-phrase. Save your trash for the pick-up day and save up for your When you two started Garbege, what sort of void in the market were you trying to fill? Malcolm: The reason why we started Garbege four years ago was, at the time, we felt that fashion was in a state of emergency. We felt that to be on the sidelines and talking about it, we should just jump in and be about it. It was an arena that was already crowded at the time with celebrity-driven clothing brands. We really wanted to show that me and my partner Zak, comin’ from a fashion background, could really jump in the ring with everybody else and What was that background?Malcolm: Zach and myself have known each other for over 10 years and counting. In early 2000 I was doing marketing for PNB Nation and Zak was working with the sales team at PNB. We were just two [men] sharing a love for fashion, and friendship grew. I styled a few celebrities in the game, from Eve to Amerie to everybody out there, working with a few stylists. I came back to the styling to the game. Zak went to retail. We connected a few years later, and he brought me into the fold at Ecko, in marketing [there]. You mentioned celeb-driven brands. Do you think that rapper-owned or based lines have hurt the quality of fashion?Zak: No, not at all. We don’t think so. At the end of the day, artists have realized that they, themselves have to become the brand. They can’t count on selling CDs to earn a living, so they have to become a brand, using music videos to not only sell a song, but to sell a clothing line or whatever. I don’t necessarily think that these lines have poisoned the market so to speak. If anything, they’ve helped the market for the attention that they’ve brought to the spaces that we occupy – urban wear and street Amidst the colorful ‘80s vivid colorful movement, you guys keep it gritty with blacks, whites, grays. I like that. Tell me about your role in that space.Zak: The good fish always have to swim upstream. We’ll go left when everybody else goes right. We came into this game as trailblazers. Comin’ up in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s, everybody had a different style, a different flavor. You could cop the [A Tribe Called Quest] joints, the Gang Starr, the [Public Enemy], whatever. It was readily available in stores, on radio, in videos. Nowadays, it’s hard to find something different. The cats that’s bringin’ somethin’ different aren’t necessarily seeing the same benefits or rewards as everybody else doing it. It’s the microwave popcorn era. Music and fashion are very closely related. What we wear is a facet of our Hip-Hop culture. The whole ‘80s retro thing is cool, if that’s the state of mind you’re in. We just weren’t feeling that way. We decided to stand out by not standin’ in. To some extent fashion, especially in the urban space is ephemeral – always about right now. To what extent do you guys design so that in five or six years, a Garbege piece still might be workable, coming off the hangers?Zak: Again, you’re talking to late ‘80s/early ‘90s cats – Nautica, Polo, Guess cats. Most of the stuff that came out during that era was classic. Every time we put our heads together for a new season, we always make sure it’s some classic heat that heads can bring back out five years from now, eBay that s**t. We create collections that are inspiring to us. Your summer line appeared influenced by more than just Hip-Hop. Five years ago, did you forecast the influx of skateboard, punk or hipster culture in the marketplace?Malcolm: On the court, Michael Jordan would put 40 or 50 [points] in real quick and come up with a trophy. Off the court, he was always known as this suave dude with the creased slacks, turtlenecks, blazers. Skater culture is rebellious – jumping off roofs, running behind cars; any wrong move is death. They want that gear – custom denim, graphic tees, all that, neat fit. When you look at fashion, you always pull from something. Ralph [Lauren] always pulled from classic war outfits, just like Coco Chanel was in the ‘20s. Tommy [Hilfiger] was attracted to the rich oxford style. When you look at fashion, they pull from that person or group’s swagger. When we created Garbege, you look at the collections, we all come to our think-tank, we can be inspired by a movie, by a classic coutre collection, by anything. How back is your staff?Zak: We’re 10 deep. In New York, in Los Angeles, in Montreal, in Switzerland and in Japan. Who have you guys used for spokespersons and models, and when doing marketing, where is the smartest places to advertise these days?Malcolm: It’s been a blessing. All worlds have accepted us. In terms of marketing, we try to target that guy who’s got buzz, but isn’t super blown up. Again, the customer is smarter and smarter everyday. At Garbege, we had Pusha T. from The Clipse and Kanye West from his College Dropout days. Alicia Keys too. We were inventive in the music culture because we own part of that culture. We call everybody “Garbege collectors,” whether they get it from a stylist or go to the store like most people. Something new. Something fresh, and they identify with Many lines are aimless. You guys have themes and collections that are clearly defined and cause consumers to want to “collect.” Tell me about that…Zak: That’s something that’s Malcolm has reiterated from day one. Our name Garbege is a play on “garment” and “edge.” With that, we felt that our mission was to always tell a story. The minute we deviate from that, the brand has been bastardized and bought out. But as long as we’re here, there’s always going to be a story, always having thought-provoking What do you have lined up for the fall collection?Malcolm: Fall, Gangs of New York [is the theme]. We felt that we wanted to do that collection not celebrating Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings, Pirus – none of that stuff – we respect the hustle; we came from the street – but we did it to show that New York is back on the map. If you listen to the music, in the past six months, you’ve had songs like [Fabolous’] “Brooklyn” where people are reppin’ their hoods again, and to me, that makes Hip-Hop fun again. I think we were frankly a little bit ahead, now we’re ahead. We created these fictional gangs like The Brooklyn Bare-knuckle Brawlers, Staten Island Shot-callers, Manhattan Money-makers…so with that, what we wanted to do was have fun, but keep it dark. If you’re familiar with the Martin Scorsese film [Gangs of New York], it was dark, it was graphic, and it told you that the underworld helped grow the Empire State. We wanted to tell our own version of that story, just like The Warriors or Beat Street. Real cultural films. Then for the holiday season, after people are all dying from the turkey and the stuffing at Thanksgiving, it’s the “We Invented the Remix Collection.” We really listened to our fans, our buyers, and most importantly our consumers. We’re bringing back out a few styles that we did a few seasons back. I don’t know if you’re familiar with our “Rock vs. Rap” collection; we mashed up those two worlds, and we wanted to bring that back. We have different colors, new flavors but the same thing. We heard the call. We got a shirt called Africa, that plays off of the Metallica font, with jagged edged [letters]. We matched the worlds of Afrika Bambaataa and Metallica. We did another piece that pays homage to the brothers from Hollis, Queens – Run-DMC and Led Zeppelin. It’s kind of like a gift grab-bag. We live, breathe fashion and music. It’s all in one. We get some of our illest styles from music, and musicians get some of their best stuff from Garbege.