Words by Rachel Murphy / Photo by Ross Mantle
The term “streetwear” is a contentious one. Ask one kid what it means and he will ream off a list of brands with deferential reverence — if it’s not on the list, it doesn’t count, it doesn’t matter, and said kid wouldn’t be caught in his grandma’s nursing home in it. Ask another and he’ll point you to the trunk of his friend’s beat-up truck where – along with a pile of his crew’s latest mixtapes – you’ll find a small collection of tongue-and-cheek graphics printed on some crisp white t-shirts. “Purists” may jump down my throat here, but for all intents and purposes both definitions could be one and the same. A “streetwear” brand, or a “youth-culture” label, call them what you will. Categorize them how you must. In the current streetwear conversation, it is almost impossible to extrapolate how one brand becomes a fad in youth subculture while others grow into bastions of style and credibility.
Only one thing is certain; the streetwear consumer is fickle. His / her tastes as mercurial as the New York Jets’ fans on draft day. There is no blueprint for success and longevity is a luxury afforded to few. Yet, there are a handful of brands that have managed to carve through the surf between taste and tact. A select few that have remained authentic, while still feeding the beast of today’s trend-driven Internet culture. 10.Deep is such a brand.
Established in 1995 out of the college dorm room of designer and founder Scott Sasso, 39, the brand has been quietly toiling in the streetwear game for the past 18 years. Like most streetwear brands, 10.Deep began as a small t-shirt outfit, a side project of sorts before Sasso got his cut-and-sow chops up while working with his friends at Akademiks. In 2004, Scott went solo with a small team, including sales and marketing executive Josh Fishel, 39, who started working with Scott in 1999.
Over the past decade, the pair has watched the streetwear industry transform. But despite the revolutionary changes in technology and information sharing, 10. Deep’s objective remains the same. They continue to inform the fashion choices of the trend driven youth, by reflecting their surroundings – be they the streets of SoHo or the forums of Hypebeast – into their style.
During a long conversation with Mass Appeal, Sasso and Fishel share their contrasting views on streetwear. Using their own story as an example, they attempt to explain the enmeshed culture of street-inspired fashion.
THE RESURGENCE OF STREETWEAR
Scott: To me, the way the culture evolves in general, there become target taste points. People shift towards that taste point. There’s a void in the other spot and then it all shifts right back.
Josh: But this recent streetwear renaissance happened because Supreme got crazy, [ASAP] Rocky got crazy. GQ started talking about streetwear. Girls started wearing Kenzo hats to Fashion Week. The shit became sexy and it got cool.
S: Yeah, but the surge this time is because, five years ago, all the streetwear labels were like, “yo, we’re gonna do menswear.“ Then most people went too far. It was mad fucking stuffy. People wanted a little bit of flair again because all that stuff made you look like your dad.
10.DEEP’S PLACE IN FASHION TODAY
J: We have dudes who work at COMME des GARÇONS but get cheetah prints from us to give them that edge. Dudes that wear Martin Margiela and Thom Brown, people you think would never fuck with us, love us.
S: But that has happened over time. Before 2000, nobody gave a shit about 10.Deep. I was making some shirts. My shit was whack.
HOW THEY MET
J: I was working at a store and Scott was doing his t-shirts. I wasn’t gonna be no shop dude, so I reached out through Ian, who was Scott’s roommate at the time. I said, “I don’t really know what I’m doing, but I’m happy to run with you.” It was just t-shirts then. T-shirts is how all this shit started.
THE T-SHIRT CULTURE OF STREETWEAR
J: Anyone who got hype out of Union … Lemar and Dauley, any of those dudes, us, they started with t-shirts, they started with graphics.
S: I mean, I started the brand because the dudes that I was inspired by who were doing graffiti, they had t-shirt brands.
J: But Union was like the portal to where you went to preview stuff that was happening.
S: It was the portal for that. But I started 10.Deep because I was a graffiti writer and I was sick of fucking writing graffiti. PNB opened my eyes to the industry. Like these guys are graffiti writers and they have a clothing line.
J: You remember early streetwear? All the t-shirt graphics made you think. Most people didn’t even know what it meant. They might have bought them because they thought it was cool. It was about corporate rip-offs. The whole idea was taking from luxury and getting it to the street.
S: I disagree there. Again.
S: I don’t know when you started going to Union, but my early Union days it was FUCT t-shirts wall-to-wall. That shit did not mean anything other than, oh look, they’ve flipped the Ford logo and it says FUCT.
J: Yeah, but Snafu and all them other dudes. That whole entire line is based on that …
S: There was no fucking Snafu in ‘90/’91. That’s when I started going.
J: Ninety-three then.
S: It started to be about stuff like that years later, as it progressed.
THE STREETWEAR RENAISSANCE … AGAIN
J: There’s actually money about it now. Streetwear is in some really interesting stores and it’s not just a little kid business. I think brands also started taking their business more seriously. Doing business through boutiques. The stores that got washed away got washed, but some really good stores made it through [the recession].
S: That ain’t the fucking culture.
J: The stores and the brands grew up a little bit in terms of their business.
S: The stores were forced to grow up because of the recession. But I don’t think the recession caused brand style to mature. A lot of the brands got washed away.
SURVIVING THE RECESSION
S: I’m a newspaper nerd. Six or seven months out from the crash, I thought things are about to change and I just tightened it up. Everyone else was dancing around like, “We made 50Gs last year so now we rich.” That’s what happened to most of those brands. That’s why everyone fucking disappeared.
J: It’s interesting because coming out of ‘06/’07 everyone was like, urbanwear has collapsed. All the streetwear people are gonna be rich. Then the recession hit and they weren’t built for this shit.
WHAT IS STREETWEAR?
J: Streetwear encompasses art, music and fashion as a culture. I actually don’t like the word “streetwear” anymore. It’s been bastardized.
S: I used to call it a “youth culture” brand, but that’s not right because I’m fucking forty years old. It’s cutting edge, sort of a creative culture brand. We are interested in fashion, but the influence comes not from art or the high-fashion world but creative, social culture.
URBANWEAR VS. STREETWEAR
S: That’s one of the things about streetwear, well, at least in my experience, the best of us are driven by the creativity and the culture. A lot of urbanwear (business) was driven by the money.
J: Or rappers. They can’t dress but they got thirty-million-dollar brands with two seasons.
S: That’s not even it. In the early 90’s, dudes came out of the ‘hood that were poor who wanted to make some money. I say, go for it! It started with, “yo, we’ve gotta make this style that reflects our culture“ and then it was like, “oh shit, we can make money.” It became a competition for who could become the biggest. Whereas, I think in Union World, in what became streetwear world, it was all artists.
SOCIAL MEDIA AND STREETWEAR
J: Nowadays, the trends are so different because social media has changed the way communication moves and how fast. Kids were wearing LRG, Pink Dolphin, 10.Deep and Bape. Then APC and COMME des GARÇONS. They go through the shit so fast. They have nowhere else to go, they get bored, and they go to hateville.
S: But social media is also a big part of what put us on the streetwear stage. There was this blog, RiffTrooper — they posted something about a scarf we’d done. It sold out.
J: We were about to quit. Then Hypebeast posted (a picture of) Scott in the “Chain Gang” hoodie. We got about 4,000 orders of those hoods and we had about 300 hoodies. A-Ron (The Don) was blowing up with aNYthing. Supreme was getting more wind. Blogs were connecting everything and people were figuring it out.
S: That was 2006, right in the beginning. That first post on Hypebeast was March of 2006 and the RiffTrooper post was in November, 2005.
J: The Hundreds, 10.Deep, Crooks and Castles — all these things started happening at once. There was a lot of movement going on in New York. Blogs started connecting the culture to London, Hide Out, Bathing Ape, Japan. Seeing it as a culture and a lifestyle.
HOW THE INTERNET CHANGED THE OLD STREETWEAR PHILOSOPHY
S: A lot of the old streetwear model was, “oh, okay, you want this? You can’t have it.” Brands only sold to twelve stores in the world. Each store only got twelve units. If you didn’t live in New York, the only place you could go to see our “Chain Gang” hoodie was on Hypebeast. Now, even if I’m looking at an object, this shit doesn’t exist unless it’s on the Internet.
J: It’s interesting because we’re both close to forty. We are trying to stay down with people who are half our age. How do you keep up and know what’s next?
S: I like Rat King. I’m excited about them. I guess Josh likes Earl Sweatshirt.
J: He’s young. He’s good. He can rap. I hate to say it but Drake is making good music.
S: Drake makes good music but I don’t know if he makes music that I feel good about listening to. It’s catchy if you let down you’re guard … you know … “started from the bottom” … whatever. Little anthems.
NEW YORK AS THE HOME OF STREETWEAR CULTURE
J: You start to see the store, the record shop, the party, the DJ, the barber. Everybody is down with each other but it’s a competition. They’re all friends, but it’s not the same business. That’s when I put together, “wait a minute, there’s a community here.“
S: Streetwear is a reflection of the pulse and the culture of the city. Art, music, fashion. It’s all a reflection of the surroundings and the culture. The style of the brand is about pulling together these ideas I had about the culture. It’s about the people. It’s a reflection of the culture, the city (and) the people around me.