If you’re a kid coming up in New York, screen-printing and hawking t-shirts is probably something you and your friends have dabbled in
Words Rachel Murphy Photos Aviva Klein
If you’re a kid coming up in New York, screen-printing and hawking t-shirts is probably something you and your friends have dabbled in.
Most make (or lose) a few bucks before shifting their attention to something else — a burgeoning rap career or tagging up the streets can be far less tedious and time consuming. Still, some kids grind it out. Before long, what started out as some amateur t-shirts has grown into a collection, a runway show and every rapper is clamoring to cop your threads — well that’s the dream anyway.
Colm Dillane’s KidSuper clothing line is only missing a runway show before he pulls off the quintessential streetwear hat trick. His brand has grown into a store with an all-encompassing collection, and Mac Miller and The UnderAchievers have sported his gear. Dillane, 22, still has a while to go before he’s poppin’ bottles like Mark McNairy or Shayne Oliver, but the quiet success of KidSuper already alludes to bigger things.
Dillane, a NYU math student, opened the KidSuper store just over a year ago and the space maintains the half-finished feel of a warehouse pop-up shop. A rack of clothing, made from a bicycle wheel, hangs from the red brick wall and an old door, propped up on legs, flaunts the most coveted items in the center of the room. On the opposite wall, there’s a large mural of Colm’s cartoons partially obscured by a vintage vending machine. Said vending machine will serve as the door to the recording studio in the basement (but we’ll get back to that later).
Like the store’s mish-mashed furniture, KidSuper clothing draws from a jumble of influences. There are floral shirts, hockey jerseys adorned with hieroglyphic doodles, and t-shirts printed with Zoolander characters and Dillane’s own superhero drawings — a reflection of the brand name. “KidSuper is an exaggerated persona of myself,” he says. “I hit puberty when I was like…yesterday. I was always the little kid who was outspoken, jumping around in class.”
Dillane still talks with a boyish enthusiasm as he draws on a stack of packages scattered around the checkout desk. Dressed in a KidSuper hockey jersey, with his blonde curly hair tied in ponytail, he explains how the mail art became popular among KidSuper fans. “When I first started, any online order that came from a place that I didn’t know, I was like, ‘Oh my God, how did they find out?’” he says. “I would paint elaborate paintings on the packages and write them notes like, ‘You’re awesome. Thanks for the support.’ It takes time but people love it. Like, what other company does that?”
Dillane realized that he was interested in design when he started a t-shirt line, called Brick Oven T-Shirts or BOTS, with some friends at Brooklyn Tech. “There were no art classes available to me as a math major,” he says. “My mom was super into art. She always implemented art into my life. I was like, ‘Damn, what’s a good project to do to keep my art hobby up?’ So I started designing the t-shirts.”
After high school, the members of Brick Oven T-Shirts parted ways, but Colm continued to design. In 2011, he enlisted the help of his friend, Danny Fein, to help him build a website for his clothing line. “I realized that our problem with BOTS was that we didn’t have a complete brand,” Dillane says. “There was no story. We had no website. There was nothing there for people to take us seriously.”
The star power of KidSuper was elevated when Dillane met rapper Mac Miller. “I friended Mac Miller’s friend on Facebook,” he says. “I was like, ‘I think Mac would like this tie-dye hat, you should check it out.’ I met them and he put it on instantly. Three months later, he released Blue Slide Park. In the picture of him with the album, he was wearing my hat. I went from nothing to the home page of iTunes. After that, I just thought the sky is the limit.”
After the initial exposure with Mac, Dillane continued to design and diversify his range, gathering materials from his parents, who then lived in India and now live in China. “I gave him a t-shirt and he didn’t pay any attention to it,” says his mom, Jeanne Quinn. “Five months later, he was like, ‘Send me a box!’ It must have hit a nerve. He used parts of them and fitted them with his other t-shirts. He cut them up and sewed them himself.”
During a tour of the store, Dillane points out the recording booth he is building behind a stack of merchandise in the basement. KidSuper is only in its infancy, but Colm plans to build and extend his brand. “Sometimes when I’m here I think, this is my store, I could be doing anything,” he says. “I don’t have to be a rotting vegetable like in other retail jobs. I could be recording, I could be skating, making art, taking photos. I want this to be a place where you can do anything, but on top of that, you can buy clothing.”
The store opening last October proves that Dillane was determined for KidSuper not to be pigeonholed as a clothing brand. He organized a catalog of rappers — The Underachievers, Perrion and the H.O.M.E. Team, Flatbush ZOMBiES and Aaron Cohen — to perform in the basement. “It was a dope-ass opening,” says Jona Grizz, Dillane’s friend, who helped organize the event. “It was packed. It was really ill.”
While Dillane emphasizes the importance of his brand, his friends insist that it’s not only his product but he, himself, who has driven the concept forward. “People fuck with it because there’s a genuine dude behind it,” says Grizz. “He’s making great pieces. But the way he is towards people. When you first meet him, he’s just a cool ass dude.”
Dillane is more disillusioned by the industry. “Streetwear is driven by what other people wear,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what brands make, as long as it’s rare, expensive and cool. Sometimes it makes me not want to be into it because it’s fake.” Like he suddenly remembers why he’s here, he perks up again, a grin returning to his face. “But KidSuper is about possibilities and pushing the different person, the innovator,” he says. “I’m going to make it different.”
Juggling a clothing line, a college degree and the anxieties of 20-something life isn’t easy for anyone. But Dillane doesn’t seem too concerned — he is KidSuper after all.
This article appears in Mass Appeal Issue 54. Subscribe to the magazine here.