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The Get Back: Kareem Blair on Lemar & Dauley’s Revamp for 2014

It’s no secret, Lemar & Dauley is back in a big way. With their recent showing at Agenda NYC, the brand that popped long before the age of the Internet finds themselves on the cutting edge of reinvention. It seems not long ago that the design team of Daniel Manhattan and Kareem Blair were hustling their way into the now extinct streetwear houses of Downtown Manhattan. An initial wave of popularity rushed across North America and Asia, spurred by signature big logo t-shirts and basketball jerseys playing on athletic and hip hop cultural influences.

When L&D reached its peak in 2008, the young heads of the company had to call it quits due to an amass of financial troubles, the least of which can be accredited to sheer youth. The time away saw a young Blair enlist on the design team for 10. Deep, but a yearning to return to the glory days of Lemar & Dauley prevailed. With a recharged plan of attack and a better understanding of the fashion industry under their belt, Blair and Manhattan decided to relaunch the brand that once reigned amongst the elite.

Mass Appeal recently had the chance to catch up with Blair to pick his brain on all things Lemar & Dauley. The co-founder of L&D spoke of the brand’s rich history, copping jewelry on Canal because of Cappadonna, and the future of his resurrected brand.

Mass Appeal: At what point did you realize that Lemar & Dauley had “made it”?

Kareem Blair: When we finally didn’t have to paint our shirts anymore and were able to afford a screen printer. The first time I got that invoice in 2005, it was $70,000. What was funny was I remember having that feeling that no matter when you think you might have arrived, you still haven’t. We might’ve had about $25k in our bank account, so I was amped. ‘You can’t tell me nothing! 25k? Let’s just buy anything we want!’ Then you get a bill for 70k and it’s like, ‘So I’m still poor?!’

MA: The brand went on a bit of a hiatus. How did things begin to unravel?

KB: We were just being young and stupid. You start doing everything that you were raised not to do. We were going down to Canal Street buying chains, we didn’t know how to choose gold or how to differentiate real from fake. We just knew that we saw a picture of Cappadonna’s face in front of the jewelry spot and had to have it. ‘Oh shit, Wu-Tang buy their jewelry here? This is what we’re getting.’ We were going there once a month buying jewelry. We got an apartment next to the Hudson River and it got crazy, rent was out of control. It was good times.

But now you’re spending crazy money and not really keeping your balances in check. On top of that, you’re not seeing each other as much because you’re each getting busier. We had a financial backer who we did a deal with and that was a really good relationship for about a year and a half. But they wanted us to hit numbers that were unrealistic. These things contribute to a bad-working relationship. It came to a point where we had to dissolve that agreement and go out on our own. Until we came up with a real plan instead of freestyling day to day, we put it on hold.

MA: How do you bridge the gap between the foundation that Lemar & Dauley was founded on and bring it up to speed with the modern streetwear industry?

KB: That’s something we’re still learning how to do. I would have to say that the Internet is the focal point. We are now able to tell you our present story and future ideals, but we can also hit you with a Throwback Thursday like, ‘Remember this?’ You can still educate the customer as to what you were doing and why you were relevant.

But at the same time you pop up on blogs now with your lookbook and people can see our line. The main thing is not so much focusing on the initial customer. If that customer was 20 in ’07, they’re a completely different person now. It’s all about making sure we still reach those like-minded individuals that happen to be in their 20s. We’re all still moving on the same wavelengths. It’s just a matter of reaching them.

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MA: What’s the most significant change that went into the relaunch?

KB: I think the most significant change from a design standpoint is us now having a better understanding of how to make a product. Before, we were completely blind, just going on the fly, which contributes to a lot of creativity but we were only printing tees. The Fall ‘13 Collection featured a full range of pieces rather than just t-shirts. Sportswear is still the main focus, but I think now it’s a little bit more targeted. Less hip hop cultural influences and now just sports iconography.

MA: Moving forward, what does the Spring/Summer and the collective 2014 collection represent?

KB: When we were doing Spring/Summer we were basically bridging this sports and leisure lifestyle. The term we coined is the ‘Wave Tribe.’ We understand that it’s become very trendy to say, “That’s wavy.”  When we initially used it, it was just our way of expanding on sportswear. Typically, everything is always basketball. If I wasn’t from Brooklyn would I have played basketball? What if I was born in San Diego or Montauk or Virginia, maybe I might’ve been a good surfer. It was just expanding our reach. We’re all tribesmen. You’re learning, and a brotherhood is formed along with friendships. So we are Wave Tribers. We were just trying to recapture aesthetics and sentiments that don’t really exist now.

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MA: What trends do you see being popular for 2014?

KB: I’m Mr. 3M Everything. 3M socks, hats, jackets, screen prints, everything. That’s the biggest trend that I’m excited about. I think it will last for the good brands.

Besides design, I see the biggest trend this year being female customers. Whereas before females were buying streetwear from an ‘I’ll wear my boyfriend’s Supreme hat’ approach. Now you’re seeing girls actually going online and hitting the streetwear and sportswear retailers. They don’t need their boyfriend to co-sign it. My girlfriend dresses more in menswear than… I’m not gonna say more than I do because I do it everyday. [Laughs] But she stays in my closet, some days I can’t even wear what I want to wear. That just goes to show the demand.

MA: What do you guys have lined up as far as collaborations?

KB: We have a lot of them; they’re not all announced. We have something with FILA coming, collaborative headphones with Monster Electronics. We’re still working on the models to use but the most exciting part is they’ll be 3M headphones. We’ll also be working on a project with Vitamin Water revolving around the World Cup.

MA: Taking more of a lifestyle approach as opposed to strictly clothing.

KB: Exactly. Just stepping outside of your industry. Now you start dabbling in all the industries that the customer is involved in. That’s definitely something that we’re doing heavy this year.

MA: Can you speak a little bit about the weight that quality holds in Lemar & Dauley’s product?

KB: Because we were so limited in the past, everything revolved around screen printing. So we tried to figure out how to do interesting things with screen printing, whether it be a metallic ink, or a clear gel ink, or a high density ink. Now we’re able to play around a bit more with execution like chenille varsity letters, felt appliqué, zigzag edge stitch, twelve layers of different colored embroideries, tonal embroideries, chain stitching. We have a better understanding of construction. We now know how to make that quality that high-end contemporary brands use because we have that education. So now that we now have it, our product can be affordable but still have that same craftsmanship.

MA: What’s your favorite moment in sports history?

KB: My favorite moment is Jordan’s shot on Byron Russell. It was for his sixth championship, he crosses over and pushed him off before he made the shot. He just held the pose for like five seconds. I love everything about that moment. Michael Jordan said, ‘I’m gonna square up, hit it and pose for the camera.’ This one has been replaying in my head like everyday for the last week and I don’t know what it’s about. I’m gonna try to do something with it.

MA: Jordan or LeBron?

KB: I’m taking Jordan any day. He was just way too graceful and too smooth in the air. I’ll tell you why I prefer Jordan: He made it look effortless. LeBron gets busy but he looks like he’s using all his might to dunk over you. Jordan looked like a ballerina but he was still dunking on you hard, I just love that.

MA: Where do you see Lemar & Dauley a year from now?

KB: I think the biggest thing I see for Lemar & Dauley a year from now is gonna be its reach. Just going from a brand that was relaunching in 2013 to being a brand that can come back. Not just come back, but it will actually find its way to being as relevant in 2015 as it was in 2007. A lot of brands can come back and maybe they’re stable financially but on a street level they’re cool but I’m not checking for them. That’s very rare but we’ll be able to pull it off.

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Photos By: Gregston Hurdle

Yo! Adrian encourages you to shout his name like Rocky.
Twitter: @_YOADRIAN

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