Over two trips to New York this summer I spent some time with the aNYthing crew in their Lower East Side store and office, the first was to work in their space, a refuge from the hot July summer outside, and the second was to catch up and chill as well as record this interview.
On the contrary to what Kiernan says below, the falling out of aNYthing founders Aaron Bondaroff and Kiernan Costello wasn’t very widely reported, aside from a now archived Complex piece back in 2006 and one or two vague news pieces still floating around. Like anything, it was over money and even though A-ron later came back on board and then left again, to the casual observer aNYthing is still considered A-ron’s brand.
Not the case.
Some background readings brings to light all sorts of sues, counter sues, legal shit, well into the seven figures. The truth of this I never got to find out, but what I’m really interested in is how the brand is doing. A-ron, the infamous ‘downtown don’, now resides in LA and runs his gallery ‘Oh Wow’.
A New York Thing went quiet on all fronts recently, for which I was later told was due to them having to forcibly relocate their entire operation and in turn, setting them back almost as much as nine months. This isn’t the case anymore however, they’re seconds away from releasing their AW13 collection, have finally got a new website and have become all together more publicly active. They’re about to enter their 10th year and much to my delight, have no plans on slowing down.
During my second trip this year I sat down with Kiernan in their backyard to try delve a little deeper into him and the brand, and try unearth what they have planned next.
A few of our readers might not be aware of what exactly aNYthing is, do you want to give us a brief overview of the story and who you are?
I’m Kiernan Costello, owner of the brand and it came about through me and Aaron Bondaroff who is know as A-ron
The downtown don
Yeah yeah yeah. I guess the concept and the idea come to Aaron, he picked up the name and we were close friends. I was kinda a bohemian artist in a paint studio at the time, I met my girlfriend, started a family and I kinda thought ‘ok what am I going to do with my life’? I approached him and said ok let’s make this something significant and a real business
Was this already something at the time?
I think he’d picked up a few t-shirts a few logo t-shirts, I don’t know, I can’t really speak on it… There was definitely a few t-shirts around but I think when we got together it was let’s make this into a real business
How long ago was that?
That was 2004
Aaron started the t-shirts and now he’s doing it for Oh Wow Gallery in Los Angeles. Everyone sort of knows Aaron as the face of the brand almost and is still considered that I guess?
What’s his role now, if any? What happened there?
Aaron and I went through a lot of stuff together, we started as best friends, as like a family, but his involvement in the brand is very limited now. I think people know that as well, that’s pretty common knowledge. We were best friends, like a family, he was like a brother so I don’t think it’s appropriate to go into details of what’s unfolded. There was a lot of stuff happened obviously
9 years is a long time isn’t it
Yeah a lot of stuff happened, I think that’s documented, if you people do like Internet searches all that stuff is documented. That’s just how I want to approach that, to me it’s a personal thing it’s a very personal thing, it’s about my relationship with him. I know it reflects and has a role in the place of this brand but it’s personal, it’s a family matter
Lets bring it back to the UK. It’s been quite a quiet year in the UK for you guys, how come you’ve not been around so much? Is it because you had to move stores?
With the store, the landlord sold the building and a Buddhist temple bought it, they wanted to move into our space so we had to change stores. As far as not been in the UK as much now, what we’ve been doing is just trying to sort a good solid infrastructure, production platform, you know what I mean? I think in a lot of ways we’ve drawn back for a minute to establish a good production platform, get on calendar, all those type of things that for many years we never thought to consider. Its just like business, let’s get the infrastructure right, get it tight so that it’s pretty much spot on.
So you’ve always had the store?
I think we had a year of starting the brand before we built out the store
And since then you’ve always had the office in the back and the store in the front and that’s been the way you’ve worked?
Yeah, everything in house
So how important is it to you have a physical store? So many brands in the same market space don’t have stores and only have online, how important is it for aNYthing to have a space?
I think it was very important for us because people can touch and feel it and so much of what we do and the strength of the brand is the cultural aspect to it. People come in and we talk about brand, we talk about a lifestyle. People come in the store obviously look at clothing look at product but to see kinda like the cultural elements that go around it, not just to feel it and also just talk to employees and be around people associated with the brand.
Also now we made the decision to keep the walls white and a very clean aesthetic in the store, so we will be able to showcase artists here. Again when I think about the brand identity from the very start, we talked about this platform for the creative community and there’s a clothing which is a commodity, and then the cultural stuff – being a native New Yorker and been tied into this world I think it’s very important to showcase people and showcase artists. That’s what we do, that’s one of the strengths from the brand and I think the authenticity of that and then connection we have to creative community downtown and showcase that.
Do you consider a brand a proper brand if it has a store, rather than if it doesn’t?
I don’t place any definition on what’s right or what’s wrong, what’s cool and what’s authentic – I think they all have their place. The social media driven brands that don’t necessarily have that type of stuff, it’s not the world I come from. For us, in the beginning everyone was hanging out and going to parties, the real kinda break through was the glob [aNYthing’s Blog] ,people all over the world would check that out and be like ‘oh shit they are hanging out and partying tonight’ and now that’s like part of everyone’s ‘strategy’.
I don’t judge, I don’t think it’s right or wrong but you do see is that’s really what drives this streetwear thing now. Brands are made from Instagram or a strong website or a strong blog.
Your selling a lifestyle aren’t you and the best way to get that across is through images
Yeah I do think so. I do think the difference with us is that we focus less on that, especially now and after 10 years we are actually going to revamp our site. We’ve had the same format for 10 years; the initial idea was to make it very simple, very basic but not so obvious to navigate, like you don’t know what the glob is you don’t know what the store is…
The first time I went on it I had no idea what I was doing, you have to actually click on everything to get around it
Yeah after all this time we are finally going to move past it and get a new one. One thing I feel, and this isn’t a judgment, it’s just for me, what I think differentiates us is that our brand is grass roots; ours is kinda routed within the streets. I’ve been around this thing for a long time, I was around when I was 18 years old and I was hanging out at Union, which was essentially the first streetwear store, I was there when the guy helped facilitate Supreme – I knew the owner and a couple of guys that worked at Union that helped him get the whole thing together.
There is a combination to me you know, this isn’t about the clothing aspect it’s about the lifestyle aspect of it. There’s a certain elements of it, you have your grass roots you have your culture you have your people, you have your crew, or whatever you want to call it, then there’s the idea where you project it out to the world and that’s what people do now.
Personally I don’t get much from it. It feels contrived. A lot of brands, if they are good at social media, they can manufacture a brand out of nothing pretty much. There is no substance, no culture, no community, whereas we focus a lot less on social media, but why I think our brand always has relevance and staying power – its the authenticity, that there’s a real connection. It’s a real culture; it’s a real community.
You’ve just changed stores about to do 10 years, change the site finally is there a new chapter unfolding for you guys, new outlook, or business as usual?
No drastic changes for the 10 years?
No I don’t think so I think for us it’s to continue to bring in more artists, I know we can list 10 artists that we started working with that are big and established now. There’s a whole list of them and to me now it’s just about giving those new, younger artists an opportunity to grow and give them a platform. I’m excited about is just working with new artists
Where does the design responsibilities sit with the brand, between you and Tory and Weirdo Dave, is there a system place? Does Weirdo Dave does the slightly more out-there graphics and with Tory being more graphic design orientated, does he do the slogans and stuff? How does that all blend in with the brand image and the way you guys work?
What it’s always been is really collaborative, everyone kinda throws their voice in, put it up on the board and just build from there. That’s one thing that I think is also a point of emphasis as far as the brand, is that whats developed this brand is a lot of people. A lot of people’s names you don’t know and never hear, but I look at what my role has been has been, and it’s being able to facilitate this collaboration amongst creative people, which is very difficult because of egos and ego clashes and all these voices and I think we’ve been able to take storied but talented people and kinda blend those voices together.
I think that’s within our design aesthetic very much, there’s a lot of elements there like obscure, dark, grimy, then there’s always that sport element to it. So I think it s like an example of the different voices figuring out a way to coexist to create, you know our brands such a wide base as far as followers, age wise, scene wise, there’s basically something for everyone in there, so all I can say is it is a true collaboration that’s how I look at it.
What’s your stance on collaborations? Obviously now in streetcar a lot of people do collaborations, it’s got to the point now it feels like people do it for the sake of it with no real meaning behind it. Have you guys ever done collaboration?
We’ve done very few collaborations
Is this a conscious decision or have are you just very against it?
I wouldn’t say conscious decision, but I think one thing we avoid doing is collaboration for the sake of collaboration, for the sake of media hype. We’ve made a conscious effort to not get too involved in it. We are actually going to do a few collaborations soon, we are going to do one with SSUR, as Russ (SSUR) is one of my best friends, we grew up together.
It’s also a New York brand, so that’s something where it makes sense. I’m happy doing it; it’s not forced and its not contrived. There’s a few more that we’ve been thinking about doing that we’ve talked about. I don’t know if you are familiar with the brand Clot? They’ve actually don’t a lot of collabs recently
The brand is New York born and bred, but now with so many brands also from that background, is it difficult to occupy that space in the market?
I think so, I never worry about that. Some things are authentic, some things are real and I think that can be manufactured and projected out to the world, which a lot of people do, and more power to them, if you know what I mean. That’s why with aNYthing if we are selling in 1000 shops or if we are selling in 10 shops it doesn’t really go away because likes its real. That’s my feeling about it.
9 years is a long time, a lot happens and I’m sure you know people who’ve been in this game for that long that are jaded and desensitised to the whole industry. What keeps you excited about doing the brand, coming in everyday and working on it and making it awesome?
I’m a believer. I think what I like about it is that there’s this real kinda mass element to it through the t-shirt, through that commodity. This idea that the connection between that and the artist you know what I mean? How I envision this brand and how I’ve always envisioned this brand is still fleshing itself out. The more you can get the commodity out there, the more you can get the t-shirt out there the more it enables you to be a platform, you know what I mean? Let creative people flourish and get the voices out there.
That’s like a social vision I have, I think it’s been done, I think we’re constantly doing it, but to me that’s the really exciting aspect to it. My vision would be to build something up and get some kind of of art/community centre opened up. That’s the ultimate vision, I know it’s a little cheesy, but I approach this thing as an artist, I started this thing as an artist and I also approached this thing as an outsider and saw a very early development, which we call streetwear. I think it’s the fusion between a mass-market commodity 9The t-shirt) and giving creative people a voice.