It’s January and a few photos on Instagram lead me to believe that Greg Rivera, from US streetwear brand Mishka, is in London. I remember that I actually already have his business card from a previous encounter and a few emails later, we set a time for breakfast the following morning to do the interview you’re about to read.
I’ve been a fan of Mishka ever since my then local store Electrik Sheep carried it. I was drawn to it because even then they stood out from their contemporaries and were very much on their own thing, the Death Adder logo alone is fucking cool, is it not?
It’s refreshing to see that over the years Mishka never lost its integrity either, they never bowed to what everyone else was doing and in a fickle world of flash in the pan crazes and quick-buck ideas, Greg and his crew have kept level headed and on their chosen path.
I was excited to interview Greg too, I’d met him briefly before, but I’d heard he wasn’t afraid to speak his mind and from his tweets I’d guessed we were probably on the same wavelength when it came to views on streetwear and the surrounding culture.
Mishka has now been going 10 years; they began in 2003, dropping their first collection in 2004, with Greg joining the founder Mikhail at its inception. Neither of them knew what they were doing but by 2006 they were working on the brand full time and by 2008 they had opened the store on Broadway in Brooklyn.
We had a great breakfast, and Greg is certainly an interesting man to sit and listen to. What follows is the majority of our conversation on that cold, snowy Walthamstow morning.
So lets go back to the beginning, did you have experience with working with brands prior to Mishka?
No I had no experience at all
How did you hook up then? Were you just friends beforehand?
Yeah, we actually met off a message board
Yeah. Well there was this message board at the time that was called Lipstick & Cigarettes. It really had nothing to do with anything. It was actually an offshoot of this site called Makeout Club.
I’ve heard of Makeout Club.
So Makeout Club had a message board but I wasn’t part of it. I met some people off Makeout Club and they were like oh you need to check out Lipstick & Cigarettes. So essentially it was this message board and it wasn’t like… you know message boards aren’t as popular as they used to be. Now you have Twitter and Facebook and MySpace and things.
I don’t know anybody who goes on message boards anymore and people used to go on them all the time.
Yeah you know, before Twitter and shit message boards were like kind of the way you’d communicate and it was at a point where people were like you know, you could write something and someone would respond pretty much right away. It wasn’t a message board about anything in particular it was just a bunch of creative kids. The message board was people from all over the country essentially the world but mostly the United States. So anyone that was on the message board from New York would meet at this one bar on Friday night. They called it happy hour because everyone would meet at 7 o clock and 7 while 9 it was like cheap drinks. So we were all in our early 20s so you know that’s just what you do. Yeah I met Mike and he was on the message board as well and we just started talking about streetwear and design and you know art, music and things and just sorta like instantly got along and were on the same wavelength. So that’s how that started.
Ok. So the store opened in 2008?
The pop up opened in 08 the store in 09
And then how soon after did you open in Tokyo and Los Angeles?
A year later.
Only a year later?
So we opened up the store a year later. It was sort of a bit accidental, our Japanese distributer got to the point where they thought it’d be about time to open a store and they really liked the Brooklyn store so they wanted to recreate it in Japan. Then with LA – actually it’s sort of a side note – I met Diplo back in college.
You went to college with Diplo?
Yeah for like a year down in Florida.
That explains that Mad Decent/Mishka link then
Yeah. So we sort of reconnected years later. Maybe sort of lost touch for a couple of years then reconnected and started doing some stuff together and then around that time I met his new manager, his current manager, and he really liked what we were doing with Mishka. He wanted to somehow become a part of it. He was from LA and that was around that time so I was like why don’t you partner up with me to open a store in LA.
No with his manager Kevin. So that’s where the idea of doing a store came from. But you know unfortunately like before then I really hadn’t gone to LA that much. Kevin was like you should check out Echo Park, it’s kind of like this new hip area and I really liked it. I thought it’d be a really good idea but it wasn’t the best idea for a store. I mean it was cool, the store was cool, and the location, but it’d kind of be like opening up a Mishka store on this block [Motions to the Walthamstow village area we’re in]
Kinda, well not as bad but you would be like ok it’s a cool area, a lot of people live there, but nobody’s gonna come here to go shopping.
Isn’t it meant to be gaining momentum as a really up and coming area now though because I’ve read a lot of things recently about how it’s really good?
Yeah but it’s like unless your like a Mishka fan you’re not gonna go all the way out there.
So it’s not like Fairfax where you’ve got stores already so you’re gonna get that traffic?
Yeah I mean like a lot of times when people come into town there gonna be in LA for a couple of days. You’ve been to LA right?
Yeah but years ago with my parents to go to Disneyland and stuff (laughs)
Yeah so like the traffic and stuff is insane. It can take you like an hour to go 2 miles. The store did ok but toward the end we really needed to move it and so recently we just moved over to La Brea and we took over the old Black Scale store and they moved next door and actually it’s doing a lot better and the location is like 100x better.
There stuff’s amazing, I love Black Scale stuff.
Yeah, those guys are good and they really helped me out with getting that space. There’s not really any other space available. I mean I guess there’s space that just opened up but I was able to get it at a good rate too because I think at this point, the rent’s going to start going up.
When I met you last year at Bread & Butter I said that I really liked the Dart stuff because I’ve got the jacket, the windbreaker and the little bum bag thing. So, you made a joke about it, I mentioned I had a blog or whatever and you said to blog about it so it would sell more. Has it not been going very well then? I noticed you hadn’t done it for the last year.
Yeah it kind of wasn’t really going well. I mean the guy, John Prolly.
Yeah John Watson
He was kind of managing it and then he moved to Austin and it was sort of hard to get him to do stuff and it’s kind of like I don’t know enough about cycling to do a line, I needed him
Two years ago you went really hard didn’t you? You had the whole lookbook where he was in Brooklyn with riders and you had the collab bike with the pink forks. Who was that with?
And then it just seemed to end out of nowhere.
I mean I think we still have a couple of pieces coming out here and there but I think the scene changed a lot especially in the US. We still have some cycling stores coming to us looking for stuff and we did some stuff with like, Affinity. It was just as far as the Dart stuff it wasn’t really translating super well. We just realised that mostly kids who were into it were just into Mishka and without having John being in charge of it; it was too much for us to handle by ourselves.
So fixed gear aside, are you involved in any other sports like skateboarding or anything else?
Yeah we started a skate team, we have a flow team right now and this kid Steve Bert works for us. He’s a New York native kid in his mid 20s and he’s been skateboarding his whole life. He started working for us just in the warehouse and was always like, ‘oh why don’t you guys do some more skateboarding stuff’, and I was kind of like well why don’t you do it. So it’s been picking up a bit of momentum, I mean, in general streetwear has been encroaching more and more in the skate market and a lot of the skate shops are hitting us up because more kids are asking for it. So we always wanted to do some sort of skate thing but the problem was, Mike and I – well Mike had never really skated at all – and I skated a bit when I was a kid but not to the point where I considered myself a skateboarder or I was like, ‘oh I’m gonna start a skate brand’, because it’s not really something I understand.
Well, not that I don’t understand it, I mean the good thing about Mishka is that we’ve always been very skate friendly as far as the graphics are concerned. We’ve actually got like a lot of love and support from the skate industry from the fact that we’re just trying to do our own thing and not trying to be something we’re not. But you know it’s cool because obviously skateboarding’s like a huge part of this industry as far as like skating has been such a huge influence on what streetwear is and was. I mean if you look at Supreme, obviously they’re like a pure skate brand. The concept behind it is that, the store is more of a boutique and the ideas way more limited and stuff. Skateboarding has so much to do with the industry; I mean even graphically it’s something that inspired us as kids. So I don’t know, it’s cool to have somebody on our crew who’s like a skateboarder and able to connect with not only the current kids but with the skateboarding industry in general. So far it’s been good.
So for you to do it makes sense, I mean, it makes sense for Mishka to do skate stuff as long as you stay within your perceived setting and within the stuff that you’re already doing and deem your own thing. That sort of makes sense in that trajectory?
I noticed that there’s been a little bit of a trend where you do something and then two years later The Hundreds does it. So for instance with the collab bike, using Jessie Andrews in a photo shoot, which you did like 2 years ago?
You used Jessie Andrews in a photoshoot for the lookbook like a year and a half ago?
Now she’s all over The Hundreds – that was actually the first time I heard of her, from that lookbook. I’ve read somewhere, and feel free to tell me to fuck off, but I read somewhere that you guys don’t get on and you’re not really a fan of what they do?
Yeah, it’s a tricky question because you know I think what’s attracted people to Mishka is the fact that we’ve sort of always done our own thing. I think if anybody could really describe what Mishka is, or if you ask anybody in the industry or fans what they think of Mishka, whether they like it or hate it, the one thing I think is generally universal is for good or bad, or our success or our failure, we’ve always stayed quite original and done our own thing. So you see other brands doing similar things and I mean we see it a lot. I’d say about, maybe 2008/9 we shot a lookbook with this photographer Marley Kate and it had a very distinct look to it. It was a little bit more lo-fi, it was like kids – I mean not to say that what she was doing was super unique to photography but it hadn’t really been done that much in streetwear. You know she was able to hire real models and so you had these kids who were a bit more obviously models and in this situation that worked very well. It wasn’t like just taking your boy and shooting him on a white screen which we were guilty of doing you know but even to this day I still see people shooting lookbooks that look almost identical to what we did.
So out of what we’re talking about with the brands and that sort of thing a lot of the brands up around here are people like Diamond, Huf, The Hundreds for example. They’ve all started to do footwear. You’re one of those brands that are around the same level but you haven’t done any footwear yet. Is that something you’re looking to do in the future?
Yeah, I mean we met with somebody to do some footwear. I mean it just wasn’t something that we were ever excited about to do to be honest. It’s crazy how all these, you know The Hundreds especially, they went really hardcore into it. I mean like I said I don’t really talk to them but as an observer it seems like they were trying to… If you look at brands like Supra, Gourmet, Creative Rec, Clae, all these brands that have come out – I mean Nike and Adidas are still the number one sneaker brands but – these guys especially a brand like Supra and Creative Rec are really making a heavy dent in the industry and being noticed.
Oh definitely, Supra are huge.
So like a brand like The Hundreds, they started at a good time when it wasn’t weird for a brand to do that so not only do you have a huge fanbase of kids who are going to buy your sneakers because they like your design you’re also at a point where stores are going to be more comfortable in trying something because they’ve had success with a brand that hasn’t been Nike, Vans or Adidas. So I think that’s where that kind of came from. I mean it seems to have gone well for them.
You know we actually developed a sneaker. It hasn’t come out yet because we had a couple of problems with it. If we’re going to do it we want it to at least live up to some sort of standards. So we might have something coming up this year but maybe just like a one off thing and not a plan to do a full footwear line. For me to its like a lot of certain things that we have really no clue about have sort of been. If I’m not actually searching for it then I almost wait for people to come to me and say. That’s only what I can assume some of the other brands have done. Either wait for somebody to come to them and be like ‘hey do you guys wanna make a shoe? I’ll help you make it’ or having the passion and desire to make shoes.
I used to talk to Ben a lot from The Hundreds and I know he’s a huge sneaker fan so I know that him being able to design his own shoes is something that’s like part of his culture and what he’s into. With Diamond, Nick’s been skating for years so the idea that he could develop his own skate shoe… same with HUF. HUF was a pioneer and innovator as far as collaborations to the point where HUF was able to design his own shoe. I think from that point of view you look at all the guys that really have footwear lines and they all have some sort of history. I mean my partner Mike and I we both like sneakers. Mike’s a big collector, but I don’t think there’s ever been a situation where… like I said right now we’re doing a sneaker because we think it’d be a fun one off thing but I don’t think we’re gonna develop it into a line unless somebody’s sort of helping us do it.
I’d like to do more collaborations. We had one with Reebok that never came out, which you, know looking back I wish we had done it. The only other thing is we’re doing a shoe with Osiris this year, which for us is cool. We’re using Lamour Supreme who’s an artist who works a lot with us. You know it’s pretty funky and out there. I think Osiris in general is sort of known for its loud, obnoxious shoes.
Well the D3 in itself, incredible shoe
Yeah I mean it’s not really where the trend is, especially in streetwear, but it’s a cool shoe. We’re happy with it and the guys are great. We’re about to shoot a cool promo video and do a whole little cool release on it. I think it’ll be cool you know.
I’m excited to see it. That should be cool.
So recently, you’ve been saying on Twitter quite a lot, don’t start a streetwear brand, don’t do it. Is that born out of frustrations with the industry or what?
I think it’s born out of frustrations with the industry but more so myself and the way that Mishka did it. It took me a long time to really start thinking about building a brand and building something of longevity, something that could actually make money and grow. I think a lot of times there’s so many kids starting streetwear brands where they’re looking towards other streetwear brands. When we started back in 2003, just like a lot of other brands, like The Hundreds and Rebel8, and whoever else. I know for me personally, I was looking at guys like at Ssur and aNYthing and Alife who were really just doing it.
Streetwear wasn’t what it is today, you couldn’t really make money off of it, it was very underground. It was very much something you sorta did either as a passion, or you designed a t-shirt and it was an extension of you, yourself as an artist, or it was just something that perpetuated through your culture. There was this ideal of streetwear, and you’re probably old enough to understand it especially in England where there’s a culture of people who are into streetwear, where a lot of the appeal was that it was limited and the fact that not everybody was wearing it. The fact that you could go to a shop or you could come to Brooklyn and you could find out about a brand and you could wear a shirt and you could know that nobody else in your hometown or your area was going to be wearing it. There was always an appeal to that, the idea of a limited nature. You know now, it’s super mainstream, and to me it’s just… I think the state of streetwear right now, I’m not super excited about it as far as it what it’s representing. Actually I take that back, I don’t know how to say it.
This idea of perpetuating a lifestyle that’s based on popping bottles and excessiveness and that kind of thing. You know, that’s not why I started Mishka, that’s not why I started the brand, that’s not really what I’m into. I like nice things just like anybody else, you know. I bought a Rolex this year. I didn’t spend a lot of money on it, I bought it off ebay and I pieced it together and it’s vintage. I always wanted a Rolex and you know I’m fortunate that I had a few bucks to buy something like that. I like jewelry, I like buying things as a collector but I’m very humble. Hopefully one day I’ll have enough money to buy a car, or buy a house and raise a family.
It doesn’t excite me to drop twenty grand at a club for the night. I think that’s just really excessive and kinda inappropriate, just in current conditions. I mean I’m not judging anyone that does that at all I just don’t like the fact that that’s what the main sort of view of streetwear is right now. I’m glad that there’s a brand like Mishka and other brands like Rebel8 who are good friends of mine and I know Joshy D well, I’m really good friends with him, I talk to him like, everyday. His brand and his feelings and lifestyle are similar to mine in that sense.
It is cool to see other kids start streetwear brands and base it on what we’ve done. I think it really comes from frustration sometimes. I think sometimes I do see other brands doing really well and I see people buying houses and cars and being really successful whilst I’m really struggling. I’m still struggling on a daily basis just with back end problems because I never really set up a business properly. I think that’s probably my biggest thing.
I think a lot of kids even now go into streetwear thinking that you can flip something cool or do a cool logo or get your clothes on some celebrity or maybe open a store or do a trade show and think like I could be happy doing that but I just think that if you’re starting a streetwear brand currently you just need to think of the bigger picture. If you want to start a brand you should be, in my opinion, thinking about… if you’re in England and starting a brand you shouldn’t be looking at me or Diamond or the Hundreds look at fucking Barbour. It’s an English brand! It’s been around for like 120 years. Not to say that you can’t have your own unique style but like streetwear is so new. What was streetwear before us, like fucking Fubu and Rocawear? What happened to those guys? That’s who you want to model yourself on. You don’t know where this industry’s going, you don’t know where it’s gonna be in another 5 years. Think about brands that have been able to succeed for a 100 years and work towards developing something like that and if you’re gonna start a streetwear brand and you want to call yourself that just try to be unique.
It’s a bit of frustration from what we’ve done and then also from what I see kids doing now and if I could have done it all over again I would have done it completely differently but then again if I could do it again I feel like everything is an experience and I sort of am where I am today because I did it the way that I did it. There is really no right or wrong way but you know.