It’s never easy writing about people you’re close to in this sort of context, you want to do them justice and you want to do right by them and often, well for me anyway, it’s difficult. It’s no secret that I have spent the last six months working at King Apparel, helping them with their marketing program amongst other things, and even though I’m leaving in a few weeks, King will always remain close to my heart. I actually first met Tim and Paul from King about three years ago when I interviewed them for Breaks Magazine’s predecessor and we’ve remained in contact and friends ever since and ultimately ended up as colleagues.
This year quite a few streetwear brands celebrated a decade of existence, 2003 was clearly a good year as it birthed The Hundreds, Mishka and Rebel 8. Despite what Joshy D from Rebel 8 would say (Started on $500, look at me now blah blah), none of them are more deserving of reaching that decade than King Apparel, who currently reign as the UKs oldest independent streetwear brand.
I’ve always felt King never got the props they deserved. The first European brand to work with New Era, the first European brand to get a Starter Black Label licence, and certainly the first street wear brand to put out selvedge denim, as well as being the mainstay brand of the burgeoning grime and dubstep scene in London since it’s inception.
This is the last Breaks Magazine Issue of 2013 and it seemed fitting to catch up with the boys about the last 10 years of business, and more importantly, how the hell these two mates have done this for so long without killing each other.
So 10 years eh? Pretty long time! Was there ever a point where you were close to jacking it all in?
T: Possibly when you accepted the position at the company, seeing as it was a joke that I couldn’t back track on. Haha. Seriously though, not really. You learn to deal with mishaps and things that hit you out of the blue and approach it with the mindset of ‘how are we gonna address this’ and then you work out a solution and roll with that. The brand has got too big and has too much time and effort invested in it to think about quitting. Quitting is for quitters.
P: Never ever, I wanna make chavy streetwear clothing for the rest of my life.
I guess the biggest thing people don’t really know about you is that you were the first guys to collaborate with New Era on their 59/50 fitted hats. How’d that come about?
T: It was all about instinct, timing and having the initiative to do something about it. We could see New Era fitteds were going to be huge, so by hook or crook we worked out who to contact, how to arrange to get in front of the right person and then how to pitch our idea. I think ultimately that deal came about not just because of what we were doing but our background and who we were. They liked me and Paul and it was a good fit for them. I guess the lesson learned there is don’t act like a dickhead.
P: This isn’t true, we were the first guys in Europe, but yeah why not, I’m happy to run with that.
And interestingly, you were also the first brand to get the Starter Black Label license for Europe right?
P: This is true.
T: Yeah, that one I am particularly happy with as we really did hit that before anyone saw it coming. Again it’s down to knowing the history behind what you are doing and the industry you ply your trade. A lot of hustling, digging around, late nights and research went into locating the exact people we needed to speak to and then actually getting that conversation done (if you know anything about Iconix – they own Starter – it’s that unless you know the person you need to speak to already, you will never get to speak to them).
I prepared a small presentation for those guys and within 5 minutes of making contact they were on board. No one can take that kind of coup away and we sat on a roster with some of the best Streetwear brands around for a good couple of years. Now it’s different unfortunately. I’m sure you have seen some of the brands associated with Starter now…not good.
I know that too an extent you guys kinda figured out everything on your own, what is the single biggest lesson you’ve learned about running a business like this?
P: Get rid of staff that don’t pull their weight.
T: We figured out everything on our own. The biggest single lesson(s) I have learned is ‘don’t believe anything till you see it yourself’ and secondly never be surprised by how some people can behave. I have seen and experienced some truly shocking behavior since doing this.
I remember that back in the day you were close to artists like Wretch 32, Plan B, J2K, Plastician etc, are you still working with artists now?
T: Yes we are. Plastician is in the new lookbook for this season and we’re backing his new Terrorhythm nights hard. Wretch is still a close friend and we hook him up with bits when he’s not being styled in a three-piece suit. Ben (Plan B) is someone we are working really closely with, most importantly with the Each One Teach One charity where we have a project in the pipeline which will hopefully raise tens of thousands for the kids in our neighborhood. We’re auctioning off stuff on the charity website over the next couple of weeks actually.
P: Yeah a few, you heard of Bruce Dickinson? Bruce Springsteen? Steve Bruce. What a wicked name, Bruce… A big red faced potato headed man…Bruce. Can you refer to me as Bruce for the rest of the interview, I would like this
How important is that association to new music to King?
T: Very important. We grew from the bottom up with the likes of Plan B and Wretch and now these guys are going global its important we stay in touch with those next set of artists who we feel will head the same way, which is what the new London’s Finest lookbook is all about. You can see it here.
B: Very important, in fact it works hand in hand. The brand grew in height of the grime scene and one thing that stood out to me from this was the ‘do it yourself’ attitude these kids adopted. While the UK rap scene was waiting to get signed the grime kids were out there doing it for themselves Annie Lennox style. This is what we done.
What can we expect next from you guys, obviously you are headwear experts, but are we going to be seeing more technical apparel?
T: Today we actually sat down and ran through a lot of the technical aspects of next winter’s collection. It’s going to be very detailed, with a concentration on embellishments, application techniques and fabric combinations. The headwear will still be very strong but we want our apparel line to continue and expand on the trend we have set with this current season
B: Yep, I’m well into road biking now so watch the brand slowly introduce more lycra
Do you think you should have got more recognition for producing raw & selvedge denim so early on in it’s popularity arc?
B: Nah, there are a lot of good denim brands out there… I wear most of them.
T: Yes, but we don’t have the marketing budget to spend more than it costs for a house, to construct a stand at a tradeshow every six months, using dumb arse models to lounge around on a massive cushion, and then smash it down afterwards – Diesel, Replay, Nudie etc. That, in the grand scheme of things is obscene. So, not many people know that we made and continue to make really good selvedge that will last you 10 years or more and not cost you a month’s wages to buy them.
What are some standout moments from the last 10 years? Event, product or otherwise?
T: Getting a workspace, that’s when it got real. The ‘09 party was pretty fucking mental, doing the pop up shop in Covent Garden, and seeing the first ever person on the street wearing our stuff, that was different.
B: Watching Tim slowly cultivate his wispy little goatee.
What’s it like working with a mate? Because you read so much stuff like, ‘never go into business with your mates’, how have you guys survived this long without killing each other?
B: In my experience, very good! As long as you trust each other, back each other all the way. In a lot of ways we are very different, but it works. IRONS!!!
T: We’re mates, we inspire each other, agree about stuff, help each other out, disagree about stuff, get on each others nerves, share the same humour and are always up front and honest about things. If you communicate there’s never a problem. Plus standing next to Paul makes me look good.
Tell us about ‘Proper’ East London
T: Pie and Mash, Salt of the Earth, Thick as Thieves, Quintessential cheek, Loyal, West Ham…and a little bit of swearing.
B: We’re Pwopa naughty you northern monkey.