The BTS sky-train shot over me as I waited below the giant concrete pillars that elevated the tracks, amongst an afternoon market. It was a stuffy Wednesday afternoon and in bustling Bangkok there wasn’t any premium air left to breath. A tall character approached me, amongst the indiscriminate market stalls full of Thai salesmen and shoppers. We said our hellos as I, in a very British manner, complained about the weather. It was hot, shorts and tee shirt weather and Youssef’s were his own.
The 28 year old, London born, co-founder of Grind London was out in Asia sourcing fabrics and production. My previous opinion of Grind was a positive one, despite not knowing a lot about who was behind the brand or what they were trying to do. Their tees offered up well put together, eye catching graphics, as opposed to the majority of shit banded about Britain ‘streetwear’ at the moment. Further than tees though, Grind have taken that extra step in producing a range of shirting and shorts, setting themselves apart from copious amount of ‘Tumblr brands doing the rounds’, as Youssef put it. In organising some time to interview Youssef, I wanted to learn more about himself, his brand’s ethos and where he sees Grind going.
There are so many brands just screen printing tees, it isn’t much more deep rooted than that really. There’s not a whole lot of dedication at all, no substance. Whereas with yourself and Grind London, you’ve created a lifestyle for yourself by travelling abroad, immersing yourself in the project, you seem pretty hands on and there’s an abundance of substance there.
Thank you. Yeah, substance is key, and I guess it’s quite an interesting angle for a London brand-
That’s why it was strange to me that you don’t talk about the ‘being in Asia’ thing.
Yeah – I suppose I’m not one to over embellish, and as a brand we’re still in the mind-set that the product is everything you see. The details surrounding the process or the thought process behind collections or designs are less important. We do talk about where our materials are being sourced from though, as I feel we are putting in the work – 100% of the denim used is Japanese, with the majority of our cotton fabrics being sourced from Japan and the states. We then wanted to adopt a fully hands on approach to our production, as we wanted to have complete control over the process. Spending extended periods of time here I’m able to source every component for each product made – from the buttons used to the colour of the threads, which is nice. It also allows us to react to any issues during the production process and correct them before they become an issue.
But even from the lifestyle point of view, surely talking about it more would be a unique sell?
Yeah, I’ve just never been one to oversell if you know what I mean. The end result is what I want the brand to be judged on. I also didn’t want there to be any negative connotations toward our process. I understand what your saying, and your probably seeing more pros than cons, but I have like a cynical view toward most things, and production in Asia is often frowned upon, but if you take the time and maintain full control of the process, the reality and outcome is a very different thing. I’m very happy with what where producing, and I get to travel around Asia and expand my sources of inspiration which is like an added bonus.
So how did it all start?
Myself and Barney started the brand in 2008 with some printed tees, a similar starting point to allot of streetwear brands I suppose
So you class yourself as streetwear right?
Yeah. I mean I don’t categorise a brand as streetwear or not based on their product range, it’s more like the story and personality behind the brand, and historically I’ve always related to the grassroots nature of it in origin. There’s a scene that develops that people can be part of.
You didn’t go to fashion school or anything like that?
No, no nothing like that unfortunately. I had a passion for streetwear as whole and the lifestyles that were always evident in the stronger brands. There’s not a lot of genres of fashion where lifestyle can be portrayed as much as in streetwear, and for me that is one of it’s main appeals.
Do you do the designing or do you have a team, or friends that pitch in?
Yeah, it’s pretty much a two man operation the design process. On the cut and sew side of things we’ll decide what products we want to produce for each collection, then go and look for those materials, so that’s more a co-operative process. The graphics and imagery stuff is more my side of things. I’ll generally work on different concepts and ideas, send them all over to Barney and from there we’ll tweek and at the end have something we’re both happy with.
And how do you fund it, do you work any other job as well as this?
No, this is full time now.
So how big are runs then?
Not too big really. We want to maintain the exclusivity of the brand so limit the amount of product we produce. As our audience grows we have slowly increased the amount we produce, but If you want to develop anything of substance you’ve got to take your time and develop it naturally I think, you can’t force anything. We want to maintain a brand that if I were to look into it as an outside consumer, I’d personally be happy with the choices they were making, both creatively and business wise.
Where do you see yourself on the shelf then?
That’s tricky now because in the past when we received wholesale enquiries we’d look at the brands being stocked and make a decision based on our feelings toward those brands, do we like those brands personally, as opposed to does our brand fit. But now as we’ve become confident in our identity and our contributions to the scene it’s more the feel the store is giving, the ethos of the store, it’s location, the people involved. Although the brands surrounding us are obviously important.
So, as your still a small brand, in the grand scheme of things, can you appreciate people trying to do different things a lot more, when looking at stockists. Because your obviously in a similar place to where they are. If some guys emails you and he’s trying to get you in his new store, I mean it’s not doing favours but can you appreciate the struggle more?
Yeah, of course. I’d much rather see our brand being stocked by like-minded people, trying something different to the norm, so I’m less concerned about the stores history, you know be it 10 years or it’s first year. Hopefully those innovative stores that we can relate to will succeed and develop into better things, and it’s nice if we can be involved in that process. The streetwear scene in the UK is constantly growing, and with that you have more and more people becoming involved, starting brands, or opening stores. You just need to associate yourself with those you feel are doing it right.
Well I wrote a bit in the first issue about the streetwear situation at the moment, the whole subculture is big and it seems strange that there aren’t one, two, three UK brands that absolutely smash it, properly.
There are some dope UK brands out there, it’s just they’re surrounded by a large number of not so interesting ones. Many to me are lacking real substance, and don’t seem to have a unique voice or original thought process, so it’s sometimes difficult to sieve through the mediocrity to find the goodness on offer. I mean I’d put my favourite UK brands up against any brands from around the world and feel confident they were offering something unique, well thought and in many respects better.
Streetwear is dominated by U.S cultural generally, that’s the way I see it, American sports, politics, typefaces-
Yeah, but that doesn’t have to be a problem. If that is your background, if you invested time into a scene then I feel you can reference things from the states, as you were on some level involved in the scene. But if it was experienced whilst living in the UK, you should give your interpretation of that culture from your viewpoint, not theirs.
I guess that’s even more prevalent now, due to the whole Internet thing and how mixed the world is culturally. Everything’s a lot more crossed over now than it was like twenty years ago.
Yeah, it’s definitely more difficult to define members of specific subcultures now, there’s so much overlapping, people can be inspired and take on inspiration from a plethora of sources. But for me it’s like, in England , historically we’ve homed so many different significant sub cultures and styles, recognised around the world. That’s what the UK needs to remember, we are a fashion power and we should feel confident in doing things our way.
So what are your influences in regards to stuff like that?
Well it’s all to do with my experiences living in London, the different parts and scenes I was involved in and inspired by. I look back to the trainers we were wearing, and the different trends I was involved in from my early school days, and I try to use those feelings I would get when wearing or seeing a new item and being blown away by them to kind of gage the work we’re doing now. It’s kinda like an internal benchmark allowing me to rate what we’re doing. But I suppose underpinning all these things on some level is music for me. Music is a big part of my life you know, and from a young age I’ve been surrounded by all types of sounds. My dad’s Egyptian and my mums English, but my dad was into country music, and my mum more into reggae. But then I’d be taken to my dads friends houses where they’d be playing strictly Arab beats, and then at my friends houses with their older brothers and I’d be hearing early 90’s hip hop and stuff, then I’d be back with my mum’s friends and it would be more ska and those kind of sounds. Then in my teen years garage was my passion, spending hours on tower blocks doing pirate radio, spending all my money on records, and being involved in all the other aspects associated with that scene. So from a young age I think I’ve had these wide range of sounds and influences that I think serve as my creative catalyst now. Music is definitely the main influence I’d say it was my muse, generally when I’m designing the more graphic stuff, I generally put some music on and that dictates generally how my mind will go about it – be it the sounds, vocals, or trends I’d associate with the genres I’m listening to.
How would the process in deciding what you put out, work?
In the earlier days we focused on low number runs of tees, never repressing designs, and trying to always have new stuff coming out. When your at that level where you’ve got no budget for advertising and pr, the way we decided we would get coverage was through new items being reviewed or blogged regularly. It then got to the point where we wanted to get more creative with our designs and concepts, but still only using tees, so we started releasing themed collections. So instead of bringing out a random five tee shirt release, we wanted to show there was a deeper thought process behind them. Like if I put a girl on a tee shirt, it’s not just because I put a girl on a tee shirt, there should be more substance than that you know?
So how do you convey a message through a simple design on a tee shirt, how to you feel you push a message through simple pieces, such as the ‘Karma Drama’ tee you did?
Like I said I just feel its important to have substance, but I also feel its important not to force it upon people. We’ll give you the collection title and a couple of sentences about the collection, but I’m never going to go into specific details or explain each graphics meaning, we’re not trying to sell you ideals here. With last years Karma Drama collection, the theory behind it was like most decision you make have negatives that effect someone at some level, everyone can interpret something as negative. I don’t know if I believe in Karma, but the concept is very interesting, and the thought of a cosmic law enforcement policy is definitely interesting. I mean of all the collections we’ve put out that’s probably the most like –
But the tee shirt design itself though, counteracts how deep the message resinates, which is quite nice.
With that collection, the designs we put out weren’t looking at the positive, or like I said weren’t tryng to offer some kinda spiritual awakening – it was all sort of like a self deprivation view point. So there was one that said like ‘Vice City, Nice City’, the other was ‘Gaza Funk’ and the other was-
‘Poom Poom Wrecker’ right? What’s that about?
It’s from a French movie called ‘Persepolis’, basically about a girl from a Religious family who leaves Iran for France. In the film it reads ‘Punk isn’t dead’. There’s definitely reasoning behind that design. For me the graphic tee shirts are harder than anything else. To do a good tee shirt, it must be aesthetically pleasing to the eye, it’s not necessarily about the visual on a tee shirt. It’s the placement of the graphic, what it looks like from a distance. It’s more the application of it. I find myself spending more time on tee shirts because I want them to be different and original, and where possible have meaning. It sounds stupid as most won’t look that deep –
But that isn’t the point though. There are a lot of ”brands” who don’t think about stuff like that and that’s why they’ve put a fucking shit tee shirt out. The hard stuff looks easy.