What comes first, the lifestyle – or the brand?
We’ve talked quite a bit about socks on TheHundreds.com before, and learned that while some sock brands were built because of easy profit margins, a lot of others seem to focus their marketing efforts towards delineating exactly what kind of lifestyle their brand is supposed to represent. Yet, unsurprisingly, 40s & Shorties doesn’t even have an “About Us” section on their website. “What we do speaks for itself,” says Drewbyrd, producer and tour DJ for Dom Kennedy, Fairfax regular, and one-fifth of the operation behind the lifestyle sock brand. Him, and two buddies he grew up with – Adem Niazi and Ryan De La Cruz – started with a simple urge to displace themselves from their 9–5 grind, have fun, and to just put Drew’s humorous ideas on something. The first thought was to make an emoticon app that would include twerkers, 40oz bottles, and blunts; the second idea – was socks. Now, the team has expanded to include Lumbo and Jay Partow; Adem and Ryan have since quit their day jobs to do 40s full time; and the five guys are working on their fourth season of socks.
But their aspirations lie beyond just socks. After sitting down with Drewbyrd and Adem Niazi, Creative Director/Designer, I learned that following the all over prints they’ve received wide recognition for, and the newer pins and boxers, they want to venture into more minimal designs and apparel. “40s & Shorties legitimately has potential to be its own lifestyle brand,” says Adem, with the confidence of someone whose shared lifelong interests and inside jokes with his pals quickly shapeshifted into a successful business. No matter what success they reach, though, it’s clear that 40s & Shorties will always be about having fun: “That’s sort of the common thread that we always do: whatever the hell we think is funny.” Read on to learn the story behind their rapid growth, how they built their team, the risks they faced, and the sincerity, authenticity, and friendship that keeps them grounded.
From left to right: Lumbo (Sales), Adem Niazi (Design), Drewbyrd (Marketing), Ryan De La Cruz (Trademark/Everything Else Back End). Not pictured: Jay Partow (Finance/Logistics).
ALINA NGUYEN: Let’s start from the beginning. What’s the story behind 40s & Shorties?
DREWBYRD: We wanted to make an app. An emoticon app. So that we could put things that you now see on our socks as emojis. Like a 40oz bottle, a Jesus piece, a girl twerking. That’s how it originally started. Then, I have a friend of mine who I was talking about this idea and he actually had the same idea as us! I talked to Adem and we went back and forth; “What else can we do something like this on that makes sense?” And [Adem] was just telling me, “Yo, let’s do accessories. Put it on a sock.”
It was that easy?
ADEM NIAZI: It was crazy. It was funny as hell and happened in the course of 2 days. So Drew comes up with the idea for the emoticon app which ended up being our first collection of socks – 40oz bottles, blunts – and then he brings it to his buddy and before he can even tell him the idea, his buddy says, “Yo, before you say anything, I gotta show you this app idea I got!” Ends up his app idea is the exact same thing he’s about to tell him. Drew comes back and tells me the whole story and I’m like, “Look, there’s no reason why we can’t take the same art and put it on another vehicle – another vessel to get the art out there.”
“WE WANTED AN OUTLET OUT OF OUR REGULAR DAILY GRINDS.”
We mentioned that socks were cracking and coming up soon, so luckily we had the resources we had and were able to find one good factory to churn out samples. We said, “This is fucking hilarious.” That’s how we treated it. The whole inception of this was on a whim. It was us doing something together. And then the minimums we had to come up with were insane. As I’m telling my sock idea to a couple of my other designer homies, they were laughing at me, saying, “So you’re really doing this sock thing. How many are you gonna do – like a couple hundred?” I said, “Nooo... we’re gonna do like a thousand, actually.” We have an excellent relationship with our factory now. So we put all our money together and a little while after that, our apartment in Koreatown turned into a warehouse. It was boxes on boxes on boxes. It was myself, [Drew], and our third partner [Ryan De La Cruz] who moved back from New York. His dog, my dog. People over all the time. It was craziness.
And luckily, we had the response that we had that was specifically after Bobby [Hundreds] posted us on The Hundreds. We can’t thank him enough for that. We saw a big spike in our viewing response. People were into it and we were like, “What the hell is going on right now?”
Drew: It was the very first month ever [of our company]. I was just on Rosewood and this was before the socks dropped.
Was that the one of you on the RSWD bench?
Drew: Yeah. It was a shoutout. After that. The funny thing too is why I agreed to do socks. In my mind, I tour a lot, so I was thinking, if I had some of this, I could sell some of this shit on the road at the merch table. “We could do this, it could be something fun, I could sell them on the road and make some side cash.”
Adem: As a tour DJ, it gave us the perfect opportunity to get it here, here, and here.
What was the intent you guys had behind the idea of the app? Was it just a platform for your designs?
Drew: The app was honestly some moneymaking shit [laughs]. It was just an idea I had in my head. I had just watched the Facebook movie [laughing] and I thought, “Man! I have to do something.” Let’s put funny ass images, 40oz bottles on an app.
Adem: [Laughs] To give him more credit, I think at that point in our lives, we wanted an outlet out of our regular daily grinds. So we wanted to start a project – I have a small background in apparel, Drew has his backgrounds in streetwear, so we weren’t completely void of doing apparel in general. It just landed on socks.
The idea of putting our designs on physical items that were accessible and affordable that people could get a hold of came up. We were thinking of things you could get your hands on and we said, “You know, man, socks are gonna go.” I remember specifically saying this to Drew, “Imagine forty bottles on a sock! Tell me you aren’t gonna rock that. Tell me – people aren’t gonna think that’s hilarious.
But you guys already had stock at that point?
Adem: We had stock but we were like, “Yo, okay, now we gotta sell this shit.”
Did you guys even have the capabilities to mail it out or ship things?
Adem: We could, we set up our own little USPS system. [Laughs]
Drew: Literally, I’m not joking. [Pointing to wall about 6 yards away] This was our living room and it was basically TV, couch, and just boxes everywhere. Ryan was sleeping there. We had dogs. We didn’t know it was just like, “Shit, let’s try it.”
Adem: But that was sort of the beauty of it too. That we didn’t want to think, we just wanted to do it and we did it. I’m kind of proud of us for just taking that risk. So it happened and we’re like, “Fuck, now we gotta sell this shit.” So a little while after, [Drew] introduces us to Lumbo and goes, “Look, Lumbo’s a really sharp guy, he’s got a lot of experience selling stuff, I think we should bring him on board.” We meet him [snaps fingers] just instant click. The guy’s cool as shit, he’s been doing it for a minute and it was a perfect fit so that was it.
From the 40s & Shorties Holiday 2014 lookbook.
You guys had the operation in K-Town and Drew was touring, right?
Adem: When this guy [Drew] was gone, myself and my other partner would just be in the living room sending out boxes and stuff. It was a lot of work to get done and everybody holds their own. The bottom line is that when work needs to get done, you just get it done.
Drew: But the beauty of it is that I’m travelling the world and I’m giving it to people. I’m at these concerts and meeting key people here and there, seeing stores. The craziest thing is that when I was in Copenhagen, Denmark. There was this magazine there that was kind of like Vice. It’s in the Carhartt stores, in Wood Wood. And I’m flipping through it and I see our socks in there!
Adem: You know those “Hot for this Season” kind of pages where they have this item and this item and this item? They did – I think it was a watercolor painting – of our 40s bottle sock on there. This guy sends me a picture back and I’m like, “What the hell?!” It’s just moments like that.
“WE NEED TO BUILD A BRAND THAT IS ORGANIC AND, BY NATURE, CAN SURVIVE WITHOUT SOCIAL MEDIA.”
You guys have such a sense of humor to your brand and it’s so socially shareable. Do you think that social media and what you guys are doing is completely hand in hand?
Drew: Social media definitely couldn’t be more needed. Honestly, that’s probably our biggest marketing tool. People taking pictures of it. People love taking pictures of socks, that’s the craziest thing. That’s word of mouth marketing and social media is right there with that. People see it and that’s natural word of mouth marketing. Snoop Dogg posts and a million people see; it’s crazy. So definitely.
Adem: By all means. We’re fortunate to live in this day and age, but at the same time we don’t rely on it 100%. We don’t want to get dependent on it. Social media is a tool – an excellent one at that – but nonetheless it’s still a tool. It doesn’t create the whole machine. We need to build a brand that is organic and, by nature, can survive something without social media.
But I can’t deny the power and the amount we’ve been able to leverage with something as simple as Instagram; it’s undeniable.
I feel like you guys have a really clear cut brand aesthetic. What led to that? You guys have obviously been friends since you were kids, right? What do you think made it so easy for you guys to have such a consistent brand story?
Drew: It’s everything we laugh about and grew up on. Just, for instance, the 40 bottle – from the suburbs to the inner city to hick town to wherever – everyone grew up on drinking 40s from what I know. And if you didn’t drink it, you’ve definitely seen it. And the blunts and the Jesus piece – us being all fans and growing up in the ‘90s. Seeing Biggie wearing the Jesus piece; it’s everything you grew up on. We have the funny stuff too, like the twerk, because it’s funny to us.
Adem: But it’s like, having something as direct and as clean cut as a 40 bottle on a sock sends a very clear and very simple message: “We like 40s. We just like this, we think it’s funny.” Whatever it is, they’re clear, direct messages. Now, eventually we’re going evolve into offering other items and the story is going to grow as well. But to answer your question, that’s how we’re able to tell a story without having a story page. See five of our socks, you’ll know what we’re about.
“IF YOU WANT IT BAD ENOUGH, YOU’LL MAKE IT HAPPEN.”
I love our silhouette, I love the items that we work with, I love the versatility of it, the accessibility of it. It has so much crossover, you can see the editor of GQ rock the socks in the same way a kid on Fairfax is going to rock the socks. It has the same application as a Supreme 5-panel. You’re going to see that guy front row of Alexander Wang runway show rocking that 5-panel in the same way you’re going to see Tyler the Creator on Fairfax rocking it. It has that application and it has that versatility, which makes it a really powerful garment. That’s what I think is really cool about it.
It’s definitely really impactful. Someone could wear a suit and some loafers and then have the twerk socks on and already that garment alone translates what that guy’s personal brand is immediately.
Adem: Something as simple as a playful sock can completely downplay the seriousness of this entire fit… It’s a good balance.
I also feel like the aesthetic is pretty complex. It’s funny and it could be ironic, but it’s also not quite ironic; it’s actually very sincere. Especially for you guys.
Drew: Even with the Gucci Mane sock, which is more of a relevant thing – one, we listen to Gucci Mane, and the other thing is, two, we just think it’s funny. That face is a part of pop culture. So everyone’s going to know that unless you’ve been under a shell or you’re not on the Internet. Then imagine it on a sock. That’s it.
That makes sense as to why when I asked you guys earlier who is the one conceptualizing these things and you guys were like, “It’s all of us.”
Adem: And that’s the greatest thing about us, we can do whatever we want. The design process is just a lot of our own humor. We just throw out a bunch of ideas and whatever strikes a chord with us and everyone immediately laughs at and can logistically get done, it’ll get sampled out. It might not make it to the floors, but it’s something that we always consider. That’s sort of the common thread that we always do: whatever the hell we think is funny. Whatever we grew up on, what applies to us, what’s cracking right now, pop culture, anything. That’s what we’ll do, so it’s open game.
Usually when I talk to people that have new brands, they’ll talk about all the naysayers like, “All these people said I could never do it,” or, “My parents were like, nah!” They have all these stories of people just never believing in them. But it sounds like you guys just started up so fast that no one had time to do that. Is that true?
Drew: [Laughs] It’s so funny that you say that.
Adem: One, that’s a weird compliment, thank you. Then two, I don’t doubt for a second that there are mounds of haters shitting on us. That’s fine, do your thing. But again, it doesn’t really matter. We acknowledge it and take it into consideration to a degree, but when you design, for the most part, you kind of want to have blinders on. You just want to do your own thing and as long as it adheres to what you originally set out to do, you don’t have to compromise.
Drew: And no matter what, whatever you do in life, if you have some kind of success, you’re going to have some kind of hate. For anything that’s successful and gets a little bit of shine, there’s always going to be someone who wants to put that flame out. Like he said, you just can’t really care, you’ve gotta have fun and keep doing it.
You guys were talking about how no one understood your Fall 2014 lookbook and said, “Maybe next time we’ll do something that people understand more.” How much does it matter what type of reaction or understanding your audience has? Since you said it’s important to have the blinders.
Drew: For me, it’s just ’cause I love the fact that we do shit and we don’t give a fuck and we do whatever we want – for ourselves. But for me as – I don’t really call myself a marketing person – that’s another side where I do care or I do want people to understand. It’s both.
Adem: That compromise is going to have to happen to a degree with whatever facet of the business it is. You don’t want to ever have to compromise – that’s the ideology – but that’s not the reality of it. You have to make these adjustments to survive. So specifically, regarding the lookbook, we do what the hell we want to do and it’s hilarious for us, but if there’s a portion of our fans out there that don’t get it, we want to be able to remind people what we started out with. I don’t want to call it a safer route because it’s still 40s & Shorties, whatever we do is going to be us, but we have to keep the message clear and consistent.
I feel like a lot of the time when a brand concept works really well and gets rooted in humor, it’s easy for it to get tired. I’m not gonna name any names, but you can easily think of some instances where this has happened in streetwear. How do you guys plan to overcome that?
Adem: Yeah, 100% we know that we’re going to have to evolve. I don’t want to ever have to not do our all-over style. But 40s & Shorties is bigger than that idea. 40s & Shorties legitimately has potential to be its own lifestyle brand. If we can introduce items that are outside of just socks and undergarments and accessories, that’ll build this bridge for us to eventually make this transition into other stuff; clothing. And that will eventually lay the groundwork for us being a lifestyle brand, which is what I would like to see for us in the future. Whatever it ends up being, it’ll be something beyond just socks.
Drew: And it’s still shit that we like. For me, I was always pushing the blank socks. That’s why we do the blank socks with the 40 hit. The all-over print is more focused on humor and pop culture. But everything we do is [inspired by] something I grew up on. So that’s why I push for these.
You guys had the BEST booth at Agenda. Can you tell us more about that ice cream truck?
Adem: We knew that doing Agenda and finally planting a flag and saying, “We’re here,” was sort of necessary. Lumbo was pushing that because the amount of years he’s had in the game, he was just like, “Look guys, I think it’s the right time for us.” So we were all like, “Let’s not do a regular booth. What’s a funny ass way we could stand out?” We were up in the valley just standing around just bullshitting and Lumbo pitched out, “Yo, what if we got an ice cream truck?” So just like that.
The ice cream truck itself was actually a custom made lowrider ice cream truck. It’s got the spokes on it, it has the hydraulic pump in the back, it’s got speakers – it was a running, functioning truck when we bought this thing. The paint job was crazy, it was themed out to look like the Incredible Hulk. So it was all green and had Incredible Hulk airbrush art on both sides. As soon as we saw this thing we were like, “What the fuck is this?”
“WE DIDN’T WANNA THINK ABOUT IT, WE JUST WANTED TO DO IT.”
How did you find it? Craigslist?
Drew: Jay found it on Craigslist over in Bakersfield.
Adem: Found it, checked it out, this thing was running, the hydraulics worked, everything was cool. After we saw the truck, we were like, “Dude, we can’t have the Incredible Hulk on it, it’s too nuts.” So we were thinking about different ways to decorate this thing. We grew up on the movie Friday, we love Friday, Big Worm is one of our favorite characters. We were like, “Dude, what if we wrapped it to make it look like Big Worm’s ice cream truck in Friday?” [Laughs] We were like, “Fuck yeah, let’s do it.”
Part of the 40s & Shorties ice cream truck booth at Agenda Las Vegas.
[To Adem] What motivated you the most to leave your day job?
Adem: Personally, I just got tired of working for other people. I didn’t wanna have to pitch something to a person and hope that it got approved. I wanted to just have a creative outlet. We didn’t wanna think about it, we just wanted to do it. And the act in itself of starting this brand with no concern of what was gonna be beyond the horizon and having the nerve to just do it – is a big part of what it was for me, personally. And so you create this animal, then you realize, “Oh shit, I gotta contain this thing now.” You have to tailor it, streamline it, organize. It turns into its own thing, its own entity, it turns into a real thing. And as you see it grow, you connect with it. That’s how I made the transition.
Do you think it was easier for you guys to all transition into 40s full time because you got so much press so quickly?
Adem: I feel like we had to hustle to make ends meet. 40s & Shorties wasn’t making any money at first. I feel like anyone who’s been in my position, even doing bigger things, has always had that hustler transition from the day job to the passion project. It’s just somethin’ you gotta do. If you want it bad enough, you’ll make it happen.
40s’s more recent designs.
What’s next for 40s & Shorties?
Adem: If this turns into a lifestyle brand, if we can offer other items that help give more character to what 40s & Shorties will be, then that’s how I see it. It doesn’t have to be clothes necessarily, but items outside of socks. At the same time, we’re so young, we take everyday – day-by-day. We don’t know what we’re gonna come out with a few months from now, what our attitude is gonna be then. It’s this ever-growing sort of outlook. That’s constantly changing. That’s what’s awesome about it, too – we’re not entirely defined right now and we can make it whatever we want.
@40sANDSHORTIES on Instagram.
Words by Alina.