Incorporating the entrepreneurial ethos that helped make Diamond a powerhouse, Fairfax staple Corey Populus—better known through social media realm as Young Corey—is applying the lessons he’s learned there over the years to push his own clothing line Above Average to top of the new wave of streetwear brands taking over LA. With a line incorporating the rising influence of ’90s nostalgia on the current generation, as well as tasteful meshing of iconic music imagery with the skate world, Corey and his team have a bright future ahead of them in the fashion world. We got the chance to talk to the young creative about his thoughts on the power of a co-sign, his origin story within the streetwear world, his choice in imagery, and what the future holds for Above Average.
Above Average founder Corey Populus aka Young Corey.
Senay Kenfe: So when did you know you wanted to make clothes?
Corey Populus: Man, it’s crazy. We started off as a blog actually, like I got a little DSLR camera and I was, “Sick, I want to take photos.” But I wasn’t that good at it. I would just take photos of all the homies at parties—just trying to create a little blog post. I’ve been skateboarding for years, maybe over ten years, so I always knew I liked clothes and stuff, but I never really thought I would be making them and all that.
[In] like, 2010, I was like, You know what? I’m gonna give it a shot. And it was actually me and my friend Francis; we came up with the brand and we didn’t really know how to go about anything. We didn’t know about screen-printing, we didn’t know what programs to use to design it, and it was funny [because] we actually made a bunch of designs on Photoshop and we finally found a screenprinter and we were like, “Yeah! Sick! We’re about to get this done,” and we took all of our designs to the screenprinter and he said, “Yo, what is this? I can’t make anything out of these Photoshop files.” We were like, “No way! Damn, we gotta go back to the drawing board.” And then someone told me about Illustrator and I had no clue how to use Illustrator—I was barely getting good at Photoshop and I thought, You know what? Let me give it a shot. And I tried it and it was all shit, ’cause it’s like vectors and stuff, like, “Yo this is really hard!” So I had to bring my homie in and he helped me recreate all the ones that we did in Photoshop… man, it wasn’t something I knew I wanted to do, but I was around it, so I was like, Why not give it a shot?
Above Average Spring 2015. Available now.
What skills do you feel like you acquired during your time with Diamond that helped you?
I learned a lot of marketing tactics from Nick, like the way he used to do things. I definitely learned how to run a retail store, so if I run my own retail store I know the do’s and the don’t’s… Nick’s really good at marketing and stuff with all his photos. He’s always been ahead of the curve when it comes to marketing, I guess you can say. Like Instagram was a big part of Diamond. I think it was always cool because he would show his lifestyle—the way he was living—and I think that was a big part of the brand. Kids kind of want to hear a story. And I think that’s why The Hundreds is the way it is. Bobby Hundreds gives his story all the time and what he’s up to. Kids want to take a peek into what people are doing, like how celebrities are when you see them on TMZ or Instagram. You want to see what they’re doing. So that was a big part of it.
It was just a great experience working there. I met so many people and got connected with so much stuff, whether it was rappers or other brand owners. I’m really close with Mega from Black Scale and Ben and Bobby [Hundreds]. Dude, when I was a little kid, just scrolling The Hundreds blog, that was my thing. I loved it. It was such an inspiration to me. That’s what made me start my Above Average blog because I wanted to be like when Bobby Hundreds used to recap everything, when he used to take all the photos and go to events... just give a story and make you feel connected with the brand, you know? That’s what inspired me to start my own thing. And yeah, it was mainly Diamond that helped me out a lot.
Above Average Fall 2014.
What skills do you feel like you acquired during your time with Diamond that helped you?
I learned a lot of marketing tactics from Nick, like the way he used to do things. I definitely learned how to run a retail store, so if I run my own retail store I know the do’s and the don’t’s… Nick’s really good at marketing and stuff with all his photos. He’s always been ahead of the curve when it comes to marketing, I guess you can say. Like Instagram was a big part of Diamond. I think it was always cool because he would show his lifestyle—the way he was living—and I think that was a big part of the brand. Kids kind of want to hear a story. And I think that’s why The Hundreds is the way it is. Bobby Hundreds gives his story all the time and what he’s up to. Kids want to take a peek into what people are doing, like how celebrities are when you see them on TMZ or Instagram. You want to see what their doing. So that was a big part of it.
“NO ONE WANTS TO DO ANYTHING UNTIL SOMEONE ELSE SAYS IT’S DOPE.”
Earlier when we were talking you were telling me about how, with a lot of brands now, you think that something that plays such a significant role is the co-sign. Do you want to talk about that?
Yeah, I think co-signs are huge man. Like nowadays, a lot of kids, something can be really cool to you and you know it’s cool and you think it’s dope, but it takes someone of a higher power, I believe, to say it’s cool for someone else to think it’s cool. Which kind of sucks because I feel like no kids are like... individuals. It’s just like no one wants to do anything until someone else says it’s dope.
For instance, all this fashion stuff, all these kids are wearing these longer shirts and dressing all wild now but like, three years ago you couldn’t get anyone to wear that stuff, or kids would get made fun of for wearing crazy, outlandish stuff. But now that Kanye is doing it and all these other rappers and stuff, it’s the thing to do now. And you can even see with a lot of brands that come out nowadays, it’s all trends. They’re making all that stuff to cater to these kids.
How do you feel, as a young brand... what’s the advantages and disadvantages of getting a high-profile co-sign or that kind of coverage from somebody?
I don’t really think there’s any disadvantages. I think it’s great. It gives you a chance to get your shine. Especially with all these younger brands, ’cause it seems like a lot of the older brands are here to stay. What have you really seen as of recent that’s kind of blown up? It’s cool to see the people that are getting co-signed, like all the newer brands, like CLSC for instance—they’re doing their thing. One of my good friends around the corner, Shane, he does a brand called Midnight and dude, Ian Connor and Rocky and all them are wearing his stuff and his stuff is blowing up too. I think if you can get one or if someone organically likes your stuff and they give you a co-sign, I think it’s great for your brand. It’s a great look all around.
What does Above Average mean to you?
Honestly, I just love the name. I was like, “Yo it’s dope, it stands out.” I mean, it’s kind of for everyone. I just wanted to create something that had to do with skateboarding and street. Just bring the two together. And I’m kind of stuck, praying for it.
I definitely get that vibe from you. Especially from fascination, in terms of music. There’s a Nirvana print you guys got out, and a Rolling Stones one. What did you envision in terms of taking advantage of this fascination with the ’90s?
Honestly, Nirvana is one of my favorite bands. A lot of the graphics and stuff I do is just everyday things and stuff I see that’s suitable. Nirvana, I had to do. I love Kurt Cobain; he’s so fascinating. His story is great… he’s iconic for sure. There was this month that I was like, “Damn, he’s sick,” and I just got obsessed, and when I get obsessed with something, I go deep into it and I want to find out more. I went to Barnes and Nobles and bought all kind of books, his documentary came out [and] I watched that recently, just Googled stuff, you know what I mean?
You don’t want to be wearing stuff or doing things that you don’t really know about. So I had to do my research before I’m making T-shirts and stuff. As far as The Rolling Stones, it was funny actually. My roommate came up with that. He was like, “Yo, no one’s ever really done The Rolling Stones - you should do a skateboard as the tongue.” And I was like, “Sick.” But when we made the graphic, I was looking at it and I was like, “Man, that’s kind of cheesy. I don’t wanna just be making Rolling Stones shirts.” I know right now the thing that’s kind of in is tour shirts. Everybody wants to wear vintage tour shirts and band tees. So I was like, “How about the back, we make it like a tour shirt?” So we came up with that and I [was thinking] it would be sick if we put legendary skate spots where they’re at. So it would kind of be dates and how that came about. And yeah, it was just a great idea all around and no one had really ever touched the skateboard on the tongue.
“WHEN I GET OBSESSED WITH SOMETHING, I GO DEEP INTO IT.”
What do you think is the future in terms of the collection... as far as the brand?
Hopefully I can just make a solid living off of this. This is what I really want to do. I worked at Diamond for years and years and I probably could still be there right now, but I had to take that step. I was like, “You know what? I kind of don’t know how I’m gonna live off of this but I’m going to figure it out because this is what I really want to do,” you know what I mean? Why waste time—or not necessarily wasting time—but why stay over there and focus on someone else’s brand and then try to do this later on? I’m already getting older, you know what I mean? I think it’s time to take those steps. I kind of wish I took these steps a little bit sooner, ’cause it probably would’ve been a little better conditions and it would’ve been a bigger thing.
I just hope to get the word out about my brand and get it in some more stores. I’ve been talking to a lot of stores lately and do some collaborations with people I look up to.
Are there any collaborations that we should know about or anything coming up?
I’ve got some things in the works; I’m not really sure if I can talk about it right now. But, yeah dude, it’s looking good. I’m just finally starting to use who I know and all that stuff, all of the connections for the brand. I always get kind of nervous to ask people for things, even with the brand. I know so many artists and different people of higher power and I haven’t really ever given anything out because I get kind of scared. I don’t want to be that dude to force my stuff upon someone. But it’s cool [because] people actually ask me for stuff, like Ben from The Hundreds was like, “Yo, what’s up with those Above Average shirts? Let me get some T-shirts.” And I thought that was really cool. Like, yo that’s dope, I didn’t even have to force it upon you, you actually wanted it.
That’s kind of how I want things to do, like organically. If someone really likes it, then I wanna hook them up. Tony Hawk actually bought stuff from the online store and he wore it and gave me a shout out on Instagram which was probably the sickest thing that’s happened to me to date. But yeah, I’m just trying to make this bigger than what it is now and one day be something that a kid can look up to like how I look up to Diamond or The Hundreds. I want kids to be like, “Damn, maybe I can do that too.” And yeah, just make it work.