I think it’s most up-and-coming streetwear moguls’ dreams to be the silent, mysterious faces of a phenomenon. However, it’s rare that one embodies that character, and stands behind it when they reach some measure of success. Sometimes, the exposure goes to their head, and they want to be front and center. Other times, the product they’re concealing themselves with pans out to not be that interesting. Crawling Death really doesn’t have that problem.
From the beginning of our interactions to the end—even off the record—I noticed a deliberate mystery about Crawling Death, a rapidly growing Australia-based hat company that is giving the Internet a big ’80s-boner. And, to tell you the truth, I really like it. I find myself quite easily getting behind their irreverent brand message, toned around bygone biker culture and the dark side of the Internet (my words, not theirs), bolstered by unique collaborations, including a recent plug-in with Isaiah Toothtaker.
What you’ll read below is my candid conversation with CJ of Crawling Death on the nature of their shrouded pursuits, and the influences that push them forward.
MAC: Can you start by giving a little bit of background about yourself? Who you are, where you’re from, and what you do?
CJ: We like to to be anonymous and feel that it’s not really about us, but it is about the product and the world we create through the brand. I’m happy to talk about influences though.
Okay. Let’s talk about that. Any chance we can get into origins before we go there? Where/how it started? Or would you prefer we stick to the brand narrative?
It’s been going for about a year and a half, and we started with just two hats. It was about realizing that all the tools to create a business, and make and distribute stuff had really hit a tipping point. With the ability to set up an online store, set up PayPal, and start talking to people on Instagram, it just felt like the right time to start doing something. We realized that being able to sell direct to customers meant that we didn’t need to create a whole seasonal range, get financing, or please any gatekeepers. We could literally make whatever we wanted, and fuck what anyone said.
Most people start with T-shirts. They’re much less complex (at least in the US), and are less of an investment. What inspired Crawling Death to make hats over anything else?
Very good point. We felt that since that’s what everyone else does first and there aren’t many barriers to entry, there was a heap of mediocre stuff coming out. The brands doing it well were doing a great job, and there were many, many people doing a bad job. There are a couple of other reasons too though. We aren’t big graphic T-shirt wearers ourselves, and we were really into the embroidered patches, and felt that the best place was on a good hat. We’ve been collecting patches since the ’80s, and loved the history.
I’m glad you mentioned the ‘80s, because to me, your Instagram feels like a mood-board straight out of ‘80s dark/erotic art and biker culture. The “fuck it” culture and irreverence of the Easy Riders generation. Am I sort of on the money?
Yeah, for sure. We have been lucky enough to grow up before the Internet, but also embrace it later on. Growing up in the ’80s meant that magazines were everything. Biker mags, skate mags, heavy metal mags, and surf mags were where you found out about the world! So, Crawling Death is pretty rooted in that era. It’s actually amazing what’s not on the Internet, so we love showing people imagery they might not have seen before, and we find lots of stuff in the real world and put it on Instagram. We love other people that do it too, and are down to repost their stuff.
An example of the nostalgia porn that is @crawling_death on Instagram.
Absolutely. I grew up—and in some ways was incubated by—the Internet. I was fortunate enough to have a dad who was a writer in the ‘80s, and his archives of that time period are awesome. The analog inspires me to this day as I keep an eye on eBay for ‘70s erotic comics, and of course, the most ridiculous magazine of all time: Heavy Metal. Do you source your inspiration mostly from your own personal archives?
Yeah, magazines and books mainly, but also stuff from the Internet, music stuff. We can’t take credit for everything we post.
Okay, there’s an abrasive nature to the messages that you’re presenting with your headwear. Can you talk about that?
Yeah, I guess we kind of have a motto which is “uncompromising shit for freethinkers,” but of course we do compromise some things on Instagram due to censorship. But, we have made a zine which had lots more nudity and are planning to do another one. The messages are anti-establishment, counter-cultural, and pop cultural. I think that’s another reason people love the hats so much. Big brands would be too scared of offending people—especially ones owned by corporations. It’s contextual too though.
Crawling Death x Staring Without Caring
What were your first two hats?
“Life’s a Bitch” and “Satan” which we have kept restocking, since, why the fuck not keep making shit if people like it and still want it? Which really comes back to us not being a typical “streetwear” brand that has to conform to the wholesale/retail intents.
What are your thoughts on the trend of exclusivity within streetwear, particularly with brands like Supreme?
One thing I think about is that in the ’80s, your favorite skater’s board graphic was often being produced for a few years. I think the reason a lot of those boards have become iconic is that they were allowed to become iconic by being around so long. Also, I think the fashion and streetwear industry is based on selling to buyers at stores rather than the customers. We, as a brand, aren’t trying to follow fashion trends or keep up with the what the next new thing will be. I think we know what we stand for, and who our customers are, and can just keep making stuff for that niche. So, there is no issue with keeping on making something if we feel it’s timeless.
Do you know that you have a few imitators?
As for imitators, I kind of look at it like this: We weren’t the first to make hats with patches on them, and lots of our designs and graphics come from subcultural references. But, I think we’ve done something consistent. I don’t think the whole brand can be imitated, so we’ll just keep doing what we do.
One of the coolest parts about Crawling Death is your relationship with really rad people, like The Shrine. Can you tell me about how that came to fruition?
Our relationships have actually come about pretty organically. The Shrine toured Australia in 2014, and one of our friends in Sydney gave Jeff—the drummer—one of our hats. He then wore it for like a year while they were touring the world. We just kept in touch with the guys, and it seemed natural to do a collab with them on the next tour. They are great dudes.
Was the Toothtaker thing also organic?
He’s awesome. I can’t remember how that came about, but we were already big fans of his tattooing. We are actually working on a project with him right now. Stay tuned.
What fuels the anti-establishment message of Crawling Death?
It’s just something that’s inside of you, I guess. We get stoked on people thinking for themselves and doing awesome shit.
And why the mystery?
We like to make great stuff, and let it speak for itself. We like to champion people doing good things without the need to put ourselves in the picture. There’s no ego needed.
You can follow Crawling Death on Instagram by clicking here.
You can visit their website here.