I’ve even had a dream at one point where I wanted to start a streetwear company. It was going to be called Almighty and my first T-shirt graphic was this tank concoction where this butterfly had guns for a body – a couple of tanks stood erect on each side, with an upside down crab silhouette nestled perfectly in the center, ultimately creating just a pile of hot mess. But like a lot of my preconceived ideas, it all stopped when reality came knocking on my front door. You see, I was a junkie. Every penny I made supplemented my habit of sneaker collecting and the idea of investing $500 at the time in printing these T-shirts was just preposterous. I never did pursue that dream, and 10 years later, I now work in an office where I am a professional butt-sniffer wearing hard bottoms and a cheap suit. I tell this story from time to time, more as a what-not-to-do in most conversations. Ironically enough, someone decided to take my words to heart.
Meet Stephen Hung aka effustephen, 21-year-old owner and creator of effulgence clothing brand based right here in the Bay Area. He decided he wanted in on the industry and there’s really no better way to do it than just going head first. I’ve known of Stephen for about 8 years now, but only through the world wide web. He would send me various e-mails from time to time and I would give him what I felt was an honest opinion. One day he tells me he started a clothing company and I shuddered at the idea, as this was during the unofficial Great Depression of Streetwear. So many companies went by the wayside, and starting a company just seemed more like a money pit rather than a proper investment. Still, Stephen decided to do what I ultimately couldn’t do and pursue what he had a love and passion for. Season after season, he still manages to produce product all as a single solo act while balancing out school and even interning for one of the top streetwear companies in San Francisco.
I finally met up with Stephen after all these years and decided to help get some photos for his lookbook on his new line. We grazed the streets of SF, shot the shit, and spoke about what is really good with him and his company – then later conducted the following interview via email.
FONGSTARR: First let’s start with the name. What in the hell is an Effulgence?
STEPHEN: DON’T GOT ALL THE ANSWERS, FONGSTARR! Haha. Thanks for asking that question so I can clarify what the hell is an effulgence. Well, actually effulgence (stylized as all under-case) is a word that I came across in middle school on Merriam-Webster’s word of day. It means brilliance or radiant splendor. I first started getting into streetwear around this time, and I knew I wanted to start my own brand one day. When I came across effulgence, everything clicked and I nearly busted a nut (I think… I could be mistaken because I don’t know if I hit puberty yet #latebloomer). All jokes aside, effulgence is a LYYYFESTYYLE *Young Thug voice*.
“ULTIMATELY, MY BRAND IS ABOUT REACHING YOUR EFFULGENCE AND SAYING EFFU TO THE NAYSAYERS.”
Okay, seriously, all jokes aside, effulgence is a reminder to never feel guilty of wanting more out of life and constantly striving to reach a new state of brilliance. It may seem like a simple message, but society has a funny way of making us forget what we are truly capable of. It wasn’t much later when I realized the first four letters of effulgence spell out EFFU. That was my second nut. I found it ironic that I could pull such a bold statement from a positive word. Ultimately, my brand is about reaching your effulgence and saying effu to the naysayers.
You just released a new line which is pretty much sold out on your website. Tell me the creative influence for this drop?
For this drop, I kept it within my heavy signature hip-hop aesthetic, while incorporating different elements from my childhood. Every piece in this drop correlates to ‘90s culture in one way or another; whether it’d be the sexiness of Nurse Joy and Officer Jenny from Pokemon, the raw edge of Cannibal Ox’s Cold Vein, or my first love Babygirl Aaliyah.
JennyJoy Tee, featuring Pokemon’s Nurse Joy/Officer Jenny.
Just to give an example, I’ll breakdown the influence behind the Lord MojoBuu long-sleeve. The initial idea for this piece was to pay homage to Public Enemy. Obviously they’re billions of Public Enemy-inspired graphics, so the challenge I posed to myself was, “How can I flip this?” “How can I present P.E. in a way no one has ever seen before?” I asked myself who were the greatest public enemies of all time. Is it Scarface? Is it Al Capone? Is it Pablo Escobar (shoutout to Medellin)? And I was like, “NO WAY JOSE!” The greatest public enemies of all time were Mojo Jojo, Lord Zedd, Invader Zim, Majin Buu, Boba Fett, and Skeletor.
I mean, just look at the facts: Mojo Jojo leads a monkey army in pursuit of world domination, Lord Zedd had a palace on the moon and sent monsters to wreak havoc on Earth on the daily, and Majin Buu straight up absorbed fools and was pink – does it get more thug than that? #murked. After that, it was a done deal. I put various ‘90s childhood cartoon villains on the sleeves with P.E.’s iconic crosshairs, slapped a fat graphic of Terminator on the back to represent Terminator X, and tied in the concept by including “Rebel Without A Pause” in Public Enemy’s classic font.
I know you post on the Hypebeast forums and those guys can be some mean sons of bitches. What has been the general feedback on there? Has anyone said your brand reflects things that are in a toilet?
I’m not going to lie to you, Fongstarr, but I have received threatening DMs. Someone said they’ll jack the wheels out of my Heely’s and eat my cat if I don’t stop making product. But other than that, surprisingly the feedback has been mostly positive. HB users aren’t stupid. They’re well-versed in all things streetwear. The Hypebeast community as a whole is a tribe of diehards and their opinion is greatly respected because they “get it.” They’ll knock you if you’re whack. I mean, even Yeezus is a lurker.
Shroud of Babygirl on the back.
Give me the skinny on the whole process of making your clothing. I know the bigger brands have countless designers and send all their stuff to factories abroad. As someone doing this as a solo venture, how do you handle these things?
I only have a couple of manufactures, so it’s not too difficult to manage. I chose to work with local businesses for quality control and to gain knowledge in production. I feel that it’s important to build face-to-face relationships with people you’re working with, especially in the beginning. If I had any advice for people wanting to start their own label, it’s that you’re going to go through a trial and error process when it comes to manufacturing. There’s no avoiding it. I’d recommend producing locally because you get a hands on experience in all aspects of production from sampling, blanks, ink colors, screen making, and service. Getting familiar with the technical side of things in person will ultimately benefit you in the long run.
“I DON’T HAVE A TEAM. THAT’S THE BIGGEST CON. I HAVE TO BE EVERYBODY. BUT I WOULDN’T BE DOING IT IF IT WASN’T WORTH IT.”
What are some of the pros and cons of running a small brand in your perspective? If you had the means to change one thing, what would it be?
I can literally go on for days answering this question, but to keep it short, I’ll state one major pro and one major con. One of the biggest upsides is working and building relationships with like-minded people and people I’ve always looked up to. Without effulgence, a lot of dope people I’ve met wouldn’t be present in my life. The whole Benny Gold team, Hieroglyphics, Pat Cruz, and even you, Fongstarr – you’re all dope. Learning from you guys is invaluable and I appreciate every opportunity that is presented to me.
However, pursuing effulgence as a solo venture while being a full-time student is definitely a struggle. It takes time away from my baes and Tinder game #thestruggleisreal. In all seriousness, it really does take a lot of my time. I am involved in every facet of the brand. I built my own website, I ship and handle my orders, I do all my marketing and promotion, I handle the customer service duties, and I shoot my look books (besides this drop), and product photos. I don’t have a team. That’s the biggest con. I have to be everybody. But I wouldn’t be doing it if it wasn’t worth it.
Cold Vein hoodie, featuring Cannibal Ox lyrics mashed up with 2001: A Space Odyssey.
You currently intern at Benny Gold and have even done collaborated with the Bay Area hip-hop group Hieroglyphics. How does an average kid like yourself get in these situations?
First off, I refer to him as Benjamin (just kidding Benny, please don’t fire me *praying hands emoji*). And secondly Fongstarr, I’m not average. I’m actually slightly below average and I’m a man. Not a kid. Someone lied to you. It was probably the same person that wanted to eat my cat. But if I had to sum it up in one word I’d have to say persistence. With the Benny Gold internship, I know streetwear brands keeps a tight circle and don’t just hire anybody. But I took my chances and luckily it paid off.
I did some detective work and found out where their disclosed warehouse/design studio is located. I dropped off my resume at BG’s flagship store and warehouse and was told they’ll get back to me within a couple of weeks. I didn’t hear from them, so I went back on a weekly basis to follow up and to show my commitment. Luckily, one day, Benny overheard me talking to one of his BG Hangar employees at the door and he invited me in. I basically gave him an elevator pitch and it just so happened he needed the extra hand. And ever since then, he keeps using my damn hand and even the other one too (again, just kidding Benny, please don’t fire me, I’ll do toilets tomorrow).
Even this interview is an example of persistence. I met Mr. Bobby Hundreds himself on numerous occasions. Once at The Hundreds SF opening, Agenda Long Beach 2012, and The Hundreds SF Street Meet. All three times I gave him my contact hoping for it to lead to something. It didn’t do much, but he did like one of my IG photos. At the very least, he’s aware of my brand. Obviously, Bobby is a busy man and exposed to new upcoming brands constantly, so I completely understand the outcome. It’s crazy how things come full circle because I’m doing an interview for his brand’s website and he could potentially be reading this. Persistence pays off.
Let’s talk streetwear. There are so many different types of companies out there now with their own subculture and what they represent. You have the skater-inspired companies, the hip-hop heads, the hood luxury brands, city-inspired brands, hesh, etc. How would you categorize yourself?
I hate to categorize myself, but since that’s how our world operates, I would say I represent the hip-hop heads and ‘90s babies as of late. I’m just trying to put my own twist on the generic hip-hop and ‘90s-inspired tees you see at your local Wal-Mart. They are so accessible nowadays, and in my opinion, lost their cool factor since they are so obvious. The things I have been influenced by have so much more depth and concept to them – graphics on tees should be executed the same way. But honestly, this brand is just a extension of myself. If you’re into watching re-runs of Hey Arnold, playing Pokemon Red Version, while listening to Wu-Tang or anything along those lines, then you’ll like my brand.
Any designers or streetwear brands you personally like and admire?
All sucking up aside, I’ve always looked up to Benny Gold as a designer and as a brand. He was a big influence on why I wanted to start effulgence. His attention to detail and execution of concepts is what makes me a fan. Still to this day, the Huf Quake project is one of my favorites of his. A streetwear brand that I’m currently hyped on is Hidden Characters by Super Losers Co. Niko aka Tuna and his partners offer a unique gritty, anime-inspired aesthetic – something I haven’t seen before in streetwear. Cowboy Bebop designs to Nujabes to Final Fantasy – what’s not to love?! What makes them even doper is their DIY mentality. They print their shirts themselves, dye their own oxfords, cut & sew their own BDUs, etc. The hype is real with this brand as they sell out within in the first few hours of their drops, which is awesome to feel that hype back in the streetwear game. If you’re reading this, Tuna, let’s make stuff!
Trend hopper or trend setter. Where do you stand on fashion directions in streetwear? Is it a good idea to make that jogger pant for your company because it will sell, or should you say fuck it, and try and rebirth another old ’90s trend like one-clipped overalls knowing it could fail?
I approach this decision with my own brand with a 50% artist and 50% business mentality. It’s always good to go out of the box, but not too outside. Let’s be real, we’re all here trying to make that duffle bag boy money, so it’s fine to hop on trends as long as you make it your own and stay true to your brand. I commend people who set trends, just be smart about it so you don’t release only one product or collection and have to call it quits. It’s all a balance. It’s similar to how people handle relationships nowadays. They friendzone the okay-looking ones with a nice personality, side bae the hot looking ones with a okay personality, but make it Facebook official with the ones that have a solid balance between the two.
As your brand evolves and as you mature as a person, what kind of clothing do you see yourself making in the next 5-10 years?
Honestly in the next 5-10 years, I still see myself watching re-runs of Hey Arnold, playing Pokemon Red Version, while listening to Wu-Tang. So I’ll always make graphic tees with whatever has influenced me in the past or whatever I’m currently interested in. The t-shirt will never go out of style. I also hope to start producing cut & sew garments very soon. It’s a great way to extend your brand in a new form. Heck, I’d even love to create super duper futuristic wearable tech garments or invent the next snuggie, but I’ll take it one step at a time since I haven’t evolved into a Raichu yet. Ash is slippin’.