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The Cold, Hard Truth :: The Realities of Building a Streetwear Brand

The Cold, Hard Truth :: The Realities of Building a Streetwear Brand

By Bobby Hundreds

Bobby Hundreds and Josh Vides discuss Josh’s departure from CLSC, waking up from the Streetwear Dream, and why nobody’s trying to build a brand to last anymore.

Welcome to the entrepreneurial generation. The American Dream has moved from a college degree and a pension job to a startup app that breaks a billion by prom. It’s hard to shoot for a secure and steady career when overnight Internet renegades define the paradigm of success. From girl bosses to Snapchat Spiegel, I blame the Facebook film (The Social Network) for planting this seed of modern-day DIY in kids’ heads. Why work a stuffy day job for someone else when you can hustle your Instagram for influencer dollars? I guess I can also take a hard look in the mirror. After all, it was our generation of streetwear that modeled this organic brand/business spirit for fledgling sneakerheads. We didn’t really know what we were doing, just out there having fun and printing T-shirts. A decade later, we’ve got thriving careers under our belt. All those customers were unwitting students. They learned from us and are setting the rules for the next class.

But, that’s not painting the full picture. The social media highlight reel only captures the popped bottles and flashy collabs. The cobweb that holds it all together, however, is fraught with headaches and heartaches. Everyone’s there to witness the next cool brand fire up, but no one sticks around to watch it burn. Nobody wants to hear the truth. Streetwear is a creative sport, but it’s also imprisoned by vigilant branding. Streetwear can be a merciless and unforgiving trade. It can be a job, just like any other job, and the variables (trends, finicky fashion) stack against a brand’s favor. The greatest enemy of all isn’t the death of wholesale or the thousands of new brands breathing down your neck every season. It’s time. We’ve been running our brand for 14 years, which is an anomaly. A solid streetwear brand has a good 5-10 year run in them before the world tires. After that, most brands outwear their welcome.

Back in 2010, Joshua Vides and a few friends banded together to start CLSC (pronounced “classic”), an Inland Empire-based streetwear brand, built from scratch and raw creative energy, which gained fast local notoriety. Josh CLSC lived the golden streetwear story. Over the years, CLSC found financial backing, hired all of Josh’s friends, was stocked in the world’s most premiere retailers, and opened a flagship store on Fairfax. As of last week, though, Josh—now 27 years old and the newly married father of two kids—is stepping down as CLSC’s designer and Creative Director. This is the story of everything that happened in between... and what comes after.

—X—

BOBBY HUNDREDS: Take me back to how CLSC started.

JOSH VIDES: I was 19. Before CLSC, there was a brand called DOnUt, which you know about.

It standed for “Do you, not them.” So the D-O-U were capitalized and the N and the T were small. It was Nelson, Mateo, Sunny, etc. It’s a group of kids from the I.E. [Inland Empire], the logo was a baker, and one of the guys who started the brand actually owned a donut shop. So we would make T-shirts and put them in pink donut boxes, which is actually kind of cool if you think about it…

This was 2009? Maybe '8? I had just got out of high school; I was 19, 18. And I hit up Nelson because he was one of the owners, worked at Hat Club, and I had seen him in high school rocking streetwear super early. I was like, “Yo, I know how to draw, I like streetwear”—obviously I was into The Hundreds and shit. And he was like, “Yeah! Whatever! Draw some shit.” So I drew some cool donuts, donuts with arms running, fighting each other, jelly coming out, you know? And I showed him and he was like, “Whoa, this is sick.” They made a shirt and it was “DREAM”—Donuts Rule Everything Around Me. Everything was terrible, but they were cool guys [laughs]. I got intro-ed into the brand after they saw my work.

CLSC circa 2010.

A few months in, I was kind of like, “I get this. I can probably do this by myself.” I actually kind of broke up the brand. We used to have Sunday night meetings, so one Sunday night we sit down and this was after some things had happened or someone pissed me off and I was like, “Fuck it I’m out of here.” I go, “Hey, before this meeting begins, I’m out. I’m going to do my own shit. Thank you.” Nelson already kind of knew because he was actually like my homie. Everyone was a homie, but he was the one I clicked with the most. And so he goes, “If Josh is leaving, I’m leaving.” And then Brice goes, “Well if Nelson and Josh are leaving, I’m leaving.” And then it turns into this chaotic thing; it’s actually at my mom’s house.

So they leave, and then I turn around and am like, “We need to start a brand. Like now.” It was Ryan Guadez, Bryan Servillon—you’ve met Bryan before. I go, “Are you guys in because you stayed?” And they’re like, “Yeah, we’re with you.” And literally that night we threw out names, concepts, etc. A few weeks later we circled CLSC on a piece of paper and the journey began.

Nelson McClintock and Josh Vides outside The Hundreds Santa Monica in 2011.

Wait, so how many guys were involved? In the beginning?

It was me, Nelson, Brice, Bryan, Bryan, Bobby, and David. So seven.

Geez! There were seven guys involved in CLSC in the beginning?

That day, yeah.

And how did it go from there being seven guys to one guy?

We all had other things going on in life and we had never done this before. So there were some guys that stepped up to the plate and tried to figure it out, and some people who were like, “I don’t know this and I’m just going to see if it cracks off or not.” Then they left at some point after months of not getting paid to work.

Josh: “The day I got out of jail and went straight to The Hundreds to get my job back.” Summer 2011.

So everyone just kind of phased themselves out. It’s what happens with lots of new, young brands. When I met you, it was just you and Nelson.

Brice was still around. But me and Nelson were like the owners, and Brice was the brand manager/marketing guy/right hand man.

And there became a moment where Nelson left? Or you—

I bought him out.

CLSC Holiday 2012 lookbook.

Nelson and Josh in the CLSC office in 2013.

You bought him out. Because you were like, “I know, this is my thing”?

Well, that’s when I found out my wife was pregnant. This was February of 2013.

Your priorities had shifted. But I mean like, what would have happened if you had never had a kid and had never gotten married?

CLSC would not be as big as it is and I would’ve... I was like drinking a lot and smoking a lot. Being an idiot. You know.

—X—

In the fall of 2013, CLSC gets investors.

Do you know how much money you were making at the time?

As the company? Before they came on? Like, $50,000 a year. And that’s not even adding production—we were selling $50,000 a year, maybe.

So then, these guys come around in 2013. Investors. Can I say who they are?

I mean, I don’t know. They’ve invested in other companies in streetwear. They’ve probably done other shit. I actually met them at Agenda and Jay from Visual brought them around. He was like, “Hey, these guys got money. You have good ideas, you should probably talk to them.” The conversation started, few months of going back and forth, signed the contract, and the first thing was like, “Let’s make [Josh’s friend] Red a full-time employee.” That’s when he quit working at RSWD.

Brice and Red at AGENDA, 2013.

CLSC Spring 2013 lookbook, shot by Brick Stowell. L to R: Josh, Nelson, Jesse, Brice

Before Red [real name Jered Vargas] came on, nobody was getting paid. We had some money, and then we’d fucking blow it on something—like go out or some shit. Plus production and whatnot, we had a couple hundred dollars. Pair of shoes, some alcohol, weed, done deal. Goodbye profit.

So you gave up a part of the business to someone else to have them come in and give you money.

Yes. And at the time, that was it. I was like, “I just need your money.” I’ll do the rest.

And you were stoked.

Yeah. Even just hiring Red, that was huge. We needed him. And I was working at SSUR at the time. There was nobody full time working for CLSC yet. He was the first one. November 2nd, 2013, was his first day I think. So he comes on, and you know, by December, Brice dips. And 2014 starts and I’m working here [at The Hundreds] and Red’s just fucking—

CLSC’s AGENDA booth in 2014.

Cranking.

It was pretty awesome. I’m working for Scotty [at The Hundreds], which is the fucking man of sales. And he’s teaching me. He made me a sales rep. When I was at SSUR, I was just like, “Hey. I have some black shirts.” He taught me margins, communications, everything. To even reading reports from Zumiez and all this shit. So I was literally taking all of this shit and going to the CLSC office and being like, “Red, this is what I learned today.” I mean, we didn’t know what we were doing and that information was crazy to learn.

But that’s when CLSC started—when Red came on. Six months later, my 25th birthday, I quit working here [at The Hundreds] to go do CLSC full-time. Red was getting paid a small salary, and maybe a couple points on sales. We still weren’t really making money, you know? So I kind of hit the investors and they were like, “Yeah, there’s not really much money so you can quit and take some money in the bank when there’s some there. But we don’t got it like that,” but it was just in me like, “I need to go do this,” and risk my fucking life for whatever reason.

L to R: Jesse, Adam, Red at CLSC’s AGENDA booth in 2014.

CLSC Spring/Summer 2014.

Do you know how much money you were doing in sales by the end of that year?

CLSC? We probably bumped up to like 150, 200k.

So you go from like $50,000 to 150, 200. What’s going through your mind at that time? I feel like now you’re living the streetwear dream, right?

I mean, I was happy. We had an ill office in downtown and obviously like, we didn’t have to worry about money, you know what I’m saying? I mean, we weren’t making money like that yet; I was paying myself shit at the time. I was getting a couple grand here and there, but we were doing what we wanted to do and didn’t have to worry about doing some craze shit and finding cash for it. We would walk around tradeshows, not working for anybody anymore... We’d walk by Russ [from SSUR], Aaron [Levant], and you guys and be like, “Yo!!!” Everybody was happy for us, and obviously that is a great feeling. 2014 was great and 2015 was better.

2015 was when it cracked off.

Yeah, we skyrocketed that year.

CLSC Fall 2014 lookbook, shot by Evy Optics.

CLSC x Hall of Fame, Fall 2014 lookbook featuring Alysha Nett,

What happened that year?

I think 2014 set us up or showed us a little more of what we were capable of. International business started moving and we were opening great accounts. We got into stores like Wish Atlanta, and everybody was like, “What the fuck?” You know, Sneaker Politics, etc. So opportunities started falling in our laps that hadn’t before, like collaborations. That was just most of my day to day at that point besides designing. Go find projects and convince bigger companies why they needed to do a project with us. And we did a shitload.

Of collabs.

Yeah. I mean, up until that point, to me, even going back to the beginning, streetwear at that time, it was like formula. I looked at you guys, I looked at Crooks, I looked at Black Scale, there was a specific formula that everyone was doing at that’s all that existed.

Which was what?

Do collaborations, get in cool stores, open your own retail store, you know? Whatever. Get road reps, get an East Coast guy, get a West Coast guy. That’s all it was. Get on Hypebeast. Do good lookbooks, do cool projects.

The Hundreds X CLSC, 2015.

CLSC x XLARGE, 2016.

Shoot hot chicks in your T-shirts.

Exactly. I don’t even think pop-ups was like—

The thing yet.

Yeah, like that early? I don’t think so. So, yeah, it was like, “Red, lets get into these stores, lets say no to Zumiez.” That was a huge thing. I remember Scotty was like, “I didn’t say yes to Zumiez for, like, seven years.” So it was like a thing. There was literally a blueprint set up by you guys, and I followed it. To get to C, you had to do A and B, you know. ‘Cause I didn’t know what else to do. So we got into cool stores, we got the collabs going. It wasn’t until ’15 that we opened our own store.

So by the end of ’15 you had your own store.

Yes.

And do you know how much money you were making that year? Because that was like, the year. Did you break a mil?

Yes we did. We sure did. I don’t think I can talk about exact numbers, you know? The beginning of 2015 was amazing, but towards the end of ’15 is when we and bigger brands started going through what everyone is going through right now.

Which is what?

That retail is fucking tanking and wholesale is slowing down. But we were still breaking through that, because we were new.

I specifically remember going to the tradeshow in like, August 2015 and walking around and going back to the booth and being like, “What the fuck is going on?” Red’s like, “Everyone’s like, complaining, and I can’t even agree with them.” I go, “Damn dude, it’s happening, we’re taking the market.” It was literally happening in front of our eyes.

The CLSC shop on Fairfax Ave. in 2015.

Totally. I remember that too. So now you guys are selling around the world. You have a store in ’15, doing definitely over a mil, everything’s on point, and then the retail, the wholesale market in general, is getting wonky.

Yeah.

So when did that start affecting CLSC? When did that start becoming a problem for you?

2014-2015 were fucking amazing. No problems, we were hiring on more people. We had our own warehouse and then ’16 starts and the West Coast region slows down a little, because that was the first coast to bring us on. That was our backyard. So that’s where we started first. In the East Coast, we were still hella new, and Red would come back from trips and be like, “We opened fucking 15 accounts!” Like, what?! You know? We were in every store we needed to be at that point on the West Coast.

And then, little by little, retailers started the whole, “Hey, my budget got cut in half.” Or like, “I’ll just take the ‘Sucks to Suck’ shirt, black and white for now and hit you back in a few weeks.” We were still growing around the world. Asia was just starting, East Coast was growing. So it was really just the West Coast where we took a little hit, but everything else was still growing so I wasn’t too worried but knew we had to fix it.

CLSC Holiday 2015.

Another big thing that had happened was, one day Red kind of just pulls me to the side and is like, “Hey, Anwar asked me to help [selling] Carrots.” Then he’s like, “The homie StreetX in Australia needs help too. Is it cool if I do that?” I’m like, “Yeah dude, help them out.” At the time, they were small. And Carrots, obviously, always had potential. But I was just like, “Yeah, well help them for a little bit.” I didn’t think nothing of it besides the fact Red would be doing work after CLSC hours, you know. So that conversation happened, and then that’s in my mind when I was like, “Oh shit. Red’s probably going to do a sales agency soon.”

Red takes on sales for Carrots and StreetX, which eventually takes him away from CLSC.

So Red officially leaves that August. He starts Triple 7 Distribution, a brand development/sales agency. Once that happened, it inspired me. This just opened up a whole new world for this guy, where it’s not like he just has one thing to offer (CLSC). So I see that and I’m like, fuck, that’s tight.

Fast forward to 2016, retail is really taking a shit. Especially for the big guys and U.S. doors, for everybody, in this fucking industry. There was this one trip Red came back and I was like, “How was it?” and he was like, “Dude, six doors are gone.” You know? Instead of coming back and being like, “I opened 15 doors!” it’s like, six doors are gone.

They’re not there anymore.

Well, it was either, “One’s half a coffee shop now.” You know? I’m like “What?!” And they make their own products! They have like dad hats with the roses on them when The Hundreds one was cracking. I swear.

Was your heart still in CLSC at this time?

Well it still is today. My whole heart? No. I have kids. I have a wife. I have a dog. Things are different now. I’m sure it’s the same for you. CLSC was everything to me when I started because I didn’t have much. The streetwear industry was the only industry I knew about. The idea of not being a brand owner was like giving up on life, you know?

Was there ever a point with CLSC where you were like, “This can provide for my whole family.” Or was it always looked at more as “This is a passion project and I’m not looking at it as a career-long thing?”

It was both. I mean, rewind to being 19. I looked at you guys, Nick Diamond, and I wanted to accomplish that and live off of that for the rest of my life. Literally retire as a streetwear owner. That was a legit fucking idea in my head. But also, I thought my son or daughter would take over the business-type of idea, you know. My heart is still in it, but now I have ventured into this new world of doing something other than CLSC.

Josh in CLSC’s early days in 2010.

As soon as Josh stepped outside of CLSC, he set foot into Workwell, his new agency.

At what point did you think of doing this agency?

Honestly, I talked to Red about this for years. It was more so sales-focused, but we’d be in the office like, “We should start a sales agency. We have all the accounts and contacts already!” And we’d always get gassed up, hit a wall, and be like, “We can’t have anything to do with CLSC though for this to work properly.” We knew it’d be tough to convince brands to work with us because we were full-time CLSC.No one’s ever going to believe in us like that because they know that we’re busy building this brand, running it. And then the conversation was done.

But honestly, dude, the Workwell idea didn’t turn into a “I have to do this,” until maybe a month and a half ago. What really started the bubble was talking to Ben [Hundreds] about it, while I was still doing special projects for you guys. It was more of a tax thing. I was like, “Hey, should I form an LLC? Will I get a tax break? Instead of making the checks to Joshua Vides, what if you make them to Joshua Fucking Art LLC, whatever?” And he was like, “Yeah. For sure. You can write off more.” So I came up with the term “Workwell.”

Josh in Taipei in 2015 for Hypebeast Streetsnaps.

I kind of told you this the other day, but I didn’t have a Ben. So not only was I designing 30 graphics a season and handling collabs, I also had to find the best screen printer and fight for cost on cut & sew, business shit. You know? You don’t have to think about that side of the business because Ben handles that. I’ve been doing both for forever.

It’s nice when you only have one side of a brand to handle, and everything else is figured out.

Do you think you’ll ever do a brand again? Like your own brand?

Yeah. But my idea of one is different now. Look at how many brands are popping up now—and succeeding. The blueprint that existed back in the day—gone. There’s brands like Chinatown Market, Pleasures, there’s brands like Braindead and Carrots. They’re all doing it differently. The routine brand guideline’s book pages got ripped out and colored on. It’s a beautiful thing. So yeah, if I’m going to do it, it’s not going to be as serious, I guess. From the beginning of CLSC, my idea was to create a very, very successful and structured Streetwear brand that will allow me to retire.

That idea to me now is fucking crazy.

CLSC x Stance, 2016.

Do you think those guys will be able to do it? Those new brands? Do you think there can be another The Hundreds or another Stussy?

Yes, I do.

It’s really almost near impossible to do this. But considering how many people began and how far they get, you probably have a better chance at winning the lottery.

Yeah that’s true. People are starting brands, making money, and will most likely sell it in a few years, if that.

Like they don’t have the emotional attachment.

The brand loyalty thing. That shit does not exist anymore. Maybe. I don’t know who’s really trying to retire off of being a streetwear brand owner anymore. Or I might have been the only one [laughs].

C.B.L. lookbook, Josh’s brand after CLSC in 2016.

When we built this brand—and we still feel this way—it was like, “Oh, I want to be like Levi’s.” Like, “Oh, my great grandkids are going to work for this brand.”

I remember having a conversation with Ben about CLSC, in 2014, he was like, “What do you want to be like?” I said, “Like DC. Hurley.” He was like, “Oh, fuck. Good answer. I thought you were going to say us or Diamond.” I’m like, “No. No offense but I’m trying to make hundreds, maybe thousands of jobs available in my company.” He was like, “That’s a good way to think.” I don’t know if anyone in our industry is thinking like that anymore. If they are, God bless ’em.

Because of the Internet?

Definitely. There’s going to be a new ten brands this month. But I enjoy it. Some are great and some are terrible but it’s refreshing. I was at a thing last night with a bunch of homies. And everyone’s showing each other their phones like, “Look at this! Haha! That’s fucking sick. That shit would kill. Oh, let’s do fucking Facebook ads.” It’s so easy now, and we all know how to make it happen so we’d be dumb if we didn’t capitalize, you know? I don’t think people are in it like, “I have this idea that’s going to last fucking ten years.” I think people are like, “I can make this Tupac shirt right now and probably make a thousand dollars.” And there’s a shitload of those. They’re just eating up the market.

So you’re calling your agency “Work Well”?

Yeah, one word. Workwell.

C.B.L. teaser, 2016.

C.B.L’s booth at AGENDA Enclave, 2017.

It’s you and [designer] Ken?

Yes.

What’s your pitch on it if I’m sitting next to you on a plane? I’m like, “What do you do?”

...This all happened in the last two or three weeks, so I’m sorry if I don’t have—

It’s never going to be perfect! I still don’t know what I say. I’m like, “Streetwear designer,” but what I really do…

I’m starting a company called “Workwell,” and we specialize in product service and creative development. And that can entail everything from plugging you with a manufacturer to growing your social media to everything in the middle. You need help making a portfolio? I can do that very well. Retailers won’t email you back? I know what you’re doing wrong. You live in the UK and want to hop on the phone and ask me questions about business? Let’s talk. You have a retail store and want to design inline product but you’re too busy? When do we start? After 7 years of Streetwear college, I’m finally open to teaching and showing what I’ve learned and experienced to others.

Because, from what I’ve learned in the last few months, I actually really enjoy it, and lowkey, it makes me really happy to do something for somebody and see them happy about the result.

When Josh launched his ambitious 30 day Streetwear/branding tutorial via Snapchat.

So having a brand is like doing something for yourself in a way, and now you get to do work where you’re serving others. So what happens to CLSC now? Where does CLSC stand?

Well, CLSC continues. It’s still a worldwide streetwear brand. And again, I still have my heart in it, just not 100%. It’s like a kid, man. I can’t just let it go. That’s why I’m still going to have my hand in it, and how you’re saying, in a year, something might change. Fuck, who knows man. Maybe in a year, something pokes me in the ass and is like, “What are you doing?” Or, maybe not. We’re attached to our creations whether they last 7 years or 1 day. No matter what, even if you walk away from The Hundreds, you’re going to see the Adam Bomb and you’re going to feel something.

Josh in 2012.

Oh my God, for the rest of my life.

I’m always going to care. Obviously how much I’m working on the brand is changing, but it’s still going to continue and grow in more ways than just sales. There’s thousands of people out there buying CLSC who have no idea who I am. I just want to put some marbles in other places. I’m 27. You met me when I was 19 and my rent was 500 bucks. I got my own family now. At the end of the day, I need to do what makes me happy, and if I do that, I’ll have fun. Workwell is going to be a lot of fun and most importantly, I can continue doing what I love.

***

WORKWELLAGENCY.COM

Follow Josh on Instagram @joshuavides and his new agency Workwell at @workwellagency.

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