I was a young kid who looked up to the older kids that were doing it bigger and better... Coming from the burbs, I understood at a young age that I was weird compared to the kids I grew up around. I didn’t find happiness in most activities my peer’s did which is probably why I'm so socially awkward at times. I felt as I was searching for a hobby to make me stand out from my peers. Sports didn’t cut it, music didn’t cut it. Nothing really stuck to me until graffiti came into my life. It became my obsession and overall first love. Not joking haha.
My sister was dating a guy from southern California. Coming from California, he was way ahead in culture or trends. So I looked up to him as a role model growing up. From clothing, art, and skateboarding, he introduced street culture to me.
(PICTURE BY MELTING GIRAFFE ON THE RIGHT)
How did you get into graffiti culture?
I was actually a sticker nerd before the whole painting thing. I would get on instagram and trade sticker packs with seriously anybody. I would draw them up in school and mail them out at the end of the day. I thought that was getting "out there." lol. Then eventually I saw my sister's boyfriend black book and it was over from there...
I was so intrigued with how cool his sketches were. They weren't wild style or anything, but the letters wear crisp and clean. I got a black book and went to work. Got a couple sketches going on and told him I wanted to try and paint a wall. At the time, there was a new graffiti shop in Kansas City that had permission to paint this certain part of the alley behind the store. We were actually one of the first couple to start painting it, now its a blown out ordeal and is literally the megalopolis for anybody from the burbs to come take pictures at.
One thing that came quick was the skill set of painting efficiently and knowledge behind the scene. There are so many elements to graffiti. I would say I had a jump start or had the opportunity to learn more technical shit right off the bat. If you ask most writers on how they started, they would say tagging bridges, local neighborhood cutty spots, etc. I started off “piecing” (graffiti that has more intricate features as in colors, style) overall more put together. I remember how Hyped I was when I finished my first wall, was so fucking pumped. Even though I had to ask my sister's boyfriend to clean up my outlines like crazy. I dived right in and wanted to learn more. Since I gained skills quicker than usual, other writers noticed and I was able to hang with the more talented group of dudes. Most writers know of one another in my hometown. It's pretty small scene compared to your larger cities like Chicago or Los Angeles. Therefore I met and painted with so many people in such a short time.
Painting was all I ever thought about until I graduated high scool. Life came to a point of falling out with a couple of friends of mine which left me with making the decision of either continuing painting or pick up a different hobby and start from scratch. With that all being said I lost a bunch of friends. In opportunistic way, I got the chance to remove myself and focus on creating a brand wrapped around the streets.
How did "Clever Fools" come to be?
At the time of moving my passion of painting to something completely new was hard. I didn't have a job at the time, so I honestly had nothing better to do then to create in some sort. All I knew was I wanted to start a brand because my older homies attempted to start. I was sitting down in my room with my girlfriend at the time and looking at her and telling her I wanted to start a clothing brand. She probably just thought I was on to some random idea that would fade quick. I didn't know what to call it, but I wanted it to describe myself. Everybody was calling me a fool at the time because I wasn't really working or doing much day to day. Which is funny now that I think about it. So coming from the graffiti background... you have to be creative in order to gain style and skill. So I combined the two words "creative" and "fools." That sounded wack as fuck, even she agreed. Like two minutes after we said no that idea, I went to theaurus.com and looked up synymoms for "creative". One of top results was "clever." I looked right her and said "I GOT IT!" The name of Clever Fools just rolled off the tongue nicely and it sounds tight. Ever since that night, I started telling everybody I'm starting a brand called Clever Fools.
Here is picture of my set up at my mom's house in 2016 or so. I thought it was the best day ever getting that 30 year old 4 color press, which I soon realized it was sort of on its last straw. lol. But I made it work and I continued to reinvest my money into the brand/printing.
My girlfriend at the time was super supportive of what I did, so she helped me start it up. We came up with some chill mountain designs in the beginning. I recalled seeing my friend Travis printing shirts in his home with a Hobby Lobby kit a few years back, so her and I went out and got a kit from hobby lobby and went to work. We had this one triangle design that for some reason a lot of people liked. We didn't really have a plan for what we were doing. We literally would go to Hobby Lobby for blank Gildans and print them and ship them out to friends and locals. Word was spreading pretty quick and we were selling everyday off of our big-cartel lol. It was fun, but the branding was ass compared to what we push out now, but we were newbies to the whole thing. We ended up setting up a couple booths for this event in Kansas City called First Fridays. We got the ball rolling till our relationship hit a steep end. Later on, I eventually paid her for what she has invested time wise into what was the beginning of the brand...
It was a very awkward time in my life because I was faced with the option to keep the brand alive or just quit because she wasn't around to help any more. I am very glad I pressed on and had a group of supportive friends at the time to help me out. I feel the split up was meant to be because that summer was the biggest transition to the brand. We went from being some chill Patagonia lookin ass brand to what I initially visioned the brand to be. Streetwear. I worked all summer to create a new look for the brand. It was the first time I released 4-5 pieces at one time. This really opened the doors for what the brand was eventually going to be.
What made Serg and you want to start up a blog about graffiti writers?
What I think sort of inspired me was flashing back to when I first met my sister's boyfriend from CA, he introduced me to a site called Skate All Cities. It was a blog forum for users to upload pics and comment about what's going down in that city. I get on it a lot, but I knew it was dope. Honestly, I love hearing the story about how people started and to see where they are at now. I think it's important for anyone no matter what your doing to keep being consistent in their craft. Talent is not built overnight, so I want to showcase emerging and well established writers to others who might be interested in picking it up as a hobby. I want the blog to be a platform for . I want to share what writers are doing. What they're accomplishing. What they're saying about the scene. Everybody has a different story to how they started and what makes them still write. So i think people will enjoy to see others connecting with us and sharing their story.
What are the challenges of starting a streetwear brand in KC wrapped around graffit and street culure? What are some good things about it? What are the bad things?
I love the vibe Kansas City has. It feels small in a map perspective, but has a lot of life in it. I wouldn't say the city has a significant amount of culture in the streetwear scene, but we stay with it. If you ask any other brand owners what type of clothes they make, 9/10 will usually say it's based around Kansas City. A lot of these brands play off our local sports team or main attractions. I tend to stay away from anything super Kansas City related yet. I like the way I brand... a strictly street brand now. I might eventually do a KC shirt, but it will have a clever fools twist of graff in it or something. Overall, I would say its pretty easy to be washed up in all those other KC brands.
CF has received a great response from the peers here in KC. Most the skater and graff kids fuck with the movement we push out. I would say we are the most up in the streets..but thats because the group of friends in CF grew up skating or painting streets. People always shout us out for the stickers and fliers around the city, which is tight! I do have to say that I love the competition from the few select "street" brands here in KC. We all know of one another for the most part, but we all brand ourselves in a unique way. Everybody stays in there lane usually, but you will find some brands heavily copying some style. No names. Each brand here has a goal in mind of who will establish the first streetwear empire in KC. Los Angeles has a ton of there own, New York too.. but KC? That would be nuts! I consider us all hungry wolves...
(PICTURE BY VOICEONEARTS ABOVE)
On the flip side, I get a lot of flack from owning the brand. Some hate just to hate, others have their reasons. The most conflicted area is us posting our name everywhere. Some people will tear down or diss the street marketing. Honestly, it would take a awhile to fully remove us of from this city. We are not in just one section of the city. But all bordering parts that flow to the downtown. I frequently get hit up by haters who think the brand is shit. Im learning to not give a fuck more and more everyday. Some say im a poser for not skating as much since I own the brand... don't give a fuck about that either. I am more into the painting aspect or being creative director behind this movement. I just take in mind that they suck at shit too, so they're pathetic if they think someone is less because they aren't as good at ONE particular thing... people in this world are wack as fuck at times.
How do you consider the brand "street"?
The brand is street because we all keep to the roots of where we all met. Street marketing is the main differentiator that separates us from other brands here in Kansas City. Ive always been intrigued with early OBEY, so thats probably where the idea of fliers, stickers, and signage came from. I wanted the brand to be the noticed significantly on the streets of KC, so I made a very frequent and strict goal to keep the streets on lock. However, I did not want the brand to be just recognized by graff writers, but by the average citizens. So I thought about it for awhile and came to the conclusion that guerrilla marketing would be my next campaign. Tagging somebody’s building would not grab the attention that I was looking for in this case. So I said why don’t I apply my graff skills and convert it to be more approachable, but by the MASSES. It all started out with stickers and fliers which was cool and all. It grabbed a lot of attention quick because we popped out of no where and went hard as fuck with it. But it wasn't enough, I wanted to go bigger with more eyes to view our name. I was scrolling through craigslist under art materials one day and came across some lady selling banner material for dirt cheap. Hit her up and started painting banner's in my backyard. It was almost a genius idea, because with graffiti you have to have a wall to put your name on in the city. With Banners... All you need is fence. Banners are cool because your name can stretch large and able to be viewed from long distance. Typically the best spot to hang the banners is off the free way because thousands of different people potentially lay eyes on it EVERY DAY!
My next experimental adventure I want to try out is wheat paste. Some hate on it, but shit how can you hate on something you never tried? The posters the brand would be pasting up could be quotes we like for the brand, or flipped messages about current controversies. I don't know yet, but I am excited to see what the team comes up with.
The brand is street overall. The people I hang with, the designs the team and I come up with, the endless hours we pour into getting our name out there. That's what makes us street. This brand was not created by one person... but rather the passion from everybody who fucks with CF.
What goes into the process of running Clever Fools?
This is a good question because it's different every single day. There are so many elements to building a successful brand, which I would still say I am not. The truth is its very fucking tough trying to get somebody to support your brand when you have major brands that are dominating the industry. However, brands come and go, but staying active and creating is the best way to rise. You can get your 15 minutes to shine, but you must kill it in that 15 if you know what I mean. Some days all I want to do market the brand on social media, or post stuff up on the streets, or pass out stickers at the local college. I must say marketing for CF is never ending madness because I have to grab someones attention and get them to understand the idea behind Clever Fools. Doing that everyday is mentally exhausting. I find myself pouring into lots of hours for nothing in return. But I fucking love spreading the brand around to new people.
Another cool thing about the brand is that we keep everything in house. Like I said earlier, we started with a small hobby lobby kit, now its much bigger. The team operates two manual presses, 6/4 and a 4/4 with each to their own a conveyor dryer, and a brand new addition! We just purchased an automatic press. We work out of a basement studio type of space, but I love it. It's the first print shop to call mine.
So when we do drops, they tend to happen every 2-3 months or so. Usually you will find 5-6 high quality pieces in the collection. We first start off with roughly 10 or so design ideas then narrow it down to the top 3-4. Those 3 or 4 designs move onto the art stage, where I tend to give the idea to the best person to tackle the job. I use to do nearly all of the artwork for CF, but it got so draining. Therefore, I let the homies use their artistic talents for the merch drops too. Once, we get the rough drafts, we usually will clean it up into a nice spot color vector. Boxes of blank garments will arrive on the porch a few days later. I'll set up all the screens, and it will take us about a week to print up those couple designs because I want everything about the garments to be precise and spot on. Once everything is printed, we will seam rip the stock tags that come in the shirts and replace it with a Clever Fools woven label for quality. Next, they are polybagged and shipped out to a happy customer once we release it.
What keeps you going and motivated?
Honestly, building legacy of the brand keeps me going. Seeing what the brand has evolved into over the past years has been exciting to watch. It's always cool to see people all over the country fucking with something me and the homies are creating and selling over the internet. Another big factor is I want to keep myself more accountable to make the next biggest brand in Kansas City. If I don't create that realm... I didn't just fail the people I told it to, but i failed myself. I super scared to failing myself and regret not making that one move or continue. I truly see potential in the brand. My friends who pour into time into Cf mean so much to me, I would hate to just let it stop.
I try to make the brand have a hood but chill approach. I want all types of people to wear it like gangsters, skaters, rappers, graffiti writers. The youth pretty much. want people to feel “cool” when they are wearing the brand. Our biggest sellers will always be t-shirts for us, but I have been messing around with accessories and some cut and sew from China. I try to make the next collection bigger and better than the last!
Most frustrating moment with the brand?
Haha. There has a been a shit ton! But most of the time, these "street" kids don't realize that we come from the street environment. We get the rules. They think Im just some random kid from the burbs that popped up out of nowhere and started making money off the culture. I remember the time we went to this local chill wall that everybody paints. We were recording a wall for the a video called THE STREETS WEAR THE BRAND. We had the homies Dirty Dan and Voice one Arts out there painting and filming. Like I said, everybody and their mom paints this wall. At the time we scoped it, it was in the worst condition ever.. It was mostly just young kids tagging on the wall. Nothing dope AT ALL... So we went out one hot ass summer day and were ready to cover the whole thing. It was exhausting as fuck when the sun came out because we ran out of water quickly into it. However, we did end up finishing the wall. SHIT LOOKED DOPE AS FUCK!!! We knew we crushed it. However, I knew this wall would get covered in a short amount of time, but we did it for the trial of seeing if we could pull it off. But here comes the internet, and people always commenting about subjects they have no clue about. It's rather annoying to see people hate on something that they truly don't have any knowledge about... thats the most frustrating.
(PICTURE BY VOICEONEARTS ON THE RIGHT)
Quick fire questions:
Coolest piece you have released for CF?
Umm.. thats a tough one! I like all the products, but I really fuck with the “Keep It Street” tee or the Simply OG windbreaker. But I like them all... We have some really cool shit dropping all year.
Favorite chill activity within in the brand?
Definitely painting… thats my roots. I skate, but all my friends kill it way harder with skating. Also, I like to listen to music a lot.
Whose the main people you work along with?
Each one of my homies does something different with the brand. Shout out my bros Dirty Dan, Sergio, Ethan, and many more to this list.
What else do you do ?
I like business in general, but I like hearing other people's start ups and how they think about branding. I gain a lot of cool ideas just by linking up with other creatives.
Best phrase you believe in?
DO IT NOW. Honestly, its a new saying that has stuck to me recently. If you have the opportunity to do something now, its best because you either will forget about it or trying to do it in the future will be harder to recreate.