Anwar Carrots

LOS ANGELES — “What is a typical day like for you?”

“Typical day,” Anwar Carrots repeated slowly into his phone over FaceTime. “Honestly, my typical day changed because I had a baby… Every day it’s literally take care of my child. By 12:00 I come to my office, which I’m at now, have a meeting. Actually, I have one right now, ‘cause I’m doing an interview while I’m with you. It’s kind of sick.”

He smiled. Indeed, it kind of is.

The young designer and entrepreneur — he legally changed his surname from Washington to his high school nickname, Carrots (given for being a redhead) — who helms his contemporary streetwear label Carrots by Anwar Carrots received the call from a marketing agency for Chevy earlier that morning about doing the call for the automaker. He’s now sitting at a work table on the upper floor of the Arlington Heights studio, called the Bird Nest, that he shares with his wife going through a round of prompts to say his name, where he lives and to recite the first few lines from Donny and Marie Osmond’s “A Little Bit Country, a Little Bit Rock ‘N’ Roll.” Three takes later, the caller is pleased enough with the options to send to the client.

Multitasking about sums up Carrots’ typical day as an entrepreneur whose business is approaching the multimillion-dollar mark and who is now in high demand by marketers for just being, well, real.

He recently did a deal with Evian to be one of the brand’s faces, along with Luka Sabbat, as the bottled water company looks to tap a younger consumer. There’s also a raft of collaborations recently with K-Swiss, Guess, Champion, the underground and much hyped Japanese label Girls Don’t Cry and Sanrio. Next up is a collaboration with designer Mark McNairy for winter and next year working with London-based Pendleton to bring home goods to the market and Sanrio once again on a Gudetama collaboration for Japan.

The Carrots by Anwar Carrots label is a lifestyle brand he officially brought to market in March 2015 that, at its simplest, is a collection of what Carrots would call fresh essentials: the clothes he would wear, a baby collection inspired by the birth of his daughter, a little bit of furniture and accessories. Carrots goes to retail for the first time with his own pop-up in Japan’s Harajuku district, next to Supreme, running Nov. 2 to Nov. 11 and there’s talk now of doing five concept shops in China that would include a restaurant to build out the world of Carrots.

“Working with someone with a creative vision like his is always a pleasure, and then seeing him on set, just how organically he works — he’s not forcing anything, and that’s what I love about Anwar,” said Patrick Buchanan, global marketing director of K-Swiss Global Brands, which has now done three sneakers with Carrots. “Even when we were shooting the campaign in Inglewood he was like ‘Hey, I just want to go to my favorite restaurant. Let’s crash it and bring all my friends.’

What resulted was what could have easily passed as images tucked away in a photo album of friends hanging out. It’s when “you get to see the final product,” Buchanan said, “you’re like holy s–t, this is the magic of Anwar Carrots.”

It also seemed a no-brainer for Guess to include Carrots in it’s Farmers Market concept this past spring, which pulled in a number of brands from the local streetwear scene.

“We share Los Angeles and it’s important to support the community of brands and culture together,” said Nicolai Marciano, Guess Inc. director of brand partnerships and specialty marketing and head of the Guess Jeans U.S.A. division.

K-Swiss Anwar Carrots

Anwar Carrots and his friends at an Inglewood restaurant for a recent K-Swiss campaign.  Kari Hamanaka

It would almost seem the flurry of attention around Carrots came out of nowhere, but this is now some 10 years in the making.

It was in that past decade, once Carrots moved from the Virgin Islands to Los Angeles, he entrenched himself in L.A.’s streetwear scene and culture. He and his friends hung out on Fairfax Avenue and shopped stores such as Stussy and Union. They were “real city cats” as Carrots put it, arriving at parties where cliques looked to one-up each other on how fresh they could dress. All of it was well-documented in a blog Carrots started that defined the aesthetic and ethos of Peas & Carrots International, the predecessor brand to Carrots by Anwar Carrots.

“It was just literally asking questions,” he said of the early days when he began learning there was more to streetwear than A Bathing Ape. “It started with me caring 10 years ago and the fact that I like things people don’t have. As long as people weren’t wearing what I was wearing at school. That’s where this all initially started.”

Carrots went on to the apparel brand Rogue Status, first as an intern before ultimately running their Venice store. He was dismissed after his boss caught wind of a video (which went viral) that he and his friends made as they danced inside the store on a particularly slow Valentine’s Day. The firing was the wake-up call that pushed Carrots into spinning his blog into a full-on lifestyle brand. After all, he had honed his customer service and marketing skills at Rogue and figured the client base he developed there would follow him wherever he went. So he called his friend Josh “Peas” Harris and also enlisted rapper Casey “Veggies” Jones — one of the original members of Odd Future.

“It was all a journey,” Carrots said. “From 2009 to 2014, we were doing Peas & Carrots strict.”

The brand was what many aspiring to be a lifestyle brand try to emulate today, and consisted of a collective of creatives with the blog that covered the culture and music, product and a music management division co-managed with Roc Nation. It opened its first store in 2013 and shuttered Thanksgiving Day 2014 when the founders went their separate ways. Two weeks later Carrots decided he wasn’t quite done.

Carrots by Anwar Carrots is a do-over perhaps on something that never had a chance to fully come to fruition.

“We didn’t even start,” he said of Peas & Carrots. “I always say, could you imagine if it went the way I envisioned it.”

That’s because in the 18 months, when Peas & Carrots was up and running with merchandise to sell, Carrots said the business pulled in roughly $250,000 from the physical store and online shop at a time when the brand’s reach hadn’t even been fully realized.

Anwar Carrots

Carrots pictured in his Arlington Heights studio and headquarters.  Kari Hamanaka

All that knowledge of L.A. street culture history, the lessons learned from anyone willing to answer Carrots’ questions and a general curiosity to learn is now being propelled into Carrots the label. And, unlike some of his peers, he’s open-minded about who he partners with, largely driven off his own intuition, earning him the label by some of tastemaker — something he himself refuses to say.

“I learned off the Bathing Ape structure,” said Carrots, an avid fan of the label’s founder Tomoaki Nagao, better known as Nigo. “Their structure was to sell wholesale and they pulled all their wholesale accounts because they started opening all these retail stores. Me personally I don’t mind building a relationship with my wholesale accounts. Honestly, a good part of my business is with Urban Outfitters and it’s not [diluting] my brand because that s–t actually sells out, so why not keep working with them and build with them?”

It’s one of several important questions facing him with his business now at a stage where there’s real momentum.

Unlike many of the high-fashion streetwear lines today his vision is of a brand for the people, even smiling at the idea of one day creating a Carrots store, à la Kirkland’s retail, fully stocked with Carrots-only items. The end game is to mold his label into an entity merging what Martha Stewart and Nigo built. That is, quality and taste at an accessible price point.

“I could be a brand like Kirkland. Kirkland has their own stores that’s all Kirkland products. It’s just all branded product,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind being that massive because, at the end of the day, I’m still playing this game of exclusivity. It’s exclusive to my store, only it’s massive exclusivity. But what’s exclusive, unless you say it’s exclusive?”

The concepts of selling out or being overhyped don’t exist in his mind to the same degree as others. He operates off the mentality of why not? Why not collaborate with companies who will help him learn how to develop and produce a category he’s not yet in? The same goes for retail. Why not work with stores he likes and actually shops at rather than getting distracted over whether someone is too mainstream to work with? Carrots is in roughly 175 doors, including American Rag, 424, Virgil Normal, Urban Outfitters, Sneakersnstuff and XLarge.

“I tell it to people like this: Pink Dolphin. People don’t like Pink Dolphin,” he said. “Any time I go to the airport, I see somebody wearing Pink Dolphin. That’s all I want. If I can go to an airport anywhere in the world and I see somebody wearing Carrots, then this s–t’s doing what it’s supposed to be doing. An airport, you’re literally sharing information at that point. It’s just transportation of the brand. That’s real streetwear to me. If you see people out here wearing it in the streets — even if a bum got my shirt on. I ran into a bum wearing one of my shirts!”

That’s a true story. Carrots was at the corner of Orlando Avenue and Beverly Boulevard and saw the man wearing one of his newer designs.

“It gets crazier,” he said. “The man he was with was like ‘I make my own T-shirts, too. He had a shirt with his face on it. A bum. He was rocking it. I was like, ‘Yo, you’re doing me a service right now’ because people will be like ‘Look at this bum wearing a Carrots shirt.’ Does that make it bad? No. It goes from that s–t’s bad to how’d he get that shirt? That’s the main question. It translates. It don’t matter who you are, where you’re from. It’s the energy you put into how you view yourself.”

Carrots by Anwar Carrots

From the baby Carrots line introduced earlier this year.  Courtesy Photo

How he views Carrots doesn’t even amount to streetwear, although it’s an easy label for those unfamiliar with the nuances to grasp. If he’s forced to describe his label, he calls it urbanwear. FUBU, Ecko, Sean Jean and Rocawear — the brands coming up when he was younger — were urban brands because they came from the streets.

Instead of people talking about the intersection between streetwear and luxury, Carrots pointed out, the real crossover is streetwear converging with core urban brands, the latter, some would perceive as being more authentic.

“There’s no difference [between the two terms] today in my mind because all the stores today that are considered urban sell streetwear. That’s the real blurred line. It’s not the blurred line between streetwear and luxury. The streetwear-luxury thing is just a guy like Virgil [Abloh]. He grew up in the streetwear world and he’s just applying what he learned to luxury. Urbanwear was real streetwear. All those brands, those cats were actually from the street and then you got corporate. So what you going to do? You going to stay down here, or are you going to go up here? Ego will keep you [down] here. Ego and pride would keep you [down] here if you don’t make it bigger than what it is.”

So what does Carrots want? The answer is implied in his own question.

“Me personally I just want to take care of my family,” he said. “I don’t like boxing myself in because I don’t know what that means yet. I’m 28. I don’t know what taking care of my family means at 29 or 30. It might mean, yes, I get to that level to where, yeah, I’m low-key bougie. It is what it is. I just want to take care of my family the way I want to do it. I’m not going to say I want to go up there or be here or even there. It’s wherever this road leads me.”

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