VENICE, Calif. — Gjusta is a mob scene. Christmas has passed, it’s not yet 2019 and it’s so packed, you’d think it was the only place in the neighborhood serving food.
The gourmet bakery and cafe in Venice would seem just the right spot to start the story of men’s brand Born x Raised. It’s this neighborhood — before Gjusta and before it became known to visitors and cited in guide books for the story of Dogtown and Abbot Kinney Boulevard — that is the basis for the label.
To call Born x Raised streetwear would be to the chagrin of Chris Printup, the brand’s cofounder most know by his nickname Spanto, whose family has been in Venice since 1926. It confuses the point of a label based on the premise of a cultural movement, coming up in a landscape where enough street-style brands have crossed over into the higher-end space to where the act no longer raises eyebrows.
“I’ve never used the word streetwear, but if you think about it, we are the true essence of streetwear,” Printup said. “It comes from the actual street. Do I consider ourselves a fashion label? No. Would I like to be respected in that venue? Yes. I think that we’re good enough — not to run with the big fashion houses, but I think that our message is strong enough. I think we’re refined enough. I think we’re talented enough to be perceived as that.”
The brand has about 80 accounts globally with a team of some 10 employees. Born x Raised, which produces six seasons annually in addition to special projects and exclusives, just showed to buyers during Paris Fashion Week: Men’s for the first time. The company was bootstrapped for roughly the first year in business before a friend came in asking to buy in for $50,000, which allowed the brand to continue growing for a few more years. Printup and cofounder Alex Erdmann, who goes by the nickname 2Tone, remain sole owners with the business’ third partner having died last year. In that time, the company has done collaborations with Reebok and Converse, along with streetwear contemporaries such as Babylon and 424. For The Drop L.A. at Barneys New York last year, Born x Raised came in number four for sell-through.
It’s the most recent capsule with 424 that’s signaled where the brand aims to be, with an edgy offering of men’s wear. Standout pieces include a wool-blend burgundy trench lined with a printed silk, button-ups, embroidered hoodies and fleece.
“We’re figuring it out,” Erdmann said. “It’s very easy to get lost, but once you figure out exactly what you want to do and stick to that idea, it can be great. You have to evolve as a brand. People need to see us go past printables and we’ve been offering tops, bottoms, jackets and different kinds of things, but we’re trying to push it forward because the market’s so different. Everything’s pivoted in men’s. Men’s streetwear and contemporary and fashion is all intersecting. There’s a lot of space for everybody.”
Erdmann is sitting in his office at Born x Raised headquarters in downtown’s American Cement Building with his dog sitting in his lap. Photos, letters, samples, drawings and other art work — some done in marker, some in ink — cover an entire wall. Born x Raised headquarters is empty save for one other worker — a calm after the flurry of preparation in the lead up to Printup’s departure for Paris. The decision to go was seen as critical internally.
“The idea [in Paris] is we’re going to get some serious exposure and sales,” Erdmann said. “People write paper out there. Trade shows, for the past few years, nobody wrote paper. They were going to hang out and see the booths, but in Paris people are writing orders.”
Paris and the industry activity there is a reflection of just how much has changed in the span of just a decade, he continued.
“Everyone is in Paris right now, whereas for 10, 20 years it was about Vegas and then Long Beach because streetwear was lumped in with action sports,” Erdmann said. “Streetwear’s now carved its own thing and hooked itself up with fashion. Now all the streetwear companies are in Paris. Streetwear brand owners are going to watch runway shows and fashion brand owners are knocking off streetwear. That love affair isn’t going to last, but I think it’s going to alter everything so that when the dust settles, then everything’s changed for streetwear.”
Erdmann had already tried his hand at an apparel line before Born x Raised, but grew disenchanted with the general business of fashion and left to pursue his passion in filmmaking. He still shoots commercials on the side and does all the Born x Raised videos. What wooed him to get back into apparel five years ago was the brand’s story.
“If you look at all the imagery, all the things we do, the ‘zines we make, they’re all pictures of our friends or pictures of us,” Erdmann said. “It’s not like we made this idea up. There’s nothing wrong with the way other people do it, but we’re kind of shooting from the hip. It’s not like ‘Oh, you like this brand so we’re going to emulate it so you buy our s–t.’ That’s not our thing. We’re from an era so you see that in our stuff. It happens that era’s been in vogue for a while, again, but it’s not something we put on.”
That era he references is a very specific one, rooted in their childhoods in Venice when it was a melting pot of subcultures, ranging from the Suicidal Tendencies brand of punk to surf and skate crews and even gangs, such as the Venice 13. To understand it is to have lived in Venice pre-Gjusta and before the corporatization of Abbot Kinney Boulevard. Born x Raised is a scrapbook of sorts and reference to a neighborhood before the Los Angeles riots, gang injunctions and before companies such as Google and Snap Inc. took up office space there. It’s not about saying things were better then.
“I guess Born x Raised is me trying to explain it, but it never comes out right,” Printup said. “It’s like me trying to explain what we had here growing up. This sort of story, energy and stronghold.
“Everybody uses the world culture. Culture, culture, culture. Born x Raised is just a cultural movement,” Printup added. “I felt like our culture got swept under the rug for so many years and ignored or got the finger pointed at it like, ‘This is wrong. You shouldn’t be here.’ And I just saw so many other clothing lines that were emulating our lifestyle and selling it back and becoming really successful at it.”
So, he figured, why not enter the fray? He started with three dozen shirts bearing the phrase “Gentrification Is Genocide” and sold them out of the back of his trunk for $30. His first retail account was directional men’s streetwear boutique Union L.A., which then got the brand into Colette. Today it can be found in Kith, Bodega, Selfridges and Gr8, among other retailers.
Printup, with no formal training or background in the garment business, started with an emotion and the goal of being able to buy his mom’s Venice home to keep his family there. Before that, he was walking structural beams, hanging steel.
Six months ago he was able to buy his mom’s house, which leads to the question of what the next brass ring to aim for is for Born x Raised.
A month after launching the label, Printup was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He immediately began chemotherapy, which continued for four years, all while building the brand. Now cancer-free, 2019 is the year Born x Raised solidifies its operations on the back end and tightens up the production process to support the momentum it’s already seen.
“We want people to have access to us that have never had access to us before,” Erdmann said. “We’ve had a lot of stumbling blocks internally. There’s been a lot that’s kept us from full exposure, which is probably good because it’s kept us pretty tight in terms of distribution, but we’re a fraction of where we should be as far as penetration.”
They continue to side-step mall-based chains, knowing full well they likely won’t make as much — at least initially — as brands that have gone that route, but the trade-off, the two argue, is a longer-term reward: brand equity retention.
“I just try to do what feels right, but if I did that [sell to chains] early on, the brand would be over and I wouldn’t be able to travel to all these beautiful places and do all these beautiful things with all these beautiful people,” Printup said. “Every now and again, I’ll wake up in Paris, Milan or somewhere, go outside and have a cup of coffee by myself. And I just smirk because it’s funny to me, like, how did I end up doing this? How did I end up here? It just tickles me pink so I’m glad that we get to do something that’s a little bit more respectable, you know what I mean?”
Eventually, the team wants to get into women’s. There were plans last year to open a store, but that went on the back burner. Printup said this year could very well be the year for a store and he’s partial to Melrose Avenue. Farther out, the goal is to build something that lasts forever — or close to.
“I want to take this thing up. I want to elevate it and I want to do grown man fashion s–t,” Printup said. “I want to grow this brand. I want it to be a real line. I don’t want it to just be like, ‘Oh, some kids who did streetwear for a couple years and then went away.’ I want to try that out and see how long I can last there. When is this streetwear bubble going to pop? I don’t know, but while the door’s open I’d like to run through it.”