This story is part of our issue on Remembrance, a time-traveling journey through the L.A. experience — past, present and future. See the full package here.
He might be a basketball star, but Russell Westbrook is equally well known for his off-court reputation as an enthusiastic fan of fashion. With his swagger and bold style, he has turned up at fashion weeks around the world when he isn’t turning the pregame tunnel walk into a one-man runway show. (He even makes breathable face masks look good!)
The 32-year-old SoCal native, a member of the Washington Wizards, embarked in 2016 on his most personal fashion project, streetwear brand Honor the Gift, which pays homage to his growing-up years in L.A. and Hawthorne. (Pieces range from $18 bandanna-pattern socks to $180 paint-splattered jumpsuits.) The first collection debuted in late 2017, and the 10th, Free-Fall, inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen, dropped this month.
We recently caught up with the nine-time NBA All-Star and 2017 league MVP in between game days.
Why did you name your label Honor the Gift?
I lean on my faith and I believe that everybody is blessed with a gift, that everyone on this planet has a gift that God has given them to use — to do whatever they do to positively impact the world. And that’s where the name came from. I wanted something meaningful because I believe the brand will be around for a long time.
The first collection sold out in about 24 hours. Did that response surprise you?
It was nerve-racking. At least, it was for me, and it was surprising. It was also super-exciting because [it was clear] we were doing the right thing, the right demographic and the right designs.
Who do you see as your core customer?
My brand, plain and simple, is for the inner city. It’s for the underserved communities. Obviously everyone wears it, which is amazing, but the price point and the quality is for the kid who grew up in the inner city in the underserved communities because that’s where I grew up. That’s where I’m from. That’s the way I was raised. Fashion isn’t about how much money you have or what’s the biggest brand you can wear but what you wear and how you wear it.
The new collection marks the expansion into women’s and children’s collections. Was that part of your plan from the beginning?
Yes and no. At first, when I thought about it, I was like, “Ahhh, maybe not. Let’s keep it unisex” because we’ve always tried to find a way to build and make clothes that both men and women can wear. But then, having kids of my own kind of inspired me. I thought, “You know what? I want to create a kids’ brand and make sure that parents around the world can have something that’s dope and that’s inspiring and affordable for their kids to go to school, to dress up and be nice.” And I’ve always been inspired by women’s fashion, probably because my mom is where I get most of my [style] inspiration.
So it wasn’t like you launched the line saying, “In three years, let’s expand into clothes for women and children.”
To be honest, I didn’t plan on [that or] wholesaling the collection either. A lot of this stuff happened because people were really connecting with the brand, and it’s grown over the years. And some decision had to be made on my end about expanding into wholesale. I had really wanted to just do online to keep it cool, but things have obviously changed. So now I’m looking into finding a place to open a store as well as expand the brand to as many people as possible. Right now we’re in about 60 stores including Selfridges [in London] and Commonwealth in L.A.
What’s the timetable on opening a bricks-and-mortar store? Are you talking next month or five years down the road? And where will it be?
Definitely L.A., and when the time is right for the brand. I wouldn’t say five years. I’d say as soon as there’s [a space] available, and it makes sense for the brand.
Can you walk me through the process of developing a collection using the Free-Fall collection as an example?
It started with me wanting to find ways to honor the Tuskegee Airmen, part of the African American community, and then working with the design team to figure out how to bring that to life. That’s the starting point. Then we’ll say, “OK, what’s the color palette? What particular garments do we want to see?” This particular collection has an emphasis on fit because I was really inspired by the fashion in Japan, in Tokyo. After visiting there, I had some specific inspiration about how I wanted the pants to fit — with a low crotch — and [how I wanted the] shirt to fit — with a drop shoulder. That was the initial conversation. From there, the team goes on to design it, tweak the silhouettes, do the graphic design and see what works best for the vision of the brand. And then we kind of bring it to life.
So your team works on the samples, and then you swoop in and say, “Yes, no, change these buttons,” and that sort of thing?
I’m there from start to finish. There is no swooping in and no swooping out. It’s my brand. I own it. It takes time, and I’m in it. There is no in and out. I’m in daily. I have conversations with my team. This is what I love to do. For me, it’s not a game. It’s a job, and I take it very seriously like every job I have.
On the Honor the Gift website, there’s a line that mentions “the physical spaces we live in.” Is there a future for the label that includes interior design and home goods?
Yes. As we keep expanding, I think it’s important for the brand, collectively, to have things that people would want in their homes and their offices — whether it’s coffee table books, ashtrays, blankets or bags — to keep them connected. It’s important to me that we evolve the brand to move into that space.