After more than a decade and a half of holding the catwalk scene at arm’s length, L.A.-based streetwear brand the Hundreds staged its first runway show Sunday night on the steps of City Hall in downtown Los Angeles. It wasn’t as part of the L.A. Fashion Week calendar though. Nor was it a buy-in to runway-show hype.
Part of the city’s official Indigenous Peoples Day celebration, it showcased the label’s collaboration with four indigenous-owned streetwear brands operating as a collective called Obsidian.
“When we started this company 16 years ago, the understanding and perspective of what streetwear was was wholly distinct from high fashion,” said the Hundreds co-founder Bobby Kim (whose nom du streetwear is Bobby Hundreds). “They were two completely different universes — on purpose — so we never wanted to do a fashion show.”
But, Kim said, when his collaborative partners floated the idea of a runway show as a way of raising the profile of the lesser-known brands — and the issues facing their communities — he changed his mind.
The person Kim calls the “nucleus” of the project, Nataanii Means, is an Albuquerque-based activist and hip-hop artist of the Oglala Lakota, Omaha and Navajo nations and son of the late Native American activist Russell Means. “I helped the whole collective come together,” Means said in a pre-show interview. “The brands are based on different reservations, and the collective has been around since about February. It includes OXDX Clothing out of Tempe, Ariz., founded by Jared Yazzie — he’s a Navajo; Articles of Reziztance, founded by [Ray] Curtis Yazzie — he’s Blackfeet and Navajo and Yupik; First Citizens by Burdette Birdinground — he’s Crow from Montana, and Section 35 [is Justin Louis] from Vancouver, British Columbia — he’s Cree from Alberta.”
Kim and Means were first connected through a mutual friend during the Dakota Access pipeline protests, and what began with a few boxes of the Hundreds hoodies being sent north to help insulate activists against winter weather eventually became a larger offer of support late last year. With the protests of Enbridge Energy’s Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota fresh in their minds, the discussion turned to a collection equally inspired by streetwear and the look of the front-line protestors. “Something we could present to the mainstream world together instead of just [to] native country or just to the streetwear universe,” said Means, who described the resulting the Hundreds X Obsidian collaboration as “fashioned resistance.”
On the runway, that meant streetwear with a tactical military vibe — literally in the case of a black nylon tactical vest with the words “blood, sweat and tear gas” on the back — as well as cold-weather layering pieces such as zip-front polar fleece jackets with balaclava-like hoods and water-resistant nylon anoraks as well as streetwear staples including T-shirts, hoodies and ball caps emblazoned with the Obsidian arrowhead logo.
Some T-shirts were printed with the stark (and frankly terrifying) photographic images from the Standing Rock and Dakota Access protests; others with artwork by the collective’s member brands.
The most memorable look to come down the catwalk involved a model wearing a graphic tee of the Hundreds Adam Bomb logo. Both the model and the cartoon bomb had gas masks clamped around their faces. (An Obsidian-branded mask was available for purchase at the Hundreds website shortly after the show, along with the rest of the collection. Perhaps in a sign of the times, the $29 respirator is one of the sold-out items.)
Kim, who is fiercely protective of the Adam Bomb logo (calling it his Mickey Mouse, he waxes on about it at great length in his recently published memoir), admitted it’s “a little edgy to see” but said he knew it was an important part of the collective’s messaging. Kim said the Hundreds “pretty much handed over the keys” for the Obsidian collaboration, ceding more creative control than he and partner Ben Shenassafar do in most collaborative efforts.
Means said the gas-mask imagery symbolized the kinds of things the front-line activists go through that most people are not aware of. “When we were out in North Dakota, in the winter time … there were times when the mass media didn’t even know we were being tear-gassed by the cops — heavily — on Backwater Bridge, on [North Dakota] Highway 1806, [and] being flash-bang grenaded. We all had to have a front-line kit with us at all times; a bag that had a gas mask in it and vinegar and rags so we could make extra padding to prevent the tear gas from getting in. When tear gas gets in your eyes and in your system in the negative 40-degree weather it can kill you. Your lungs can bleed .… So to be able to put this on the Adam Bomb is really symbolic, and it makes us feel good because our stories are being told. Our struggle’s being told.”
When asked about the ultimate goal of the collaboration, Means began to tear up slightly. “Something that our kids ... can wear it and feel good about,” he said. “And see themselves represented by us and feel good about that. And they can be happy and they don’t have to see us being beat up all the time in the mass media. And they can finally see us doing something good and winning.”
As for the non-indigenous people who will learn about Obsidian — and the streetwear brands shaping indigenous culture for the first time? “I want them to be able to educate themselves and to reach out to us but not to overpower our voices. To listen to us,” Means said. “Our world is in a fragile state right now. We see the hate that’s happening.”
In that respect, Kim hasn’t just handed Means and company the keys, he’s given them a megaphone.
The Hundreds X Obsidian collection is available online at thehundreds.com , at the Hundreds’ bricks-and-mortar store at 7909 Rosewood Ave., Los Angeles, and at select stockists globally. All profits from the collection are being donated to indigenous causes including Tiny House Warriors and the Obsidian collective’s efforts to teach indigenous youth healthy coping skills.