Their streetwear collabs sell out in minutes. How they’re telling ‘the real story of L.A.’
At noon on June 16, Los Angeles streetwear brand Born X Raised released its first collaboration with the Los Angeles Rams.
Fourteen minutes later, the entire collection had been snapped up. One style, a bone-colored hoodie, sold out in seconds.
The speed at which the collaboration sold wasn’t a big surprise for the founders of the Venice-based brand, created in 2013 by Spanto and his business partner and creative director, 2Tone. When they did a collaboration with the Dodgers last summer, the pieces were snapped up in eight minutes.
“Every time we do something big like this, it sells out 90% of the time,” said Chris Printup, who goes by the nickname Spanto and calls himself a “proud Venetian.” He’s an avowed Angeleno who was in and out of juvenile hall, served a year in prison and battled cancer before coming up with the idea for a brand that would reflect the city he knew.
“There are a lot of streetwear brands that are popping up in L.A. but they’re just the tip of the iceberg,” said Spanto, who lives in the Venice house his family has had since the 1930s. “We live, breathe, eat, sleep L.A. We want to tell the real story of L.A. and the real people of this community. We’ve got a deep pride in this city. ... We have built a following through authenticity and a strong sense of local pride. Our audience responds to new releases by buying them up quickly. The demand on the Rams collaboration was particularly strong.”
Alex Erdmann, who goes by the moniker 2Tone, used to live in Venice before moving to Los Feliz. He was directing music videos when he and Spanto met and launched the brand together. Their first collection included a T-shirt that proclaimed ‘‘Gentrification is Genocide.” It was their protest against the Venice that exists now, with its yoga studios, juice bars and celebrity-owned homes, compared to the grittier neighborhood they remember.
“That was the initial emotion behind the brand,” Spanto said. “Venice had gone topsy-turvy, and there were a lot of frustrations that came with that.”
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In their first season, the two were already in stores, including the now-defunct Colette store in Paris. Their approach is subversive, their messaging renegade. The front of a $115 sweatshirt states "… the World.” A $165 plaid shirt features a skull face and bare nipples, and a $38 long-sleeved tee proclaims “No Justice No Peace” and features a pair of skeletons taking a knee above the words, “This has gone on for way too long.”
Born X Raised’s sports collaborations — the brand also did one with the Los Angeles Lakers — have been among the most meaningful to Spanto and 2Tone.
For its first fashion foray, the Rams went with the duo’s brand. The six-piece offering of Rams hoodies, sweatpants and T-shirts, priced from $45 to $130, is part of an initiative recently approved by the NFL to allow its teams to partner with local vendors to sell licensed merchandise. The Rams pieces were in a mix of royal blue, bone, black or white and featured Old English fonts, vivid graphics and a variety of team masks.
The Rams collaboration campaign was photographed by Los Angeles photographer and music video director Estevan Oriol, who is known for his gritty aesthetic, and it features models such as actor and taco impresario Danny Trejo with SoFi Stadium and the Forum in Inglewood as backdrops. Born X Raised will reprise its partnership with the Rams later this year with an all-new collection.
Tyrel Kirkham, vice president and general manager of retail/merchandise for the Rams, said Born X Raised and its founders were chosen because “they have a hyper-local approach, and the street cred they come with was of the utmost importance. They were aligned with what we were trying to accomplish. They are rooted in their love for art and knew to create pieces for old-school Rams fans and new fans alike.”
In August, Born X Raised, which has more than 151,000 Instagram followers, will unveil a collaboration with Japanese brand Wacko Maria, whose regular inventory includes Hawaiian-style shirts with flaming tiger heads instead of, say, hibiscus flowers.
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The designers were loath to share too much about the designs of their upcoming collection but did say that it would be a full line. To them, it doesn’t matter if Wacko Maria doesn’t have the same brand recognition as the Rams or the Dodgers. If anything, the duo turns down a majority of collaboration requests.
2Tone said the partnerships they enter into “trail through subcultures. We have a direct connection with artists, musicians, rappers, athletes. They wear us because of what we stand for and the deep messaging behind our brand. We don’t just take pretty people and photograph them in streetwear. That’s not who we are.”
The Born X Raised partnerships help fuel the duo’s support of local causes. When they did a collaboration with rapper-activist Nipsey Hussle in 2018, proceeds went to Developing Options, a foundation that helps children in Los Angeles stay out of gangs.
The Rams collaboration supported Brotherhood Crusade, a 52-year-old organization that serves disenfranchised communities.
“This collaboration had to be about more than T-shirts and hoodies,” Kirkham said. “Brotherhood Crusade has for 50 years worked with the Black and brown communities to provide the opportunities and resources that they weren’t given from birth. We can go in there and talk to these kids about what they can achieve even though the world has told them ‘no’ far too often.”
Visiting juvenile centers and high schools, Spanto mines his own troubled past as an example to young people in underserved neighborhoods.
“I tell them not to be ashamed of the way they grew up but to be proud of it,” he said. “I spent time in juvie not because I was a bad person but I was living in Los Angeles in the ’90s, and part of gentrification is incarcerating young men. I can tell them my story and figure out a way to empower these kids.”
Looking back, Spanto said that Born X Raised saved him. “It’s been a conduit to express myself,” he said. “Me and 2Tone use it as one big, long art project. We take these things — the handicaps that are thrown up, everything against us — and we turn it into something beautiful.”
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