CULTURE

A Talk With "Sprayground" Founder David Ben David

The designer sat down with Popdust to talk about Sprayground's latest collection, and working with Dave East.

Everyone from Saweetie, Young Dolph, and Jacquees, to Young Thug and Dave East, have worn David Ben David's iconic streetwear brand: Sprayground.

Its safe to say the brand has taken over the urban fashion scene and found a sweet spot in Hip-Hop's upper echelon. The young designer, who even has a budding rap career of his own, sat down with Popdust to discuss his latest collection and describe his special relationship with streetwear that stems back a decade. Intending to revolutionize a market "known for utilitarian purposes," as David puts it, the designer amalgamated his passion for colorful graffiti with his uncanny eye for sophistication. Each design is bursting with personality, and a closer inspection finds every piece to be durable and of extremely high-quality. His latest collection, titled "The Inverno Collezione," is no different. Loud and kaleidoscopic, David's latest work is all about embodying the colorful idiosyncrasies of popular culture. "I wanted to create something that all fans can resonate with," David said, "Whether that be art, video games, iconic comic books or music, all the things I love, especially coming from a background of street art."

How did you creatively shake things up this time around when designing Inverno?

The colors are something else even compared to Sprayground's past work. This collection was launched in conjunction with Art Basel, with a theme around pop-culture. I wanted to make sure this was felt throughout the whole line. "The Inverno Collezione" captures the wow-factor of comic books, video games, and fearless street art.

What pop culture moments specifically?

It celebrates the popularity of video games like Fortnite, Mortal Kombat, and Street Fighter, [along with] the icons of legendary comic books, including Deadpool, Harley Quinn, The Joker and Black Panther's famous motto "Wakanda Forever." It [also combines] the magic of classic art including street art versions of the Mona Lisa and Salvador Dali.

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How did you connect with Dave East for the Colombian boot campaign? That promo film was crazy.

I contacted Dave because he was one of the first people to see the boot in person. I just instantly fell in love with them and the Colombian vibe, and he shared in my passion, so I knew this was someone I wanted to be involved with. That all opened the door to our latest collection, Global Money, which we created in collaboration with him on MLK Day. I took inspiration for the collection from Dave East's global ambitions, and I wanted to create a bag that artistically includes every currency from each country around the world. We love collaborating with like-minded creatives!

Sprayground


What does this collection say about Sprayground?

We aim to bring art, design, music, travel, and the sixth sense into fashion to revolutionize a market that was known to be for utilitarian purposes. This collection is no different – I wanted to create a collection that brings together all aspects in a stand-out way, and this demonstrates our continuous growth and rebellion in that market.

How do you continue to find ways to push the culture forward with your style? What's your process like? What made you guys decide to get into shoes?

Culture is a huge part of what we do. Our recent concept, the Colombian boot, was created after I received a call from the Colombian Army that they wanted to promote 'Made In Colombia' boots to mark the end of the war with the rebel army after 50 years. I was so intrigued, and I flew straight to Bogota to meet with the government and visit the army factory. The factory had been in business for over 35 years, producing high-quality army boots that were made of Italian leather and built and tested for all terrains.

How did that inspiration turn into the boot?

Taking inspiration from these boots, I took their classic design and added Sprayground's iconic "Shark Mouth" on the back heel, a hidden zipper on the tongue, and named the boots "Fuerza Cobra" with its original use in mind, for paratroopers. There it was, our first-ever shoe. They were so popular they already sold out, so we're already working on a new design.

Culture Feature

Drew Brees Exemplifies How NOT to Be a White Ally

The quarterback said "I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country." And then he tried to apologize. And only made it worse.

Drew Brees, a man who makes literally millions of dollars for throwing a ball, has come under fire for insensitive comments he made about NFL players kneeling during the National Anthem to protest police brutality.

"I will never agree with anybody disrespecting the flag of the United States of America or our country," Brees said in the interview with Yahoo Finance. He clarified that this was in part because he envisioned his grandfathers, who fought in World War II, during the National Anthem. He continued, saying, "And is everything right with our country right now? No. It's not. We still have a long way to go. But I think what you do by standing there and showing respect to the flag with your hand over your heart, is it shows unity. It shows that we are all in this together. We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution."

This isn't the first time Brees made it clear that he cares more for the idea of a make-believe unified America than he does for actual human lives. In 2016, he criticized Colin Kaepernick for kneeling during the anthem, saying it was "disrespectful to the American flag" and "an oxymoron" because the flag gave critics the right to speak out in the first place.


Colin Kaepernick Kneeling Colin Kaepernick kneeling in protest of racist police brutality


Of course, the flag's alleged ideals have been proven to only be applicable to wealthy, white men—men like Brees. Sure, his grandfathers did a noble thing when they fought under the US flag during WWII, and no one, including Kaepernick, has ever said that sacrifice isn't worth respecting. Thanks to the sacrifices of many people (including the enslaved Black backs upon which this country was built, including the scores of routinely abused Black soldiers who fought for American lives), America has offered opportunity and peace for many, many people. In particular, Ole' Glory has been very kind to men like Brees: rich, white men who still control the majority of the power and the wealth in the United States.

But what about the rest of us, Drew? What about George Floyd whose neck was crushed by a police officer who kneeled on him so casually that he didn't even take his hand out of his pocket? What about Ahmaud Arbery, who was shot for the crime of being Black and going for a jog? What about Breonna Taylor, a black woman who was murdered by police in her home in the middle of the night for a crime that had nothing to do with her? What about Tony McDade, Drew–have you heard his name? Have you heard about the 38-year-old Black trans man who was gunned down in Florida last week? Do you understand why these people's family's may harbor just a bit of disrespect for your precious flag?

Is it possible for you to realize, Drew, that your wish for "unity" is not a wish for progress, but a wish to maintain the status quo? When you call for unity under the American flag, you're talking about your flag, the flag that represents a long, sordid history of racial oppression and violence. There is no unity where there is no justice. When you say that "we are all in this together," what you're saying is that we all have roles to play in the version of society that has served you so well. For your part, you'll be a rich, white man, and for Black people's part, they'll continue to be victims of state-sanctioned murders– but hopefully more quietly, hopefully in a manner that doesn't make you uncomfortable?

When you say, "We can all do better. And that we are all part of the solution," what you mean to say is that POC and their allies are at fault. Sure, you probably agree that Derek Chauvin took it a bit too far, and you probably feel a little self-conscious that he's brought all this "Black rights" stuff up again. But when you say "all," you place blame on the victims who are dying under a broken system. And what, exactly, do you expect POC to do differently, Drew? Ahmaud Arbery was just out jogging, and still he died. George Floyd was just trying to pay a cashier, and still he died. POC and their allies try to peacefully protest by marching in the streets or taking a knee at a football game, and still white people condemn and criticize. Still the police shoot.

After much criticism, Brees did attempt an apology on Instagram, where he posted a hilariously corny stock photo of a Black and white hand clasped together. His caption, though possibly well-intentioned, made it even clearer that his understanding of the movement for Black lives is thoroughly lacking.


Highlights of the "apology" include his immediate attempt to exonerate himself from culpability, claiming that his words were misconstrued, saying of his previous statement: "Those words have become divisive and hurtful and have misled people into believing that somehow I am an enemy. This could not be further from the truth, and is not an accurate reflection of my heart or my character." Unfortunately, Drew, white people like you are the "enemy," as you put it, because by default you are at the very least part of the problem. No one is accusing you of being an overt racist, Drew; no one thinks you actively and consciously detest Black people. But your lack of empathy, your apathy, and your unwillingness to unlearn your own biases are precisely what has persisted in the hearts and minds of well-meaning white Americans for centuries.

Next, you say, "I recognize that I am part of the solution and can be a leader for the Black community in this movement." No, Drew. Just no. Black people don't need white people's savior complexes to interfere in their organizing; what they need is for us to shut up and listen. What they need is for us to get our knees off of their necks.

Finally, you say, "I have ALWAYS been an ally, never an enemy." This, Drew, is suspiciously similar to saying, "But I'm one of the good whites!" The fact of the matter is that feeling the need to prove your allyship is not about helping a movement; it's about feeding your own ego. Not only that, but your emphasis on "ALWAYS" does a pretty good job of making it clear that you don't think you have a racist bone in your body and that you have taken great offense at any accusations to the contrary. I have some news for you, Drew: Every white person is racist. Sure, the levels vary, and while you may not be actively and consciously discriminating against POC, you have been brought up in a racist system, and your implicit biases are as strong as any other white person's. Your job now is to unlearn those biases and confront those subtle prejudices in yourself and in other white people. Maybe the first step in doing so is just shutting your f*cking mouth about kneeling at football games. Maybe you should even consider taking a knee yourself.

For other non-BIPOC trying to be better allies, check out one of these 68+ anti-racism resources.

Culture Feature

Wear Whatever You Want. Fashion is Dead.

We unpack the rise and fall of American haute couture.

As Carrie Bradshaw famously said, "Every year the women of New York leave the past behind and look forward to the future. This is known as FASHION WEEK."

While any real New Yorker knows that Sex and The City is a rose-colored depiction of the cockroach-filled-hellhole we happily call home, surely the show at least nailed its representation of fashion week. After all, it's a week devoted to all things shiny and inaccessible: beautiful people wearing beautiful clothes in elegant rooms with mysterious locations. Yeah, someone vomited on your Reeboks on the L train during your commute home to your 4th-floor walk up, but surely, despite all the things New York turned out not to be, it's still this one thing: the home of high fashion and unimaginable glamor.

You scroll through your Instagram feed, living vicariously through shots of six-foot-tall, eyebrowless women wearing clothing-adjacent structures, strutting down runways that could just as easily be in a dark room in Billings, Montana. But it's not about that. It's about knowing that it's here, here in this city of broken promises and overdraft credit cards, that something magical is happening. That's fashion week.

The haute couture industry was built on this air of inaccessibility. A select few get to be seen in the latest trends, which is only made consequential by the envy of those excluded. Without that envy, there is no high fashion. For many, the fashion weeks of the world and the kind of life they represent have seemed like untouchable, sparkling beacons of high-class living that couldn't possibly be affected by the daily life of your average American. After all, they're the kind of events people like Kendall Jenner and Rihanna frequent. But, it turns out, even high fashion is beginning to feel the tides of change in this specific and volatile moment in history.

The founder of Decades and Fashion Director of H by Halston and H Halston, Cameron Silver, told Forbes about the current state of the world of couture: "NYFW and the fashion industry, in general, is in an existential crisis at present. The way younger generations consume in a shared economy is ultimately providing huge challenges and fashion shows no longer engage the same way with customers." This is more than convincingly evident by the continued decrease of shows hitting the runway at the past couple of NYFW, as well as the average American's dwindling interest in high-end clothes. According to government statistics, in 1977, 6.2 percent of U.S. household spending went to clothing, now, that number is down by more than half.


GCDS - Runway - Milan Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2019


The truth is, fewer Americans than ever before are interested in high fashion. If your inner Carrie Bradshaw is screaming in despair at this news, well, tell her to shut up because her internalized misogyny is problematic, her looks were tacky and performative even then, and it's time to introduce her to a new concept: sustainable fashion.

For the first time in the history of industrialization, consumers are starting to care where their products come from. Enter: organic and locally grown food, renewed emphasis on the craftsmanship of home goods, and sustainable, ethically-made clothing brands like Everlane and Outdoor Voices. The fashion industry is the second largest polluter in the world, and more and more human rights violations are coming to light from even some of the most well-known brands. Consequently, consumers are choosing more responsible options, like vintage shopping, ethical brands, and simply buying less.

But to ascribe the death of high fashion merely to a rise in consumer ethics would be way too optimistic and straightforward. Perhaps even more influential than the corruption within the industry was the advent of e-commerce. Amazon and other online retailers are slowly but surely killing the traditional retail shopping experience that high end designers depend on. Shopping at Gucci is not merely about the clothing, it's about being seen shopping at Gucci. It's about the grandeur of the store itself. It's about the attentive salespeople who make you feel valued. It's about feeling like Carrie Bradshaw. High-end designers are selling self-importance to their consumers, and that doesn't translate to online shopping.

Not only that, but e-commerce has taught consumers that fashion is about instant gratification. With a few clicks, you can have that sweater waiting for you on your doorstep in just three days. Looks at fashion week usually don't go on sale to consumers for another 6 months, and while that used to be an accepted part of staying on trend, why wait when you can get something similar online?

What consumers need from their clothes is changing too. As more American workplaces go casual, there's less need for the kinds of tailored suits or pencil skirts that have long been the bread and butter of designer fashion houses. Instead, people are choosing versatile, durable clothing that can be worn over and over, no matter the occasion. Which makes sense, as people are choosing to spend their money on experiences instead of material possessions. According to government statistics, experiences (travel, activities, eating out etc.) have grown to occupy 18% of the average American's spending. After all, what's the point of that new dress if the picture is taken in your bedroom because you can't afford to go out? Wouldn't it be better to post a picture wearing an older dress, but with the Mediterranean sea in the background? Most people think so.

This goes hand-in-hand with perhaps the most significant factor affecting the decline of the high-end clothing industry: brands are losing their place as status symbols. While it used to be that your opportunity to compare yourself to your peers mostly took place in person, with ample time to analyze and pick apart every aspect of your acquaintances' outfits while you mingled, now, that comparison is happening online. When you post a picture of yourself on Instagram, it's unlikely that any of your followers are going to be able to identify the specific brands you're wearing, so as long as the outfit looks good and fills them with envy, why spring for a $400 black skirt when a $40 one will serve the same purpose?

Besides, is it really that enviable to have spent $400 on a skirt? As hipster culture takes root at every level of American society, even affluent millennials brag about their vintage thrift shop jeans. High fashion represents the newest thing, but the latest thing is being replaced by nostalgia for the old. This phenomenon is in part because many think fashion has finally hit a ceiling in which new innovations can only be variations on old innovations, and certain trends seem to be sticking around for good. As the New York Post points out, "Crucially, fashion hasn't produced a must-have shift in dressing since the skinny jean in 2005." Which means that there is a possibility that top you bought in the 90s is just as fashionable as anything you could go out and buy today. Why go shopping at all?

Tom Ford - Runway RTW - Spring 2018 - New York Fashion Week

This new emphasis on vintage and used clothing could also be in part because as ideals of democratic socialism have begun to gain traction among the left, the once glorified careless spending of the country's elite has started to look less appealing and more reckless and immoral to young Americans. While people still naturally aspire to wealth, they don't look up to millionaires and billionaires as role models the way they once did, which has led people to turn to new sources of inspiration when it comes to their style. Fashion bloggers and YouTubers will happily tell you that they got their cute new bag at a garage sale and their shoes half price at TJ Maxx.

So yes, it appears high fashion, and NYFW along with it is dying. Even Tom Ford, one of the most famous designers in the world, has acknowledged the phenomenon, saying, "Most of the American population is switched off fashion, [it's] become a spectator sport for the most part." While the elite may see this as a tragic loss of culture, what it indicates is a movement towards an equal nation. We're a long way away from entirely giving up the high value we place on material possessions, but the incremental demise of an industry run on lower-class envy, and the commodification of status is a step in the right direction. F*ck Carrie Bradshaw, wear what you want.