The existence and significance of Us Versus Them continues to be as important as it ever was. A label that is the better extension of a community, of something very positive that just needs to be shared with the world. We talked with Graham Nystrom, one of the founders of the brand, about values, California, inspiration, what is exactly is the so-called “streetwear scene” and much more. Read below.
'Us Versus Them' – the meaning of it – is it still as important today as it ever was?
I don't see a time when it will not be a relevant, really. The brand name isn't as shallow as some conflict based mentality- because that’s always been something we always were against. PMA ALL DAY. It was always about building something positive with your friends. About not changing who you are to fit into someone else's idea of success or what's cool. When you don’t have anything going on in the small ass town you live in that you can identify with, don't assimilate- start your own scene. Get people involved and build shit. Throw art shows. Invite bands to play in your basement. Build a skate park in the middle of nowhere. Create a community. Definitely don’t do it for money. The most powerful surges in creative culture, whether in music, fashion, art, whatever, have come from groups of people who had very little resources and had to create something where there was nothing previously. We value that mentality and champion it with our designs.
How hard is it to keep up with the values that the brand stands for (DIY, the individual that stands among the masses)?
In our personal lives, not hard at all. This is how we grew up and it’s a hard habit to break. When you spent most of your life not having any money you teach yourself how to do all sorts of things. That learning process becomes pretty addicting and it’s still hard to pay someone else to fix something on my car even if it ends up costing me more time than its worth. When it comes to the business, it's been a great learning experience in not micromanaging and trusting your team. We as humans are stronger in a well balanced team. We learned that we can achieve more by building relationships with people who are better at aspects that we may not be that strong in. Our main goal is to operate as a business that respects every aspect of its operation and how it affects others. There’s a difference between the type of person who takes advantage of other people to get ahead and people who know how to work as a team to reach a common goal.
Do you think that there are values that are somehow inheritable? (Thinking about the new generations of skaters and riders that take it to the streets)
Inheritable culturally? Values are all relative to particular scenes, communities, subcultures, etc. Some are positive and some are negative, depending on whether or not you're involved or an observer. Tradition is important but only as a foundation for further innovation and creativity. The first generation of any subculture creates an initial set of rules and concepts that become a foundation. The subsequent generations build upon this in their own way. Utilizing parts they can identify with and creating their own when they need to. This is how you can have a culture of rebelliousness you find in skating for example, that has persevered, even though the veneer of how it looks has changed. It will continue to attract youth that feels disaffected but they will take that freedom and reinterpret it in a new way. This applies to pretty much every facet of human society.
Regarding California – does it continue to be an endless source of inspiration?
It will always be for us, being that this is our home and we have lived here all our lives. Southern California in general has had the right elements to be a year round melting pot where people have more time and freedom to be creative and pursue new ideas. That progressive attitude and large community of dreamers has meant that California has been at the forefront of so many cultures. People pay attention to that. That being said, traveling the world has definitely affected my own design and appreciation for style and creativity. I feel that there are people and scenes that are pushing it harder than anyone but because they are in some random country that doesn't already get a lot of attention, people will discount what they're doing. We like to use our brand to bring light to people who are trying new things, taking risks, not taking the easy, established road. Like I was saying in the last question- places like California and New York will always be that foundation, and will always be revered for that, but if those are the only two places you pay attention to you'll be robbing yourself of so much light.
The whole streetwear scene has changed a lot during the last decade or so – for better, for worse? What are your thoughts?
The streetwear "scene" was created in the last decade. It did not really exist in the states until the early 2000's. I know that sentence is going to cause an argument with most people- "Stussy's been around since the 80's! What about Freshjive, Fuct, Conart, etc, etc." And I get it. Those were all "streetwear" in some form or another. But those clothing companies evolved out of distinct cultures that existed on their own. Stussy came from the surf world and evolved into hip-hop and anything else Shawn was into. All of these clothing companies were extensions of the creators’ particular lifestyles, and that continues to this day as the main inspiration for many people to create new brands. But to talk about the "streetwear scene" is to talk about consumerism and the culture of buying shit. This grew out of the collector world- more directly from Niketalk and the Japan streetwear scene of the late 90's. Before the internet took over how most people consume goods, you had to be physically present to purchase most streetwear brands. You had to make the trek to Lafayette St, Melrose / La Brea Ave, Harajuku, etc., walk into a store and interact with people who had a direct connection to the brands they were selling. This kept the customers more closely tied to the subcultures that spawned them. Enter collector messageboards/blogs, a culture of WDYWT and exclusivity grew around a small number of brands; within a short few years most of the customers who bought these brands had nothing to do with the subcultures the clothing represented. There was a huge backlash against this new consumer, but the brands saw more money coming in, so they ended up catering to it. A huge group of people who were part of this "scene" left and moved on to other things, leaving a void for a new group of kids to move in and build their own. The positive result of this was that most of the "cool-guy" shit died out. The negative aspect was that there was a market that made or broke brands based on largely superficial reasons, rather than how involved the brand actually was in contributing to any sort of culture. "Streetwear" as it stands today is largely no different than the established fashion industry. Not a bad, or good thing in my opinion. Just not the same.
How do you foresee the future for this whole business? Do you believe that change is inevitable for some brands to survive?
Change is always coming. Adapt or die. Existing brands are going to continue on their respective paths, and as they grow, another crop of more creative brands will rise from the bottom. We're currently changing how we manage our production and distribution to have more control over how our customers receive our products and connect with our brand.
US Versus Them delivered some impressive collaborations with brands like Chrome Industries, Black Scale – can you share with us about something in the works?
We're in the process of changing our business model over the next year, so we're taking a break from any major collabs with other companies right now. We are focusing on doing more work with individuals so keep an eye out for a number of interesting projects with some amazing artists and creatives in the near future.
What about the future? What can the people expect from US Versus Them?
Quite a bit actually. Gonna have to keep an eye on us.
Check out our US Versus Them complete selection.