Bronx Streetwear brand brings “Hood” authenticity to skatewear

Culture – 3 months ago

Dario McCarty

Dario McCarty is a part-time writer and part-time UC Berkeley…

Ron Baker, alongside childhood friend Vlad Gomez, launched streetwear brand Public Housing Skate Team in the mid-2010s. Photo credit: Koki Sato

Led by Bronx natives Vlad Gomez and Ron Baker, the public housing skate team brings a level of authenticity to a streetwear and fashion industry increasingly lacking in it.

Growing up, there were no skate parks in Vlad Gomez’s neighborhood. Vlad learned to skate by roaming the grounds of Gun Hill Housing Projects, where he lived, and the streets and alleys around it.

Later, Vlad, along with lifelong friend Ron Baker, launched the streetwear brand Public Housing Skate Team out of those same housing projects. Vlad and Ron are the two members of the skate team: Vlad is the team skater and Ron the team videographer. “It’s a two-man army,” Vlad told Okayplayer. “Mobb Deep – Capone-N-Noreaga type shit.”

The two began by producing videos of Vlad skateboarding in their North Bronx neighborhood. They quickly decided to release a line of skate clothing to go along with these videos. Since then, their brand has found a major place in fashion and street clothing world. Their line of “authentic hoodie skatewear” – which draws direct inspiration from the environment around them by incorporating different aspects of their lived experiences – has been stocked at Supreme stores and worn by ASAP rocky and late fashion icon Virgil Abloh. The success of their clothing line not only serves as a powerful example of authenticity in a streetwear and fashion industry that is increasingly deprived of it, but also an example of self-determination for the rest of the members of the Bronx community.

“The hood was my skate park,” Vlad Gomez told Okayplayer. Photo credit: Koki Sato

Vlad and Ron first met when they were just seven years old. The two played on the Gun Hill recreational basketball team where they immediately hit it off. According to Nate Ramos, their basketball coach at the time who has since become a mentor figure for the two, it was clear from an early age that Vlad and Ron were different from their peers.

“I wasn’t used to seeing inner city kids expressing themselves the way they did,” Ramos said. “They weren’t trying to fit in – they had a resilience and strength of character that allowed them to not be a follower.”

Vlad’s introduction to skateboarding came two years later, when he was nine years old. He was playing in his neighborhood when he saw someone skateboarding down the street while doing a handstand. Fascinated, Vlad rushed to buy a shoddy beginner’s board from a nearby CVS pharmacy and started learning to skate. He was training all the time. However, when he did, he felt he had to hide what he was doing from those around him.

“People around me didn’t like seeing me skateboarding, so I tried to do it away from other people,” Vlad said. “They didn’t understand it. They considered it a toy and told me skateboarding was for white boys. That I was wasting my life on something that wasn’t making money.

For Vlad, however, skateboarding brought valuable lessons that he says helped him overcome the environment he grew up in. “No skateboard trick happens overnight. You fall, you break boards, sometimes you break bones — but you keep going until that vision of the stuff you have inside of you comes to life,” Vlad said. “It taught me to keep going, to keep approaching things from different angles.”

In 2015, after years of watching and admiring Vlad’s dedication to skateboarding, Ron, who had a VHS camera and was just getting into videography at the time, began filming Vlad doing skateboarding. rounds. The two began producing videos of Vlad skateboarding on Youtubeand in 2016, just months after filming began, they came up with the idea of ​​creating a clothing line to go along with their videos.

It wasn’t long before the two saw major results with their clothing line. In 2017, just a year after the brand’s first apparel drop, they found their first major customer at a Japan-based skatewear store — Tokyo Province — who wanted to order the brand’s t-shirts to stock them in their store. Around the same time, the rap superstar A$AP Rocky started wearing and representing the brand in public.

From there, the brand began to take off. In 2018, the two got a co-sign from the late streetwear and fashion icon Virgil Abloh when he tweeted a photo of him wearing one of their T-shirts; in 2019, the brand landed a projector the editorial staff of Stock X; and more recently, last year, the titan of streetwear Supreme began stocking the brand’s T-shirts in its physical stores.

For the design of their clothes, Ron and Vlad draw inspiration directly from where they have spent their entire lives: Gun Hill and its surrounding neighborhood. Their logo is a reversal of the New York City Housing Authority a. The typeface they use on their branding is taken directly from the numbers and stenciled markings around the projects. The graphics that cover their skateboard decks and t-shirts speak to the events they see in their daily lives.

A of their skateboard decks is adorned with the mugshots of the Bronx 120the controversial 2016 gang raid that happened in Eastchester Gardens just five minutes from Gun Hill which many say showcases the to go too far arcane NYPD gang conspiracy prosecution laws. Another of their Tee-shirtsthe one worn by Virgil Abloh, depicts a “Ghetto Bird” police helicopter searching for suspects in the projects.

“Our environment is our moodboard,” Ron said. “The things we see in our daily lives are crazy on their own. Our clothes just document what we see everyday by putting it in a graph.

Gun Hill, it should be noted, hasn’t always been the gang raids and gritty that Ron and Vlad’s charts document though. At the time of the resort’s original construction in 1950, Gun Hill units were considered extremely desirable for low-income and working-class families.

“The housing projects had great community centers, lots of green space, meticulously manicured grounds, maintained hallways and good air quality,” said Mark Naison, professor of Afro studies and history. -Americans at Fordham. University, says. “They were seen as an ideal for working-class people of the day who were trapped in apartment buildings.”

These days, however, dwindling public support for public housing and the almost complete loss of federal funding have dramatically changed Gun Hill’s makeup. “There’s a kind of survival mode energy here,” Ron said. “Growing up there were kids you just saw the other day and the next thing you knew you would see RIP signs from them, candles outside their door. It just became a regular thing.

This loss of life is something both Ron and Vlad experienced in their own families growing up. When Ron was only three years old, his father was killed by gun violence. While Vlad’s father spent 15 years in prison and died upon returning home.

Despite this, the two are adamant that they want their brand to show that – especially at a time when rising crime rates in the Bronx have become an increase fixation local media and the city mayor Eric Adams — not all projects are negativity and violence. “All the social housing media I see talk about the seriousness of the situation and all the shootings – we want to reverse that,” Vlad said. “What we really want to project through the brand is that even though this place is despised, there’s a lot of positivity that can come out of it.”

For Ron and Vlad, their design process is integral to achieving this goal. “We take what we see around us and even if it’s something that the rest of the world sees as negative, we turn it into something positive by incorporating it into our brand,” Vlad said. “It’s about casting these stories in a different light.”

For the design of their clothes, Ron and Vlad draw inspiration directly from where they have spent their entire lives: Gun Hill and its surrounding neighborhood. Photo credit: Koki Sato

This organic design process also ensures that their clothing line remains authentic to them and their experiences. Authenticity is already something very valued in skate culture – in the case of Ron and Vlad’s brand, their downtown Bronx and social housing affiliation gives them the most authenticity of all: in a world where the fashion industry is constantly expropriate trends in downtown black communities, Vlad and Ron are really from projects.

Ron and Vlad point out that the fashion industry needs to do more to support creative people who come from the communities that fashion so often imitates without homage. “If you’re a luxury brand and you’re going to do a shirt based on a graffiti logo for $3,000, at least get a graffiti artist who’s really out here risking his freedom to spray paint on the walls,” Ron said. . “Allow the people who are in whatever scene you’re trying to exploit to be involved in the process.”

In that sense, Ron and Vlad are examples of the kinds of integrated designs that the fashion and streetwear industry should seek to elevate. But even beyond simply being an example of authenticity for the fashion industry, as Ramos points out to me, the most powerful example that Vlad and Ron’s brand sets for all other residents of downtown American communities.

“Vlad and Ron refused to let their environment dictate who they became. They were able to think outside the box, think outside of the project, think outside of the six buildings that are Gun Hill,” Ramos said. “They show these kids that you don’t have to be a ball player, you don’t have to be a gang banger – we don’t all have to be the same.”

When I ask Ron and Vlad what their plans are for the future of their brand, that ability to boldly dream beyond their current situation, which Ramos says is so vital that others in their community see it , becomes clearly visible.

“In the future, the dream is to build a skatepark in the projects,” Vlad said, while taking a moment to pause. “Yeah…that would be the dream.”


Dario McCarty is a part-time writer and part-time student at UC Berkeley who writes about politics and hip-hop. Follow his work @pinkbapestas on Twitter.

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