posted: 03-23-04
interview : tadah
Not just Jay-Z is changing clothes. You are what you wear. Now you can change your current fashion victim state and start to dress in funky fresh Formula Werks attire. Straight outta Chicago, the good people over there bring you high quality products. And they let you put your finger in too. How, what, when, why? Well, read what Ryan has to say about designing your own Formual Werks gear and about why you'll see many rappers dipped in these clothings.
Tell us about Formula Werks.
It's a clothing company; does that help? Hah. Seriously though, it is a clothing company, but we wanted to do something a bit different. We are just sick of all the shiny suits and bus-ad-size logos out there - ridiculous things that too many people feel like they have to buy. I started making t-shirts last summer, just for myself, and people were digging them. I used to design hats and sell 'em at high school back in the day, in like 1990, so it started to feel like that again.
Soon after, a few of us got together and decided to run with it, fully blown. We started sourcing and designing and doing all the things that people do when they start a clothing company, which you probably don't want to hear about. We wanted to use the best fabrics available - none of that shoddy quality that so many people pay $30 a shirt for - but also have decent prices. In our view, no one should be shelling out $40 or $50 for a freakin' T-shirt. Seriously, that's insane.
But back to the basics - we're all designers here. But that's not enough for us. We really want people to be able to have constant contact with us. I want some kid who has an idea to be able to call us up and talk to the president of the company and the head designer and let them in on what he feels. If we think it's a good idea, we want to be able to run with that and throw the kid's name on the shirt. How ill is it when you contributed to something and you walk into the store like, "Look at my name on that yo!"
It's all about teaming up with everyone in our culture. We want to make our Formula werk for you.
So, here we are.
You mentioned a lot of it already, but what can you say about that it's 'our' label? What do you mean by that?
If you mean 'our' in the 'yours and mine' context, yeah, that's the point. Like I said before, to be able to let people submit ideas and win free gear and get their names on hangtags and things of that nature. To make a fashion label that's different than a bunch of corporate heads in a skyscraper in New York figuring out what they're going to make everyone wear next season, and then charge $150 for it. Ridiculous. If we're making elements for your lifestyle, how can we not consult you on it?
Do you encourage people to just send you designs then?
People can send us designs if they want to; however, we prefer that they contact us first. It's better to be able to listen to what people have to say, and work with them to create something really off-the-wall, so to speak. Because we're still small and trying to wiggle into the market, we're not doing massive amounts of projects right now. When we're ready for more, though, people will know through our newsletter, etc.
If someone hooks you up with something, what's in it for 'em?
We're doing it a couple of different ways right now. On one hand, people who help us put things out end up with a lot of free gear, as well as some of the gear they did. They also get their names on the hangtags for the stores. In the near future, we'll also be running contests where people can win cash as well as free gear. Eventually, we want to get to that point where we can actually financially reward each person's input that we use.
At the same time you must have some in house designers?
The main designers are mBa (Mark Bajorski) and me. We also have people around the company that contribute their ideas to projects. Then there are affiliates or friends who do some work. For example, our graffiti is done by this dope Chicago artist named SLAP.
However, with different designer, especially outside designers, don't you make it impossible to have like a distinguished look?
Not at all. How many designers do you think a label like Tommy Hilfiger has? Tons. We have our in-house designers and our associate ones, as well as the customers who give input. But, everything still has to be stamped and approved as it were. Nothing is getting out on the shelf if it doesn't purvey that Formula distinction. We want to forge ahead with our "Forward Movement," as we call it, by putting out really artistic designs and by blowing people's minds with what we do, but there's still a path to be followed. You're correct that we do have to distinguish ourselves. There are always little intricacies - especially in the T-shirt designs - that have Formula all over them. Our most popular shirt is the Guerrilla Tactics one. Sure, you have the Formula logo under the back collar, but look at the design up close. It might be a guy in a trench coat, gas mask, all shotgunned up, but look at it. His trench coat has our Classic logo on it, and his briefcase has our main Formula F-Star logo on it.
So do you think you have a distinct look?
We don't have the same logo plastered all over every product, but I certainly feel that our products are distinct in originality, quality, and artistic attitude. I think our hats, bags, and collared shirts have a refined, classic look to them, while our T-shirts are where much of the extreme art comes in. I'm not trying to force anyone here into a box though. As long as the gear looks good, is made with creativity and to the highest quality, and pleases people, then I'm fine with that.
How often do you plan to add a new product to your catalogue?
It's in our business plan to add quite a few products every month. Until we grow to that point, though, we're putting out a few new products or styles every month. Today, we're actually right in the middle of designing a track suit for one of our artists, who's coming your way in a few weeks. Speaking of that, these guys do provide a lot of inspiration for where we go. I asked this particular artist - well, he can be named heh - J Rawls - what he was looking for or what he might be needing or wanting as far as gear goes. We started talking about full track suits (hoodies & pants), and I ended up designing the whole thing with his input.
I know you got very nice hoodies. What else do you have?
For tops, we've got T-shirts - long & short sleeve, zip-up and pullover hoodies, and collared knit shirts. For bags, we just have our Classic DJ/record bags right now (backpacks are coming!). On the headwear end of things, we've got a lot of stuff - FlexFit caps, throwback-style UltraFit caps, the more subtle 'batting practice'-style Stretchfit caps with our F-Star logo, and our most popular right now are the Formula Militia fatigue caps. We're really into that military style. Later this week, our Formula Sideways caps, which feature texture-stitched graffiti, will be coming in - I can't wait for those. We also have an array of skullies. For the ladies, we stock some tees, and we have a lot more coming for them as well.
Where will we be able to purchase your products?
Right now, you can go to the website - - and order stuff online. We ship all over the world and we have a decent amount of goodies for a company that's 100% independent. Hopefully, though, we'll be getting into the stores soon enough. Hey everyone, tell your local store to contact us to get some of that fresh Formula gear!
I guess it's hard getting into stores. Any other struggles the general buyer would never have guess could be a problem?
Not really, other than the standard learning curve of sourcing materials abroad, marketing, etc. You have to be willing to listen and learn - those are the keys to success. I think the most important thing is to be dedicated and to run through business processes while maintaining a lot of ethics and integrity. You can't allow anyone - friends, family, whatever - to push you to stray from what you should be doing. This is business and if you want to succeed, you have to do what's right. It's not about going to the clubs every night and getting wasted - it's about being successful in life, in every aspect. And that comes first. And if we can do all of those things while maintaining the ability to be creative, it's gotta be a winning formula.
You decided to sponsor a lot of artists. Who are they?
I wouldn't say a lot, but a dozen groups or so. The full list of who we sponsor goes something like this: 4th Pyramid, Actual Fact, C-Rayz Walz, Glue (Maker/Adeem/DJ DQ), Gravel Records (Rusty Chains/Verbal Kent/Matlock/Kaz 1), JON?DOE, Lexicon, Lone Catalysts, Looptroop, Mars Ill, One Man Army (Binary Star), Lo-Lifes (Rack-Lo/Thirstin Howl III/Lo-Wife/Master Fool), Rhymefest, Styles of Beyond, The Opus, Tribeca, and Verbal.
What had you pick those?
We wanted to sponsor artists whose movements or beliefs we truly support - independent artists who are actually artists, doing their thing, hustling and making good music. Many of these guys and gals supported us as people for a long time and they have a lot of integrity. All of that means quite a bit to us here at Formula; so in turn, we want to support what they're out there doing every day.
Most of these are Chicago artists, so are they basically friends and family?
I'd say maybe half of them are from Chicago. Everyone we sponsor is a friend in one form or another - who wants to sponsor an enemy? Regarding Chicago, though, we're based here and we see a lot of these people all the time. Because of that, everything becomes more visible, cloth-in-hand, so to speak. We see these folks and talk to them and go to their shows. Chicago is also undervalued by the music community as a whole, and we want to help spread the quality of music and culture that exists here. As we expand, we'll be spreading our support to more artists in other cities as well. But like I said, you've got to start somewhere.
We do, however, want to be as global as possible. I mean, look at our sponsorship roster. We've got Chicago, no doubt. But we've also got artists from Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York, Michigan, Toronto, and even Sweden.
What's coming next from you?
I think the most important thing is to keep making insanely great clothing, and to stay away from following some trend or some cliché that gets dropped on a T-shirt somewhere. That stuff is ridiculous. Just think of last time you were at a club or a store. Come on people, we can all do better than that! So we'll keep working hard to create some insane gear, completely bonkers stuff. Originality is key, no doubt.
And we need to keep working on marketing and getting Formula into stores, spreading the word and working 90-hour weeks to make sure we give everyone the best that we can.
Okay, thanks for your time: now any last words?
Regarding our concepts and modus operandi in general, I really want to motivate people to be creative and hardworking in every part of life. From our sponsored artists to our staff and our associates, we choose to work with who we do because these people purvey the fundamental qualities of hardworking, dedicated individuals with true beliefs. So for everyone out there, we do want to help motivate people to work and live with those values in mind.
As far as Formula goes, we want everyone to connect with us so that we can put out the best and most original products possible. Everyone on Earth is free to get with us on some level. Thanks for having us and showing your support - it's greatly appreciated; Urban Smarts is a great online mag. And, of course, don't forget, When Clothed, Wear Formula!
Consumer Contact:
Retail/Wholesale Contact:
Telephone: +1 (773) 290-6240 / +1 (888) 348-7391
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