Tyler Calpin

It's Crunch Time in Life: David Cole Speaks About His Label Elisa Jones by Alex Young

David Cole wearing the “Bart 12" Elisa Jones hoodie | Photograph by Alex Young

David Cole wearing the “Bart 12" Elisa Jones hoodie | Photograph by Alex Young

Growing up in LefRak City, which is in New York City’s Queens borough, for 20-year-old David Cole “it was either play basketball or be around the people on the block.” Hoop dreams were a means to an end, a way out of rough conditions. The ball found David education and different circumstances. During his high school sophomore year playing for Christ The King, he earned his first Division I scholarship to play for Manhattan College. Although, Cole decided to leave home and head to Pittsburgh and join the Robert Morris University Colonials.

Basketball has been a savior for a lot of people... If it wasn’t for basketball, a lot of people wouldn’t be who they are.
— David Cole

“I love fashion” too Cole said even though basketball remains a priority. He’s no stranger to the cultural phenomenon the A$AP Mob created in New York blending music and fashion. A self-described ‘hypebeast,’ Cole copped VLONE garments by A$AP Bari or items like the volt, Off-White Air Force 1 sneaker. “I love the way they paved for us in this world when it comes to fashion,” Cole said about A$AP noting all the brands from A$AP Illz’s Disco Inferno, A$AP Ant’s Marino Infantry to A$AP Twelvyy’s L.Y.B.B. The natural intersection for Cole became sports and streetwear.

When he was back in New York on college break his sophomore year, Cole told his friend Aziz Donnadle he could enter the game and make an impactful clothing brand. Donnadle would help Cole create a name. They would call it Elisa Jones, an ode to their mothers using their first and last names. Donnadle’s mom’s first name and Cole’s mom’s last name. “Elisa Jones is smooth. It’s a true meaning. We love our mothers. Our mothers mean everything and much more. We owe them the world,” Cole explained.

Elisa Jones’ first product would return to Cole’s hoop dreams and reflect on his home’s environment. Illustrated bullet holes riddle through the “Memorial Tee,” a memorial basketball tournament T-shirt. The back reads “4 My Dead Homies.” Elisa Jones speaks to violent and unjust conditions in society. “I know people that lost their lives that had hoop dreams,” Cole said. He works for those who can’t. “It’s crunch time in life. You got one life. It’s crunch time,” Cole finished.

Tutu, Kristina wearing the Elisa Jones “Memorial Tee”, David Cole & Tyler Calpin | Photos by Alex Young

Tutu, Kristina wearing the Elisa Jones “Memorial Tee”, David Cole & Tyler Calpin | Photos by Alex Young

Flyer by Tutu

Flyer by Tutu

The brand stays true to its roots. “I love my neighborhood,” Cole said. The couple Elisa Jones hoodies out now continue to hit urban motifs. A mustard yellow or red “Public Housing” hoodie relates to drugs, money or murder. “If you know public housing, people are usually trying to sell drugs or do drugs. Get money. Money is important to everybody in life. Murder crime rates in projects are higher than other places,” Cole explained. An element to low-income neighborhoods are agents of the law, and for people of color, the negative interaction between them and police. The “Bart 12” sweatshirt displays the distaste black people have with police officers when they abuse their power.

There’s plenty of support for Elisa Jones when it comes to building concepts. “You can’t build an empire without a team of people,” Tyler Calpin said as the visual artist features as part of the system that represents Elisa Jones. At Calpin’s solo photography exhibit “Searching for Jenny” at Social Status in Downtown, Pittsburgh, Cole met the man who would handle the graphic design work for Elisa Jones, Tutu, a fellow New York native. “Because I have a real big passion for this, I feel like I gotta contribute any way that I can,” Tutu said handling Elisa Jones’ workload and his own for his HeatKlub label. A stalwart contributor to The ‘Burgh’s streetwear community, Ivan Rodriguez of SOSIMO linked Cole to Revival Print Co. to handle printing for Elisa Jones. A former basketball teammate at Robert Morris, Dachon Burke, listened to Cole’s ideas for the label. Each person’s success in the Elisa Jones teams boosts one another. “I need people that are either on the same level as me or above me to help me motivate and get higher,” Cole said.

I’d rather spend $40 on my friends’ brands than at Supreme. That $40 is going to go to something way bigger and way better.
— Tyler Calpin

Effortlessly, Cole has found a place in Pittsburgh’s creative scene by being friendly meeting new people. His Elisa Jones designs carry the same relatable trait that “touch people.” Next, the brand will have a pop-up shop on April 27 at Shop Zed’s in the South Side along with Geechi P’s brand Safe Haven.

Read the full transcript between Cole, Tyler Calpin and Tutu below.

David Cole: I’m from New York City.

InTheRough: I checked out the Robert Morris University basketball roster and saw you were on it. Is that how you got to Pittsburgh?

Cole: Yeah, that’s what made me come to Pittsburgh.

ITR: How long have you been playing basketball for?

Cole: I’ve been playing basketball since seventh grade. I’ve been playing for eight or nine years now.

ITR: When did you notice you got good?

Cole: High school, Sophomore year is when I got my first Division 1 offer from Manhattan College.

ITR: How was it playing basketball in New York? Rucker Park and the public parks are intense competition on some manly shit.

Cole: Well, when I was growing up we didn’t really play at Rucker. We played in Dyckman, Tri-State, and in my neighborhood we had the Y-Zone. So, basically we would go between those three tournaments. Those were the most popular tournaments. Dyckman was always very competitive. You got old NBA players coming to play over there. Tri-State was very popular. Those two tournaments were the best tournaments in New York.

ITR: How would you describe your basketball style? What sneakers were you wearing?

Cole: Nike. I went to Christ The King so we were a LeBron school. We got a bunch of LeBrons.

ITR: Did that influence you when you were picking your school, like a Nike school or adidas school?

Cole: Basketball basically influenced. Coming up from the neighborhood where I’m from, things were always rough. Basketball was a way out for kids. That’s how we saw ourselves as succeeding. It was either play basketball or be around the people on the block. Even if you were to play basketball the people on the block would get along with you and mob with you. Basketball has been a savior for a lot of people and I say that for a lot of people in New York. I can speak for them. If it wasn’t for basketball, a lot of people wouldn’t be who they are. They wouldn’t be anybody. They would kind of just give up. I would say basketball is very important to almost everybody in New York that participates.

ITR: Where is the intersection of streetwear, sports and music?

Cole: Fashion. I love fashion. Music, I listen to a lot of people who are really not in the industry, like Kayo and my friends and family OTN.

ITR: So OTN is like a crew of yours?

Cole: OTN is a family. OTN is seven people. We all grew up with the same dream, which is basketball. As we got older, times started to get rough. Certain people didn’t have that basketball path. Others had the basketball path. However you were going to get it, how were you going to be a more successful person. We got rappers, we got entrepreneurs (me being myself), we got someone that’s in the NBA, and we got another person that’s playing college basketball. Everybody in the group is aiming for some type of success.

ITR: But you occupy both those lanes with the basketball dreams and the entrepreneurial side.

Cole: More not even the entrepreneurial side, I mean, when I really fell in love with fashion, that’s what made me get into my brand. I like VLONE. I like Bstroy. Shout out to Disco Inferno, especially A$AP Ant, if he sees this, my mans YG Addie. Shout out to all of them. I love them. I love the way they paved for us in this world when it comes to fashion. Me continuing to get my money and I know I have all these ideas in my head that I can produce on my own and make the same impact as them.

I actually sat down with my girlfriend one day and I told her I was like listen, “It’s time for me to make my brand. I talk about it like I want to do it, but it’s time for me to actually do it.” When it was time for me to make my brand, that’s when, shout out to Ivan (Ivan as you know owns SOSIMO), I was telling him all of my ideas. Between him and my mans Dachon Burke, I was telling them all of my ideas. Listen, “I wanna run this brand and everything.” Dachon Burke knew so much too because he was my teammate last year at Robert Morris. He and I came up into fashion. Dachon, Isaiah Still (ForWeird), and I came up into fashion. It was really big to us. Shout out to Ivan. Ivan basically told me he was like listen, “I’m going to be honest with you. I see you have some very creative ideas. I have someone who you can go to and get your garments done with them. They can make it for you. You gotta provide them the designs and make sure all the designs are on par and everything will be good from there.” Basically, from there, that’s when I started telling myself, “Okay, I got all these ideas. I got all these good drawings in my head and I really can’t sketch. Aw man, I need to find a good graphic designer.” So, in my head, I know what graphic designers to get. Like, I’ve had friends that had graphic designers that they gave things to and they would take it from there and give it to somebody who they feel like is more successful and feel like they presented something. So, it really wasn’t none of that. It’s really them just stealing the idea. That was my biggest fear personally. I’m going around looking and then I met my guy Tutu at Tyler Calpin’s “Searching For Jenny” (art exhibit). I met him and he was like, “Yeah, I do graphic design.” I’m like alright bet. We’re going to get in touch. I’m going to see what you can do basically ‘cause there’s a lot of people that say they can do things and you just gotta research for yourself. I know he’s got his own brand going, HeatKlub. I see what he’s doing.

Dachon Burke and @rah_mccoy in the black “Memorial Tee” | Burke photo by VALE™

It started with the public housing hoodie that I did. I have three items in my brand. I’ll explain each one of them and make sure you get a good understanding. But, it started with the public housing hoodie with Tyler. I told him I wanted to do something for my neighborhood. That was my first big piece to really mean something. I wanted it to express where I come from. I live in LefRak City. LefRak isn’t projects. It’s a public community, but the environment in LefRak City is a very tough environment. I said to myself that I’m going to make a public housing hoodie, but it’s not going to be my building technically ‘cause I’m not a public housing building. I’m saying to myself everything that happens in public housing is either drugs, money or murder. Drugs, money and murder. If you know public housing, people are usually trying to sell drugs or do drugs. Get money. Money is important to everybody in life. Murder crime rates in projects are higher than other places. I told Tutu I need three buildings to look similar to my building. I just want the whole theme, sort of the whole font, like it’s a flesh wound font, it needs to be an old school type of feeling ‘cause it’s way back. LefRak goes way back. I grew up there my whole life. Basically, it means a lot. Within like two days, he sent me over some work. I looked at it and I’m like, “Yo, this is crazy. This looks tough, but is this really going to come out like this after I give it to Daniel?” Daniel is Revival Print Company. I really don’t know what’s going to happen and we end up getting the hoodie and I’m like, “Yo, this hoodie is tough.” So then from there I’m like alright bet I can trust Daniel. I can trust Tutu. I got my group that I can work around at the moment. It’s really a blessing to have people that you can trust. I just came back from L.A. yesterday. Shout out to my guy Keeon Scott, CreamAAWheat. That’s my brother. He put me on to a garment manufacturer out there. Me and my man Lazarus, we’re about to get some work done. We’re about to get very intense into some garments. I’m still going to be doing what I’m doing now with the images, but certain pieces will be less images and more going on to it. That’s what I’m transitioning over to right now. I also have the memorial tee. As I said, where I came from everybody looked at basketball as a way out. Everybody had that dream regardless if they are gangsters now, resting in peace or, you feel what I’m saying. They all came up with that same dream. I know people that lost their life that had hoop dreams. I know people that couldn’t continue hoop dreams because they had to go get it whichever way they had to go get their money and provide. I said to myself I need to make a T-shirt that’s going to standout and actually speak in a way. I’m going to do a memorial tee, so these are for the people that had these dreams and just letting them know that they’re not forgotten. You’re still out there. We still remember you. On the back I put for my dead homies for the people that passed away, and that’s what the bullet holes are on the shirt for. Due to violence, we have a memorial classic going on for the people that couldn’t fulfill their dreams. We’re showing them love. That was my first shirt. Then it was the public housing hoodie and then after I made the Elisa Bart hoodie. The whole theme of this one was this: I’m a young African American man. You know how it goes with cops. I’ve known people who have been violated by cops. I’ve seen enough videos. I’m pretty sure everybody can understand that cops sometimes abuse their rights. That’s way above for me to actually answer, but for my personal experience with cops, I feel like they do crazy things sometimes. So I said I’m going to do a Bart Simpson hoodie that is basically stating we don’t really fuck with cops. We’re not rocking with cops. That’s why I got the cop as a pig. 12 is from slang instead of putting a police department. It’s a different understanding. My work, I want it to be looked at and I want you to have to ask questions about it. I don’t want you just to buy something. I want you before you buy it to DM me and ask me and I can explain it. Tutu did this too. I had told Tutu put Bart riding on top of the cop car with no cop in it. And I remember he was done with the whole design. I was like, “Bro, this isn’t good enough. I need you to go back and spice it up for me.” I came up with the idea with my friend Dachon. We were dead on the phone for like three hours. I told Tutu I need the cop to be a pig and I need both of them in the car. I don’t care what you do from there make it happen for me. He surprised me with some wonderful work. Actually, so far it has been my best piece. I thank God for him. I thank God for my girlfriend. I thank God for everybody that’s around me. Dachon, Ivan, Isaiah, Keeon, Laz, Tyler, I thank everybody that’s around me because without seeing all the creativity that’s going on around me in life, then you really won’t be able to experience it.

David Cole, Tutu & Tyler Calpin | Photos by Alex Young

David Cole, Tutu & Tyler Calpin | Photos by Alex Young

If you trap yourself in something and not experience the outside world around you, you won’t really know what’s going on. You’ll just be stuck to your own regular routine. It’s kind of a blessing to have the people that I have around me. I only surround myself with people that have the same goals as me. What I mean by goals, let me clarify, as long as you’re trying to succeed. As long as you’re never going to become complacent and satisfied with what you’re doing. As long as you’re true to yourself and know where you come from, I totally respect you and have no problem building a bond with you. It’s really a wonderful feeling. I actually do appreciate everybody around me. I’ve recently made friends with Geechi P. Geechi is a really interesting person. I want you to talk to Tyler for a little to get where he comes from as a part of the brand ‘cause he means a lot to the brand. Without him and his creativity, I really wouldn’t get anywhere as far as certain things getting done. I’m really thankful for him. I just want to shout out Pittsburgh Social Status. I appreciate you guys 100%. Shout out my beautiful girlfriend Kristina.

ITR: Who is Elisa Jones?

Cole: Shout out to my guy Aziz Donnadle. The brand is run by Aziz and I. One day, we were at home. I’m home on break my sophomore year, I’m like, “Yo, bro, we can really do this fashion.” I’m over here just talking with my mans and chillin’. I’m like, “Yo, bro, we could really make a fashion clothing line.” He’s like, “Let’s do it.” I’m like alright bet. Let’s think of a name. We’re sitting there thinking and it literally took us like 15 minutes. I was like we should name it after my mom. I love my mom Jacqueline Jones. She is my biggest role model. She played my mother and father role. Not only that, she’s everything to me. Basically, I was like we could use my mom’s last name. I said, “What’s your mom’s first name?” He said, “Elisa.” I was like okay that’s tough. I’m riding with Elisa. Smooth. Nobody can stutter over it. I’m like, “Elisa Jones.” His mom recently just beat a little stage of cancer so she means a lot to him as well. We’re doing Elisa Jones. Elisa Jones is smooth. It’s a true meaning. We love our mothers. Our mothers mean everything and much more. We owe them the world.

Shout out to the whole OTN too. Hamidou Diallo who is playing in the NBA, Jeffrey, James, Kevin, Elijah, Amadou, shout out to Fendi, Dudus, MallyMall (Somoli), shout out to some of my brothers I love them all OTN. Also, Jabari Bell always pushing me to strive.

ITR: How has it been finding talent in the city that you mesh with and work well with?

Cole: I knew Ivan first. Ivan introduced me to Tyler at Social Status. I met Tutu at Tyler’s event as I said. It all played out. I met Ivan ‘cause I used to always go to Social Status. I was a Bape fiend. I was a hypebeast once upon a time in my life. I kind of changed everything.

Tyler Calpin: You still are [laughs].

Cole: Nah, not even [laughs].

Calpin: Nah, you just do it different now, man.

Cole: I do it different. I only support my brands now. I don’t buy VLONE anymore. We went to the VLONE pop-up the other day. She [Kristina] spent $400 on a crewneck. I looked at her and told her she could’ve invested it in the brand [laughs].

Tutu: The Neighborhood one?

Cole: Yeah, the Neighborhood one.

Tutu: Owwww.

Tyler Calpin, Tutu and David Cole hitting the whoa | Photo by Alex Young

Tyler Calpin, Tutu and David Cole hitting the whoa | Photo by Alex Young

Cole: Basically, I support my friends. I knew Ivan had his own thing going. I did a photoshoot with Ivan in January. I did a photoshoot with him for his brand and we had a long conversation. He was touching up on everything with me and I was giving him my ideas. From there I knew I could trust Ivan. Ivan seemed like a real thorough, authentic person. When I was with Ivan, I met Tyler. Ivan is cool with Tyler. Tyler is cool. I’m over here talking to him we’re having a two-hour conversation. Don’t know Tyler from a can of paint. We maintained the two-hour conversation. Tyler is a cool person. I’m not from Pittsburgh. I’m trying to find people who I can trust. I got trust issues coming from where I’m from. I come to Tyler’s event, I see Tutu. Tutu looks like he got some style. Looks like he got some swag. I actually went up to Tutu and I’m like, “What’s good?” He’s looking at me like, “What’s good?” Just looking at me. I’m stepping out of my pride right now to come say what’s good to him and he’s over here telling me what’s good like I’m pressing him. I’m like alright I’m just going to keep going with it. “What’s your name?” He’s like, “Tutu.” Then we just started building from there. We followed each other on The Gram and we got more tight. Now, he’s my designer right now. I’m thankful for that.

Calpin: The implications of “what’s good,” as someone that’s not from New York, that’s crazy.

ITR: It’s hostile.

Calpin: It’s one of those things, man, you can’t build an empire without a team of people. Pittsburgh is a small enough city we’re all bound to be wrapped up in multiple things. I have my hands in four different brands that people are starting. I do my own thing. Something is going to stick. Something is going to hit. At the end of the day, it’s important to find success within yourself, but seeing your friends succeed is just as for me… David could blow up tomorrow and I’ll be super stoked for him. He could totally forget about me and I can just be like, “That’s sick. I got one of his first T-shirts. I was fuckin’ with him when he was coming to Social and doing his thing.” Seeing your friends succeed too is so sick, dude. My job, more or less, is to help them get to where they want to be. We’re all competition, but at the end of the day, we’re also part of the same community. We all have the same friends. That’s what’s going to elevate us. If you think about Neighborhood and how that brand started it was about that neighborhood in Japan (Harajuku) where three or four of the biggest Japanese clothing brands ever came out of the same spot in Japan. Who is to say we couldn’t do that in Downtown, Pittsburgh. When one person finds their success and they start to blowup, everyone else is going to get a ride. You have a higher standard at that point. This dude blew up. I gotta push harder.

Tutu: Yeah, that’s just how it is. I feel like right now in Pittsburgh everybody is kind of doing the same thing, but at the end of the day, the people who are real and are in this are going to be the ones that survive. A lot of people gain clout because they do clothing, this, that, and the third, but with stuff like this it’s a marathon.

ITR: Facts. Shout out Nipsey.

Tutu: Exactly. R.I.P. Yeah, you gotta take your time with it. You gotta be very precise I feel. I was blessed to meet these people that are in this store. That’s why I’m honestly here everyday. I meet very intricate people and people who help me work harder towards my goals. It just so happens that this place is also fresh. It keeps me fresh.

ITR: You, David and Tutu, are both from New York. Did you find you had similar tastes?

Tutu: Yeah, I feel like that’s a stereotype of being from New York or just being from a city that is a little bit more fashion forward. That’s why we hit it off at first type shit. It was because, “Oh, you’re from New York. Where in New York? Around New Rochelle.” I’m from New Rochelle.

Cole: I’m from Queens, LefRak City.

Tutu: That’s like 20 minutes away from New Rochelle. It was crazy because I’ve always had to tell people from Pittsburgh about New Rochelle, so when somebody came up to me talking about New Rochelle I was like, “Oh, shit. He knows. Let me keep talking to him and see what type of time he’s on.” Not to say I judge people from their Instagram, but I saw his Instagram and I was like okay he’s got some style. We got some similarities type stuff when it comes to our style. Why not collab? Why not do something that’s going to make something even bigger than we are? Because I have a real big passion for this, I feel like I gotta contribute any way that I can. If that means designing for somebody, then I’ll definitely do that. At the end of the day, it’s bigger than me no matter what.

ITR: Tyler touched on the competition aspect. We’re all in this community together. Tutu said a lot of people in Pittsburgh do the same shit. David has Elisa Jones. Tutu has HeatKlub. Tyler has his own thing but he just dropped a Searching For Jenny T-shirt with Reviving Real. Ivan got SOSIMO. Geechi P has Haven Project. Is there a fear of over-saturation?

Cole: No. We are all family and we all aim for the same thing.

ITR: Okay, yes. That could be the case, but at the same time, Pittsburgh is a small place. You all have different types of styles, but the aesthetic is very similar. How do you make sure you keep that unique?

Cole: You gotta make unique. We all got our own little pattern of how we do our work. You could look at all three of our works and see there’s a difference. You could see there’s a different theme or a whole picture going on. We all do three different things. In my head, as long as we stay separated from each other where it doesn’t look like we’re copying each other, and if we feel like we need to do that then we can collab, I think that we’re all separated. We all got our own uniqueness. That’s what made us all find each other. If it wasn’t for that then we all wouldn’t be in this situation. There’s people in Pittsburgh who I might think have a brand and I look at their Instagram and I’m like, “Nah. I don’t think he has the same ambition as me.” I’m not going to involve myself because that’s just going to bring me down. I need to be pulled up. I need people that are either on the same level as me or above me to help me motivate and get higher. It’s crunch time in life. You got one life. It’s crunch time. Everybody’s trying to get that bread. I have a mom I want to take out the hood. I understand it’s competition, but we could all help each other take our moms out the hood. Why not come together as one? If you want to talk about competition, how do you think the whole A$AP Mob feels? You got Bari the biggest, but then you still got A$AP Illz Disco Inferno. You still got A$AP Ant Marino. You still got Twelvyy Last Year Being Broke. They’re all eating though. At the end of the day, they’re showing us you could work with 50 people for all you care. You all could eat as long as you’re doing things that are different and you touch people.

It’s crunch time in life.

Tutu: For me, one thing that separates HeatKlub from everything else is the fact that HeatKlub is not a clothing brand. HeatKlub never started as a clothing brand for me. HeatKlub is more of a housing unit how David explained with OTN. It’s just a housing unit. I got people who are doing music. I got people that do videography, photography, and clothing. I would say the clothing that I put out under HeatKlub is more just to show the awareness. This is what HeatKlub is. When somebody is rocking HeatKlub you’ll be like, “What is HeatKlub?” Also, I want you to go and I want you yourself to do the homework. I don’t want to tell you what it is. Everybody’s approach is different with how this is. At least right now, I like to be behind the scenes. If I do get the accolades that come along with it, then whatever that’s great. But, right now, one step at a time. Very calculated steps about what I do.

Calpin: I think your comparison of all this and A$AP Mob and then dropping all those brands was so key. We’re all catering to the same niche of people. You see Tutu did graphic for you (David), he does it for himself, he did it for Haven Project. I know for a fact Ivan helped all three of you guys with your production.

Tutu: That’s a fact.

Calpin: What I do with Reviving Real caters to a completely different niche of people. That brand is in a little bit of a different mix, but the link that brings all of those things together is my involvement with everyone’s little bit. I do Ivan’s product shots. I shoot sick iPhone Instagram photos of you guys rocking your shit. You’re all catering to the same group of people, so when people start to see this is coming from David, people who are buying Ivan’s stuff are still going to buy your shit. They see Ivan’s fucking with you they’ll be like, “Oh, that guys cool. If he’s valid with Ivan, he’s gotta be a good dude.”

Cole: I ain’t gonna lie. That’s going on right now in Japan actually. He was actually Ivan’s customer and then he saw my friends and family piece on Ivan and was like, “I need two hoodies right now.”

Calpin: It’s a fire starter. One of those things is going to lead to somebody. The right person is going to see it whether it’s Elisa Jones, HeatKlub, SOSIMO, whatever the fuck. Someone’s going to get some attention and everyone is going to blow.

Cole: That’s why I give a lot of respect to A$AP Ant. The bond between me and A$AP Ant… I had ordered something from him and it took quite a while to get to me. I had to start calling him and be like, “Where’s my shit at?” He ended up sending me an extra package and was like, “My fault on that bro. I see you hoop. I support all hoopers.” He followed me on the Gram. After I started doing my brand with the public housing hoodie he was like, “Yo, that hoodie is tough. I need it.” I sent him the first hoodie and then he was like, “I need every colorway.” Being the person who I am, knowing A$AP Ant is kind of a cool feeling, but at the same time, we’re all doing the same thing. We’re all the same people. It’s cool, but we all could do the same shit. Why can’t I be just as good as them? The same way how they got up I could come up. The same way I could go down they could go down too. Nothing is impossible. This isn’t impossible. Speak things into existence. Be honest with yourself and keep it a buck around everybody around you.

Calpin: When someone with a bigger platform recognizes what you’re doing, you know you’re doing something right. Being recognized on a scale like that is fucking crazy. When I even saw that A$AP Ant liked the photo that I took of him or I saw that Illz reposted the photo I took of Tutu on both of his Instagram stories, bro, I called my mom. I was like, “Yo, people from the A$AP Mob are fucking with my shit on Instagram right now.” I mean, my mom is so caucasian it hurts, but she knows who the A$AP Mob is. She was like, “That’s fucking crazy. You mean like A$AP Rocky?” His people are rocking with me. She was like, “Damn.” To even just be recognized even if it’s second-hand recognization…

Tutu: It’s still something you can say that was done by you.

Calpin: Dude, I was on cloud nine for three fucking days thinking about that shit. I felt like big man in town. I’ve always wanted those people to see what I do. It’s going to happen more and more. One day, one of these people are going to see everything that I do on my own and they’re going to want that for themselves.

Cole: I can tell you one thing, being a person who is all about truth and being friendly, I met Keeon (CreamAAWheat) in New York City on my why to A$AP Illz pop-up in New Jersey with my girlfriend she was driving in traffic. He’s just riding his skateboard and he had One Up Skate Shop cargo pants on. I got out of the car and I said, “What do you know about One Up?” He said, “I am One Up!” I said, “You know Brandon?” He said, “Yeah, that’s my mans. I’m from Pittsburgh.”

Tutu: What? That’s crazy.

Calpin: I used to skate with Keeon back in the day. It’s really a testament to how small our community is. I did not know Davin three months ago. The first time we have a lengthy conversation he brings up Keeon. I said, “Oh, you mean CreamAAWheat?” He said, “Yeah, Keeon.” I was like you’re lying. I used to skate with that kid back in Ohio. It’s crazy how this world works, bro. Everybody is all over the place doing their thing, but it’s a lot smaller than you think. It’s crazy how this community is.

Tutu: Shout out to Social Status.

Cole: Shout out to [claps] Social Status. Shout out to Larry. Shout out to Tara.

Calpin: Shout out to Big Larry.

ITR: Lastly, Nipsey Hussle was just shot and killed. You got these bullet holes riddled through the “Memorial Tee.” How are you trying to change this violent culture?

Cole: Honestly, in life, people make mistakes. I know people who probably live the same life that Nipsey Hussle did. People try to change their life. The fact that someone so influential loses his life makes nobody feel safe. If somebody can take down Nipsey Hussle over…

ITR: Some bullshit.

Cole: Whatever it really is, to do that in broad daylight knowing he got kids and a wife shows you how coldhearted this world really is. I try to keep it real. It’s tough, man. All the gun violence needs to stop.

Tee Time by Alex Young

Emerging Streetwear Companies

“Compelling visual style, backstory and feel,” that’s the blueprint for building an influential brand according to Grailed. The buy-sell marketplace app asserted this opinion in a history piece describing the “Rise of Japanese Street Culture” through the late ‘80s and in to the ‘90s in Harajuku. Essentially, the canon of streetwear fashion, the Japanese section pertaining to Hiroshi Fujiwara, Nigo and others pivotal to the scene, all created their brands and legacies in the same neighborhood making a bridge between music and fashion. The success of one boosted more opportunity and success for another. These fashion icons asserted their “loyalty to sister brands with continual collaboration and cross-pollination,” Harsh Patel wrote in a 2010 piece for Interview Magazine. Partnerships with each other drove consumers to desire every brand involved in the movement.

Japanese Street Culture: Nigo, Hiroshi Fujiwara and Jun Takahashi | New York Street Culture: A$AP Mob

Draw the parallel. Take the model to modern day Harlem with the A$AP Mob. Members of the clique seamlessly fused hip-hop and fashion. A$AP Rocky exploded, and each A$AP member has found success whether it’s music or, particularly here, fashion. Streetwear brands grew out of the A$AP Mob without inhibiting the other’s success: Disco Inferno, Marino Infantry and VLONE. Each thrives, just as the core Japanese streetwear companies founded and remain: A Bathing Ape, Neighborhood and Undercover.

This style, camaraderie and entrepreneurship is a global culture practiced by many artists. As it happened in Japan and New York, it occurs now in Pittsburgh.

Top row:  SOSIMO  &  HeatKlub  | Bottom Row: SOSIMO x  Haven  &  Elisa Jones  | Middle: Ivan Rodriguez, Sakony Burton &  Tyler Calpin  on  Désir  hoodies

Top row: SOSIMO & HeatKlub | Bottom Row: SOSIMO x Haven & Elisa Jones | Middle: Ivan Rodriguez, Sakony Burton & Tyler Calpin on Désir hoodies

There’s a crew inhabiting and working at Social Status, using the welcoming streetwear boutique as a meeting spot to build ideas with each other and talk about the culture in a relevant establishment. Ivan Rodriguez and Tyler Calpin, while they are sales associates at Social Status, they use the store’s customer influx to build a network helping grow their personal brands, SOSIMO for Rodriguez and Calpin’s eponymous brand. With them, David Cole, Geechi P, Sakony Burton and Tutu feed off the Social Status energy, as well as their relationships with each other, which has created a budding streetwear community. Cole operates Elisa Jones, Geechi P has Haven, Burton runs Désir, and Tutu supplies graphic designs to Elisa Jones, Haven and his own project HeatKlub. Calpin spends time with all of them working in Social Status’ Downtown, Pittsburgh location where Cole frequents and the East Liberty location where Rodriguez works. Calpin adds compelling visuals and cool documentation to SOSIMO, Elisa Jones and HeatKlub, or companionship and advice to Burton. Burton and Rodriguez influence each other. “If it wasn’t for him [Ivan Rodriguez], I wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing right now, and to some degree, if it wasn’t for me, he wouldn’t be doing what he’s doing right now,” Burton said.

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Calpin and Cole were the ones to draw comparisons from Japanese and New York street cultures to the current situation in The ‘Burgh. Each of the brands could eat "as long as you touch people,” Cole said during his upcoming InTheRough interview at Social Status Downtown. “We all could help each other take our moms out the hood.”

Tyler Calpin Completes His First Solo Show as an Artist by Alex Young

Tyler Calpin standing in front of his pieces part of the “Searching for Jenny” exhibit at Social Status on Jan. 25, 2019. | photographs by Alex Young

Tyler Calpin standing in front of his pieces part of the “Searching for Jenny” exhibit at Social Status on Jan. 25, 2019. | photographs by Alex Young

Mid-show, he stops the conversation to cross the room and adjust one of his art pieces that shifted out of position from the significant crowd moving about the exhibit. Tyler Calpin was living out his dream of achieving his first solo show at a relevant destination for culture and community in Pittsburgh, the Social Status streetwear boutique. “It’s very surreal right now,” he described his emotions.

Inside the shop’s Downtown location last Friday, Jan. 25, 2019, Slim Tha DJ spun records for the young audience of artists and tastemakers supporting Calpin in his moment. Calpin showed “Searching for Jenny,” a photography exhibition dedicated to his hometown Youngstown, Ohio.

“Jenny” was the name of the last working blast furnace in the United States of America. The steel industry was vital to Youngstown’s economy and once it was shut down on September 19, 1977 it left a financial depression in the city. “There’s still a lot of stuff left over from it in terms of architecture or structures that are remaining that were around from that time,” Calpin said of the deteriorating, midwestern factory settings he photographed for his art. Calpin’s great-great and great-grandfathers worked in the Youngstown Steel mills. The work in “Searching for Jenny” connects Calpin to his family roots. Though his images focus on a past dead and gone, the colorful collage aspects to his art breathe life back into the buildings and parts that were lively about the Youngstown community before.

Honestly, Calpin is grateful for being able to leave Youngstown for Pittsburgh and add something to the culture here. While he’s doing his job at Social Status literally as a sales associate, the Pittsburgh transplant is also aware of the opportunities he has at the business platform to advance his own brand.

“For me, it’s just bringing people in and furthering the idea of community,” he said. It feels that way when potential customers walk in feeling welcomed, observing the sales associates, who are often local movers and shakers like Tyler Calpin or rapper My Favorite Color, openly converse about contemporary culture. “Whether it’s through fashion, sneakers or art… It started for me through skateboarding,” he explained. “All of these communities, as I’ve gown older, I can see how they all blend in a lot of ways.” Calpin’s location at Social Status makes him a familiar face when it comes to linking with other artists in these various scenes. “It shows people that we’re accessible and that we’re human,” he said. Calpin made the decision to utilize the shop for his artwork once he saw his college peer and fellow photographer Sharimar Cruz display her work there.

I think consistency is important in photography whether it’s pictures of yourself or consistency in your content.
— Tyler Calpin

Now, Calpin makes it work for himself in a “do-able” climate that’s not too busy or overwhelming like in big markets such as Los Angeles or New York. He meets his goals in Pittsburgh by “building genuine relationships, being yourself, and being consistent around those people,” he said. One of the relationships he’s continued to cultivate is with rapper Choo Jackson of ForeverKool Records. Calpin shot cover art, and merchandise looks for Choo. Next, he worked on Choo’s “Anime 2” album art with another artist Travis Carter. “I like to work with people who trust my ideas wholeheartedly,” Calpin said. “Be on the lookout for ‘Anime 2’ because that shit’s about to be fire,” he promoted.

Calpin wants to be known as “The King of the Midwest” stressing the value in regional notoriety rather than the coolness you get from being internationally or nationally recognized. With features in more shows, like those at Artists Image Resource gallery on the North Side on February 15 and April 12, he looks to expand to other cities like Chicago or Philadelphia. “I just want to keep producing work at the highest level possible,” he finished.

Tyler Calpin behind the sales counter at Social Status | photograph by Alex Young   Read the transcript of Tyler Calpin’s interview below.

Tyler Calpin behind the sales counter at Social Status | photograph by Alex Young

Read the transcript of Tyler Calpin’s interview below.

InTheRough: You have the infamous selfie mirror over there. Please talk about that energy.

Tyler Calpin: So, I started taking the mirror pics everyday just to show off what I was wearing and to show people I was in the store. See if I could bring people in through my Instagram, which sounds so corny. It became one of those things that people started to respond to it. I was like oh this is actually kinda fun. It’s something I can do consistently. I think consistency is important in photography whether it’s pictures of yourself or consistency in your content. It was just one of those things. As soon as people would come in the store and tell me, “Oh, I saw your pic. I saw you were here. Oh, that’s a dope fit.” I was like okay I gotta keep doing this everyday. The daily fit pic (laughs).

ITR: How do you try to use your role at Social Status to further your brand?

Calpin: Ultimately, I’m just a sales associate, so I’m just here to help customers and make sales. For me, it’s just bringing people in and furthering the idea of community whether it’s through fashion, sneakers or art. That’s really important to me because all of those things are tied together in a lot of ways. It started for me through skateboarding. All of these communities, as I’ve gown older, I can see how they all blend in a lot of ways and how they take things from each other to kind of further itself. I always use the example of “clout bags.” You know, the shoulder bags. People in skateboarding were using those two or three years before hypebeasts or anyone like that.

ITR: Before rappers.

Calpin: Yeah, it’s something you can throw your camera, a bottle of water, your phone or your wallet in. Sling it across your back and just go.

Basically, my role here is bring people around and get them hip to shopping here. For me, I’ve always wanted to work here since I came to Pittsburgh. I bought my first Bape tee here. I was hooked. Being able to do that for other people makes me feel very validated in a lot of ways, which is crazy to say just working a retail job, but making someone happy through a material good is super awesome.

ITR: It feels like the new-age barbershop in here. You guys are in here choppin’ it up and when you come in that’s really happening.

Calpin: That’s how it is and that’s what’s really important to me. I want people to feel like they can come in here and just say hi and hang out for a little bit. Have a conversation whether it’s about personal things or they want to chop it up about the culture, sneakers or whatever. That’s basically what we’re here for and that’s what’s really important to me. It shows people that we’re accessible and that we’re human.

[Playboi Carti’s “Yah Mean” plays in the background.]

ITR: How does it feel to achieve a goal? That goal being your first solo art show at Social Status because you’ve been striving for this for a couple years.

Images from Youngstown, Ohio by Tyler Calpin

View more work at his “@lil35mm” Instagram handle.

Calpin: It was one of the first things when I was living in a dorm room at Point Park [University] and I started coming here and being able to look at this stuff I couldn’t afford it then but it was so nice to be able and come and look and not feel like I wasn’t welcome here. Once I started to see they were part of the gallery crawl and it doubled as a space that was not only for sneakers and fashion culture, but for art as well it was important for me to get my work and myself in here. What really inspired me was seeing Shar [Sharimar Cruz] do her work here. She went to Point Park and I was in classes with her. Seeing how accessible it was to people that are around in the Downtown area, but Pittsburgh in general. I came here, I saw what I could do, and I set out to get that goal. It took longer than I wanted it to, but that’s how things go sometimes.

ITR: Yeah, time.

Calpin: Time is really important. Believe me, when I was 17 years old, I would’ve loved to have solo shows. But I didn’t have the knowledge. I didn’t have the resources. I didn’t have any idea of what it really took. Now, five years later I’m 22 years old and I have that knowledge. I have those resources and I have the capabilities and the ability to cultivate the opportunities to make those kind of things happen. Being able to have my first solo show here means a lot to me. It was that first place that really struck me I was like, “I gotta do it.” It’s very surreal right now. Seeing it on the walls is just crazy right now.

ITR: What does it mean to debut “Searching for Jenny” in Pittsburgh? Obviously you go to school here and you lived close by being from Youngstown. When’s the first time you saw Pittsburgh as an opportunity?

Calpin: I would say I saw Pittsburgh as an opportunity the second I started coming here. My friend Ben and I would come out on random Saturdays. We would come out when it’s this cold outside. For the record, it’s like single digits right now. We would come out we’d go to the South Side. Go to the skate shop. Get Primanti Bros. Go to the Strip District. Stuff like that. It just seemed like one of those cities that it was do-able. It’s bigger than Youngstown, but it’s not like L.A. or New York where things are so overwhelming or super busy. Once I got to Pittsburgh in 2015, I started to see people who I was close with getting opportunities. I was friends with a lot of the juniors and seniors when I was a freshman. That was when they started to get their solo shows and group shows and their opportunities. As soon as I started to see it work for other people, I knew it could work for me too. All it took was talking to the right people and being genuine. If I could tell myself that years ago, I would run with that information. Truthfully. If all I knew it took was building genuine relationships, being yourself, and being consistent around those people…

ITR: That’s the big part about it.

Calpin: Yeah, it’s really important to continue to cultivate those opportunities. It goes back to that community that we have here. When people stop in once or twice a week that’s awesome. We have people that come in if they’re Downtown they’ll stop in just to say hi. That’s really important because those are people that I know that care about us as human beings and they know we’re something more than just sales associates. We’re human beings and creatives as well. When people can see that about you and they’re more interested in your personal life than what they can get out of you at the store, that’s really important.

ITR: What’s your ultimate goal?

Calpin: My goal is to keep doing this shit man. I just want to keep producing work at the highest level possible whether that’s conceptually or just producing a lot of things. I have my hands in a ton of stuff right now. I want to keep it that way. I just want to keep it moving and see where it takes me because that’s what got me going in the first place and that’s going to keep me afloat. Ultimately, my goal is to keep doing shows whether it’s a group show or a solo show. Ideally, I want to be the king of the Midwest. I want my work to be known in a region. Being national and international is so cool, but that takes a lot of time. My goal after Pittsburgh is going to somewhere like Chicago or Philadelphia. I want to do some stuff in Cleveland and especially in the Youngstown area. I do plan to show this work in the Youngstown area because it would be so stupid to not show it there. Not only do I want the people of the area to see it and appreciate it, but I just want them to see someone from Youngstown started there, went somewhere else, did something with their life, and is paying it forward in a lot of ways. I’d like to see myself curate shows as well. That’s something that I do like to do. But, yeah, I just want to expand regionally before I start to make the jump nationally or internationally.

ITR: What’s your role with Reviving Real?

Calpin: Specifically with Reviving Real, I do a lot of the photography work almost all of the photography work. You know, just pushing the product and getting people hip to the idea that we’re not only a clothing brand, but we’re a media platform at this point. The clothing is more like merchandise to the platform We do artists’ spotlights, blog posts, and we just partnered with Matt’s Music Mine. I know he’s a great journalist so that merging of music and journalism and culture it’s really important. We make promotional videos. We help people build electronic press kits. People that are looking to expand how they advertise themselves and what they do whether it’s through music, photography or art. We help people get the resources to make those things happen. We also consult people. We’ll sit down and have a conversation with you for a small fee. That knowledge is so valuable. What’s 50 bucks for a two-hour conversation that could turn into 500 or a thousand dollars in two months if you really use that to your advantage.

Alex Young (left) and Tyler Calpin (right) in front of the infamous fit pic mirror at Social Status. | photograph by Tyler Calpin

Alex Young (left) and Tyler Calpin (right) in front of the infamous fit pic mirror at Social Status. | photograph by Tyler Calpin

ITR: How else do you plan to add to the Pittsburgh culture. You’ve worked with people in the scene like rapper Choo Jackson or you’ve done lookbooks for brands like vintage shop Senseless. How will you continue to use yourself as a resource to the community?

Calpin: Keep doing stuff like that to be honest with you. I don’t like to close myself off from people, but I like to work with people who are genuine, believe in me, and trust my ideas wholeheartedly. Keep doing work with people that trust me to come to the table with ideas knowing that I can produce it and make it a reality. People that are open to me and don’t think my prices are too high and understand why they are that why. I don’t ask for what I ask for just because I have bills to pay. It’s the level of the work that you’re going to receive. I’m not trying to be full of myself. You know what you’re going to get for that price and it’s not going to be some bottom of the barrel shit. You can find someone that’s gonna do it for 50 bucks and it’s gonna look like it’s 50 bucks. If I’m asking 300 or 400 dollars it’s going to look like a three or 400 dollar job. I’m not going to put 20 minutes into it. I’m going to make it my life for a week and a half if I have to to make it the product you want. If we have to go back to the drawing board, then so be it. I want people to be happy with what they receive from me, but also happy with what they’re paying for. I like to sit down with people in a pre-production meeting and talk about the ideas before we even touch a camera or open up my computer and start doing things. I’m very into that idea of making sure I deliver a product that my clients are happy with.

ITR: Respect. There’s nothing wrong with knowing your worth.

Calpin: I don’t know if I can say this, but I did do the “Anime 2” cover in a collab with another artist. His name is Travis Carter. Choo hit me up with idea and was like, “Hey I really want to use your collage style,” and I was like yeah, let’s do it. That’s something that I’ve done for him before. It’s obviously something that people respond to. I made the collage. I sent it off to Travis. He did some things with it and all I have to say is the final product looks really dope. So be on the lookout for “Anime 2” because that shit’s about to be fire.

[Tara Fay, a Social Status manager, offers Tyler Calpin dessert humus.]

ITR: Can you briefly touch on the color in your work?

Calpin: You know, basically, I’m ripping these structures a part in an area that feels slightly deteriorated and it’s not the way it used to be. A lot of things have changed since the steel industry left. There’s still a lot of stuff left over from it in terms of architecture or structures that are remaining that were around from that time, but there may not be a business in it. So, I photograph these structures. By cutting them at these really important seams, that’s why a lot of it is cut at the corners or where things start to intersect, I pull them a part there and I put the color behind it to in essence to breathe life back into it. I feel like color is one of those things it’s very lively. So many of the colors I’ve chosen are really vibrant.