To gain further insight into the offerings of vitaminwater’s #shinebright, we sat down with Mikey Trapstar to learn more about his eponymous label and the chance to work alongside him at a pop-up store in London. Like many aspiring designers, Mikey got his start in a collaborative pop-up store and now he wants to give one talented designer the chance to showcase their work through a unique challenge.
In addition to Mikey’s challenge, five other challenges have been set including the chance to work with Susie Bubble capturing fashion’s finest close up at London Fashion Week. The six mentors, Mikey Trapstar, Susie Bubble, Theo Gosselin, Jenny Grettve, Lisa Gachet and Trine Kjaer, were chosen to represent #shinebright based on their individual style and personality, reflecting six of the different vitamin and mineral combinations available from vitaminwater.
Take a look below for our conversation with the London native and head over here to see all six challenges set by the #shinebright creatives.
Were you involved in fashion before starting Trapstar?
Yes, I was involved in the lower end of fashion. I never went to fashion school or anything, but I left straight from school and I was working for a clothing store selling the first wave of Moschino and D&G, when it first started coming into the country. My boss at the time was the ex-manager of Versace on Bond Street. That’s where most of my fashion experience came from.
I started as an intern, sales assistant type thing. With that he took me on to his wholesale meetings and I was picked for the store and I was learning a little bit more about the retail side of the industry, so when I left I was basically his right hand man. He let me purchase stock to sell, so there were times when I would invest my wage into Moschino and Gucci loafers. From there I learned the art of making money by selling clothes yourself.
Do you remember what drew you to fashion and streetwear in the first place?
Well, from the age of around 14 I walked to school. I grew up on an estate, you would call it a project, and my neighbors were all wearing Jordans. I wanted to be like the older kids so their fashion influenced me. When I grew a bit older I would save my lunch money and basically buy clothes. I would walk to school instead of taking the bus and I would buy clothes. I’ve always been in the fashion industry in that way, be it streetwear or a bit more high-end or contemporary fashion. From around 14 I would swap clothes out. We’d trade clothes like people trade sneakers now and that’s all that my money really went to.
Further into my life, about 7 years ago, we started Trapstar. I wanted a T-shirt and we used to go to a custom store and ask for customized T-shirts. We would pay a lot of money for them because they were airbrushed, painted by 2 graffiti artists, but we would ask for all the designer content and they would sell that in their store. These T-shirts, people would replicate, so we always had social weight with setting trends. I’ve always wanted something different that no one else could have, that’s the secret formula to the Trapstar brand. We wanted something that no one else could ruin, we didn’t want it out there, we just wanted exclusive items basically. About 7 years ago I wanted a Scarface tee and I would only let my partners have them. I would make them and make them and make them to the point where the guy who was making the T-shirts said “you guys must be making a lot of money off these,” and I said, “what money?” It just clicked, oh, why haven’t we turned this into a business? And then demand came and we were forced into making a brand.
So that’s where the original idea of Trapstar came from, from being successful with your own designs?
Yeah, it came from us making T-shirts that everybody wanted. One of my friends said to me, if I wouldn’t sell him a tee, he was just going to bootleg my own designs. So then I turned it into a business and learned step by step. The only thing I have is passion – no skills, just passion.
Since then the brand has really blown up. How do you keep this original vision of being a secret with that kind of success?
I love my clothes and we constantly develop ourselves. The first ethos with me is: if you will not wear it, do not make it. When I first started making clothes I said, “okay this is what I’m gonna make, this is what’s close to me, this is what connects with me.” The worst thing that could happen is I end up with a nice wardrobe. If I keep that around me, I connect with people.
To keep the exclusivity of the brand we have to push barriers. We first became known for tees, then moved onto thinking ahead of the game with support from our key fan base. We don’t actually need the mainstream to maintain. When you need the mainstream, that’s when you’re going to overproduce and over-saturate your brand because it’s more about business than passion. You’ve got to have a bit of both. As long as you have passion you’re going to make the right decisions for the brand. Maybe not for the business, but for the brand. As in your business, you could make a lot of money off it in one year, but you may not have a brand to come back to in 10 years. If you think about the brand rather than the business, you’re always going to make decisions that favor the brand, not the business.
Do you think of Trapstar as a distinctly London label?
No. We’re London through and through but we connect with a demographic, not just with a city. We’re from a city, the city has supported us, but our views are spread worldwide. The brand was conceived in London, it embraces the heart of London, but the brand’s views are shared by many around the world. We’ve been blessed. On all of our travels we meet people who have the same views of not conforming to any rules of fashion. It’s a London-conceived brand but the brand’s ethics spread worldwide.
How do you think it spreads? Is it through music and international stars?
That’s the biggest and fastest way, through people who are influential. But even these icons mess with the brand because of the ethos. They put it on and people who follow them, follow the brand. There’s an entry level for everybody. Take A Bathing Ape for instance. I wouldn’t know the brand if it weren’t for Pharrell but Pharrell isn’t the reason I continue to be a fan. It’s the brand itself. You can have an entry level from someone popular but that’s not really what keeps you there.
What have been the most significant changes since the brand was cosigned by people like A$AP Rocky and Rihanna?
I think the whole culture has changed. It’s like Rocky and Rihanna embodied the message that Trapstar is trying to put out to the world before they even knew the brand. Them wearing our clothes catapulted our brand close to the person who has no care for streetwear because they’re seen on channels that are not niche. We’ve been going for many years, but if you see someone like Rocky or Rihanna wearing it on a mainstream channel where you’re not even looking for fashion, then that is how people have access to you. It’s just giving an entry level to a lot of people who would never have found us. It’s just the Internet. Period. If Rocky and Rihanna wore our clothes but there was no Internet, nothing would have happened. It’s the age of the internet to be fair, which is connecting everybody.
Does this connection between everybody change the message of the brand?
The message as a brand hasn’t changed but the responsibilities are wider. We started the brand for selfish matters but with the attention and success there comes responsibilities. We were messing with Rocky from around 2011, three weeks before he even got signed. Rihanna’s been wearing our clothing since 2010 but the message is more about pushing a movement – a movement consisting of artists, musicians and even other brands that in the years have come through. We’re here to set an example and push a movement, whether it’s through our clothes, through our events or through the people we support.
How did the brand fare when first starting out?
I can tell you this now: the whole reason Trapstar really was allowed to exist is because of the resistance from the main industry. When we first started the brand, shops wouldn’t take us because we were too young, we didn’t have experience, we didn’t have a wide range. Now, some people are starting up. You know, you start up a Big Cartel and you have a brand. You can have one item and become a brand. We had more than one item but people didn’t want to take us because we were against the brands that have millions of pounds pumped into them and are 10 years older than us. We had a lot of love from our community so we survived by selling our clothing to peers. It was a word-of-mouth type of brand.
We went to a store on Portobello Road and they offered us a deal which was, if you go in our store for one weekend, we will take you on as a brand. We created an invasion system where we would take over a store for a weekend and then we’d leave. So we did our own pop-up stores within stores.
As part of the #shinebright campaign you’re offering one contestant the chance to work alongside you in a pop-up store. From your experience, what benefits are there to selling from a pop-up store as opposed to a regular retail store?
It’s a little bit less contrived and you can interact. If you sell at a retail store you can’t really see who you’re selling to. You can’t really interact. I think that streetwear brands are all about connecting with people. Without naming names there are a lot of brands that don’t connect, they just sell – here are your clothes, leave.
My first turning point was when I did an event called “Reset” at Nike 1948. There were 12 brands in one room and everyone bounced off each other, it gave us a sense of unity. When I finally went for that and saw my first clients and saw who actually buys my brand, it gave me a burst of life and I want to reciprocate that feeling to others. I think it’s my duty. You can see we’re doing quite well at the moment and if it wasn’t for that, perhaps we wouldn’t be having this conversation today. So I want to reciprocate that feeling to other people who feel strongly about their own brand. It’s not necessarily about Trapstar, it’s not about us. It’s about giving back and providing a facility to others because I know how lucky I was. Someone gave me the chance, so it’s only right now that I’m in a position of power to do the same thing.
Your latest collection releases this Thursday. What is it based on and what is the main inspiration?
This one is more baseball-inspired. When I design, it’s a feeling, and I’m at a point in my life where I value my team more than ever. It’s like we’ve moved up. We’re the babies in the major leagues, we’re the rookies right now. The baseball team is based on the team aesthetic of working together, taking everybody on and people wanting to know if we’re going to be around tomorrow. That’s what it’s based on.
What else can we look forward to from Trapstar in the future?
I can only say that Trapstar has a lot of surprises for this year. We’re just going to make our city proud but I can’t tell you too much. We’ll leave you with the 40oz VAN collaboration for now but please look out for a historical move we’re going to pull this year.
For your chance to work with Mikey and the #shinebright creatives head over here.