Judging by the rate at which we receive pitches in our inbox, we’d say that roughly every five seconds someone, somewhere has the idea to start their own streetwear brand.
Some never make it past this initial mental incubation period, but many do, and the result is a market bloated with mediocrity, awash with rehashed ideas and copycat, trend-led design.
Every so often, however, someone comes along with a fresh perspective, carving their own niche within the sphere of what we call streetwear. It’s then that we sit up and take notice. One such brand is Brain Dead.
Brain Dead’s esoteric mix of art, off-kilter references, lo-fi graphics and tangible sense of attitude has seen it garner a loyal following, along with reputable stockists such as Goodhood, Union, and Dover Street Market.
However, as new to the streetwear scene as Brain Dead might be, its founders, Kyle Ng and Ed Davis, are by no means novices amid the bisecting worlds of art, fashion and culture. That’s probably why they’ve side-stepped so many of the pitfalls that emerging brands so often succumb to.
Outside of Brain Dead, Kyle is also responsible for the niche tech-sportswear label AXS Technology and now-defunct Farm Tactics, while Ed founded Melbourne’s Doomsday store while simultaneously curating art events and running HeavyTime publishing. These respective backgrounds, rooted as they are in various facets of counter-culture, translate seamlessly intro Brain Dead’s offering, making it one of the most refreshing brands to have appeared in some time.
Having had such a strong start in 2016, we hit up Kyle direct for a small chat.
I guess the first question has to be, how did you guys meet? And what acted as the catalyst for starting Brain Dead?
Brain Dead started as a conversation between myself and Ed Davis. We met through mutual friends and quickly found that we are both into the same weirdo art and underground culture, so when you meet someone who shares the same vocabulary it just works. At the time I was working on a lot more menswear projects and I got sick of that community. I felt that a lot of it didn’t stem from any real lifestyle, so when i saw Ed’s design aesthetic I found that piece that was missing and we built our culture around that.
In your own words, how would you describe the brand?
The brand is really focused on supporting and highlighting the shit we are into.
We both are deep into art, music, comics, and culture and want to showcase that. We curate exhibitions and collaborate with artists and designers who we know and admire. We want to open people’s eyes to new things.
This brand isn’t really about the product on its own.. but the product within the context of our lifestyle. That’s what best represents what the brand is about.
Who else makes up the Brain Dead collective, or is it less strictly defined?
The core is myself and Ed, but the wider collective is a tight team of people we trust and need to get things done. In Europe Michael Kopleman and Marc from Gimme5 run it out there. We also consider all the artists who we work with as part of the brand as well.
With you both being based on separate continents, how does the design process for each collection?
Surprisingly easy! Ed and I have our own language. We both know what we want and what we have to do and we talk everyday.
The reference points for Brain Dead’s graphics are so diverse, often drawing from several subversive subcultures at once. What was it that first sparked your interest in counter-culture?
We grew up being part of the DIY culture. Whether it’s digging for punk and hardcore records, or finding hard to find comics, I always dive as deep as possible into anything I get into. I think a lot of so-called “counter culture inspired brands” are not subversive. Counter culture seems almost as mainstream as Taylor Swift. We find inspiration from places that people won’t expect. But it’s natural to us.
You recently collaborated with Dover Street Market. How did that come about and what was the process like?
Our friend Michael Kopleman made this happen. He has always supported the brand. He pitched the idea of us working with them.
Both Dover and Brain Dead share a common love for culture; it’s a perfect match. We are now working on a second capsule collection as well as some curated exhibits inside their stores.
How do you view Brain Dead within the wider sphere of street culture?
I think most brands in streetwear play it very safe. Most brands are not trying to teach or showcase anything new. I compare it to a DJ. A good DJ is someone who digs for records that no one has ever heard of, yet can control a whole room. I am not interested in DJs who just play Travis Scott or the latest shit on the radio. When people just reference obvious music like Sex Pistols, Joy Divison and what not… it feels lazy and uninspiring. Why state the obvious?
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- Words: Calum Gordon