Driving through LA with BornxRaised’s founder Spanto is the best kind of city tour. This one leaves out all the touristy photo-ops that end up on Facebook and gets to the reality of what LA looks like behind all the fanfare. One corner where someone was shot at a burger stand, the best bar to get $2 PBRs, and descriptions of an Echo Park most newcomers wouldn’t have dared to walk through.
In that time, the city belonged to the kids. The LA Riots left the city ablaze, and Spanto fondly remembers a time where the police presence in Venice was almost nonexistent and kids were allowed to explore the arts and develop a sense of identity rooted in their communities. Gang wars ran rampant across LA, and while Venice wasn’t safe from the violence, it also served as a breeding ground for cultural movements among its youth. Hip-hop heads, skaters, punk rockers and gangsters could all be seen walking down its crowded streets.
“Compression creates culture,” Spanto says, of which his neighborhood was a perfect example. Tight-knit communities breed movements of people built on shared experiences. For Spanto, it was the gang life. For other kids on the block it was a punk band or graffiti crew, but they all felt like they belonged to something bigger. Then, it all changed.
Fueled by the frustration of watching the fabric of his Venice neighborhood get ripped to shreds, Spanto started BornxRaised. Local families, including his own, were targeted by gang injunctions, meaning that they could be harassed and taken into custody by police for anything seen as an effort to change the demographic of the neighborhood for out-of-towners attracted to Venice’s location.
“It’s not about drugs and gang violence,” Spanto explains, “It’s about property value.”
Newcomers began popping up at the dive bars Spanto and his friends loved to frequent, obnoxiously claiming that they were from Venice but had just moved there, as people Spanto grew up with were being kicked to the curb and forced to move elsewhere. Spanto punches his open palm with force as we stop at a red light, explaining that he used to fight those brash newcomers out of those bars, sending them a message with both his fists and his voice that they weren’t "born and raised here."
That rage found a new vehicle: homegrown clothing with a message that extends far beyond Venice. An early BornxRaised graphic, the one that attracted his Venice-born partner 2Tone to the brand, is a sticker with a Native American chief encircled by the mantra "Genocide by Gentrification." The two woefully speak about the Venice they used to know as if they’ve lost a parent, and in a way they have. The streets that raised them and the fellow Venice natives that shaped their childhoods have been swept under the rug and replaced with a pre-packaged Bohemian tourist attraction.
One month after BornxRaised was launched in 2013, Spanto was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and he began a grueling fight for his own life amidst he and 2Tone’s fight for their beloved Venice. Chemotherapy left him a weakened shell of his former self, losing 60 pounds and his slick dark brown hair. 2Tone would bring his laptop to the hospital and the two would discuss designs from Spanto’s hospital room, even going as far as shooting an early lookbook in the hospital. Working on BornxRaised with 2Tone helped Spanto keep his sanity, even as chemo’s “injections of hot lava” ravaged his body and mind.
“Venice isn’t Venice anymore,” Spanto sighs as we pull up to the curb at the Ukrainian Culture Center on Melrose, the venue of BornxRaised’s 4th Annual Sadie Hawkins Winter Formal.
The Sadie Hawkins Formal brings the larger LA community together. Reunions are made with old friends from the neighborhood and new friends that Spanto and 2Tone have made along the way join in for a night of formal attire, hard alcohol, and debauchery to celebrate another year in the books. 2Tone dubs it as Los Angeles' "real New Year's Eve."
This Sadie Hawkins is their biggest yet, and the first one that Spanto will be cancer-free for, so it needs to be done right, and will include a black-lit homage to Hype Williams' film Belly. A lot of work goes into planning Sadie Hawkins, which has become LA’s must-attend event over the last three years. It's not an annual ”pat-yourself-on-the-back” type of party—it’s a celebration of survival.
The BornxRaised office is chaos at its most functional. Colorful samples from upcoming collections, old Venice memorabilia and various zines are sprawled all over, leaving little room to sit on the couch that sits in the eye of this storm. There’s a meeting going on inside 2Tone’s office, where the rapid fire of ideas is booming out of his open door.
A picture of a bald, hospital gown-wearing Spanto is taped up on one of the colorful walls in 2Tone’s office, his arms draped around two girls wearing black BornxRaised tees, serving as a symbol that their partnership runs far deeper than just a clothing brand. It’s a miracle 2Tone’s dog Omar is able to sleep in his bed, inches away from where Spanto is standing, clapping, and yelling, trying to get 2Tone to build off of his vision for a visual they’re going to shoot for a collaboration set to release next year. In quick succession, the duo seizes on the idea and it begins to come together in a matter of seconds.
Spanto lets out a triumphant yell as 2Tone leans back in his chair, almost in awe of their electric cohesiveness, and then as quickly as it began, it’s over. Time for the next order of business, planning for trips, and releases for the rest of the year.
Every BornxRaised collection, video, lookbook, and graphic is drawn directly from the stories and memories of the insane, fucked-up lives they’ve lived in a city where so much is contrived and processed to make it seem like a blissful, beachside paradise. They capture the struggles, losses and pain of growing up in Venice, but also the fonder memories of life in the community that made them the innovative, creative and unapologetically honest people they’ve become.
The first delivery of their Fall '17 collection, released in late September, was heavily inspired by Spanto’s Native American roots. Featuring a variety of tees, long-sleeves and hoodies drawn from an earthy color palette, the collection carries a message of empowerment in one’s own territory, echoing the sentiment Spanto and 2Tone feel of their own neighborhoods.
The lookbook was shot on Arizona’s San Carlos Apache reservation, featuring kids from the reservation that Spanto says he still speaks to today. His message struck a chord with them. They were grateful that someone was bringing attention to the genocidal effects on culture that relocation and gentrification bring to deeply-rooted communities like theirs, and others around the country. That message has always come first, before any amount of money or dream collaboration, they want their message to speak the loudest, and to have fun while telling it.
BornxRaised’s latest release, the second delivery of their Fall ‘17 collection dropping in early December, captures the creative spark that continues to fuel Spanto and 2Tone. The lookbook, shot on a brisk night in the Bronx, the colorful, multicultural New York borough, features Spanto’s close friend, model Paloma Elsesser, among other women of color. Spanto recalls the vibe, shooting while eating pastelito and admiring the models, but can't name the exact way he felt at the time, although it was amazing.
It’s brief moments of clarity like these that keep Spanto and 2Tone going in an industry they never saw themselves being apart of. The clothes are ancillary to the zines, photos and videos that they capture. They aren’t designers; they’re documentarians for the city and culture that’s so dear to them. They've built a wearable platform to tell the stories of underserved communities, and cultivated a mindset that gentrification can never displace.
Next up; meet Charles Ashcroft, the 73-year-old streetwear god.