It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that everything's fucked. This time last year, to look at a brand channeling youthful rage and anarchy might have seemed a bit extreme, but considering punk was incubated during the sociopolitical climates of the Reagan and Thatcher eras, it's not too surprising to see that “middle-finger-to-the-world” attitude become all the more relevant in the post-Trump era.
That certainly hasn't affected the gentrification of streetwear and sneaker culture. On the one hand, the resale market seems to be stronger than ever, with some models like the Dior x Jordan 1 fetching aftermarket prices that could legit be a down payment on a Honda Civic. On the other, plenty of streetwear's OGs and upstarts have become galvanized by ongoing protests and paradigm shifts in the fight for social justice, and, well, they can generally agree that the way things are going is pretty terrible.
As a result, streetwear as a culture is continuing to differentiate itself from streetwear as an industry. That's something we can see in the kinds of labels gaining popularity in this era. Among them is Jon Lopez's “I Never Heard of You,” a cheekily-named brand that exists as a refreshing antithesis to the commodification of streetwear, sneakers, and digital clout-chasers.
Lopez grew up in Queens, and, like many teens, got into gear and kicks early on, but developed a fondness for graffiti, citing the late great Dondi White as a specific influence. Equally life-changing was when he discovered DMX, Slipknot, and Marilyn Manson.
“I was influenced by shit that was uncut and in your face,” he says. “I loved wearing the most shocking graphic tees I could find — stuff that would piss off any parent or teacher, but my friends would think it was cool.”
Eventually, he ended up working as a graphic designer for Angelo Baque's OG Awake team (he gets mad background props in a GQ Style editorial from a couple of years ago). That led to a few other opportunities in design and consulting for a few other spots he can't specifically name, for contractual reasons. But his time spent soaking up game at Awake also highlighted the disparity between streetwear as a business, the faces making a profit, and the faces doing the work.
“I want to put on more Latinx creatives like myself, the same way Angelo has for me and others. It's not as common to see people who look like me or my friends,” notes Lopez. “It's crazy, considering how much POC in general have helped influence the dope shit the industry often tries to package and sell for profit.”
I Never Heard of You serves as a call-out to “fake it 'til you make it” culture, and its profane gear speaks to Lopez's appreciation of shock rock, hardcore music, and things that are intentionally unpalatable for the mainstream. Items range from graphic tees flipping characters like Bugs Bunny and Marilyn Manson merch (unlicensed of course, because fuck doing things the legit way), to all-over print pants and shirts scrawled with “EVERYTHING'S FUCKED,” a print made by Lopez manually scrawling the phrase over and over with a marker.
But these days, trying to go the bootleg route isn't without its consequences. Less than a week after releasing his second collection, Jon's @ineverheardofyou account was taken down for copyright violations, a charge filed on behalf of Marilyn Manson's label. Even though he's created a backup account @ineverheardofyoubefore, he's faced with possibly hefty legal fees if he hopes to recover his original username.
On the one hand, it's the most punk shit ever, but on the other, it's a quandary not a lot of other smaller labels could face with a similar level of confidence. Owing to Jon's network of industry veterans and mentors, as well as early co-signs from accounts like @hidden.ny, he's fortunately more equipped to handle the situation — or if necessary, rebuild his momentum from the ground up.
“With so much corporate interest in streetwear, brands like I Never Heard of You are needed,” notes HIDDEN®, the anonymous founder of Instagram account @hidden.ny, who often posts Lopez's products out of a genuine appreciation for them. “It's not your conventional brand. Jon’s experience working in the industry has given him the foundations to build on, but it’s his unique attitude and approach to design which made me a fan.”
It's a welcome mix of DIY culture with the same anti-corporate attitude that informed streetwear a decade and a half ago. It's why I Never Heard of You's most viral products to date are his sneakers. The first was the “Fuck Off 1,” a Jordan 1 hightop with the Swoosh replaced by a middle finger, and the Air Jordan “Wings” logo replaced with an anarchy symbol and “Fuck the Fuck Off” above it.
Of course, bootleg sneakers aren 't new. Heads in 2006 remember the way Consolidated Skateboard's banana-bearing “Drunk SB” sneakers flipped Todd Bratrud's “Send Help SBs” (probably an inside job, considering Bratrud is also the art director at Consolidated). There's also Ari Forman's cigarette-inspired “Ari Menthol 10s,” BAPE's BAPEsta, and even the high-end flips like RHUDE's Rhecess that takes its cues from the Nike Terminator.
Sure, Trevor Gorji's recent “One In the Chamber” have an appeal in their own right, but the decidedly anti-corporate commentary I Never Heard of You brings to the Chicago 1 feels especially relevant, considering Jordan-mania in a post-The Last Dance world.
“I love sneakers, but the culture around it has changed a lot from when I first fell in love with it a few years ago, mostly because of the internet,” admits Lopez. His sneakers (he just dropped an Air Force 1 flip that sold out in a matter of seconds) comment on consumption culture while reluctantly being a part of it — similar to how a brand like Noah acknowledges the evils of capitalism while doing what it can to operate as virtuously as possible.
“The Fuck Off 1s pull from great bootlegs of the past but raise the bar on quality and presentation,” adds HIDDEN®. “They’re a pure expression of rebellion towards the over-saturation of the sneaker market and something I personally wear a lot.”
The middle-finger high tops have even found their way to the high-profile feet of celebs like Future. But to Lopez's point about the internet ruining things for other people, the long wait time between purchase and delivery has been the bane of every small brand trying to satisfy a large consumer demand. Pairs took months to ship, a process worsened by the Covid-19 pandemic putting even more of a strain on logistics. In response, he coined the term “Amazon Shopper” for the instant gratification people expect after hitting the buy button.
“There is no real appreciation for the work that is put into the items,” he laments. “Amazon Shoppers are the worst. They're a direct representation of the term with their shitty consumer attitude that plagues the internet and independent artists like myself.”
After selling out of his second drop earlier this month, Lopez isn't necessarily in a rush to get his next project out, but his next release will likely be in line with more charitable projects he's done between his capsule collections. He released two T-shirts in the past few months, raising funds for Covid-19 relief as well as bail funds for imprisoned Black Lives Matter protesters. It's one of the things he picked up from his days at Awake — figure out a way to use your platform to amplify messages you believe in.
“I want people to also pay attention to the fact that there are kids in cages and people that have gone missing with no real answers, and a complete and total disregard for simple human rights here in this country,” he says. “I hope to continue creating items for charitable causes and raise awareness towards certain things with the small creative platform I have. Maybe it will inspire others to do more in their own ways.”
His mentor, Angelo Baque, couldn't be prouder to witness his glow-up.
“The most important lesson that I hope he learned while working with me is that none of this was given or handed over to me. You have to really want it and bust your ass to get it,” says Baque. “What's most important about Jon's work is that he's staying true to himself and not compromising his vision. I look forward to seeing what he does next.”