This week, the internet was gifted an image of Brooklyn Nets player James Harden watching his team dominate their opponent, all while casually sipping on a strawberry smoothie. A mood if we ever saw one.
However, beyond the objective coolness of the photo, look closer and you notice that Harden is wearing a pretty sick hoodie (if we want to get technical with it.) Designed by New York-based brand Barriers, the hoodie is a homage to the Jamaican-born Black activist Marcus Garvey, also known as "Black Moses."
This isn't the first time James Harden has repped Barriers. Back in February, he posted an image of himself on Instagram wearing a cream "Fred Hampton" hoodie, while the brand has posted pics of Young Thug and the late Pop Smoke both wearing its "Huey" hoodie, dedicated to Huey P. Newton the co-founder of the Black Panther Party.
Clearly, there's a theme here. Barriers has released tees and hoodies with iconic Black activists and figures including Assata Shakur, Bobby Seale, Malcolm X, Jackie Robison, Maya Angelou, Kathleen Cleaver, and more. But it's not just about the clothes. Speaking over email, Steven Barter the brand's founder explained that Barriers exists to educate people about the positive history of Black people, in the US and across the world.
"I wanted to inspire the people to learn and embrace their histories instead of conforming to the public's misconceptions," Barter says. "Some people do it for the money, others like myself do it for the story. I want people to appreciate the vision and the message behind every piece."
Case in point, Barriers recently posted an image of Kwame Ture aka Stokely Carmichael with a Free Palestine design over it, highlighting the organizer's support for the Palestinian movement. However, when asked in the comments whether this would be released as a product, the brand declined, writing that it just shared to spread the information.
"Being a brand that supports freedom and truth, we need to support and amplify the voices of the oppressed," Barter explains. "We have been using our platform to voice these issues to the people and influence the people to do their research and become more aware."
We caught up with the Barter over email to find out more about the brand.
Tell me about launching the Barriers.
I founded the brand in 2015. It was a long journey, but Jeff and Malik stood by me since the brand first started. As the years went on, we included more people who helped out, Chuk, Matt, Mazen, Daequan, Malcolm, Jose, and Rob. It’s impossible to do everything alone; having a brand like Barriers needs collectivity and a solid community. Not everyone will have the same hunger and drive as you; that’s why it’s crucial to have a team with a similar drive and appreciate the vision as much as you do.
Barriers obviously has a really strong point of view, can you tell me a bit about your vision for the brand? Why do you choose to work with the imagery of such iconic Black activists?
I want to tell people the truth, many kids aren’t taught enough at schools. Learning about such iconic figures on my own sparked my enamored passion for Black history and led me to realize that learning in the classroom wasn’t enough. For Black students especially, we are always taught about the traumas and oppression of Black people, but rarely are we taught the beauty and success of our people.
I always want to tell an empowering story, a story that people can recognize and internalize. We are more than slaves, we are people with a rich and beautiful history, and we are continuing to make history.
Tell me about this Afrika shirt, why did you choose to spell it that way?
Many Africans spelled it with the letter “K” instead of the letter “C.” European imperialism, however, switched the “K” to a “C”. When using the “K” instead of the “C,” we are symbolizing the triumph over the cultural subordination caused by European imperial powers. By reverting to the “K,” we want to emphasize the reclamation of what is ours, while also empowering and inspiring unity against the injustices we have experienced.
You recently held an exhibition and pop-up in New York, can you share more about that?
The pop-up was inspired by the St. Luke Penny Savings bank, one of the first Black-owned banks in America. Just as a bank protects one’s money, we transformed the bank and added a vault that instead protects Black art. Black creativity doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. The vault emphasizes an urge to preserve and highlight the importance of Black creativity. Within the vault, we added many different art pieces created by Black creatives. To pay homage to Black creation, we included a cage within the middle of the pop-up space to showcase the inventions made by Black people. The cage highlights the fact that plenty would not exist were it not for Black pioneers.
Your webstore often opens for short periods and then closes again, why is that?
Since we are a small business, we want the people shopping with us a chance to enjoy and receive the clothes. We closed it to give the people time to appreciate and reflect on the clothing that they wear. We don’t want to rush the release process, we want to perfect our craft and ensure that we are producing the highest quality products while also highlighting the important messages we are trying to portray.
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