For over a decade, SoundCloud has been a proving ground for up-and-coming artists looking to make it big in the music industry. From musicians like Post Malone and Kehlani to Billie Eilish and Lil Uzi Vert, the platform has been crucial for artists and fans alike looking to discover new music.
On today’s episode of Vibe Check, we speak with Leon Sherman, the global editorial director at SoundCloud, as well as Orlando Urbina and Marshall Tan, founders of Washington, DC-based company GRVTY, as they discuss the inspiration behind their new fashion collaboration and how it came to fruition.
The collab is all part of SoundCloud’s plan to inspire creativity and empower its community during these times of increased isolation from the Covid-19 pandemic.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Jian DeLeon: This is an unprecedented partnership for sure. Leon, why don't you start us off by explaining this collaboration and what SoundCloud is doing here?
Leon Sherman: We took a look at our audience and what we continue to find is the intersection of music and fashion is paramount. We've done SoundCloud merch at events and stuff. We were really inspired about how we could kind of up the stakes and up the game a little in terms of truly doing a fashion collaboration. And here we are now.
JD: SoundCloud has been a discovery platform for music and a new generation of artists in many ways. It's ironic to see artists like Billie Eilish, Lil Uzi Vert who were style and fashion heavyweights in their own right. Billie just did a collaboration with Takashi Murakami and Uniqlo. Lil Uzi Vert is a style god and his fit pics are unparalleled. And so there's always been this connection between style, fashion, and music. In what ways is this taking us a step towards SoundCloud going from a platform for artist discovery, to a place where people can discover style and clothing as well?
LS: This is really the first step. The intersection of music and fashion is huge for us — it's just ever growing, especially with the eyes that have really come up on our platform. Like Lil Uzi Vert [and] Billie Eilish. I think we’ll still continue to be the breeding ground for a lot of talent. Adding fashion and style into the mix is a natural evolution of where SoundCloud is going. As more and more eyes are becoming style and fashion heroes to Gen Z, we want to play a role in that.
Marshall Tan: With GRVTY and Orlando and I, we're like the other side of this. We've always been influenced by music and musicians, artists, and specifically emerging artists. Like before they're mainstream, before they have like hidden... Usually they're the ones who have the most potent, the most raw styles that really inspire us to do what we do as well. Most of those artists we've found through friends on SoundCloud or just through SoundCloud directly. So it’s a natural marriage in a way.
JD: What can you tell me about GRVTY? It’s a label that you guys described yourselves an "Independent broadcast company, creating visual pieces." And what was it like to work with SoundCloud on this to help amplify what you guys are doing, and really be one of the first clothing brands to work with the platform at this scale?
Orlando Urbina: With GRVTY it's always been us trying to discover our place in the world. As two children minorities in America, we’re learning step by step. There are no mentors that we really look to so we're just doing what feels right. In terms of SoundCloud, they've been wonderful in letting us do what we do. They've been very open in terms of all the ideas that we have.
MT: They've been very good at trusting our process, our direction, and obviously at going back and forth with us on everything. So it's really cool to be able to do it on this level.
JD: It's cool that SoundCloud is taking an approach of championing the underground and championing the new and novel as its first clothing collaboration instead of the expected route of just going with, "One of these really popular brands that sort of has this built-in audience." Could speak to that strategy of really treating this collaboration the same way you would try to build an artist using the platform?
LS: We could have potentially gone down the road of more "notable brands," but it's more than that for us. This is the beginning of our journey in the fashion space and there are so many dope, young emerging designers breaking through. It goes hand in hand with who we are as a platform.
OU: Throughout the whole process, we've been really appreciative of also having this platform. We're not just artists, but what SoundCloud has done for emerging musical artists... It just feels like a natural partnership. They're known for breaking new tastes, new apps, new things to check out, and we've been on SoundCloud looking for new artists, or we've found some of our favorite new artists from the platform. So we're very appreciative that we get the chance to work with them.
JD: Purposeful messages and strong typefaces are part of the GRVTY aesthetic. Now that we're in this paradigm where brands and labels are literally putting their values on their sleeves, I want to talk about one of the recent products you guys made — the Pledge of Allegiance tee. That benefited certain organizations like Reclaim the Block, Black Visions Collective, and Change the NYPD. But as an independent brand, I feel like you guys are already utilizing and realizing the power of the platform you guys have. How does it feel to be working with SoundCloud, who can help amplify this kind of message? And as this collection evolves, are you guys going to continue to keep this energy to amplify narratives and issues that are important to you guys?
MT: Yeah, for sure. As everyone can kind of see now, when it comes to design, it's very accessible. A lot of things look similar, a lot of people can do similar things at this point. Especially where we are in 2020, it's not really as much about how you design, it's what you stand for. I think that younger generations care about that more than ever. They want to know that you believe in something. They want to know that they believe in what you believe in. And if you don't stand for nothing, don't be wasting cotton.
JD: I think one thing that struck me about this collection in particular is the sort of hopefulness of it. And I think another parallel I want to hear your perspective on is, both fashion and style are means of self-expression and escape, but so is music — you can disappear into a track.
LS: Music has always been an escape for a lot of people. Marrying those two worlds of what people are feeling and what we are feeling in that particular time and putting it on clothing is definitely a way for our audience to connect with it.
MT: Some of the direct messages were conjured directly from the effect that music had on our lives. The collection was being designed in March and April, and during that time in New York City you literally did not know what was going to happen the next day. You didn't know what was going to happen next month. We couldn't really plan any farther than a week ahead because of that. It seemed hopeless at certain points, and naturally we found ourselves just turning to music.
So this collection was just really meant to reflect how we felt about music and any platform that can help us, like SoundCloud, how to discover that kind of music, discover healing, discover leaders, heroes, inspiration in some way. And we kind of twisted in our own little way.
Check out the full collection at soundcloud.com dropping October 2nd, and stay tuned for new episodes of Vibe Check every Tuesday and Thursday.