• Max McGuire

Strafford: Interview

Strafford is a brand founded in the suburbs of Philly by a group of friends who slowly have built and collaborated through their various creative and individual styles. With a majority of their pieces being one of one, their clothes contain a type of detail and personal connection that is not normally found. Through this interview, we learned the unique story of how this brand was founded and how they look to grow in the coming future.

Max: How did you guys all meet and form Strafford? What are each of your roles?

JP: So, it kinda started out in high school. At first, it was me and Finn working together in his basement. I created the logo randomly in a graphic design class that I had in high school. Me and Finn used to be neighbors, so we found this way of basically using stencils and fabric spray paint. We would create a stencil and then basically it was just the most barebones stuff that we had. It just has evolved over the years. Me, Declan, and Finn all went to high school together.

Then, we needed help with graphic design. Michael, Mike Horseman, started taking graphic design classes at Temple. He just kinda designs his own stuff, but then also intertwines with Strafford and can do mostly anything we need for our screens and such.

Finn: JP and I met in kindergarten way back then, that's how our relationship formed. Then, we met Declan going into eighth grade at St. Joe's Prep; they ran a pre-eighth grade camp, and that's where we all kind of met. I'm pretty sure we all had English class together there, it was something like that.

Going to St. Joe's Prep, I like to think of it as wearing a tie and a blazer every day. You get a basis of colors and you start to understand patterns, that is if you care about what you wear.

So, JP always had like a vintage Burberry tie or some nice shit that I always thought was cool. I had hand-me-downs from my brother and then we started hitting thrifts. The first thrift we went to was in eighth grade.

And then over the years of high school, we just started hitting different Goodwills after being in the city on the weekends and shit. We really just started hitting Goodwill hard and I never really bought new clothes from that point on.

We kinda just built our fashion sense that way and it was always funny. It was comical at points; we would dress up in turtlenecks and go to parties and stuff. We would just kinda make fun of fashion in general and then once JP came up with this idea of Strafford as a brand our senior year in that graphic design class, we took all those thrifted clothes we had and, like JP said, we started spray painting on them in my basement.

Then, we all went to college. Declan and I, we all went to some concerts together, like Made in America during high school and shit. We kinda formed a relationship with Declan in that way, and we knew he loved clothing and thrifting too. It was eventually gonna happen and it happened through going to concerts together in our groups of high schools intermingling. We always thought he was in the South Philly group, which was kind of funny.

Then, JP and Declan went to college together. We linked over that summer going into sophomore year and just talked about this idea of what it could be; we just started drawing up sketches, like JP made a few designs with some Norman Rockwell images and it was this up in the air thing, like, “what if…” Then, I would say what jump started this was when I got a sewing machine and I started just embroidering some of the thrifted stuff. That was two Christmases ago, so almost two years ago I would say.

Max: What made you want to get a sewing machine and start to do the whole cut and sew process?

Finn: I went down to the basketball courts near my house - Spruce Street Park, right in Philly. Me and my brother were shooting around, and these kids asked if we wanted to play two on two. He was wearing Puma Bape shorts, they did a soccer collab, and I thought those were really cool. I was wearing The Answer’s, he told me they were dope. We had a mutual respect and just played ball. I didn't know the kid's name; I didn’t see anything and didn’t hear about him, didn't get anything from him.

I was on Instagram two weeks later, and he popped up on Pleasures, which is a clothing brand kind of like Chinatown Market, and he was modeling for them. I was like, “Holy shit, that's the kid I just played basketball with.” I DM’ed him and he was doing some cut and sew work. I was like, “Yo, what machine do you have? Do you recommend me getting one?” It's just an option to start manipulating clothes, and he told me to get one. So, six months later, I asked for one for Christmas and then I just started making clothes.

Max: What is Strafford to you guys, and how have you guys embodied it into your brand?

JP: Where I live is Strafford. I don't know if you're familiar with that area or the suburbs of Philly, but it's just... There's a train station there; it's kind of a town, but it's kind of not.

Fin: That's the joke of it. It's not really like a town; it's just in between two towns and for some reason has a train station there. That's where we would smoke and chill, basically.

JP: Yeah, it was just kind of an elegant name; not really with much meaning, but just kind of a placeholder. We needed something to call it when I needed to make a brand for that graphic design class, so I was just like, “Oh, I'll choose this, my friends always make fun of this.” People started liking it. The way that the logo actually happened is that I had this shirt that had a picture of the Pope on it when he came to Philly, and I printed Strafford on it. I wanted to match the font closely to the one that was already on the shirt.

There was this big picture on the chest of the Pope or whatever, and I printed over that and just used that same Strafford font to match the text that was already on there, and then people just were like, “Yeah, that's fire. I love that, the way that looks with that word.” Since then, we've just been keeping that and tweaking it a little bit, but trying to keep it simple at the same time.

Max: How did the monster hoodies come in?

Declan: Yeah, so going back to two summers ago when it was all about ideation and all about the slow process of... “What is this thing,” right?

When you start something, you build something. It kind of takes shape very naturally, if you let it happen naturally. This has been a four-year process of starting with JP, having that idea in graphic design class, and then it didn't feel like there was any rush; it just kind of slowly progressed and everything seems to be happening in that way.

When we had the screen, there was a big push at the end of last summer, when Finn got the sewing machine at this point. It just kind of been this constant push to then get into the world of screen printing, the holy t-shirt of what has become a super popular way to communicate whatever, but we had this push in the last summer to get this screen done so that when JP and I went back to school, we would have it there so that we would be able to pump shit out and make something.

JP ordered t-shirts. We were getting ready at least to start putting paint on clothing and start creating something. We didn't know what we were gonna come up with, but we knew we were just gonna create something... JP had also come up with the design for the Strafford Walking Club.

JP: Yeah, I mean, so that's been a thing in streetwear… the whole North Korea Skate Team thing; it's always something team or squad, whatever.

That's not a new idea. So to me, well, it was just using that font. I remember I was talking to someone, I think Dec, about this the other day. I saw someone that had that track logo on a shirt; it was just like a track shirt or whatever, that winged foot.

And I was like, “Yeah, that's a dope logo,” because I think it looks really cool. It's classic, but it's not really like it's been used before; it can't really be nailed down to one thing. It's kind of just a very standard logo, and I think sometimes the best design has just simple things in it. Then obviously we made it completely not simple with the other things we added to it, but it was just a good baseline to create that and get that on a screen and then have that become something and let us define it.

Declan: So taking that idea of the Walking Club, it's interesting because we all kinda view it differently; we all have our different thoughts on fashion and style and culture and all these different things. The way I kinda view it is, at its core, is saying it's community-based; it's something that you need more than one person for to be a club. You could have one person, but it would be a pretty lonely club... The idea of the walking club in my head is centered around community, so when we got to school, I walked in and I don't know where I'm gonna source t-shirts. I think JP had bought a few t-shirts at this point, he had bought some supplies, but it was kind of like this jumble of, “what do we do?” We have this stuff, when are we gonna take action?

We’re also in school and we're all pretty committed to education and doing well in school, so it's not like we are completely ditching that. I leave the house one day 'cause I'm looking for supplies, 'cause we had just moved into a new apartment, and I walked into the Dollar Store down the street. I see a bunch of t-shirts, and it was like 4 t-shirts for $3. I'm like, “Holy shit, we just got a screen, we have paints and now we found a T-shirt plug,”. There were hella t-shirts; it wasn't like I was gonna buy four of them and they were gonna be sold out, like this dude was replenishing. What he was doing, he was getting the B-grades from Gildan.

When they manufacture hoodies, the ones that they can't sell to people, they have to cut the tags and throw away essentially, which is pretty wasteful, but thank God that this guy's getting them and then I can print on them because they're perfectly good hoodies. So, I started buying directly from this dude, and at this point, there wasn't really a plan; it was just kinda like, “let me get familiar with the screen, let me start printing on it because it's something that I wanted to do,” so then it kind of just built into this idea of going from idea to action. After that, it kinda started with these t-shirts, and also I do events at Fordham, too. I was doing these Souled Out Shows and I had done two the previous year, and I was now getting ready to do the first one in September. So for this first event, I wanted to have 40 t-shirts done. So that whole week, I was just doing Strafford Walking Club on the front, and then my solo show’s logo in the back, which is this smiley face. We had JP at the event, just sitting in the corner and selling as kids are walking up and being like, “Let me get some…” It's something that people associate with JP and I.

It's still kind of confusing to people, but they still respect it and appreciate it enough to want a t-shirt. I was pretty sauced at that point after the event, and I was just handing out t-shirts like crazy because at that point, I really wasn't concerned about whether there was any return on what I had invested; I felt at that point, it was about letting people know what was good. A few weeks later, I find out that there's hoodies at the store and I'm like, “Holy shit, this is dank.” We get to print on hoodies now; it was the perfect opportunity to implement Strafford Walking Club onto a hoodie and do something creative with it rather than just doing the expected.

Also the fact that I have my hands on it, too, versus sending it out to a manufacturer and having someone manufacture off rip; it doesn't give you the time to actually sit with the piece of clothing and sit with the object and think about how you can possibly innovate on it.

With the hoodie, I lay down that first coat and I'm like, “it would be really dope with that first undercoat of the Strafford on the front if we did another one,” and then I do it and just built from there. It kind of just constantly evolved and we continuously add to it on a smaller scale; almost each one of the pieces we’re on a very individualized scale. I thought it was interesting, obviously being inspired by Bape and Nigo and these people that take these hoodies and do something very interesting with them. It would be hard for me to say that the faces on the hoods didn't come from an idea that stem from my first influence with Nigo or Bape.

I’m not saying that it's all directly inspired by Nigo, but it's kind of just this idea that nothing's ever really new, because what we learn is then what we reproduce in art or creation. I did find it interesting that most of what happens on a hoodie is outward projecting, so it's, “Look at me, look at these things on the outside of my hoodie that show that I'm a part of this brand,” Especially on certain hoodies, it's more about design that's meant for the viewer versus the person wearing it. I was like, “Okay, it’d be kind of cool to do a face on the inside of the hood because that creates something special with the person wearing it,”

When you're wearing and walking around with a hoodie that has a cool design on the inside, its essentially yours and no one really knows about it. I liken it to the idea of people's thoughts and people's emotions inside their head are not always shown on the outside. It's something that's very personal. That's kind of where the idea was created and blossomed for the Walking Club and the monster hoodie, and now we're just having fun with it at this point.

Finn: Creating different characters and just mixing and matching colorways, that's the other thing with going back to not doing this through a manufacturer. We ordered huge 32-ounce tubs of probably 12 different colors of paint. When these new hoodies come in every month, we get to do whatever the fuck we want with colors; all those colorways of double-layering the Walking Club and then doing the faces and the paint around the hood. If you get handed a finished product by a manufacturer, you're kinda done at that point. You lose touch with your own clothing.

Declan: That's another thing about it. Friends will come back with hoodies that they bought and we'll go back and we'll doodle over it and we'll add faces to the type that's on the front, and at that point, the piece never really ends; it's never really a finished product,which is another thing that we've talked about in the past. If someone gets one of these hoodies and it's like, “Oh, I like this, but I have this idea of bleaching it or doing whatever to it,” it's like, “Just do it.” At that point, it's out of our hands. It's a part of that DIY culture now; the power being back into the hands of the buyer to customize. It's not like we can stop anyone from doing that, but if we have an idea to better it, we're probably gonna implement it.

Finn: When we first came up with these ideas, JP and Declan went off to London for abroad, and before they left, they dropped all the screen printing stuff at my place in Philly. I immediately pulled together $350 and just bought 25 brand new hoodies from Gildan in three different colors. I started, and Declan sent me a few faces and I would imitate what he did on the back of the faces for a few orders of hoodies while they were in London. While I was creating those, I would wear them inside out to class in these big auditoriums and just keep my hood up and sit in the front row and just make sure that everybody would see these faces.

Declan: It's true, though. I have one that I made back in the fall that I think I'll probably keep forever as one of those archive pieces, just because it's something that was one of one that I just made and I was like, “This is very emblematic of my time when we first got the screen,” and when I'm feeling a certain type of way, I will choose to wear it inside out, and when I am walking, I am cognizant of people probably seeing it on the back because it's this paranoid face with a bloody nose and he's kinda buggin’ the fuck out; it's kind of scary if I'm a young kid and I see that shit, I'm probably kinda scared a little bit. It’s a level of whether you choose to show that or not; you're having a deeper interaction with the piece of clothing than what a normal hoodie would stimulate.

Max: Moving with the monsters, have you guys ever considered moving outside of clothing with that, like a Bearbricks or Kaws dolls type idea?

Finn: Declan and I were talking about this the other day. Ideally, this is a brand new idea we had. If you go on our website, straffordclothing.com, Michael already made basically a class photo of all those monsters that we already made, and we were pondering the idea of how sick it would be to have an animated short series with actual cartoon characters, but I really do love the idea of the Kaws plush toys. The other idea we had is that I wanna really tie food into this whole thing, because JP has worked in a restaurant for a while before and I worked in a restaurant for a while.

Someone once DM’d the Strafford clothing page and was like, “Let me get two Cookie Monsters”. Let me get two hoodies, basically, and the phrasing of that really was interesting. It's like, “Oh, people really order clothes how they order food when it comes down to it.” I really think it would be cool if, I don't know, we had sandwiches and stuff with the clothes. This is just an idea I've been kind of pondering, but having different sandwiches that line up with different color hoodies and different characters would be cool.

Max: For the pants you guys have been doing, are all of those one of one pieces? Do you guys want to keep it like that, or would you guys prefer to move into more mass production?

Finn: I have a few set designs that I wanna keep going with and over time kids will DM us and say, “Can I get a pair of the Cloud Jeans?” or something like that. I go to the thrift shop so much that I'm always buying good pairs of Levi’s that I find no matter what the size, ranging from 28 to 36. So no matter who you are, hopefully I'll have a pair of jeans that fit you. I have literally three mountains of Levi jeans that I'm just sitting on right now, so that when kids do hit me up, I can easily check my pile, see if I have it in their size, and if I don't, I'll go find some the next day or whatever.

I have a few set designs like the story time, the cloud jeans, and that corduroy patch with the S’s on one leg. I do wanna keep using those moving forward. JP and I have talked a lot about one day finding a manufacturer in either New York or Philadelphia that can help source this, because if I do wanna do official drops or collections, for the first few I know I'm gonna do it all by hand. It would be nice to find a manufacturer that can do exactly what I wanna do, how I do it. Basically, giving them the prototype and seeing if they can make 10 or 15 pairs.

Declan: That word prototype is really important because I think right now, a lot of things we're doing depend on what things are accessible to us right now. I think that word prototype would be a great way to encapsulate that. For me, personally, I feel like in the last couple of months we have been very much about prototyping and figuring out what really works and developing these ideas and designs that are going to be consistently inputted and consistently turned to for creating and just furthering Strafford.

Max: Is there any specific way that you have taken being from Philly and the surrounding areas into Strafford and your brand and style?

Finn: I go to SJU, so I am in Philly year-round and my parents just moved to the city, so I really just like exploring Philly.

JP: For me, I think it's more the mentality of understanding how Philly works when you're meeting people around the city and stuff. I think when compared to New York, there's a lot less people trying to do more artistic and cultural-based stuff; there's less people that are trying to make music. If you're going around in New York, no one's gonna care if you're like, “Yeah, I'm trying to rap or I have a clothing brand or whatever,” and I think something that's good about Philly is that it's easier for someone to not just count you out immediately.

As much as it may seem that it's a tougher environment, comparing it to New York, younger creative people are a lot more likely to reach out and be like, “Yo, I am on the same wave as you, we're in this together and we can lift ourselves up together instead of it being always a competition,” if that makes sense.

Declan: I think it also has a lot to do with being in Philly and to be honest, I think it's more so the internet than anything. You're on Instagram and you're on Twitter; you're seeing the different creatives in your area, and it's kind of easier to get an understanding of what's going on and who's doing what. It allows you to be able to harden your own identity and what you're doing because you know what you're doing; you can shift and move in different ways.

Max: Do you guys have any final thoughts or anything you want the people to know about Strafford from this interview?

JP: Basically how Strafford started was just us giving clothes to our friends, or they'll pay for the t-shirt that we print on and we'll do it for them or whatever. It was an exclusive kind of thing, or intimate. But now it's at that point where it's literally for anybody. Somebody mentioned that to us; they were like, “Yeah, I wanted to buy a hoodie, but I didn't know if it was weird of me to buy it,” and that's literally the opposite of what we want. We want everybody to feel like they can wear our clothes and if they like it, then you should buy it. If you don't like it, we don't want you to buy it.

Declan: In that same sense, when people create, normally they're kind of creating for a specific audience. But what we found is that we've been able to design and create cool shit for our friends. I remember I used to always say, “I just wanna make cool shit for my friends, that's it.” I feel like a good embodiment of what we all believe, and what ends up happening, is that we create for 40-year-old moms who see our stuff and they're like, “Wait, that's really cool. I like that. I want one of those hoodies.”

It's unique, and then you also have a 16-year-old kid who skates, right? The fact that it can speak to so many people is kind of the goal, because it's supposed to speak to everyone. If it didn't, it would kind of just embody that exclusivity rather than that intimacy of creating a connection, for lack of better words.

Finn: I have this whole mantra about changing human interactions in a way through clothing and through what we're doing right now with these hoodies. In terms of college campuses and how our lives are going right now, everybody loves to just wear a hoodie or whatever. The fact that we can create a really cool colorway of a different type of hoodie that nobody's ever really seen before and it has a face on the inside, it builds up this level of intimacy because you know how much work is put into it. If you see someone wearing that, that could strike up a conversation.

Even if you don't know the person in the hoodie, you know that hoodie and you know the story behind the hoodie. Our one friend Aaron, he was in line at Trader Joes and a really good friend Joe, his mom was behind him and tapped him on the shoulder and was like, “Hey, where did you get that sweatshirt?” Then we heard about it from both ends; this mom came and tapped me on the shoulder and was asking me about my hoodie. I heard it from my friend Joe, and he was like, “My mom saw Aaron at a Trader Joes.” I don't know, it just shows that idea of the community.

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