• 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.