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Round two

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Photography

Ike Edeani

2nd Photography

Ja Tecson

Photo Coordination

Haile Cano, Round Two

Round
Two

Round Two is working on breaking down the barriers of entry to streetwear that so many brands try to put up. Take a look behind Sean Wotherspoon’s vintage clothing empire and new brand.

Round
Two

Photography

Ike Edeani

2nd Photography

Ja Tecson

Photo Coordination

Haile Cano, Round Two

Round Two is working on breaking down the barriers of entry to streetwear that so many brands try to put up. Take a look behind Sean Wotherspoon’s vintage clothing empire and new brand.

Lena Waithe Lifts Every Voice

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Interview

Jeff Staple

Photography

Ike Edeani

BTS Photography

Ja Tecson

LENA WAITHE

LIFTS EVERY

Interview

Jeff Staple

Photography

Ike Edeani

BTS Photography

Ja Tecson

Reflecting the “more” made capable by Samsung’s new Galaxy Z Fold3 5G*, we caught up with rising musicians and artists who show us another side of themselves rarely seen by others. New sides can come from a new hobby or secret passion.

The writer, producer, and actress uses her sharp eye and collaborative spirit to create more seats at the table.

No matter where you encounter Lena Waithe, be ready for impact.

And when you ask her how she creates impact, she always starts at the beginning: Chicago. Her hometown is “in her bones,” she says, and remains the source of her endurance and work ethic. In 2006, Lena transported her grind from The Chi to the City of Angels, initially through a job at Blockbuster before landinginternships and getting into writers’ rooms. The rest has been historic.

Lena notably became the first Black woman to win the Emmy for Outstanding Writer for a Comedy series. Earned in 2017 for Master of None’s “Thanksgiving” episode, the Emmy  also shed light on her acting in the show. Like a true sneakerhead and basketball fan, Lena said the win felt like “Jordan in game 6.” It was her acceptance speech, aimed at LGBTQIA+ youth, that set the tone for her advocacy. “The things that make us different, those are our superpowers,” she said. “Every day when you walk out the door, put on your imaginary cape, and go out there and conquer the world.

Because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it.”

The following year, Lena wore a pride cape to the Met Gala, and in the years since, she’s led by example. When creating shows, she prioritizes representation on- and off-camera. When studios called her after the Emmy win, she gave out the names of her protégées. When hiring talent, she emphasizes potential over seniority. And when founding platforms like Hillman Grad Productions, she pays for writing classes and helps every step of the way.

Mentoring is automatic for Lena, as is collaboration with directors like Melina
Matsoukas and Radha Blank. More than any award, Lena’s commitment to gathering bright minds and empowering the next generation will be her legacy. That said, there’s more to be written. We’ll let Lena tell it.

“I don’t think of my work as work I think of it as purpose. I’m always sitting or standing in my purpose.”

JS These days, Los Angeles is your home. Which other cities and places have you called home throughout your life?

LW Chicago first. That’s my first home, but LA became my home away from home because I built a life here. I built it for myself, which felt very empowering versus the home I was born into. I stayed in London for a bit when we filmed Ready Player One and the most recent season of Master of None. It always feels like a home away from home. London is a really beautiful space for me. For me,

For me, home is just a space that brings me comfort, that I can fill with the things and people I love. Some of the rooms in my house are very organized, and others have a little more going on; it feels like jazz, you know? I also have a lot of records and art made by Black and Brown artists. Being surrounded by those things makes me feel at home no matter where I am.

JS Whether you’re at home or on the move, would you say that observation is key to your storytelling process?

LW I observe a lot. As artists get older and more well-known, oftentimes, their work suffers because they get isolated. Here’s the thing: I’ve always been a person who likes to just walk around. I still go places. Yes, people come up to me sometimes. I just try to make sure I don’t get stuck sitting in the tent by myself. I enjoy interacting and going out into the world. It fuels me. Of course, it’s been tough during the pandemic. At the same time, now we all are more familiar with loneliness and the fact that we are social beings. My hope is that I can continue to move the way I do because that’s important for me as a writer.

JS Speaking of writing, how would you rank the jobs you have in the film industry, from favorite to least favorite?

LW Writing, producing, acting. I’m a writer first and a producer second, even though I’m becoming more of a producer-slash-writer. I get to moonlight as an actor, which is a beautiful thing. To reunite the band with Master of None was a beautiful thing. We were a band that started playing together young, and then we had a chance to mature and create a comeback album. It’s one of the most important seasons of the show.

JS There’s a level of detail and consideration that goes into everything you do. Would you say that you’re obsessive about the look and feel of what you put out?

LW Absolutely. The last eye is mine because my name is on it. I’m good at finding people with great taste who have a great eye. That’s who I’m attracted to. I love being around visionaries. Melina Matsoukas is a visionary. Justin Simien is a visionary. Radha Blank is a visionary. They are all filmmakers I worked with on Dear White People, Queen & Slim, and The 40-Year-Old Version. It’s about voice — that’s what I’m really drawn to. People with vision know how to paint really beautiful pictures. Of course, I’m drawn to Melina’s aesthetic, but what I really gravitate to is who she is. They go hand in hand.

JS How would you describe your approach to collaborating with fellow visionaries?

LW It depends on my role. If I’m a writer, I might be more in dialogue with the director. If I’m a producer, I focus on being supportive and telling the talent to trust themselves. Sometimes, I’m the financier, and I wouldn’t be investing my money if I didn’t believe in the vision. When I sat at Radha Blank’s table as a producer, she came to me and said, “Lena, give me some more criticism.Come on, what do you think?” I said, “I think it’s a beautiful movie, Radha. It’s yours. I don’t want to tell you what I would do. This isn’t my film.” The film went to Sundance, and she became the second Black woman to ever win Best Director in the 40- year history of the Sundance Film Festival. She also got nominated for a BAFTA. It’s not always my job to tell someone to change something. I know when somebody’s on the right path. I don’t have to fuck with everything.

JS How does collaboration shift when you’re acting?

LW I listen to the director. That’s my job. I’m part of a team. I’m a player on the field. What’s the play? What we doing? I’m not here to coach. I’m not calling the play. I’m here to deliver. I’m here to catch the ball and get into the end zone. You just let me know what my position is, and I’ll play it.

JS Entertainment has this amazing power to galvanize people and make them feel seen. Did you always know you wanted to harness that power in your work?

LW It really all started with the movies I grew up on. I remember watching Boyz n the Hood, Do The Right Thing, New Jack City, and Set It Off. Menace II Society was my favorite. I also grew up watching documentaries like Eyes on the Prize, Hoop Dreams, and Jazz by Kenny Burns. Watching these films showed me what I’m entertained by and helped me learn about a group of people I hadn’t met. Even though they were mostly fictional characters, I knew they represented real people, and that always fascinated me. It was real hardcore art in terms of what the art was saying. They were big movies with real messages. Sometimes, I think we forget that movies tell us something about the times we live in. They humanize people. They show us people who look like us, who live in the houses we live in. Then, they show us to people who never had to think about us. I was a Black kid in Chicago dreaming, and when I watched these films, I saw myself. I remember sitting in my room in Chicago, watching Hoop Dreams about kids in Chicago. Years later, I was sitting in an apartment in North Hollywood writing a pilot about the city of Chicago.

JS Storytelling takes so many different forms now, from two-hour films to 22-minute TV shows and 15-second Instagram videos. Does your brain process these forms of communication in the same way? What about when you go on Instagram Live — is it the same as acting or making a movie?

LW Instagram Live is really like live TV. It’s exciting. You never know what’s going to happen. If you add someone, how’s it going to go? Will there be technical difficulties? What if I hit the wrong button? Thenpeople rag on you if you don’t know what you’re doing. I’m a fan of variety TV. I love The Carol Burnett Show. I love The Judy Garland Show. It’s like, let me rock with what’s going on. It’s not like when I guest-hosted for my guy, Jimmy Kimmel. It’s like, when Halle Berry kisses you as a surprise, you just roll with it and read the prompter. I like making the most of it, which comes from me being an entertainer and letting the audience know I got them. I’m going to land the plane. We’re going to get where we’re going. It’s going to be alright.

JS You’ve developed myriad mentoring programs, many with your production company Hillman Grad. Why is it important to spend your time talking to the next generation and passing the baton?

LW Without the generation before me, I wouldn’t exist. Access is the first step, though longevity is what I’m after. I won’t just get you a job. I’ll hold your hand and check in with you six months later. If there are politics at the job you don’t understand, I’ll guide you. If you have a question about the hierarchy in the writer’s room, I’ll explain it. Getting somebody a job is like throwing someone who doesn’t know how to swim into the deep end of the pool. Some people will climb and get out, but not everybody does. I ask the people who can’t wait to reach the deep end to stay in the shallow area for a little bit longer. Learn how to kick and breathe; learn how to use your arms. That can be frustrating. People sometimes stay in the shallow end with me for one, two, or three years because they’re working on their craft. Once they have it, I’m like, “Okay, go.” If I survived it, I know they can survive it.

JS Who in the industry helped you learn to swim and make it into the deep end?

LW I have some guides who’ve never met me. I’ve never met the Hughes Brothers, but I watched them in Menace II Society at least two or three times a year. I had bosses who were my mentors, whether they knew it or not, like Gina Prince-Bythewood and Ava DuVernay. Reggie Bythewood, Gina’s husband, emailed me one day asking to be my mentor. I said, “Yes, please.” One time, he sent me an email that said, “What if you won an Emmy one day?” Reggie actually said the words. He could see the drive and the passion. He could see my desire to get better and be good at my craft, not to be famous. Every lesson I know is because of Susan Fales. There’s no me without her. She show-ran A Different World, where the students attend a fictional HBCU called Hillman College. Our production company is called Hillman Grad Productions. I couldn’t have won the Emmy without people like her banging down the door for so many years.

JS Speaking of winning the Emmy, how do you think about making change in your industry? Do you change it from within or burn it down and build a new one from scratch?

LW You need to do both. If everybody rages against the machine, the question becomes, how do we make sure our work gets to the people who need to see it? Once we figure that out, great. I’ve heard people who have been in the business a lot longer than I say, “Once we figure out distribution, it will be a whole new game.” That’s the thing. I need SHOWTIME to air the show. I need Universal to put Queen & Slim in different movie theaters. I need Netflix to make us available in different homes and countries. That’s how I think about the machine. They pretty much rent or buy our work from us. People within the system can rewire or change things within the machine. I like the idea of working both angles at the same time.

Hike Clerb

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Styling

Tamia Mathis

Photography

Ja Tecson

Jewlery

J ALXNDRA

HIKE CLERB

HIKE CLERB

Styling

Tamia Mathis

Photography

Ja Tecson

Jewlery

J ALXNDRA

THIS IS

HIKE CLERB

AN INTERSECTIONAL WOMEN’S HIKE CLUB FOUNDED IN 2017 BY EVELYNN ESCOBAR TO BATTLE THE LACK OF REPRESENTATION OF PEOPLE OF COLOR IN THE OUTDOORS. EQUIPPING BLACK, INDIGENOUS, WOMEN OF COLOR WITH THE TOOLS, RESOURCES AND EXPERIENCES THEY NEED TO COLLECTIVELY HEAL IN NATURE FROM LOS ANGELES AND BEYOND.

Dismantling Cool

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Interview

Sonya Yu

Photography

Ja Tecson

Photo Coordination

Drew Tucker

Brain Dead’s Kyle Ng Is

Dismantling

Cool

With its disruptive, graphic-led approach, Brain Dead takes its cues from post punk, underground comics, and the spirit of subculture as a whole. Read more as co-founder Kyle Ng, jack-of-all-trades, talks about how he sees no limits to what his brand, or any brand, can be.

Brain Dead’s Kyle Ng Is

Dismantling

Cool

Interview

Sonya Yu

Photography

Ike Edeani

BTS Photography

Ja Tecson

With its disruptive, graphic-led approach, Brain Dead takes its cues from post punk, underground comics, and the spirit of subculture as a whole. Read more as co-founder Kyle Ng, jack-of-all-trades, talks about how he sees no limits to what his brand, or any brand, can be.

U p until recently, brands were fairly easy to describe. Then came L.A.’s Brain Dead, founded by Kyle Ng & Ed Davis. Drive by their shop in Silverlake, and you’ll find that it’s a Dickies partnership focused on work wear and hardware. Stop by their Fairfax location, and you’ll discover a retail store doubling as a movie theater Brain Dead Studios and a restaurant caf Slammers . The crowds are laid back, diverse, and stylish some there to shop, others to hang.

How did we get to a place where brands actually reflect the multi-hyphenates they serve? The answer resides in Kyle’s very-much-alive brain, full of copious cultural references and a deep love for his home state of California. Yes, he can wax poetic about the power of graphic tees, Brain Dead’s early bread and butter, but he can also talk about gardening, rock climbing, roller blading, and pitching his ideas to big brands.

Kyle’s frustration with those brands led to the creation of Brain Dead’s spontaneous format. Every decision is made with a “why not” attitude that embraces the full scope of culture. Why be a brand that makes sneakers when you can create hiking clogs, climbing shoes, and roller blades, too? Why stop at donations to non-profits when you can create your own that funds a free climbing gym? Why make T-shirts when you can also make TV shows, music, ceramics, and rugs?

The list goes on. Of course, Brain Dead is doing some of what worked for brands before them, like releasing collaborations except they produce a lot more of them and have more fun . They’ve released pasta with Jon Vinnys, deodorant with Salt Stone, candy with Kolsvart, and surfboards with Gotcha just to name a few.

If you ask us, Brain Dead is a movement celebrating movement. It puts action and activity over traditional sports. It purposely defies what’s been considered “cool” and has social good built into its model. It brings people and worlds together, never dictated by what’s been done before. It’s the now, and it’s forever. Here, Kyle shares the road map.

SONYA YU Let’s start at the beginning. How did Brain Dead get off the ground?

KYLE NG Brain Dead started about eight years ago with my friend, Ed Davis. We wanted to create a brand that represents the culture and communities we love. I come from more of the mentoring world, and he comes from more of the graphic world and book publishing. We realized there was a cultural void in the community, and the product we liked was missing, too.

I’ve always cared more about the underrepresented cultural side of style rather than menswear or fashion. There’s been a very singular perspective on what’s cool or accepted, as if

you can only be sophisticated or into ratchet shit. Ed and I have so many interests across high and low-brow art, and we wanted to show that it’s about blending cultures. It’s about real diversity.

SY Where were you in your life when you guys decided to start Brain Dead officially?

KN I was the Special Projects Manager at Urban Outfitters, and we did some cool projects with people like Craig Green, Wood Wood, Kazuki Kuraishi, and Mark McNairy. I was looking at it from a more cultural perspective, like why people wear Doc Martens, not just the perspective of making diffusion stuff.

I remember looking at UO’s graphic T-shirts at the time, and the assortment just had cats with laser beam eyes or sriracha. I brought up how the product UO should be selling the most is T-shirts and that T-shirts represent culture. Young kids wear T-shirts based on their favorite musicians or other cultural connections.

The Internet created a new, open-sourced way of seeing and making things. It’s similar to the zine and self-publishing culture we come from. You could just have an idea and make something. At the time, bootleg T-shirts were popular, so I pitched an idea to UO for an open-source exhibit. The CEO gave me all this money to do it, and then the owner’s wife killed the idea.

SY Wow, so that was the context for doing your own thing?

KN It’s funny because Brain Dead was supposed to be for Urban Outfitters. It began as a project between a few other designers and us. Cali DeWitt and other artists did graphics for it. I had to push the destruction button. At the same time, I was selling to high-end retailers like Mohawk and Beams. I was like, “Fuck this. I want to take what I’m doing and bring it to high-end retailers where no one carries graphic T-shirts.” There wasn’t a crossover of Engineered Garments and graphic tees back then. I positioned it like,

“Hey, we’re not a streetwear brand. We’re a brand that’s all about culture and community. We’re selling T-shirts as a representation of our culture.” It made sense to a few stores back then. Some stores didn’t fully get it, even though they buy from us now. 

Now, we’ve gotten to a place where we’re more focused on programming our passions beyond product into experiences like theater, climbing, and skating. We’re also making content, movies, and hard goods like climbing shoes.

SY What have you seen change in the way people consume—from a cultural perspective?

KN People have realized that there’s so much product, but at the same time, kids have more access to it. People want to feel authentically connected to a lifestyle, and they can access that now. The mall look is dead. Brands have to think about what they stand for if they want to stick around. Look at the merch sold in eSports or the people who want to get in on Louis Vuitton now.

SY Speaking of authenticity, how would you define it in today’s terms?

KN It feels like authenticity hasn’t really been talked about since the Americana or heritage movement, where people wanted things made in the U.S. or that were handmade and naturally dyed. Authenticity is this idea of taking back culture from mass capitalistic consumption. We’re swimming out of our matrix hole. We woke up. I always say you should enjoy the things you do in your life and then wear the clothes you want to wear. Those clothes could be fashionable, or they could come from a scene. I love the aesthetic of someone middle-aged who wears a lot of pins in their hats or things they don’t even know look cool; it represents them. I love nice clothing, but most of the time I wear a T-shirt and pants that are fucked up because I’m skating or getting dirty. I often describe my style as “sloppy” because of that. I like baggy or slouchy stuff when I skate because it feels airy. I wear a utility vest when I need to hold my shit.

Sometimes, authenticity means being part of a culture that’s never had fashion or clothing connected to it, like rollerblading. It’s a real subculture and an underserved community.

SY How does Brain Dead approach making product for and serving these subcultures?

KN In the beginning, it seemed like Brain Dead was just graphic T-shirts, but then we were like, “Fuck, this could be anything.” Then we made climbing shoes, niche equipment, and everything else we’ve done.

“Cool” is a manufactured idea that comes from a very mono cultural perspective.

At this point in our company, we want to explore ideas that interest us and see how far we can spread the subcultures themselves. We don’t want to make product just for people who do the activities. How do you engage someone who’s never rollerbladed, played Magic: The Gathering, or listened to hardcore? Maybe someone saw Kanye wear our sweatpants, and then they came to our movie theaters and played Magic there. There are girls who feel it’s a safe place to just learn Magic by themselves, and that’s fucking cool. There might be dudes who never felt comfortable at the game shop who now have a place for themselves and a brand that speaks to them.

It’s funny because at literally any moment, if there’s something that interests us, we do it immediately. If we’re really into it, we embrace it fully. It’s easy to see that rollerblading is cool, so we go beyond making the T-shirt to make a cool video, make skates, make wheels, market them in a cool way, and identify people who would go super hard in them. We double down. It’s not like, “Maybe this will sell, maybe it won’t.” It’s just like, fuck it. Go for it.

SY Brain Dead has become known for translating that passion into not just products but experiences. How has expanding into these different areas affected your creative process?

KN Our process serves all parts of someone’s life, including areas we’re obsessive about, like food. When we work with Mei Lin, we make chili oil because that’s what we want. It’s the same with a mole sauce or dry rub. We just need those things. We got to a point in our assortment where it’s like, “Let’s make a wooden clock.” Clocks became one of our best-selling products. Then we thought, if people like our products this much, why don’t we just make a film or have a movie theater to show the films we like? We curated a few showings at a theater, and it sold out, so we kept going. It might look like a selfish act, but sometimes it’s a hammer or a bucket—things I want and need in my life. I love making sweaters because they’re timeless and connect to historical folk cultures. Everyone needs these things in some way. That’s where design becomes very simple. The lifestyle comes from our sense of self.

SY How has Brain Dead changed the way you think about what it means to be a brand?

KN Brands don’t need to be focused on just one idea, nor do they have to be singular. It’s more interesting when they keep evolving and constantly show that people are

dynamic. People want a voice, and a lot of brands are scared to show that they have more than one voice.

I’m into Magic, nerd shit, War Hammer, and Disneyland. But I’m also into fine art, ceramics, mountain biking, skateboarding, and rollerblading. I like gardening and fishing. Why would I stop talking about all that stuff? What’s the point of trying to look cool in one area and focusing on that persona instead of just dismantling the idea of persona and feeling real diverse?

SY Was there a moment when this shift in brands became more prominent?

KN Well, I think some of it happened during the summer of 2020 when there was social unrest, and people started to look at the real meanings of justice and diversity. Additionally, during quarantine, many people had their work setups affected. Maybe they were too cool for certain things, but they needed to get out of the house and do some activities. People got bored seeing the same shit fed from algorithms and decided to open their minds to different ideas, to go outside. People got into baking, biking, skating, whatever it was. They opened their eyes. Fashion is still behind the ball on a lot of things. They’re still doing runway shows and trying to fit into a traditional box that people have already been dismantling. Everyone else has already embraced going seasonless, doing stuff with video games, or celebrating other types of activities.

SY Given that sneaker and streetwear culture have become integrated into the zeitgeist, including luxury fashion brands, what do you predict for its future?

KN Exactly, none of this is a subculture anymore, which is so interesting. How do you make mainstream culture more interesting and cool? If we’re making films or TV shows, how do we make those good? People will ask us to do shows about apparel or fashion. I’m like, “There’s nothing to really talk about.” We have to show why something is cool or the people behind it.

SY How has being based in LA informed the trajectory of Brain Dead?

KN LA is more like an abstract idea than a physical location. It’s a perfect foundation because the weather makes it so conducive to culture and lifestyle. This is the hub of style and culture because people here skate,