I feel like this brand represents our generation the best; the late 80’s- early 90’s born free thinkers. Only Ones is a NYC-based clothing brand that truly caters to a unique group of people. If I had cool guy awards that I could just pass out, this brand would get one. With their punk and hardcore influence, Only Ones is shaping up to be a fan favorite and heavy weight in the streetwear industry. In this interview, I spoke with Only Ones’ owner Rob Blair about the music world’s influence on fashion, how he developed Only Ones’ identity as a brand and many more interesting topics; enjoy. (Also enjoy this 30% OFF coupon code, use KINGPHILL at OnlyOnesNYC.com)
Me: What clothing brand really grabbed your attention as far as making you want to create your own?
Rob: There’s lots of brands that inspire me still today, but if there’s one brand that inspired me to start my own company it would have to be The Hundreds. If there wasn’t The Hundreds, there may never have been Only Ones. What really caught my attention was their graphic t-shirts. Bobby Hundreds is such a smart guy with a lot to say and he says it with his shirts.
Me: If The Hundreds ever reached out to you for a collab, would you do it?
Rob: Hell fucking yes I would, but it’d have to be the perfect idea. What I love about The Hundreds is the meaning behind their graphic tees; there’s always a story and always a message there. If I were to do a collab with them, there’d have to be some sort of commentary there; maybe a collab that pokes fun at streetwear collabs. I really don’t know at the moment but it’d have to be real clever.
Me: Man, an Only Ones x The Hundreds collab would be crazy; I could definitely see it happening. How far has Only Ones come overall since its launch in 2009?
Rob: To be perfectly honest, it’s been a roller coaster ride the whole way through. Unfortunately, nobody ever sat me down and said “Rob, this is how you run a clothing brand.” I had to learn it all on my own and I am still learning. There were years where I didn’t really do much with Only Ones at all. I let other things in my life take precedence over the brand, lots of those things were negative habits that I just kept feeding into. I was either putting stuff off or using my time unwisely.
In 2014, I really revamped the whole brand. My friend George, who works with me on the brand, really pushed me to change how I run Only Ones and inspired me to get back into it. I totally redesigned the site from what it once was and now it showcases us a clothing company, whereas in the past the focus of the site was more on our blog. The site didn’t flow well, but now we have a layout that better serves Only Ones.
Besides that, we’ve started selling in NYC markets this year. The BK Bazaar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn has been great for us. We get to meet customers face to face and hear their thoughts on our product. Nothing makes me happier than seeing some people at our booth checking our stuff out with huge smiles on their face; I know they get the joke. Also, I’m now trying to reach out to publications (both online and print) that I love and respect. I’m finding a few underground publications that have a healthy following and I’m contacting them to present Only Ones and to get our brands to work together. It feels good to work with other underground brands and to help each other grow. It’s a long process and there’s no shortcuts, it’s a lot of work but it’s so worth it.
Me: Has Only Ones reached an international customer base yet?
Rob: We’ve sold all over the world but most sales are in the U.S. For the first time I believe, we got two orders from Australia just a few weeks ago. Social media, especially Instagram, has been a good tool to reach out to people all over the world.
Me: Rockin’ Only Ones down under. If you could shoot a lookbook out of the U.S. anywhere, where would it be?
Rob: Maybe something in the catacombs of Paris, that would be an easy first thought. Perhaps in Japan somewhere with cherry blossoms and traditional Japanese architecture or maybe in Tokyo, I just love Japanese culture. It’d have to be an interesting backdrop that I can’t find in the U.S. and is somehow inline with the brand’s vision.
Me: That’s ill. I fuck with the catacombs and I think capturing a culture’s true essence is always good. Do you feel you’ve found your identity as a brand?
Rob: I think we have. It often takes a little while to truly find a brand’s identity. It’s interesting to see how some brands looked in the beginning and how they’ve changed along the way. My vision for Only Ones is more on point than ever before and I think our upcoming product will show that. I’m not changing the brand, just becoming more concise. Finding out what our brand isn’t is just as important as knowing what it is. What do we see that we don’t like and how are we going to do things differently?
Me: What other advice would you give to young creatives working toward starting their own brand?
Rob: Rick Klotz, the owner of Freshjive, said once that “There are no shortcuts.” That’s what I like to keep reminding myself. There’s no easy way out; no express lane to success. It’s hard work for little to no pay off for a long time. It never feels like work though if it’s something you’d do for free anyway.
Me: Yeah, that’s how you know it’s your passion; it should never feel like work. Touching back on brand identity, how do you cater to the free thinkers of our generation?
Rob: The brand name itself represents the free thinkers. To never be afraid to be an individual, to truly think for yourself, to be the “only one” even when it’s uncomfortable to do so. It’s not an easy thing to think differently or do different things than what the people around you are doing. It’s not easy to go against what most kids maybe at your school or place of work are doing, but it’s important to follow your heart. Progress always comes from the people that think differently, not from those that follow the crowd.
I feel as though a lot of our designs offer a commentary on society and what’s accepted as “normal” or “cool”. The people that get our shirts are thinking outside the box and they get excited by what we’re saying because they’re thinking the same thing. We’re all in it together.
Me: What’s a future goal for your Only Ones that you’re working on right now?
Rob: As far as future goals, it’s all about getting the brand in front of as many eyeballs as possible. So doing interviews like this helps, reaching out to publications and blogs, having a presence on social media and selling to people in person at various markets. Also, of course, working on making new designs that build the vision of Only Ones even more.
Me: I love that there’s real concepts tied to your designs. What made you decided to do that?
Rob: Like I said before, I really wanna say something with the brand. Some of our designs are more overt when it comes to their meaning while others are more open to interpretation. Some are just an homage to things I grew up with and still love today.
I never wanna make something just for the sake of following a trend, why do it then? I see so many brands coming up now that just copy without adding anything new. I’m not gonna call anyone out here, but there’s this shift in streetwear culture that’s really depressing to me. It’s turned into a lot of lackluster, boring, simplistic designs. Nothing wrong with simple, simple is good, but there’s a line between simple and lack of effort. Printing white letters and some white boxes on a black tee and calling it a brand isn’t something that’s going to excite me.
Me: Very true. A lot of customers/consumers don’t understand that if they stop supporting wack shit, brands will be forced to raise the bar.
Rob: It goes that way with all art, I feel like our standards for art have been lowered. Mediocrity is accepted and even celebrated. It’s all a matter of opinion but I often feel like people let others decide what’s cool for them. They wear a brand because some person in a magazine or a music video wore it and it snowballs from there. It’s like having your mom pick out your clothes for you.
Me: Wow, I agree 100% man; especially with the art. As an artist myself, one of my goals is to get rid of that level of mediocrity. I see way too many artists blatantly copying Basquiat, but that’s a whole other conversation man haha. Do you feel the music world influences clothing and fashion?
Rob: Most definitely. Often people, especially younger people, dress based on the culture they feel closely represents them and music is a huge part of culture. For example, street punks dress a certain way and hip hop kids dress another way. I have to say though, one of the coolest things I’ve seen in the past few years is how hip hop and punk/alternative fashion have been coming together. I think it’s really cool to see those worlds melding in some ways. Like thinking outside the box mentally, it’s cool to do that physically as well in how you dress. Not having to stick to the rules of one culture, wear what you wanna wear because you feel comfortable in it. Confidence is what’s cool, not the clothes you wear.
Me: What was the fashion like when you were growing up in the punk and hardcore scene of NY?
Rob: In high school I got into punk music. I was hanging around kids that had mohawks and denim vests with spikes and patches; your average street punk look. Then there were other kids dressing like skaters, the pop punk kids; just jeans, t-shirts and skate shoes. In college I got into hardcore music and that was pretty simple fashion too, just jeans and t-shirts. Basic apparel was t-shirts, hoodies and skate shoes; not much high fashion there.
Me: Ha, I see. Since you mentioned high fashion, how do you feel about the wave of clothing brands saying they’re a fusion of high fashion and streetwear?
Rob: People like to categorize everything to fit it in a nice, neat little package. They also wanna latch on to a market. There’s so many different types/looks of “streetwear” these days. To me, the core of streetwear will always be the graphic t-shirt and there’s nothing high fashion about that really. I’m not too interested in high fashion.
Me: Yeah, I’m not too sure of the fusion myself. I think there’s high fashion and then there’s streetwear; the fusion is an iffy subject. Back on the topic of music though; what are some of your favorite bands?
Rob: I listen to so many different types of bands and it’s hard to pick favorites. As far as punk bands go, some of my favorites would have to be NOFX, The Bouncing Souls, Leftover Crack, Operation Ivy, The Misfits and plenty more. FIDLAR is probably my favorite new punk band out there now. Also, listen to Leatherface! They rule and not enough people know about them; check out the “Mush” album. Favorite hardcore bands would be Gorilla Biscuits, Trash Talk, Have Heart and Bane. I listen to all sorts of other stuff though, I love ZZ Top, Fleetwood Mac, just got into Grimes and Beach House. There’s so much good music so it’s hard to sum it up with favorites, but there’s some for ya.
Me: Yeah man, I gotta get on Trash Talk; I’m a huge Odd Future fan and I know they signed with Odd Future a while back, just haven’t gotten around to listening to them; any song/album recommendations?
Rob: Trash Talk is a great band! My favorite songs by them are Gimme Death, Blind Evolution, Explode and The Hole. Definitely give those tracks a chance first.
Me: What can we expect in the future from Only Ones?
Rob: More of the same, but with an even more concise vision of the brand. We’re working on making new product and getting our brand out into retail spaces hopefully soon. You can always expect the satire and cool graphics from us. I’d also like to delve into other things like hats and button downs sometime in the future.
Me: Nice, what retail spaces are you looking at right now?
Rob: There’s a whole bunch in New York, but I’d rather not say exactly which ones so when they tell us to fuck off it won’t look so bad that we’re not in there. There’s some out of state and out of the country I’d love to be in as well. Basically the shop has to be exclusive and sell stuff that’s unique and cool. I don’t wanna be in a shop that features lackluster copycat bullshit, we’ve done that before and their clientele doesn’t get what we do.
Me: Truly man, you have to always keep yourself amongst like-minded individuals and that philosophy works the same with product placement. In all honesty, the “streetwear’” industry right now is all over the place, would you call Only Ones a streetwear brand?
Rob: I always go back and forth on this, but I think in the traditional sense we are a streetwear brand. Although, lately the trends in streetwear are pretty boring and uninspiring. What drew me to streetwear was the DIY punk rock mentality of making clothes that had something to say and doing it all on your own. It’s a lot like starting a punk band, except we make shirts instead of songs.
Streetwear was about making a statement and not asking for permission. That was years ago, today it’s become something different for the most part. Streetwear had this big boom and now I feel like it’s on the downturn. What I’m seeing is a lack of effort and vision in what’s popular in streetwear. There are still brands that do it right in my opinion though. Brands like Fuct, HUF, The Hundreds, Flying Coffin and others still make great stuff. I just think the mainstream vision of streetwear and what’s really popular right now isn’t dangerous or exciting at all. It’s just too safe, streetwear isn’t about being safe, it’s about taking chances.
Me: I feel you man. It’s like back when streetwear started, people like us wore it because it wasn’t the regular, boring shit out. Now some streetwear brands are the regular, boring shit. Then a lot of brands got bigger and lost that independent feeling. Do you plan to help in keeping streetwear culture in its original, dangerous, punk rock-esque state with Only Ones?
Rob: I started a brand to say what I’m thinking and to make clothes that I think are cool, not to make stuff that other people think is cool. Of course, I hope there are people out there that do like our stuff but I’m not trying to make something everyone likes. I’m not trying to be sold in a mall. That’s the punk rock mindset to me; make what you think is cool. Who cares if other people hate on it, it means you’re doing something right. People hate change, so if your shit makes some people mad it means your changing shit up. Make some people angry because that’s going to make them think. It sounds corny but you only have one life to live, why live someone elses? Why wear what other people tell you is cool?
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