SoJones.com constantly reviews Hip-Hop clothing lines in the United States and abroad, searching for innovative trends and designs. Browsing Kicks and Chicks, we found a new street wear line based out of New York, New York and Miami, Florida that is definitely a fashion source to check out.
8 & 9 apparel has set itself apart from many lines by consistently releasing and selling out of limited edition shirts and accessories. One of the popular brands with sneaker heads taking part in the DunkXchange tour, SoJones.com got a chance to sit with the brand President, Ray Guilbault, to talk about everything going on with the brand. Enjoy this in-depth interview with Eight & Nine Designs.
[ SoJones ] So lets start out with a simple introduction as we always do. Who are you, where are you from, and what is your position in the 8&9 designs apparel company?
[ 8 and 9 Designs Apparel Director Interview ] Everyone knows me as Ray, or Ray G, visionary/founder/president of Eight & Nine and sneaker store owner. I live in Miami after staying in New York and growing up around Boston.
[ SoJones ] Before starting 8&9, did you already have experience in the fashion industry or did you have to educate yourself from point A?
[ 8 and 9 Designs Apparel Director Interview ] Literally it was jumping in from point A to educate myself. I had never worked in this type of business and had no contacts, no mentor and no advisors so it was literally a start from scratch with a big plan and limited resources. I did buy a lot of books that year though, some of which I still haven’t read, lol.
[ SoJones ] Who are the designers of 8&9 apparel?
[ 8 and 9 Designs Apparel Director Interview ] Technically I am “Creative Director/Chief Designer” but 8&9 is an eclectic company and I’ve been lucky to work with a great team of designers who each bring different skills and perspectives to the table. There is a lot of design work in this business from flyers to ads and of course the Tee’s but I brainstorm with and direct my designers toward most of the graphics you see. In terms of the design aspects like fit, fabric, embellishment, labels, tags that’s all on me.
[ SoJones ] It’s easy to see there’s meaning behind most of the designs you all produce. Is there a certain direction you are trying to lead the brand from an activist standpoint?
[ 8 and 9 Designs Apparel Director Interview ] Rod, Great question. 8 & 9 is definitely a conscious clothing company and I think as we continue to grow the public will really see us developing and carving out a new lane that lets people make an elevated statement about themselves. People want the best now a days more than ever so your clothes should reflect a greater mindstate, 8&9 will continue to design w/ purpose.
[ SoJones ] A lot of people saw the T-shirt 8&9 did to help spark more support and public interest in the Sean Bell case. Being a New Yorker, did that strike you a little harder with such an injustice taking place in your home area?
[ 8 and 9 Designs Apparel Director Interview ] I’m not actually “from” NY but I did live there and my god kids and just about everyone close to me is there so I am personally attached to the city. More importantly though, I’m in “the hood” in every city and people all have the same issues. Sean Bell(r.i.p.) could literally be anyone you or I know and that is why we felt so strongly about the Cop Don’t Shoot movement. And it wasn’t just Sean Bell, its police brutality and belligerence in general. But little while back we had a chance to meet KRS ONE and received his blessings, support and interest in the 8&9 Cop Don’t Shoot movement so that was a huge moment for us especially considering part of the 8&9 base is in the BX so as for New York and 8 & 9 that’s major.
[ SoJones ] Did you feel 8&9 consumers and the street wear market in general, gave the response you wanted to that shirt?
[ 8 and 9 Designs Apparel Director Interview ] Wow! Hmmmmmmmmmmm, Real recognize real right? I would have to admit, the response to the Cop Don’t Shoot shirt has been huge from the industry side of it, KRS 1, Kid Capri, DJ Chuck T, Big Kuntry even Snoop and many others have shown us LOVE and gotten shirts so we’ve had some really great feedback from the people who “know better.” We are approaching 1000 units sold and stores keep booking orders so I’m happy with the way word is spreading. As for the street wear market, we didn’t even make the shirt for that purpose honestly, we did Cop Don’t Shoot for the principle, sales are a blessing.
[ SoJones ] If not mistaken, 8&9 is actually an internationally retailing. How receptive are markets outside the United States to the 8&9 brand? Do you feel those international markets have different interest and styles? Do they appreciate the same designs as US consumers, considering the message in your designs?
[ 8 and 9 Designs Apparel Director Interview ] 8&9 is definitely growing on an International level and about 40% of our orders are coming in from over seas. It’s really hard for me to comment on how the people in other countries view us but from my experience working with dj’s and mc’s I would have to say that people in other countries have a tendency to respect “realer” stuff, especially music with substance so I think that parallels what we do and will continue to set us apart from gimmicky brands in International markets. As we move down the road 8&9 will be looking for some really strong distribution partnerships to get more of our goods to people outside the US. I fully expect to grow internationally and a large consumer base abroad is definitely high on my list of goals for the brand, so far so good.
[ SoJones ] What are 3 of your personal all-time favorites from 8&9 designs thus far?
[ 8 and 9 Designs Apparel Director Interview ] I can’t even say honestly. We have some denim being produced in Japan right now and the samples blew my mind. I knew when I constructed the pattern and design that it was going to be crazy but the end result even surprised me. I really tried creating a jean formula that we could say was THE BEST and that no one could argue otherwise. Since that’s almost impossible, I went way above and beyond with the functional elements of the jeans and there are at least a dozen reasons why 8&9 denim will be everyone’s favorite pair of jeans so hands down I am excited about that and very eager to get them to the market. Aside from that I have a slate blue 8&9 leather jacket that is my favorite piece we’ve ever produced and right now I’ve been wearing all the colors of 8&9 “Cover Me” logo graphic as a uniform. I have a lot of sneakers so you know I have a lot of color ways in that graphic, one for everyday of a month probably.
[ SoJones ] A lot of brands today greatly overcharge consumers, leaving pockets empty but looking good I guess. Like Jeezy and Kanye West Said, people “Put On” for the city…. But we take pride in brands such as yours that are exclusive, yet not triple the typical price of a quality garment. Why do you keep your prices reasonable when there’s a market today that’s buying so blindly and will pay you more?
[ 8 and 9 Designs Apparel Director Interview ] I really appreciate that you recognize. One thing I learned very early in business that I wish I could teach every young American is ALWAYS UNDER PROMISE AND OVER DELIVER. In street wear especially there is such a lack of quality and consideration of price. Companies need too be profitable of course but 500% markup is ridiculous. When we do business with our partners we want two sided, mutually beneficial, good deals.
This is how we try to treat both our customers and our retailers. We sell at wholesale cheaper than most with a higher markup for the stores, yet still retail cheaper than most of the companies in our market because we don’t believe in charging “just because we can” and more importantly 8&9 quality speaks for itself so we don’t need a crazy high ticket price to trick a customer into thinking we have good merchandise.
You can immediately tell you’re getting more than you paid for when you pick up an 8&9 shirt and this is our goal with everything we sell. We are always giving back to our customers and even on our online store we sell under retail and have just launched a program that gives our returning customers 25% off all of their purchases. (Email me directly and mention so jones, I’ll give you the code.)
[ SoJones ] In a previous conversation between you and I, you said that you do not go to conventions such as MAGIC in Las Vegas where store buyers gather to see the latest brands. I believe you said you rather 8&9 designs gain it’s fame via a viral spread…. consumer appreciation and demand created naturally. Is this how you still think? Do you think this will help it’s longevity?
[ 8 and 9 Designs Apparel Director Interview ] Well, I know you think I’m off my rocker but my experience with trade shows is that they have a balance of pro’s and con’s. We will show eventually somewhere but it won’t be Magic. 8&9 is really positioned and growing as a brand for people that actually know what they like, people that are innovators, originators and taste makers. I think with that being said, retailers will know where to find us and if not there is only so many times a customer can ask a store “Ayoo, you got that new 8 & 9 gear?” before an owner is going to make sure they stock our product. Feel me?
So the concrete answer is that we will show when and where it makes our buyers happy. If 200 of 8 & 9’s accounts feel they want to see us at Magic then we will be in Vegas w/ a super exclusive closed door, invitation only type of set up to keep the onlookers away. With production capabilities of huge companies like Ecko it is very easy for a younger company like us to work hard on creative a new angle and then have it stolen or used by a bigger company that can produce and deliver on a larger scale. The last thing I want to do is see 8&9 denim knocked off by someone like Ecko and sold in Macy’s. This is one other reason why I don’t believe we’re in a rush to show somewhere like Magic.
[ SoJones ] Last question! How does sneaker culture influence your designs?
[ 8 and 9 Designs Apparel Director Interview ] You know me personally and I’m sure you’ve seen pics of my overflowing “walk in” that only has sneakers in it (I have 2 entire dressers just for hats) but most people don’t even know that I didn’t really get into the sneaker game until I met my dude Ray Figgs, aka attic4sneekaz. Its been over 10 years now since and I have hundreds of pairs, but I didn’t even have brand name shoes as a kid or young teenager and when I finally got my first pair it was some Fila from Marshall’s. Lmao. I will never forget that.
So as I got older and started making myself some decent $ money I just took off with the sneaker thing. It started with my style being a certain way and then all of a sudden I needed the perfect sneaker, perfect laces for everything. I LOVE sneakers, Jordan 4s, 5s, 6s, high top dunks, air raid’s, Bo Jacksons are some of my favorites but really the attitude of the culture and just being cool with out telling anyone. You know what I mean? That feeling you get when you know that you freaked your outfit is pretty much the way 8&9 is influenced by the sneaker game.
My whole team is pretty dam fly and humbly we set the precedent for what a lot of other people do with their own style. I feel like we as part of the sneaker culture are responsible for a lot of what is going on these days in terms of product releases from brands like Nike and New Era. The way we do small things with switching laces or customizing a hat color because it wasn’t available has forced brands to step up the way they think and release product. So for us we are sneaker culture and we are influenced by what we live.
Hopefully, people will see and as we grow 8 & 9 will be regarded as a brand that reverses this question and influences the sneaker game. As we move forward you can definitely expect to see more classic & current sneaker color ways appearing in 8&9 Apparel. 8 & 9 is about giving the sneaker head good choices with a product that reflects their style and doesn’t pigeon hole them with stereotypes or definitive connotations.
[ SoJones ] Well it’s time to wrap up the interview Ray; I really appreciate the conversation with you as I know you stay busy with 8 and 9 designs! Your clothing brand shall have great success I believe and of course, people should recognize SoJones.com for breaking out coverage of fresh brands first. What else might you have to say to end this clothing line interview out?
[ 8 and 9 Designs Apparel Director Interview ] “I really want to say thank you for this interview, we always have great intuitive conversations and this was no exception, I appreciate the questions you came with because most other interviews have FLUF and you brought the real. I’m not surprised, but thank you. I also want to remind everyone that we have regular updates on our blog @ www.8and9.com and we also launched a cell phone friendly version at www.2008and9.com so you can check on us from anywhere, anytime, anyday. We just added new pics from a photoshoot with Judy Stylz from www.kicksandchicks.com Drop us a line, send some feedback, email me personally for anything at anytime firstname.lastname@example.org with a and the questions here are no exception. and again, thanks for giving us this interview time!
[ SoJones ] Those SoJones Don’t just keep up with the trends… We set them… Until Next Time, Stay Tuned Everyone and Stay Up On What Hip-Hop Fashion Is Doing! Kicks, Chicks, and Love y’all!
SoJones is about urban and hip-hop fashion. Keepin’ up? That’s SoJones.