In 2004, the fresh-outta-high school Liberty brothers—Mike and Patrick—launched Akomplice, a small streetwear brand based in their small hometown of snowy Carbondale, Colorado. Fast forward four years and the duo have taken their label global. GIANT caught up with Patrick Liberty as he offered some advice to aspiring designers on how to get their clothing line poppin’.
1. Find Inspiration
“I didn’t wanna start my own brand. My brother said to me, ‘I wanna make some fresh clothing that actually means something and that’s ill because there’s nothing out there.’ This was a long time ago when we’d just wear blank t-shirts because we were sick and tired of almost every brand out just putting a logo across the chest. We really weren’t feeling it.”
2. Come Original
“When I grew up, I did a lot of crazy stuff. I used to rock this belt that was super long—it was my grandpa’s belt and after he died, I grabbed it. This belt hung down to my shins even though I was a real tall kid. Then, all of a sudden, at school everyone started rocking these belts where you let the end hang down towards your knees.
I actually disliked hip-hop because of the negativity towards women and drugs and violence. Then, I just got super into A Tribe Called Quest and Wu-Tang so that’s where the hip-hop influence comes from. The same way the Bronx started hip-hop and then other parts of the world just kind of took it—West Coast style, East Coast style—I got Colorado style.”
3. Start Designing Dope Shit
“Sometimes, you’re just looking through stuff and all of a sudden you see something and you go, ‘That’s so dope, that would be ill on a t-shirt.’ This one tee in particular (pictured above) came from Aaron Phillips, one of the guys we work with, and he’s a basketball fanatic. He just loves how Spike Lee is always at Knicks’ games getting all crazy. That was a Knicks and Bulls game and you can see him going crazy at Scottie Pippen right there. It was a moment in time that was just real fresh looking. We’re also big fans of Spike Lee and his work, and it’s kind of hilarious seeing how short he is compared to Scottie Pippen.”
4. Make Your Name Ring Bells
“My brother had a catalog developed. He showed everyone in our town, and the response was really good. We sent out 100 catalogs, and we got one store—that was TRUE in San Francisco. We sent catalogs to all of the skate shops because at that point, it wasn’t so much of a boutique world.
We worked in Colorado so I’d go to TRUE and it was one of the coolest stores I’d ever been to. When only they started to pick us up, it motivated me because out of 100 catalogs, the best store we sent to picked us up.
Second season, we sent out one e-mail catalog. The next season was more e-mail and we went to the MAGIC Trade Show. We went from around 8 stores to 36 stores. The next show, we went from 36 stores to about 65 stores. Now, there are around 200 to 250. Most of our stores are pretty solid with us, but you always have a little flux in the middle. That’s how the game goes. Like your hair, a couple fall out, but most stay in.”
5. Don’t Get Sued
“There are a lot of little technicalities. If you change the picture in a way that it doesn’t fit on top of a photographer’s image—that’s moving arms, legs, heads, turning stuff—then it’s a lot harder for them to get you in trouble. It also depends on the size of the picture. I always reference the time right now as being the time in hip-hop when everyone was sampling everything and before the lockdown when all of a sudden, you had to pay for every little snippet of sound. So there’s a lot of grey area right now.
We did a Heidi Klum t-shirt where she was flipping you off and just shipped them to the stores without telling them and not one store complained. They all actually loved it. We got an e-mail from [Klum’s] foundation basically saying she didn’t want her image out that way as far as flipping people off, because now, she’s kind of like a role model for women, and that image is kinda grimey. This was really early, early in our career.”
… Or Arrested
“Colorado was a swing state, and we really wanted the youth to go out and vote. We decided to do a voting party during the day near early voting locations where people could just walk from the party to the voting place and then come back and party, and every person that votes would get a free t-shirt. It was a bi-partisan event—we didn’t tell anyone who to vote for, but as long as you voted, we celebrated that.
We found one location in Denver—The Red Room—that was three blocks from the polling place and Installation in Boulder—a real dope shoe boutique that was a block and a half away. We rented two limos that continuously took people between the polling places and the parties. Once you came in, there was live music with DJs and drinks, and at the shoe shop, you got 15% off.
People loved it and we hit up all the media outlets in Colorado, newspapers, every news station, and said that they’d come out and cover it. They acted like they were loving it, but then they were like ‘Oh, by the way, did you know that we talked to the Secretary of State? He said that this is illegal, and you guys might be facing charges of bribery.’ They said we planned it in favor of Barack because a lot of people came out in Obama tees. Now, it’s not my fault that no one under 30 is wearing any McCain t-shirts and stuff like that. Nothing came of it, though.”
Akomplice Season 9 is on the way.