What Is The Richmond Streetwear Culture?

In the words of Deion Sanders, “If you look good, you feel good. If you feel good, you play good. If you play good, they pay good.”

Streetwear has always been a quintessential part of music culture dating as far back as the rise of the Stussy brand by Shaun Stussy. The way Shaun decided to start printing logos onto his shirts to cut costs on printing onto his surfboards instilled a way of being efficient as a designer as well as curating various ideas to make something that could be rather rare to find. The casual surfer turned streetwear pioneer knew that by having a vintage logo that’s very distinguishable and making limited copies of clothing (examples can include regular black t-shirts or some plaid pants with the word Stussy running down the pants legs) can capture fans and make them anticipate for the next drop of something that’s “rare”.

Then the nineties came along. The days of punk rock and surfer popularity was taken over by the surge of rap music and basketball. Brands like FUBU (For Us By Us) were introduced by Karl Kani and other brands like the Karl Kani brands were introduced into mainstream media from celebrities like 2 Pac and Diddy. Not everything about the nineties with streetwear was good though as it spawned many knock offs of famous brands made so individuals could get a quick buck. Once the 2000s rolled around, songs like Air Force One’s by Nelly and The St. Lunatics became the wave to selling your product and designers started to become more strategic with how they wanted to market their brands.

Streetwear today has become much more lucrative in my opinion because of social media. Something that can start as a hobby to someone can become something to make a living from because of the exclusivity of the brand. It feels like a Members Only type of feeling whenever you wear something fresh and unique made by one of your friends or if you are out of town in somewhere like Ontario, California and pick up some nice apparel. The surge of the internet in the nineties was the early blueprint on how someone for example, in Ontario, California, can ship an exclusive hoodie to someone who is in Richmond, Virginia.  Thanks to the rise of streetwear popularity, thrift shops has become more of a commonality as good quality hand-me-downs has more value in the present day than when it was first released. Some examples I can think off the top of my head are the vintage Charlotte Hornets Champion jackets and jerseys (whoever made the teal and purple color scheme for the Hornets is a GENIUS) and the NFL Reebok jerseys of the days of the Panther’s Deangelo Williams and the rather forgettable Jerry Rice Seattle Seahawks days. Hell, if you’re old enough, you might even remember how Le Coq Sportif had the early nineties in a headlock as the go to for streetwear fashion.

The previous installment of RVA Fashion Week was mere weeks ago from the time the article was written but I could not help to think about how I saw streetwear brands like Chilalay and Mama Jo’s Collection being at various events of that week at the Quirk Hotel and FeelGood’s Look Good, Feel Good fashion show at The Hof. With Richmond gaining more attention on a national level like Monday Night rocking the All We Need varsity jacket from @whatchuneed on Instagram on Top Shelf Premium and now Cali based artist/Richmond native Peter $un rocking some Chilalay apparel in his videos on VEVO, I thought to write this article to cover the streetwear designers. This article is also going to cover the thrift shop owners that made their names in the River City.

Niko and Earl Mack of Chilalay @chilalay on Instagram

Chilalay at the Quirk Hotel During RVA Fashion Week

Niko: Chilalay is a brand that stands for art, fashion and culture. The philosophy of it is that “If you can fix it, fix, if not Chilalay.” Chilalay means chill and relax. It is a chill lifestyle streetwear brand. When both of us graduated in 2012, we decided to come together and birth Chilalay. We started the brand as we ere on our way out and did first pop up on Broad Street when Round Two opened. It was our first-time making clothes for Chilalay. That led to doing another pop up putting on artists at our events. By working with artists and collaborating on ideas with them, it helps brings out more of the art style of the brand. A few years went by and we dropped sporadically. Nothing too crazy. In 2018, we said, “Yo, we got something here”, then we focused on the brand and we opened it in October in 2019. It was open until the pandemic happened and then we took our time with reopening and here we are.

Earl Mack: We say there always been this streetwear aesthetic in Richmond, but it’s more of an underground type of thing rather than mainstream for the city’s identity. Our store was another store named Henry’s and there was another sneaker store called Foot Works. It was ahead of our time and they were popping during our early college years. There were spots but it was like you needed to know someone to know who has what.

The internet played bigger part of accessibility to streetwear. Before it was getting everything off karmaloop and finding about brands through hypebeast and seeing people wear stuff in music videos and doing research on the internet to see who made what the artists were wearing in the video. That influenced us to do pop ups, make clothes, and it made us think of how to determine what separates us from the other brands and shops. Like what Niko said, we stand for art, fashion, and culture. We’re not a skate brand or hip hop influenced brand. Our ties are influenced to arts, fashion, and culture. Those are the types of people we interact with and events we have.

Earl Mack: Now since the Round Two era, it expanded because Round Two was biggest buy street wear on the East Coast. The era of brands that started solely off the success of Round Two can be seen with the expansion of more buy/sell/trade stores in Richmond or NOVA (Northern Virginia). Round Two made it mainstream from making it a hidden thing that was done through e-commerce to making it blow up on a national scale. There are some brands here related to Round Two such as Utmost (Jermaine was with Round Two) and Thomas from Kicks Boomin’ was doing artwork for Round Two at the time.

Niko: Today in Richmond, there is more cohesiveness now in the culture. Thanks to the cohesiveness every brand and shop has with each other, it’ll help everything get bigger and make us push to do bigger things. It helps us showing love.

Earl: We’re not much in competition but its friendly competition since we all have our own niches, and each platform will show love and pull up to our pop-up shops. It’s not always like that in other cities or other situations. We keep it copasetic and by moving positive, more positive things will come from that.

Brian from Rotate RVA. @rotaterva on Instagram

Brain: The Richmond scene is highly diverse and to a sense, it’s forever growing. Thanks to VCU, it’s a melting pot of so many diff people and styles that’ll come from all up and down NOVA and the 757 (Eastern Virginia, home to Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Suffolk). Richmond is the hub of it all. Rotate started in college out of an apartment building with the original four members. The homies would come over and go shopping in my closet basically. Derrick started the reselling part of the brand as he would buy sneakers and sell them on eBay around the time Round Two first opened up. They gave us game and started the whole movement for people who loved sneakers in Richmond. We always had DTLR and Finish lines, but there were no shops around that had truly exclusive shit. I used to cop just to cop shit because I was and will always be a fan of streetwear first. I’m an Air Force head. If I had to choose a favorite sneaker, it has to be the Air Force 1 Silhouette.  

Cam of Means. TM @means.tm on Instagram

Cam wearing a black T-Shirt from The Spot (covered later in this article)

Cam: MEANS is a mantra, a message. It branched out of myself and Jefferson, who’s also known as Bstfrnd (bestfriend). We were in the studio talking about clothing brands and I decided to rebrand from a previous style. We came up with different concepts. He has something on the board, and it said meanings. I said something along the lines of “It’s a means to an end. To get tour end goal.” Eventually, we got down the list of different names and we put down MEANS. We had to let it live for a little bit before finalizing it. I already been making clothing since 2009. The very first name I had for my clothing was Average Popularity. It was a HORRIBLE name. When I saw that some people were not liking it, I changed it to Locals Only. From there life started happening and I fell back from starting clothing for a while. In high school, I used to make 3-D clothing. Since the rebrand to MEANS, it has been straight forward. MEANS is black in nature. MEANS is a matter of getting out that messaging of its nature.

I like the streetwear culture here in Richmond. You got Chilalay. I also like being rivals to those guys, more in a competition sense than actual hate. I want to be pushed and I want to push some people. Earl Mack did this Rodman shirt and I thought it was fire. We also have the WhatchuNeed brand. The sweat suits they have are incredible. I love to see that brand play with their color pallets and puff prints. The shops and clothing of Rotate and The Spot I really enjoy. I think it is thriving. We’re all pushing towards the identity of what we can say that is The Richmond Style. I think there is more that we could be digging at in regard to forming our concrete identity. Even if we all have separate goals, that is a commonality we all have. Our website is https://www.meanstm.com/

We grew more as a community over the years. In the city, we all have a different faction. We have a faction of rappers, clothing, makeup artists. The streetwear community is great. I feel like we bounce ideas off one another and create competition with one another. We do also critique each other, and it helps fuels us to strive to do better. Even the new startup Victim 15 is more high-end street fashion, they can be Avant Garde in nature sometimes, but I like what he does with the mocha band pants and embellishments on it. My first introduction to the streetwear culture here was probably the original Round Two when I met them at some trade show. I met Luke first and I had three shirts and they thought one of the shirts were dope. At the time, I appreciated any love for my clothing, especially from total strangers. At the time it was the central hub for how Richmond goes but I knew it had to expand well beyond that. They then expanded to other cities out in New York and Los Angeles, and Round Two in Richmond became an incubation hub, so the city really expanded in popularity because of that.

Now I have two things to say…

First thing: hypebeast culture needs to end. People need their own personal style and individuality. Buy it because you like it. I like the Jordan 4’s and the Jordan 8’s and that’s it. I don’t care to buy everything. Everyone needs their own mannerism in how they dress. There is no discoverability in buying everything because people won’t find anything new because everyone has the same shit. We can fall into similarities but our messaging in what we wear and how we wear it needs to be different.

The second thing: RVA Fashion week. I like how they’re doing but I want them to open up more to the designers or the creators or stores. It’s nice they’re doing these things but Rotate can have their own fashion show and they can do it in their own style. The Quirk [hotel] is cool but how many of us are there in a daily basis? Let the creators host their shows for fashion week in the creators’ shops and let them do it in the creators vain. Let them control the runway show on their own block and fit it to their own aesthetic. The Quirk can still do it but give it to the designers that fit with their own aesthetic. Open that budget. If you want to highlight these people, let highlight them in their own way and match it with the venue. Let the creators create.

Cam from Means.TM

Thomas from Kicks Boomin’. @kicksboomin on Instagram.

Thomas is on the far right in the photo.

Thomas of Kicks Boomin’ mentioned that he loves the growth of the streetwear culture in Richmond. When asked about some other brands here, he mentioned that Rotate RVA is one of the brands to look out for and that he loves the business. He sees the two brands as filling in for what the shops may lack, respectively. In his words, he said that Rotate has more depth within their clothing while Kicks Boomin has more depth within their shoe collection. To me, I personally see the two shops as the Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp of Richmond (shoutout to the Seattle Supersonics).

Thomas: The goal of expanding the streetwear culture is to put other brands on to the buyers rather than shaming other brands. We all need to eat. When Round Two expanded to NY and LA, I didn’t want to relocate to the other Round Two shops. I wanted to give back in Richmond. My partner, Alexander Sam started Kicks Boomin’ in 2017 and just graduated high school. Built brand based off the growth of flipping snacks grew to flipping shirts and shoes.

A lot of the business was e-commerce and trade shows. I knew of him from his Instagram, my fiancée’s cousin who I just hired went to the same school as him. One night I saw he was opening a store and what ran through my mind was “should I offer my services of a partnership?”. My fiancée sees me as a workaholic, and she insisted that maybe getting help is good and having someone to rely on is good for someone who’s young and have potential. When we talk, I gave him my number and came with a plan. At the time I didn’t know how old he was. Luckily, I put myself out there and he took it on the spot. [Working at the store] is fun and highly stressful, but at the end of the day I love this job. She knows I work my ass off to make this store and shop and community better, that’s why I try to go all out. It gets draining but it’s satisfying that we have plenty of merch to process, we live for the weekends and making the next day better It’s not about being complacent, it’s about growing every day.

I love the criticism and process it so I can make everybody happy and earn the respect of my peers and characters. I have a lot of weight on my shoulders, I make mistakes and I make the best of what I can. I have seen streetwear come and go from when Supreme T shirts were like a holy grail in glass cases to where everyone had at least one piece of Supreme merch in 2016- 2017. One thing I learned over the years is that at times not every drop is worth it because whatever comes out does not mean it’s going to appeal to everybody. Supreme and Bape is still worth buying and I still say it never goes out of style. Clothing styles has its respective highs and lows, but people will find a collaboration that can speak to them and enjoy that brand again. It is cool to always see the next trend and see how it lasts. There is a market for everything and the culture we deal with.  Our website is kicksboomin.com

Tahmari of TT The Brand. @tt.thebrand on Instagram.

One of Tahmari’s works at RVA Fashion Week at FeelGood RVA’s “Look Good, Feel Good” fashion show

TT The Brand is my personal design label but honestly, I can’t stand the name, I just named it that out of desperation because I’m not very good at naming things so I will be changing it very soon (if this was in person it would say “laughs” lmao). The name is actually TT by Tahmari Tupponce but that was too long for an Instagram handle and a domain name and unfortunately the “The Brand” part stuck. It will be changing this summer so make sure you stay tuned! In the meantime, shop on my website https://www.shopttbrand.com/

My brand, to me, it’s a way to express my creativity and my love for fashion. I love love love seeing someone light up when they see my pieces and seeing the smiles on their faces when they finally try it on and wear it out. I think that fashion is an art form that everyone participates in, so the fact that people wear my pieces to represent them is honestly an honor. I’m very influenced by creativity, by my hometown of Richmond, Virginia, and to a further point, the fashion of the 60’s and 70’s. What I’ve designed so far has been kind of a mixture of that but once I rebrand, I think my influences will be a bit more apparent.

I’m very proud of the way that the fashion scene is growing in Richmond and especially the streetwear scene. I had a friend come down from Connecticut and she was looking to shop for sneakers in Richmond so I took her to the Arts District and of course we went to Round Two, Rotate, and a few other spots and I remember she was so surprised by how many buy/sell/trade shops we have. It was interesting seeing a view of Richmond from the outside in, we have a very strong “thrift” culture here and I think you see that a lot with the way people dress here. You’ll see people rocking these like, unique one of a kind pieces from somewhere like Rotate, Rumors or Blue Bones that isn’t any less fly than a brand new expensive ass designer piece. Also, there’s a lot of pride here so you’ll also see a LOT of Utmost, Chilalay, and Insert Name. People are really proud of what we’ve built here. It’s even to the point I’ll see a lot of these brands outside of Richmond, I’ll go to different places in VA and randomly see Insert Name hats or Chilalay/Pinkbox tees which is just super cool. I can’t wait to see everything spread even more.

I think streetwear is ubiquitous now. Before it used to be kind of a small subculture, and now it’s like, you have these big fashion houses making “knockoff” versions of shoes like McQueen doing the $580 Stan Smiths. And Raf even did a collab with Adidas on the Stans, but now luxury houses have jumped to straight up cloning shoes. I think that’s a whole other conversation because let’s be honest, the people who started the current streetwear culture were regular black people in the 80’s and 90’s. And now those same people are being priced out and pushed out of these spaces and to me as an African American this is a subject I’m very passionate about and sensitive to. I really could go down this road for hours so I won’t bore you but I’ll just say that this debate does really influence what I do. I remember getting into a heated discussion with a guest panelist about cultural appropriation when I was in design school and afterwards a black professor pulled me to the side and was straight up with me. She said “These people don’t care. They aren’t going to let people like us into their spaces willingly. You have the advantage of social media and the internet, you don’t need to beg these people for approval and beg them to hear you. Make yourself heard and be the change you wish to see.” I really took those words to heart and I think that’s great advice for any creative of color in the fashion industry, honestly.

Alex from Insert Name and The Spot. Insert Name on Instagram and Twitter. @thespotrva on Instagram

Alex in on the lower right side of the photo of the creatives that works with The Spot. Visit their website https://thespotrva.com/

Insert Name is my art. It’s an expression of constant ideas that generate in my head as I hear and see things in my everyday life. A lot of what I do could be considered a bootleg or flip because I love clothing that reminds you of one thing but is totally redesigned and repurposed. 

The Spot I would describe as a creative hub. We have retail but also do design, creative direction, screen printing, events and more. Our day to day can feel like a retail store when you walk in one day and a creative studio the next and I think that’s the allure of The Spot. 

Shop at https://insertsitename.com/

I usually design on my in my head and my phone strangely enough. A lot of what I do comes from seeing something and instantly seeing concepts that branch out from what I’m looking at. I have about 40,000 pictures on my phone majority being references or things I like fashion or design wise. When it’s time to officially design I pair all my references for that particular project draw out my idea and code my design with keys almost like a map that go with the references so my graphic designer understands what’s in my head and after a few back and forth we get that magical final product. 

I think the street wear culture in Richmond is blossoming beautifully. I think that Richmond has never had a lack of talent when it came to designers of street wear it was just a lack in community. Within the last year or two the community I think has grown stronger. Creatives who have had the pleasure of working with each other are opening their own stores and with that you see owners who support one an other which in turn merges their clientele which in turn grows our street wear culture. I walk around downtown or shockoe or other areas of Richmond and while every person might not notice I see pieces created by local Richmond designers being worn and I personally know the creator or follow them or have had the pleasure of seeing them at an event and it just reassures me our street wear scene is heading In the right direction. I hope that we continue to put out unique pieces as an area while building the community we are apart of. 

I was introduced to fashion I would say firstly through West Coast Kicks that was in Cary Town. It was one of the first locally owned stores for me that had stuff I liked and was into at the time fashion wise. I can’t really remember much from there until I started going to sneaker events at some hotel downtown where people like Sean and Chris who founded round two would vend and have the sneakers and vintage clothes. There were places like Rumors I’d shop at occasionally and I’d thrift but the biggest difference I see now from then is the amount of stores you can go to and buy 100% locally designed and created clothing accessories and it’s all fire on top of that. You can go to Rotate, Chilalay and The Spot all within a 4 minute drive and I didn’t even add Rotate and a kicks Boomin both on broad street. Options is the difference quality diverse options is the biggest difference in the street wear scene then versus now. 

OG Illa- “Virginia Always”. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter

All of this started because I started creating merch for my music and my label HLGNLIFE. We would drop a piece and sell out every time. And people were enjoying the clothing. And as that grew, my confidence grew and so did my interest in fashion and creative design. Fast forward and I’ve not only created my own fashion brand but I’ve made merch, clothing designs for numerous other creatives as well.  

For my company, “Virginia Always”, I wanted to pay homage to my hometown but not only that, the state that really shaped my fashion and style. From calling Air Force Ones “Flavs” and rocking Iverson jerseys to going to VCU and having that influence, I was shaped here. When I designed the logo that’s when I came up with my vision and how I wanted to move forward. But, I’ve always been inspired by Missy Elliot and always wanted to be fly, with my own twist. 

Richmond is fashion. The way people dress, the music, the way people move, its always a vibe. We are in a Renaissance period right now in the City where the people are taking back ownership and people are not only appreciating the VA culture more but also actively supporting it. I love the way the creatives from rappers to fashion designers are representing the city, everyone is hungry and unique, and I find that vital. Creativity is running wild. 

I been apart of this scene for a long time. I been inspired from the times of Dreamers Clothing (with Mel and Oct) and used to do everything I could to get those pieces. YFD was super motivating too because I think they used to be on the forefront of the street wear really going with the shoe game, they were revolutionary in their own way. And I mean, not just them but from back in the day I really remember them being pioneers for this Richmond fashion scene. Man, I truly think Dreamers supporting me is one of the reasons I’m so heavy into fashion now if I’m being honest. 

I am an ambassador for KIKKIT Clothing Apparel. We do so much work together constantly. They are super involved in the city in so many capacities. Gotti is a genius and the ways we bring things together are incredible. *Alexa play “KIKKIT” by OG ILLA*

Watching guys like Noah O and Peter $un who has been killing the merch game as rappers, its inspirational. In the city, I rock a lot of Utmost. I love what they do, like a lot. Also, I have done a lot of work with Rotate and I got a lot of respect for younger guys like Alex The Human (Insert Name Co), CVL (byhadnot) and FYBB. It’s just so many dope creatives out here really. Like I said, Renaissance. 

You can purchase all pieces from https://www.hlgnlife.co/shop

Author side note: This is my largest article to date. Thank you to everyone that I interviewed for this. It was a very time consuming project and I hope that everyone who read this either found some new clothes to purchase, brands they’re interested in or even learn more about the history of streetwear culture in Richmond, VA. The Mission Is Too Great.


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