A New Zealand-based streetwear brand seems like a novel idea but, as the industry evolved and began to sprout international mega-businesses, it makes sense that a local label could not only establish itself but also show global promise.
We speak to Jordan Gibson, the man pioneering our great streetwear hope, Checks.
Photographed & Interviewed by Adam Bryce
Tell us what you do and why you do it.
I’m the founder of Checks Downtown, an Auckland-based unisex fashion label. I set out to create something unique in the market and creating clothes for a community that wasn’t well-served before now.
Tell us about the creation of Checks and the original concept.
The original concept was to create a retail destination that was, in my view, the best in the city and develop a brand that could represent a generation, telling a New Zealand story and export that globally.
What are your thoughts on sustainability, ethical fashion and the current concerns around the fashion schedule and discounting?
I find the notion of a New Zealand streetwear brand interesting. For a long time, I’ve struggled with the idea. Do we have the culture here to make it authentic? What are your thoughts on this and what inspires Checks from a design point of view?
I think what’s interesting is sort of like what happened in Japan in the 1980s through 2000s, where they were reinventing casual American style in a way which wasn’t being appreciated in the US. We can put our spin on references we’ve grown up with and, perhaps, this take that you couldn’t have if you grew up living right there.
Because New Zealand’s such a young country, we don’t have a predominant style or history to be bound by. We can, kind of, do whatever we want.
What are your thoughts around the best business model for fashion? There’s much chat as to whether all brands should be direct-to-consumer or vertical, in terms of having their own retail offering.
You have, what seems to be, a very straight-forward model. Why do you do things the way you do?
Some form of vertical or direct model is certainly the best approach. For us, it’s having a multi-faceted space that houses a retail store, our design studio, warehousing and serves as a meeting place. A real, living and breathing feel, where all elements of the business inform each other with a tight team that shares ideas. Most of the other brands that I look to, seem to have a similar set-up. We’ll do a bit of wholesale where there’s a really good relationship but probably won’t really chase this. And continue to grow our digital presence to enhance our online platform.
In terms of why — that just feels right to me, I think physical retail is still, far and away, the best way to tell a new story and help people understand it. Moreover, we want to build connections.
I’ve had many discussions, over the years, about how much streetwear has changed and that it’s lost the core sentiment of being anti-establishment. What brings the new streetwear consumer to the culture?
I think I feel a bit disenfranchised, what is streetwear now? Is it clothes that are worn in an urban context, then what isn’t streetwear? Is it clothes that are connected to culture? Either way, I struggle with being boxed in, I’m not sure how to challenge that other than continue doing what we do.
Maybe whatever we’re trying to sum up is for people who grow up interested in different sub-cultures that have become mainstream but are still looking for something relevant to their experiences. You’re right though — the establishment accepted streetwear — then it became mainstream. I think that essence of seeking out something new and interesting to uncover remains though.
Sneaker culture and streetwear may be mainstream but that opens up new pathways or space on the outside for something new. In the same way that streetwear started and those who adopted it. I think wearing Checks still says something about who you are.
What are your future goals for the brand and how do you see these being accomplished?
It’s a really challenging feeling but incredibly necessary, to look inwards and reflect on our place within this movement and what we can do to make a meaningful stand against racism and white supremacy. As you say, streetwear’s really founded within black and brown culture taking its genesis, in large part, from urban wear and hip hop among other niche cultures.
It was incredibly important to me to reflect and look at how much we’re giving back to these people and not just taking inspiration, albeit coming from a very genuine and loving place. We felt that we’d done a lot in terms of inclusion, creating a safe space, partnering with people of colour and providing a platform. However, we knew we needed to do more and make a very overt stand, spread information and resources, as we take part in protests and review our practices on an on-going level.