Designing clothing might seem like an easy thing to do, but in reality the fashion business is an ugly customer to deal with. From coming up with certain styles, to ensuring the pieces meet certain quality standards and positioning the product on a suitable market, it is a bit of a job for these enterprises. Same goes for Vintage Limited, a relatively new clothing company with a long yet fascinating story behind its collections and development. Above all, owners Shaun Burkowski and Eric Nine are artists — there are no signs of any ambition to create a multinational gazing at financial success, because Vintage Limited does not just put out fashion for fashion’s sake. It’s all about the art and longevity of a piece. Their time and energy goes to creating art through two different collections: the easy accessible Signature Series and the Limited Edition Series — the collector items that are hand numbered and come with a certificate of authenticity.
Burkowski and Nine have more in common than running Vintage Limited together: they’re hip-hop purists that are heavily intertwined in the culture. They produce hip-hop music and use the four elements of the genre as an input for what they do. Vice versa they get a lot of love from the hip-hop community — many heads rock their outfits and artists lend their faces to the brand’s promotional campaigns. BallerStatus spoke with Shaun, who freely spoke about all the ins and outs of his baby Vintage Limited.
BallerStatus.com: How did you get involved in the fashion industry and how did your affinity with fashion evolve to the point you decided to launch Vintage Limited?
Shaun Burkowski: We’ve been involved in art for all our lives. From being fans of the graffiti movement to more traditional painting, sketching and electronic arts like layout and design aesthetic … Moving our passion for urban art to a new medium like apparel was just a natural progression. We started out with a simple ideology — make really dope art and put it on premium quality apparel for the collectors. That quasi-mission statement has taken on more layers than the original thought-process, but the ideology stands the same. We’ve just incorporated that simple idea into a brand that continues to grow just as the catalogue has. We wanted each piece to be like a new book in a library and tell a story. We just try to outdo ourselves on every new release and never stay status quo. You know, one-up each new design and keep it fresh. When we first started, we pretty much came to the conclusion that there was nobody else out there doing what we wanted and felt there was a void we could fill.
BallerStatus.com: Tell us some more about the brand name Vintage Limited, and your company philosophy.
Shaun Burkowski: Well, I have to quote our website, which pretty much says it best: “Aside from all that you think you know about the word Vintage its true definition means ‘classic’ and ‘timeless.’ Most fashion these days lean heavy on the latest trends that are here today and gone tomorrow. Trends don’t last and there’s no longevity or innovation in doing what everyone else is doing simply for the sake of chasing a dollar. We’re redefining the term ‘Vintage’ back to its true essence and setting out to design timeless, fashionable items that are true to our artistic roots.”
To add to that, “Limited” comes into play because of the “Limited Edition” nature of our apparel. We produce small quantities of each piece. This helps to keep a watchful eye on producing the highest quality goods and makes them rare collectors editions. We’re more for the heads who are not into the, let’s say, mass produced goods and brands out there that everyone else has on. With the limited number of goods comes a greater value and higher attention to the detail and craftsmanship. As a matter of fact, each and every item is closely inspected before they ever leave our hands and into our customers hands. That really means a lot to us. We offer quality. Collector editions. Not mass produced goods. Something many larger brands neglect. We’re also about the art.
BallerStatus.com: How would you define Vintage Clothing’s signature style and unique selling points, in what way do you differ from other brands out there?
Shaun Burkowski: Let’s face it. We’re not corporate. We’re a couple of guys who have invested our life savings, time, energy, passions, talents, art and resources into making the best quality products we can. Although we don’t have an elaborate budget, our items are produced with extremely high scrutiny. That just means we have such a critical eye on everything we make. Also, we’re all about the art! It’s one of our two main focus points — art and quality. The two go hand in hand. Last but also very important, when you produce a series of pieces and there is only 500 of a particular design available, it means that piece has a level of exclusivity to it. That means there are only 500 people in the world who can have that piece. Some of our designs have more than 500, and some have much less than that. The point is we make wearable and collectable art for those who appreciate it and appreciate what we’re about.
BallerStatus.com: Your company is based in Baltimore and Atlanta. How would you describe the local fashion scenes in both cities? Are there a lot of opportunities for upcoming and underground brands?
Shaun Burkowski: Both of our cities have their own unique culmination of cultures, fashion sense, and identities. I wouldn’t say we fit the formula of what you might expect from a Baltimore or Atlanta fashion brand because we really do our own thing. With Baltimore being so close to New York and DC, there is a grip of underground brands that come out each year. With the current economy in the state it’s at, now is especially hard for any new brands to breakout. Retailers are tightening up ship, carrying only brands they’ve found sell and less willing to try new ones. Consumers are also spending much less these days, due to increasing costs across the board. One thing is evident, the stronger brands will come out of this ok, while the weaker ones and even some of the major department store staples will cease to exist. I think opportunities arise as consumers shift focus to investing in their own individuality and less trend following. We’re in the age of “do my own thing,” which for smaller brands like us makes connecting with consumers on a personal level all that much more important.
BallerStatus.com: What does the process look like of you designing apparel that is appealing to you and to your target group?
Shaun Burkowski: Honestly. We just make what we like and hope other people can connect with that. It’s just about being sincere to ourselves and going with an idea or concept that means something to us. It’s like an emcee freestyling to a beat. They ride the beat and come up with stuff on the spot and go with that until whatever is trying to come out does. The same can be said for what we do. There’s no real formula or timetable. We don’t even stick to a seasonal schedule. We just make what we like and so far that seems to work out for the best. The culture we live in, the music we listen to, the things we see, they’re all churned in and what you get back is the result. As for targeting a certain group, I guess you could say we are that certain group, so if we stay true to that, we’ll continue to connect with others on the same level.
BallerStatus.com: You offer two types of collections: the Signature Series and the Limited Edition Art Print Series, which contains specially made, limited availability items. What made you decide to launch these two lines?
Shaun Burkowski: The brand has a split identity of sorts. We have two sets of releases and each serve its own purpose. The Signature Series is your everyday wear or lifestyle apparel. These pieces are unique color combinations and graphics based on our brand identity. There’s special focus put on premium comfort and durability. What I mean by that, for example is, we have a hip-hop artist who wears our Brown Classic shirt whenever he goes out on tour. He tells me how much he wears that tee and how it gets beat up in his luggage. His kids beat on it, and it gets washed all the time and still looks fresh. That tee is just a solid brown and literally classic looking shirt with our logo printed in a velvet feeling print, so it looks worn and soft. It feels good and it lasts! It’s still unique because of the printing technique and contrasted color combinations, so the design aspects are there, but the shirts just last. In today’s consumer mentality, you have to think about that stuff. We’ve been thinking about that for four years now. If a consumer likes our brand, our vision, and wants to support it by wearing something that sports our logo and brand identity… we have a whole series dedicated to these staples in your wardrobe.
The foundation of the brand and its namesake really comes from our “Limited Edition” art print shirts. What makes this series unique is not only are they limited edition, but each one is hand numbered on the back of the woven labels and each one comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by the artist of the piece and certified. It’s essentially collectable and wearable art.
Both the Signature Series and Limited Edition Art Series are made of the same quality material and same attention to details. Most of our stuff is cut & sew. All privately made.
BallerStatus.com: Tell me more about the new line. Are you working with certain colors or styles?
Shaun Burkowski: We just dropped two new items for our fall collection. One is a t-shirt called Rock Is Steady, which pays homage to the 80s breaker culture by adding a unique twist on a familiar crew and done in an 80s color palette. The print has blue and purple hues on a smooth gradient fade. The deep black cotton tee really makes that pop. There’s a progression of a breaker doing a headspin on the full back that fades as well. It’s tagless and standard cut for the b-boys and we did some market research talking with some breakers to get input on a shirt they would wanna wear. We incorporated the feedback into our design and that shirt is the result. We’re big fans of the classic hip-hop culture and breaking is such a crucial part. Today I think people neglect the roots of the culture and certain arts have faded away. We can’t blame anybody, but ourselves if we let that happen and I’d like to see the b-boys make a comeback. Also, specially made for this shirt is a mixtape we put together. The mixtape is hosted by Theory Hazit and features some of your favorite tracks to break to. It’s called Breakers Only and it’s free with each purchase, so you can get into the mood of the shirt.
We also have a first in our cut & sew accessories line. Our debut item is a fitted hat themed “Art Addiction.” The title is pretty self-explanatory, but it might take you a minute to soak in. We took a heroine addict, or what you might see one doing, and this time the user is injecting “art” in the veins. It’s sort of an anti-drug or art is my drug of choice type of vibe. The meaning is actually much heavier than that. Art, as I said earlier, is a universal medium. Whether you’re a painter, a graffiti artist, or you’re a journalist using facts to create your imagery. Whether you’re an emcee using poetry and a mic, or a beat producer using records and drums as your brush. Those who have a passion to create have an addiction for their art form. No matter what that art form may be.
BallerStatus.com: What resources do you rely on for inspiration and fresh ideas?
Shaun Burkowski: Music, movies, books, magazines, blogs, our culture, art galleries, street corners, little sketches on napkins while sitting on hold with the DMV (laughs). Come on, there is no real way to explain that one. How is any piece of art influenced? It just has to be sincere and original. Sometimes it’s just about coming up with an idea and then fusing that idea with the best possible medium for it.
BallerStatus.com: Which design is Vintage Limited’s best-seller? Explain the story behind the design and how it came about.
Shaun Burkowski: Hmmm… that’s a tough one. I would have to say it’s a combination of our Black Friday hoodies and the Lion In The City limited edition t-shirt. The Black Friday hoodie came out as a result of Eric and myself wanting to do something to release on the biggest shopping day of the year, which of course is Black Friday in November. Here on the East Coast, it gets pretty cold around then and we hadn’t put out anything for the colder weather yet, so we knew we wanted to do a hooded jacket.
Eric had created this amazing sketch of a statuesque Lion illustration. The details in the mane and the hand drawn lines were just amazing. The face on the Lion was a combination of fierce and boldness and the piece was screaming to be put on this jacket we wanted to produce. I took that illustration and tried a few different color combinations and palettes from browns and golds to earth tones. When I fit the combination of the solid black with the silver foil, it just clicked. You have to match the mood of the piece to a set of colors that best tells the story just like an emcee has to find that right beat to lay down a certain mood for their lyrics. It’s about finding that right balance to put the whole thing together and when you find that balance it just works.
The back graffiti tag was done by a friend of mine who is a graffiti artist named Fasm from California. I like his style and he’s never dated with his tags like some graff artists can be. He stays current and uses a lot of different approaches and so I tapped him to do a tag for us. Originally the tag Fasm did was only going to be used as a very small part on the larger Lion In The City shirt illustration. The tag on that shirt was just a small element like a tag on the side of a building. Nothing special. When I got the art back I got the file large enough that I found a different use for it and decided to try that on the back left side of the hoodie. The combination of the statue looking Lion on the front and the raw hand done graffiti tag on the back had just the right combination to make that piece perfect.
BallerStatus.com: Tell me more about your affinity with hip-hop and how it influences your work.
Shaun Burkowski: The company heads and designers behind Vintage Clothing Limited are basically Eric, Nine, and myself. Aside from designing clothes, I’m also a 15-year graphic designer and I run a freelance design company called Pinnacle Rhythms. I also happen to do music production since about 1998. In 2000, some of my production was picked up by MTV and VH1 and they have been utilizing my beats for their reality shows for the past eight years now. I also work with a hand full of underground hip-hop artists and put out a project under the name of my company. The project titled SOTSA is actually an acronym for the full title and has an all-instrumental version as well as a version with lyrics done by collabs. Think DJ Muggs type of steelo. That’s on iTunes and was put out in 2004 and sells pretty well. I guess emcees are always looking for fresh beats, so that filled a void.
Eric is also in the music industry, but in a different role. He’s a member of an amazing underground hip-hop crew called The Remnant and goes by the artist name Drastic. Eric has been rhyming since he was 16 and grew up on hip-hop and came out of NY. His crew has a phenomenal album called Anthem of a Life that was released in 2004 same as mine. I’m a big fan of his crew and that’s actually how we connected. I contacted Eric out of respect for his crew when at that time they needed a website and the two of us got to talking. When I found out he did the cover art for Anthem of a Life, which also happens to be one of my favorite album covers ever, the interest in doing a collaboration started. We built a friendship from there and realized that we had similar goals and ambitions among similar creative talents in design and art. Two years later we decided to combine our efforts and talents and go into business to put our art on the apparel medium.
BallerStatus.com: Vintage Limited has been around since 2007, so you relatively new to the market. What are some of the major obstacles you ran into since the company’s launch? Like, things you expected to be much easier but turned out to be bottlenecks.
Shaun Burkowski: I’d say the biggest obstacle has been breaking into the retail market. New brands are hard pressed to find boutiques willing to pick them up and try them out. Buyers right now seam to support their strongest sellers while turning away newer unproven labels such as ours or other smaller designers. They don’t want to risk putting unproven products on the racks. That really bugs me because I know we have such great potential to sell to those sensory buyers out there. The consumers that need to see and feel the garments before committing to a purchase even know they love the designs. We definitely understand the importance of having those retail boutique relationships and it’s been somewhat of a struggle to get into the club (so to speak). We’re hoping by showcasing at Magic and some of these other tradeshows to break some of those barriers and get on more shelves across the globe. We have a list of potential boutiques we’d like to get on board with so we’re gonna stay diligent and make that happen. In the meantime, while the US economy finds its footing we’re also committed to our online store and that’s been a great asset for us so far.