When Joshy D asked friend/popular San Francisco tattoo artist Mike Giant to draw some designs for a few t-shirts in 2003, both never imagined that their $500 “investment” -– that they didn’t even realize, at the time, was an investment -– would turn into a brand known today as REBEL8. Maybe sometimes, jumping into something without a plan and doing it strictly because you have a passion for it, is a recipe for success. If so, REBEL8 proves that statement correct, and it’s helped the San Francisco-based clothing label grow over the past seven years.
Founder Joshy D. is the business mind behind REBEL8 and artist Mike Giant is the brain behind its artistic vision. While both men have worked hand-in-hand with each other over the years, their company has grown into an eight-man operation since its 2003 inception, and as Joshy explains, “Anybody in the company could have a voice,” in regard to their designs and direction. These designs are the foundation that’s helped them evolve into one of the rising street wear brands of today. And … that growth has been all organic. For example, when Lil Wayne hollered at them in 2009 to get a custom fitted, he reached down from his superstar pedestal because he genuinely liked their line, not because he was paid for an endorsement. That’s saying a lot these days.
Due to their rising popularity, we felt it time to chat with REBEL8 to find out a little about their journey over the past seven years. We had a chance to chat with Joshy, via phone, to discuss the clothing brand’s history, their humble beginnings, and their success. While they’ve come a long wa, Joshy says they still have a long way to go. So, read on, to get a feel of REBEL8’s journey thus far.
BallerStatus.com: You launched REBEL8 in 2003. Seven years later, it’s become a player in street wear realm. Looking back, did you ever see the brand getting to this point?
Joshy D: I never thought we’d be where we are today. Looking back, it’s still a dream. I’m really appreciative of how we’ve grown as a brand and how we’ve gathered a loyal following. Every step of the way is enjoyable and I like to pay attention to it, but at the same time, it’s all about the big picture and the future of the brand.
BallerStatus.com: I read it started with a $500 investment? Can you talk about the journey a little from there? Like, after the initial $500, where did it go?
Joshy D: Yeah, I did start REBEL8 with $500 cash. Back then I didn’t even know the term “investment.” It wasn’t even about that, that’s just all I literally had. I didn’t have a business plan, I still don’t have a business plan. That wasn’t important; it was more about doing something and just getting started. No matter where you’re at or how much money you have, that doesn’t matter. The question is are you willing to commit to something and actually do it?
BallerStatus.com: After you took you’re $500, you printed a bunch of shirts. Where did you go from there?
Joshy D: It was directly flipped, over and over again. You make as many shirts as you can make with that amount of money. That’s exactly what I did. The next step was taking all the money that you made, which was doubled, and you make more shirts and keep going. That’s all there is to it. It’s not a secret at all. It’s f***in’ just like drug dealing, you know? Same thing. Flip that shit.
There are other brands that have been around for seven years as well, and they’re way bigger than us. You’re already kind of set on a different pace than someone with a lot more money. Once you have money, you can make a lot more, but it’s just starting up when you have none. That’s the hard part.
BallerStatus.com: What’s been the most difficult thing you’ve gone through over the years with the line?
Joshy D: Man, I guess trying to keep growing without selling out, and going into full-on chain stores and doing a lot of things that are not good for the longevity of the brand. We’ve never done cheesy products just to sell. Not taking on any investors and me keeping sole ownership of it, that’s been hard as well. You know, refusing a lot of money that’s been shown to me. That kinda thing always weighs on your mind, like “How long are you in it for? What’s really worth it to you at the end of the day?” For me, it’s more of a lifestyle I’ve created with owning your own company. It’s kinda one of those things where you’re in control of your day-to-day. That’s more important to me than actually a single paycheck for sure.
BallerStatus.com: Can you tell us a little about how you and Mike Giant came together? I know you approached him, but why did you choose Mike over all the other graffiti artists hailing from the Bay?
Joshy D: The whole thing with Mike was that, I met him in 1999 to get my very first tattoo. The minute I met him, we kinda just kicked it and became really cool. It wasn’t until a few years later that I asked him to draw up some stuff so I could screen print it on some t-shirts … and REBEL8 just started like that. It was really organic. It wasn’t anything like, “This is what we’re gonna do, we’re gonna start a company…” It was like … I just wanted to print a few t-shirts. I didn’t have the biggest aspirations, right away, when it came to something like that.
It’s just basically, he’s more my friend than anything. It’s just so easy to work with him. It was friends first, but also doing business with him, it was just I could rely on him. He wasn’t flaky. Being that he was a tattoo artist, he knew about appointments and booking time. It was one of them things, when it came to drawing, he just scheduled time when he was drawing for REBEL8 like a tattoo appointment, so it was easy.
BallerStatus.com: Tell us about the name of the brand. Where does that come from, and mean?
Joshy D: I thought of REBEL8 around the time we started the company. It was just a twist on words, a play on words. The real meaning behind it was that I never really wanted to have a name that had any connotation to it. I wanted to think of an original name that all the meaning and all the purpose behind it was created by us. I didn’t wanna have a name that already had a stigma to it, so REBEL8 was sorta like a play on revelation. But aside from how, in a lot of people’s minds, REBEL8 is a lot of things and it was all created by us.
BallerStatus.com: What’s the creative process with the designs for your line? Do you let Mike run with his own ideas, or is it a collaborative effort?
Joshy D: It’s a collaborative effort between a lot of us. Anybody in the company could have a voice, like suggest a product or a graphic. Everybody has ideas. Just because you have a different job, doesn’t mean you can’t think of other sh**. He comes up with concepts, we come up with concepts, and it’s pretty much a combination of all of that.
BallerStatus.com: Is it difficult to pump out new ideas and designs season after season?
Joshy D: It’s always a challenge. But I think it always should be a challenge. You just gotta keep pushing forward and try to be creative and try something new. At the same time, keep something consistent. I think that it’s that type of balance that’s the difficult part. We manage to do it, and I think a lot of brands do to for a lot longer. It’s always difficult, but it won’t defeat us.
It’s not easy, but at the same time, we don’t play it off like it is easy. We work damn hard at it. And when we put it out, and if anybody likes it, that’s awesome to me. That’s what it’s really about.
BallerStatus.com: You started off slinging your shirts out of a messenger bag in San Francisco. Obviously, those days are long gone. Can you tell us what life is like, day-to-day, running REBEL8?
Joshy D: Day-to-day, everybody has their own job and task. But, pretty much all the operation is out of San Francisco. We have an office and warehouse. That’s pretty much what’s always going on from here. With me, I always get here before 9 am, all day, and I’ll be here usually until 7 pm. During the day, I run out to meetings, come back, have meetings here, talk to you on the phone … all that stuff. Just making sure everything’s running smooth.
BallerStatus.com: Can you tell us about some of the new stuff you guys got coming?
Joshy D: We have plenty of new collaborations dropping that I’m really excited about. The next big one is Dickies, droppin this July. We have a few guest artist capsule collections as well. Our skateboard decks are selling now and we plan to push further in the skateboard industry. And as a staple, we launch a complete new REBEL8 collection every 3 months. Know that we’ve got a few things in the works that I just can’t talk about but I’m super hyped on. Stay tuned!
BallerStatus.com: Since you’re such a small operation — a lot of brands will stick to t-shirts, but you’re branching off with jackets, button-ups, hats, etc. How hard is it to get past just doing tees?
Joshy D: It was really hard to go past t-shirts for us. For any brand to go past t-shirts to going to what a lot of people say “real clothing”, it’s tough. That’s the jump that you’ll have to make if you really wanna do it. We’re really fortunate that it’s a step up in the right direction. It’s another level for REBEL8, and we love it as much as our customers seem to. I can’t wait until we take it even further; pants, shoes..sky’s the limit.
BallerStatus.com: I’ve noticed over the past couple years, a lot of celebrities are starting to rock your stuff. Did you trip out when huge stars like Lil Wayne support the brand, without getting paid to do so?
Joshy D: It trips me out all the time. It’s crazy. It’s bananas. At the same time it’s pretty funny because I really don’t watch MTV or keep up to date with pop culture. For a huge celebrity like Wayne, one of the biggest in the world, to notice us and rock R8 is fucking rad. I don’t think it gets much cooler than that. Big thanks to him and all the other celebs that stay dipped in REBEL8.
Thanks to Ballerstatus.com for this opportunity to share my story and shout out to all the REBEL8ERS.
For more information about REBEL8, or to cop some of their gear, visit REBEL8.com.