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Freshness Feature: KULTJAH

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Interview by Thomas Bradley
Produced by Liquidrice

15 Orchard St. 2nd floor,
Norwalk, CT

Discuss the name “Kultjah” and how you define your brand in the marketplace today.

“Kultjah” derives from the word culture, which we used to define our movement. We came out of a era that was like the re-birth of street conciousness, and knowledge of self…a time where it wasn’t cool to “bite” or just “hijack” other niggas’s styles. We started out designing clothes as an extension of being writers and all around trend setters. We were “Skurban” back in 85. The only cats in our area who grew up in the projects that skated brand new Jordan 1’s and had fly ass jean jackets with the burners on the back. We went from freakin our own gear to doing custom pieces for the hood.. This eventually led to us, and others defining our style as Kultjah, because we were combining conscious style with fly street shit… fast forward to today’s marketplace, and it’s perfect timing for us to re-surface. We’ve been independent as fuck since day one, flipping our own cake to maintain our movement. We’ve learned from other companies mistakes. We never wanted to prostitute ourselves like, for instance.. FUBU. We respect what they did for the market and urban fashion, but that bubble popped cause investors had them cookin’ up wack shit. Now the market has returned to what we were doin years ago and it’s possible for independent labels to blow with limited editions of fly shit without the backing of super manufacturing machines that eventually will destroy your brand and identity..

The Connecticut skate shop/boutique is certainly a fresh spot in terms of interior design and stock but what is it like running a lifestyle shop outside the street couture triangle of N.Y., L.A., and Japan?

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We are located in Norwalk, CT which is 15mins from the Bronx, 30mins from Manhatten we have a tri-state customer base as well as Massachussetts ,we are right off of I-95. Naturally the foot traffic is not the same but we have a lot of loyal customers who look to our shop as the go to place to get fitted. We are CT’s first and only Street/Skate Boutique with deep roots in the community. Our section of the state has an interesting mixture of hoods and suburbs with both factions sampling each other’s styles. It’s not uncommon to drive down the street and see a Hooptie and Bentley parked next to each other. CT is one of the richest states in the country and an ideal spot to grow a lifestyle brand…Our area was dubbed “The Gold Coast” by Forbes magazine.

With the brand steeped in skate culture and the shop catering to a skater clientele, is there a Kultjah skate team, are there demos for the neighborhood kids, and what names from that area should heads be up on regarding local talent?

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Yes there is a Kultjah Lab/ Bldg 14 skate team. Bldg 14 is our new skate/street graphic based brand. All of our riders rep the shop and Bldg 14 HARD.

The team is anchored by “Q- Busbee” our 11 year old phenom who is one of the best in his age group in the country along with Mikey Caruso, Dennis “Baywatch” Feldler, and Nick & Dan Radmere. Our shop has done demos with Five Boro Listen & Bodega, and we’re currently working on a Demo with the DGK Team.

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What influenced the design of your upcoming work with Reebok?

Our calabo with Reebok was influenced by our lifestyle and direction as a company we wanted to create a sneaker that stood out, combined uncommon fabrications and captured our rugged essence. We’re going to incorporate our custom batik/dyed fabric in every toe cap, so each sneaker will have it’s own character. The rest of the shoe will be constructed from premium, weathered leather and rugged burlap with our embroidered Sun logo on the heel. We flipped the Reebok vector with suede and a thick painted stripe. We are also working on adding a pump which may delay the release, but it’s gonna be sick.

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How do you regard the interest international sporting brands like Nike and Reebok have been showing in skate/street culture and is there ever a conflict of interest in terms of the outsider nature of the street/skate community and big business?

We think the interest in the skate/street culture is a double edged sword. Nike and Reebok have learned from their mistakes and definitely made moves in the right direction. It’s a good thing when people who are involved in the skate/street culture have an opportunity to make a living off of the movement. Along with making a profit off of the skate culture companies are now giving back to help renovate and open parks around the world. But of course with all the hype and money behind these companies, some smaller shoe companies suffer, it’s hard sometime for a small company who doesn’t have the dough to compete with the “Big Boys” but this is skating….what other sport can a guy who’s been skating for 10/15 years compete in a billion dollar industry?

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The New Era team has really stepped their game up by working with the best our culture has to offer. What were your ideas about the type of cap you’d create for them and what do you think about the end product?

We actually have a few concepts in the works for a new era calabo…one combines similar rugged fabrications as our sneaker. One thing that stands our about our products in the quality and attention to detail we focus on, combined with our vibrant colors, which we create through our dying process. We’d like to freak a crazy color fitted with our custom colors and fabrics…coming soon…..

Jewelry designer Gabriel Urist is a friend of Freshness and has prominently staked his claim as our culture’s go-to-guy when it comes to precious metals. What was it like working with such a talented professional and how do you think the product will be received?

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It was cool working with Gabe, he is a professional and great at what he does. There was mutual respect on both parts, Gabe loved our logo and wanted to revamp the original medallion which was first cast by Ba Ba Heru at studio of Ptah in NY. When it was time to reproduce our medallions on a smaller scale we knew Gabe was the go to guy and we admired his craftsmanship. The product has been well received. We actually only made them for immediate crew members and fam, but since we put them on our myspace, we’ve gotten mad comments from people who want to cop chains, and rock a piece of Kultjah.

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What impact do you hope to make on the 2006 scene as a brand, what will we be seeing in the next 6 months, and what has been inspiring you recently?

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The impact will be big…06/07 we are taking it back to our roots. The collection will consist of our trademark, vibrant, custom dyed colors and cleaver, yet conscious visual concepts. The next six months, we’re will be concentrating on re-introducing the KULTJAH brand back to the wholesale/retail market throught trade shows, colab projects, guerilla marketing etc. The past few years we’ve been focusing on our boutiques…making quiet money, but now the game needs us. Like we said, we come from and era where biting was not allowed, and that’s what missing…originality. I mean, come on…you got companies who’s whole concept is based on recycled hip-hop imagery and phrases. Most of these dudes never lived the lifestyle or culture their stealing from, until it became “cool”. Such is life, but how many of these companies are hittin’ Ghostface or Slick Rick off when they snatch a lyric or print their face?…they got kids to feed…what’s really good? That’s what inspires us...the challenge to create original, hot shit that people will recognize and respect….KULTJAH BIYACH!!!

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CT's First and Only Official Street Boutique Specializing in KULTJAH DEZIGNS, BLDG 14, Limited Edition Kicks, Premium Body Oils & Incense, Collectable Vinyl Figures and Select Skateboard Decks & Supplies.