Rap music blares out of Phillip Wong’s laptop speakers as he flips through a specimen book, searching for a typeface to use for the Black Friday sale graphic he is designing for his clothing company called Reluxe. When he decides to create the typeface by hand himself, his partner, Andre Lentz, who is standing behind him, gives him an approving nod. Skateboards, sneakers, and jerseys are scattered on the floor of Phil’s tiny dorm room, which is where he and Andre conduct meetings and run their clothing line based on “grime, shine, and design,” according to the bio on their website, www.reluxenyc.com.
Reluxe is an artistic endeavor that was originally funded by Phil’s high school graduation gift money in the fall of 2007. Its name popped into his head one day and “just sounded right.” When his original partner was not contributing to the clothing line as much as he had hoped, he came together with Andre to create the only serious clothing line on campus. Andre, 20, an economics major, is more of a businessman, and Phil, also 20, a graphics design major, is more artistically driven, but they each participate in every part of the largely independent process. They come up with ideas, transform the ideas into art, send the art to printers (who Phil says can be “a total hassle,”) and sell the finished product on their website. They also contact buyers at the beginning of a fall or spring season with a “line sheet”, which includes their products and an order sheet, to push their products into stores.
So far, the reception on campus to Reluxe has been great. Many students can be seen walking around in Reluxe’s signature “NY Lurkers” t-shirt, which features a design playing off the LA Lakers official logo. Usually there is one stand out piece per collection that gains popularity, which the “NY Lurkers” shirts and hats were for them in their last collection.
The colors in their current collection are mostly toned down, as opposed to the bright, flashy colors that are popular in many other streetwear collections. The boys try to “keep trends in mind”, but don’t chase them. “The goal is not to follow trends but to create movements,” Phil says. They both have an impressive knowledge of fashion which influences their designs and pushes Reluxe to go beyond their own personal tastes to be an affordable, unique line made for other young people.
“We’re trying to fill the void where no streetwear company is going. They’re way too clean,” Phil says. “They’re trying to dumb down streetwear.”
Phillip, an uptown Manhattan native, and Andre, from Park Slope, Brooklyn, are knowledgeable of streetwear and its history through their urban upbringings, and it shows in their clothes. “Our inspiration comes from growing up and being around that scene,” Andre says. “It’s not always pretty and glamorous.” Hence, the “Stay Grimey” tagline displayed in their current collection.
Right now, Phil and Andre are preparing their Spring 2010 collection. They are playing with the idea of designing the collection with an “old-school, nostalgic” theme. They are currently confined to t-shirts and hats because money is holding them back. They hope to someday move into cut-and-sew projects, such as jackets, which would require them branching out to China.
“The goal is to one day have a Reluxe store,” Andre says. “But that’s not even where it ends. The ultimate goal is to be a successful company with a lot of followers and to stay true like Supreme and Reason. These companies are versatile and they set trends.”
“They’re tastemakers,” Phil adds.
But they do admit that they have a long way to go. Phil’s roommate, Tristan, compares Reluxe to a “prepubescent teen.” “They’re still trying to figure out what they’re into,” he says. Right now, they are working on gaining recognition and hype.
Promotion for Reluxe is primarily done through word of mouth and through friends in higher places. To Andre and Phil, connections are everything. “The more you’re doing, the more people want to work with you,” Phil says. Their line has already gained attention on blogs and in magazines. Professional athletes, such as NBA player James Harden, were pictured wearing Reluxe after Andre and Phil sponsored the 2009 NBA Draft photo shoot with other big name brands. Even though Reluxe is new to the streetwear scene, it can be found in several stores such as Blades, West, Pedestrian, Union, and even The Heist in Australia.
But the most admirable thing about Reluxe, besides the professionalism and drive that Phil and Andre exhibit, is that although they sell for profit, they do not make any profit themselves. Their company requires a lot of time and effort from two already busy college students, yet every dollar that Andre and Phil make goes back into the clothing company. As Phil says, “There is always a cost to be conscious about.” The cost of production, such as making hats, can get quite expensive. But they hope it pays off as their company grows and one day becomes a lucrative “tastemaker” like the ones they look up to.
Perhaps subconsciously, Phil and Andre use their line to pay tribute to the city culture and fashion that they know and love. Phil inadvertently sums up Reluxe in one simple sentence: “We’re just trying to go back to what it’s really about.” What “it” is, he doesn’t say. It’s engrained in the clothing.