Alyasha Owerka-Moore, PF Flyers Brand Historian – Interview Part II
We recently had the chance to speak with legendary designer, Alyasha Owerka-Moore. In Part I of our conversation, we learned about Aly’s background, his admiration for PF Flyers, and some interesting insights about the heritage footwear brand. For our second and final segment, we dig deeper into the history and direction of PF Flyers, as well hear more about Aly’s unique perspective on several pertinent topics.
RD: Can you tell us a little more about the Ambassador program at PF Flyers and what the relationship is like between the brand and these individuals? What role does the program play in telling the brand’s story?
AOM: Ouigi Theodore [from the Brooklyn Circus] was the first brand ambassador for PF, and then I came on shortly after. We’re the two brand ambassadors for the brand. I was kind of like the West coast guy, he’s the East coast guy, and we’re almost like the Odd Couple. He’s considerably more polished, I think I’m more like the Oscar Madison.
But, instead of just hiring high profile people to wave the flag, the decision was made to work with people that have a genuine, authentic affinity for the brand, an attachment to the brand. And in doing so it’s been an interesting journey, because we’ve started to discover more and more people that are really fans of PF Flyers, and have their own little collections. So it’s not like, “oh, let’s just use this guy because he looks the part.” We really meticulously spend a lot of time locating and networking, and creating this network of people that are big fans.
Then we have a young man named Cal Travis Oaks, who is from Knoxville, Tennessee. He’s a skateboarder, he’s a film maker, he builds motorcycles, he rides a Triumph. He has killer style, he gets it. He’s nineteen years old. He makes all these really cool Super 8 films. He just fits.
A lot of it is just being involved with creatives. Even with Jason Adams, who I guess might be labeled the skate ambassador, his ambassadorship is more Jason Adams as a personality and as an American icon. He’s a painter, he’s a father, he’s a husband, he’s an iconic skateboarder – definitely an individual.
We just started working with Josh Harmony and Lance Mountain Junior, who are both artists, skateboarders, and also fathers. So the goal amongst the ambassadors is to have a unified visual language, even though it’s their individual take. To find that many like-minded people, it’s really difficult, but something we’ve worked really hard on and is essential to telling the brand’s story.
RD: Although the universe of mens clothing tends to be very segregated in different levels of granularity (i.e. heritage vs. streetwear), there’s seemingly more overlap today between the many “worlds” than ever before. Can you speak to the connection between (raw) denim and sneakers? Specifically, why is PF Flyers relevant for denim heads?
AOM: This is going to hurt a lot of feelings. A long time ago a friend at a “reputable online resource” wrote a review on Fiberops and said, “I don’t know what rockabilly guy is gonna spend two hundred and fifty dollars on a pair of selvedge denim.” That’s really funny, because the Internet has created what I refer to as the “uninformed authority”. Many folks appear as an aficionado or an authority because they are a conduit of information.
If you go on eBay and just type in “vintage selvedge denim”, 90% of the sellers have usernames with the words “pink black Cadillac”, “1945”, “54”, or whatever. All of the seller names were references to rockabilly and/or heritage. The concept of and making selvedge denim comes from the vintage/heritage community, the people that kept selvedge denim alive. Undeniably. You know, even with Evisu. If you went to Evisu store twenty years ago, that whole Japanese denim boom is based off of making better 1940’s jeans than Americans did in the 40’s. That’s why they bought all the looms. So that’s undeniable.
What it’s morphed into is based on economics–making a good pair of selvedge denim is expensive. The concept of sneaker collecting is about aspirational goods. So the way it’s commodified turns into hype and trend. But at the end of the day, for the hype consumer, it’s about aspiration and recognizing a brand and how expensive a brand is. For the heritage consumer, it’s about quality and the style and a lifestyle.
Originally, it’s turned into that to a degree with the hype consumer, but not so much about quality. We’re buying it because it’s expensive and it’s in trend. Recently I walked into a certain unnamed shop and I was wearing a pair of 3sixteen CS-100x‘s, which is one of my favorite jeans, because it’s just a classic 40’s stovepipe denim. The kid at the store was like, “oh, those are really big selvedge jeans, you know that’s a pretty wide leg,” kind of alluding to something about being period correct. I said there wasn’t such a thing as a slim selvedge jean until about 10 years ago, so from a heritage standpoint that concept doesn’t even make sense.
Anybody that’s into heritage, and into the heritage/history of denim. I think that’s where the connection is with PF and denim heads.
RD: In an interview a couple years ago with The Hundreds, you said the one designer that has inspired you the most was Ralph Lauren. How has he affected the way you approach design and in a broader sense, how has he shaped the denim and apparel industry?
AMO: By being unwavering. By being very clear on all fronts what his end goal was from product to presentation to the way he sells the product. It never changes. Ralph Lauren doesn’t follow trend, he doesn’t need to. He’s created a brand that is trendless. The polo shirt has come in and out of trend, but largely the brand and the company as a whole has one of the strongest brand languages ever. He’s created this picture that doesn’t change, and he’s adamant. And at the same time from a business perspective in doing that, you create presence and strength and respect. It commands respect. He’s, in my eyes, a genius.
Even though he’s kind of a newer version of a heritage brand, he’s created and opened the door for a ton of other way older brands, brands that are a hundred years older than him. I don’t think Filson or Pendleton would have the new found interest that they do had it not been for Ralph Lauren or RRL. Gap wouldn’t be making a Chambray shirt had it not been for Ralph Lauren. J. Crew would not be making a chambray shirt had it not been for Ralph Lauren. He didn’t invent it, but he brought it back and he put it on the map, and he made it a staple in all of our closets.
If you look at old ads from the 70s and 80s, like a dude would be wearing like selvedge denim, a watch cap, a denim shirt or a wash plaid shirt, and a pea coat. And then go look at Tumblr now. These are all print ads that he was doing in the 70s and 80s. I feel like Ralph Lauren opened the door for all.
RD: How has skateboarding personally influenced your career in fashion and design? How do you think skate culture has influenced the brands we see today?
AMO: Skateboarding is about the individual and its culture applauds individuality and creativity. Anybody who’s a skateboarder has mutual respect for other people that are generally skateboarders just because of the fact we were kind of like–at least in the 80s–the lowest of the low, like the untouchables in the Indian caste system.
And it’s such a DIY culture, one that celebrates creativity and individuality. Some of the most creative and successful people that I’ve met have come out of skateboarding, purely because that mentality is part of the culture. You know you look at a lot of streetwear and heritage stuff, the majority of the guys that are involved in the front line of it are skateboarders. I won’t say were, because you kind of don’t stop thinking like that. Even if you don’t really get on a board that often you’re still a skateboarder.
And just having a different eye. Skateboarders look at things from a different perspective. It’s not the status quo, we covet our industry because we never wanted it to be big box. Yeah we wanted the dollars, but at the same time, we’re very protective of the industry and the culture.
I can go anywhere in the world, meet a skateboarder, and become friends with them for life. Nine times out of ten, they’ll also be involved with some sort of creative industry.
It’s just a pop cultural phenomena. There’s tons of brands, I could rattle off forty brands or forty names of people that have that sort of influence that come from skateboarding culture. One of the nicest vintage style tubular shirts that I’ve ever seen is by Phil from Ladywhite…skateboarder.
RD: You’ve mentioned before that brands should have a social or political message. What’s the message behind PF Flyers? How has that message changed during the revitalization of the brand?
I don’t know that PF should have a political message. I think the need for a social political message statement is definitely my own as far as feeling like a brand is a sounding board or a platform to say something.
As for PF though, we recently implemented the “unfollow the crowd” message; basically what that boils down to is express your individuality and don’t be afraid to not fit into the status quo. The mere facts that we have a rich genuine heritage, should be recognized as an American Heritage brand and that we’ve taken the time to produce shoes in the US with long term intent again is a huge social message unto itself.
RD: I’d say that’s a pretty good social message.
AMO: Especially now, if you do some research, you will see PF is a bonafide American heritage brand, undeniably. I think that’s part of the message too, to do your own research. Create your own closet. It doesn’t have to be what somebody pins on Pinterest, it can be whatever you want.
RD: You started the brand Alphanumeric early in your career and are now launching another, North Manual Vocational. How has starting a brand today changed from twenty years ago? Is it easier because of increased accessibility or is it more difficult as that increased accessibility has made for a more crowded market?
AMO: Both. It’s easier as far as accessibility, and then it becomes harder to stand out in the crowd because everybody’s making the same thing gradually. North Manual is a niche brand, hyper-niche, even within the traditionalists, the concept is hyper-niche. It’s a 50s New York vocational school, street kid style.
It’s based on a kid that might have grown up in Brooklyn listening to rock & roll and went to a vocational school. So you worked in a wood shop, learned how to be a bricklayer, or maybe took an aviation class which was available. Even from a workwear perspective, 50s workwear is way different than when you say workwear, 90% of people think 30s and 40s dustbowl kind of stuff.
There was a whole other workwear where there was like wool gabardine work pants and jackets. It will take a very defined and confident customer to wear it, but that’s the way to come back. I’m not even worried about fitting in, because it is for such a minute, niche customer. New York gets it, a lot of Japanese kids get it, some people just like it and they’ll just buy t-shirts because it’s something new.
But you know, I think another hard part, especially for somebody from my generation, is social media. Since people are so conditioned to being fed through the machine, you have to perpetually feed the machine. So I feel like for me the present generation is more about creating content than creating product, and as a designer that’s kind of disheartening.
There were less brands back then too, so it was easier to differentiate. Because of technology it becomes so much easier to build a brand. Back then it was harder: you had to get on the ground, you had to build and visit factories, you had to go talk to the pattern maker, you had to go source fabrics yourself. You didn’t have all these agencies, you didn’t have people that printed stickers online, you didn’t have people that printed t-shirts online that you could just send Illustrator or Photoshop files off to. You couldn’t manufacture from your desktop or your phone, so you had to go run around. So it was easier to stand out, because you had to actually put in more work.
RD: What can we expect to see from PF Flyers over the remainder of 2015 and over next year?
AMO: A lot more content. There’s some really cool and interesting collaborations that are on deck, like what we’ll be doing with the Brooklyn Circus. We have a lot more killer Todd Snyder product, a few other partnerships.
When we do collaborative projects, we don’t look at them as a flash in the pan thing. We look at them as long-term relationships or partnerships, and that’s exciting. A considerable amount of focus on developing our made in USA product line. A lot of exciting made in USA product in the pipeline. Keep your eyes peeled.