What started off as a group of three friends with a small business idea quickly turned into something none of them could’ve expected. Shinwoo “Timothy” Yu, Josh Su, and Paul Lee, needed to raise capital to launch the Amazon business they had been planning together. The designer of the group, Su, approached them with a design for a simple t-shirt he had come up with, a play on the famous streetwear brand Supreme, incorporating the Korean characters into the first two letters of the logo (ㅅㅜpreme).
“We all loved streetwear,” says Shinwoo Timothy Yu, “When Josh came to us with the design, I thought, I think a lot of people would want something like this.”
Yu was right. After selling a few initial t-shirts, they found that people were wanting more. The design was a big hit. It was this appeal for demand that inspired the three young men to take on the apparel design, putting their Amazon business on the back burner to launch their own label. Through a stream of social media marketing, branding, and advertising on their Instagram profile, they sold their first t-shirt on their website: the original red and white ㅅㅜpreme t-shirt.
Launched in May of 2017, The Anti Brand Brand Club is just celebrating its one-year anniversary of providing quality t-shirts, hats, and hoodies mimicking the logos of designer streetwear brands. The labels that they have duped, including Supreme, The Anti Social Social Club (their namesake), Balenciaga, Nike, and Off-White, are all high-end streetwear designers that “constrain the supply to increase demand,” according to Yu. “They do this as a tactic. Clothes in stores like Nordstrom, Macy’s, with endless supplies everywhere have been failing.” In contrary to these mass-market retailers, these brands make people want their products more by hyping up their products on social media and limiting the supply available of the designs.
The initial design for their knockoff Supreme logo sprang from a joke; Su thought of the idea as a play on his own last name, Su, replacing it with Korean characters to infuse his heritage and cultural pride into his design. But since that first t-shirt, Anti Brand has become more than a witty imitation of designer brands. It sends a message of what the ABBC and its founders are really about: identity in more than just a label.
Yu describes the impact of this limited supply strategy used by many high-end labels on their consumers. “It’s created a culture where people are frenetic and people are going into a frenzy to buy these clothes. Fashion used to be ‘What unique thing can I find in this store?’ But now it’s ‘Who can afford the most expensive piece?'” The consumer culture created by this supply-and-demand craze has turned fashion into a competition of wealth rather than true individual style and expression. It makes people believe that “if I can get these things, then somehow I’m special,” leading to even greater demand for a label or a logo that places a certain value on the clothes they wear.
This is the opposite of what the ABBC founders believe, and the message they are hoping to reach to their audiences. Be (in)authentic is their slogan; but their real hope is for their consumers and audiences to find authenticity and identity in something money can’t buy. “Clothing can be a form of expression, but not in the way culture is shifting,” Yu says on the danger of placing too much of one’s value and identity in their clothes. As lovers of streetwear, Yu and his friends still wanted people to enjoy the designs of popular brands, but without having to pay the exorbitant price. That’s why they wanted to their own, affordable versions for their fellow streetwear fans, so that everyone could have access to the designs, rather than just the people who could fork over hundreds of dollars.
Yu believes fashion should speak for themselves. His motto is: “What you wear can always be a conversation piece.” This definitely shows in The ABBC’s designs, many of which incorporate the founders’ Korean culture and heritage. Their Korean flag edition of the ㅅㅜpreme t-shirt, on sale exclusively in celebration of South Korea’s World Cup victory against Germany yesterday, sold out within 24 hours. Their slowly growing Instagram following has created a fanbase of niche customers who love their designs because they can identify with and understand the meaning behind them.
Although Su was the main designer for the brand’s first t-shirt, Yu also has experience designing t-shirts and logos for his church. He wanted his creations to be “not just a Bible verse or a church name, but a unique design that begs a question, starts a conversation.” The quality of the design itself is very important to Yu. “The merit is not in the fact that it has a Bible verse on it, but that it’s a fresh design.”
The ABBC and its three founders may be new to the business world, but they find their own definition of success in being satisfied with the products they create and the buyers they interact with. Creating their own label that speaks a voice amongst many conformist designers has led them to grow fully confident and content in their place in the fashion world. “We build relationships with the manufacturers, we know what comfort is, we understand what we would want to wear.”