With back-to-back solid collection releases, Birmingham based DarkCircle are a leading influencer on the streetwear scene. Their crafted garments incorporate bold graphics alongside cut n sew designs and have been seen on the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Joey Bada$$ and Chance The Rapper.
Kings of the collab since their inception back in 2008, these guys like to put themselves out there and have worked alongside fellow Midlands based entrepreneurs and hustlers, including Folsom Barbers Club and Hip Hop selectas; Moschino Hoe Versace Hottie.
We passed through Dark HQ to catch up with Aaron Dezonie, the company’s Creative Director and founder to understand what drives this forward-thinking streetwear/lifestyle brand.
What’s the story of DarkCircle?
The idea was simply to create something interesting. To produce a well-made product that people would appreciate, but at the same time relate to. DarkCircle is all about social commentary, local, national and international. We take a look at what’s happening now around us and how that impacts everyone. This allows us to constantly explore and express ourselves in different ways that many other “fashion” brands can’t. DarkCircle is not a fashion brand; in the studio, we don’t use the F word. Fashion is all about trend, what’s hot now or next, what people want, what the market is dictating. In DarkCircle we just do us. We do what we want, how we want, when we want. This just gives us a freedom that brands in the fashion world don’t get. We make this the key focus to our business, always and only doing what we want on our terms. It’s not a conventional business model by any means but it’s what makes DarkCircle that something different and interesting. One thing we pride ourselves on is not shying away from the controversial or politically correct. DarkCircle is an expression of self. It’s a flag for others who share similar values and ideas to stand under together.
What are the pros and cons of building a brand out of Birmingham?
There has been many pros and cons, it really depends on specific elements of the business. On the pro side being in Birmingham has given us space to concentrate on us. Birmingham moves a little slower than bigger cities like London or New York so this has helped us find our feet without trying to keep up with everything around us. The more laid back mentality of Birmingham and the people here suits us and the current growth of our business. Birmingham is also home for us and a huge source of inspiration, we’re comfortable here, we can be ourselves. As good as all of these elements are, staying in Birmingham has had its negative effects on the business too. The biggest downside is networking; in regards to our industry sector, the number of people here in the city to connect with on a business level is still very small. If I had to say one thing about this city that holds it back from being that next special place to London is the Council. There is some real talent here in Birmingham and so much of it goes unnoticed, not for lack of trying but the constant barriers the Council love to put up. The Council’s clear distaste for independent business is probably the biggest negative of it all; as soon as they sort that out, there could be an exciting future for everyone.
We have seen many collabs coming out of DarkCircle HQ; is there one that stands out as your greatest accomplishment?
We have been real fortunate to work with some great brands and some great businesses, each bringing that something different to our table. For us each collab opportunity has been fun and a learning experience. There are a number of projects that we are currently working on with some special people and brands that we hope to release later this year, which will easy be our greatest accomplishments to date. Even getting them to the stage we have so far feels unreal. Like being catapulted 2 years into the business’s future, just talking with these other businesses, but we will need to keep those under our hat for now. Just watch this space.
Kendrick, Mac Miller, Joey Bada$$, Chance The Rapper, Schoolboy Q, Isaiah Rashad, Nas, Raekwon have all been seeing flexing in Dark, how does that feel?
It feels good. Like, really good! It’s a sense of accomplishment when we see someone we love choosing to wear our product. When we hand over product to people we never expect them to wear it, it’s a bonus if they do. For us, it’s more like a thank you. Every artist we have had the pleasure of meeting and passing the product to are individuals that we as a team all enjoy. They are all artists that we listen to on a daily basis in the studio when working so seeing them on stage or at an event wearing something we made whilst listening to their music just feels good. For us, we are passing product onto these people as a thank you for the hard work they have done that keeps us motivated at work. A thank you for years of giving us great music (that we don’t always pay for), giving them some of our products in exchange seems like such a minor thing to do. I think that resonates with a lot of the artists mentioned, they all put in their hard work over the years and appreciate the sentiment. I believe that is why a lot of these named artists choose to wear our product and continue to wear it today.
Who’s that one hero of yours that you would like to see rep DarkCircle?
That’s a tough question. That one hero? There could easily be a list of people we would love to see rep Dark, but if I could choose just one I think it would have to be Pharrell Williams. There’s still something special about that guy and what he has done for the streetwear culture. I think it’s fair to say that Pharrell has had an influence on DarkCircle since it was just a scribbled idea on a college notepad back in ’03.
Before Pharrell, I think it was hard for people like myself to see a future or career in and around hip-hop.
Before Pharrell’s takeover of the industry, it was all about super baggy jeans, XXXL t-shirt and gang life; something I personally couldn’t relate to, despite how much I loved hearing Jay-Z or Nas talking about that street life. It still wasn’t authentic to me and Pharrell changed that. Never had I seen a light skinned dude, with a bum fluff moustache, rocking a trucker cap and a Metallica t-shirt whilst riding a BMX or skateboard and still being the coolest guy in a rap video. It made me say for the first time whilst watching a rap video, I’m like that guy. I ride a BMX, I ride a skateboard, I look like that.
That, I think, was a big part of my journey into this business. So, I think it would be that real personal achievement to see Pharrell one day rocking DarkCircle.
You have recently launched your NOTHINGHERE space, can you tell us more about this venture?
NOTHINGHERE is a multi function space we have created in our DarkCircle HQ. It’s main function is acting as a showroom space for our latest products and collections. The name I came up with after the 3rd time of being broken into in 12 months. They would break in and just mess up the place and take some of the most random things like a couple of t-shirts and a hat, maybe a phone charger. So I saw the funny side in the name and just putting a sign outside that says NOTHINGHERE to save them the time of breaking in next time. The main reason we built the space was because we were so frustrated with Birmingham City Council and landlords in and around the city. Month after month, year after year we were trying to find a spot in the city centre for pop-up events, parties, product launches and even our own flagship store, but to no joy. Birmingham’s Council are yet to see the world trend of pop-up businesses and how they breathe new life and money into the dying high street. So we gave up trying to work with them and just thought let’s do it ourselves. Our studio is a little out of the way with zero passing trade, but we thought if we can make something people want, people will come. So over a 12 month period we renovated a section of our studio and converted it into what we called NOTHINGHERE SPACE. Since opening it in December we’ve had a number of parties, launched our latest collection there and most recently held a Super Bowl showing. For the future of the space, we are looking to make it an open retail space and stock other brands and products. Currently, visiting the space is by appointment only. Check out our website for more details about how you can book your appointment.
The turn of the year saw your debut womenswear collection, do you see streetwear becoming a more unisex fashion trend?
I think streetwear, at its core, has always been unisex, I just think streetwear now has become so much more mainstream, it’s become more recognised as unisex. This is exactly why we decided to create the women’s collection. I think as the streetwear culture grows and becomes more mainstream, it will be accepted even more as unisex. For us, this is a great thing. We love anyone wearing our product if they appreciate the design and the aesthetic we work crazy hard to achieve. So men or women, as long as they like it as much as we do then we’re happy. This increased interest in our product ultimately lead to us creating the womenswear collection in the first place. The number of emails we would get asking if we would ever do it like this or that; would it ever be available in extra small? Would we ever do it in this colour? It all started adding up. We were getting pictures on Instagram with us tagged in with girls altering one of our products to fit them better, it just felt like this was a natural move to make for us right now.