There’s an underrated power to concert merchandise—just seeing lyrics on a T-shirt from a show can transport you to the moment you stood in the crowd, swept up in the rapture of watching your favorite artist perform. That same power is what catapulted the career of creative director and fashion designer Jide Osifeso.
“I loved the feeling that you get when you read something on someone’s shirt,” says Osifeso of his inspiration, which is due in part to his fandom of U.K. metal band Converge and its text-adorned merchandise. This appreciation led him from studying business and graphic design in college to working at RVCA and Adidas, and alongside brands Undercover and Reigning Champ, as well as artists the likes of Jaden Smith and Kendrick Lamar. Osifeso has maintained his affinity for phrasing throughout his work: For example, when he helped design Top Dawg Entertainment’s collaborative collections with Nike for Lamar’s 2017-2018 The Damn Tour, the lyrics “Ain’t nobody prayin’ for me” from the DAMN. track “Feel.” appear frequently. “It was a big part of the album, and was a theme throughout the entire thing,” says Osifeso. “You have to address it because it makes you stop.”
There’s more to Osifeso’s work than evocative text, however—it’s about creating tangible, cohesive memories. “When people look back at [an artist’s] first album or first couple tours, there’ll be a look associated with it,” he says of his approach, which has seen him making a “wild” wardrobe and suspending a Tesla and Smith’s younger sister Willow for his Coachella 2019 performance.
Like any creative, Osifeso needs an outlet that’s all his own, which is where HYMNE comes in. Over the past four years, the brand has been a channel for his unbridled design ethos, which is founded on purity and minimalism in terms of both design and curation. “I like stuff that people are actually going to wear, and add value to their closet,” he says. “If I design a line of 30 pieces, it’ll be be whittled down from 70 pieces. There’ll be 20 pieces that didn’t land that I probably loved, but felt like they weren’t necessary for your closet.”
On the cusp of Osifeso’s upcoming collaboration with multidisciplinary artist Brendan Fowler’s Election Reform!, out August 27, Osifeso discusses his journey from hardcore fanhood to HYMNE’s upcoming fall collection, and working with some of his idols.
The following has been condensed and edited for clarity.
How did you connect with Brendan Fowler?
Brendan is the nicest person I know. Not one of, he is the nicest person I know. I met Brendan when I first started interning at RVCA. Brendan was doing ANP Quarterly, and I was doing whatever I could to get my foot in the door. We really hit it off. Now, we reconnected and said, you’re doing this thing, I’m doing this thing, let’s do it together in this new space.
What can you tell me about the collaboration?
It’s a new concept of using clothing as a medium for art, more than what I would naturally do. This new project is such an easy process because it’s half-me and half-Brendan, and when you put it together it’s a completely new thing that neither of us would do on our own. It’ll just be an open conversation with no structure. I don’t even know if we’ll give it a name. [Laughs]
I’m curious about your background getting into creative direction and design. Were you always artistically inclined?
Always, going back to my childhood. I went to school for business, but I was always into merch and graphic design from going to concerts as a kid. I went to so many hardcore and metal shows growing up, so I got heavily into concert merch. When I got to college, I started doing graphics like that and then I started designing with a company in Orange County, RVCA, when I was 19.
What were some of the concerts you went to that inspired you the most?
The one that absolutely inspired me the most was by this band called Converge. The singer of the band—his name’s Jacob Bannon—did all their graphic design.
At what point did that your appreciation for merch extend to fashion more generally?
When I started working at RVCA. I was very into Japanese fashion brands at the time, like Number (N)ine and Undercover. After that company, I worked at Adidas and spent a lot of time in Japan, and got super entrenched into fashion design.
So the collection of concert merch you did with Kendrick Lamar in Tokyo must’ve felt full circle, bringing together your love for merch and Japanese design. How did that come about?
Yeah, because Undercover was the reason I was into fashion, so that was a full circle moment. Nike reached out to do something in Tokyo, so naturally I wanted to do something with [designer and Undercover founder] Jun Takahashi. And Kendrick’s one of my favorite artists, so that was just a perfect meeting of one of my favorite designers and one of my favorite artists, who I also really like working with.
What jobs or internships were most pivotal in getting you to the point where you’re working with the likes of Nike, Jun Takahashi and Kendrick Lamar?
When I started at Adidas, I was not super confident—I think I was 22. There were people there that really believed in me and wanted to nurture me, and teach me how to work in that system, a very structured corporate setting. That’s super helpful to me today because I work in a non-structured environment now, so I have to bring that [structure]. I also got to travel around the world with them, learning how to work in different countries, with people that don’t speak the same language or don’t understand my design ethos. Now that I’m working more freelance and have to do so many different things with so many different types of artists, that’s helpful too.
Considering you work with artists like Kendrick Lamar and Jaden Smith who are creative powerhouses in their own right, what is it that you add in these partnerships?
My point of view and perspective. Jaden’s very confident and fearless. With his last album, you’ll see he has a very concise, clear vision: “I really need to wrap my car in pink. I need to have this crazy scene in downtown L.A.” So for me it’s like, let’s execute that in a way that would be good for you and your consumer. This is how it might translate well across different categories.
I never put my design sensibility before the artists’. I take cues from what they want, and try to add my taste into it and do something special. The reason why I have to keep my personal project is because I like to keep my pure design ethos there, and balance it out with doing client work that is not my point of view specifically.
Was that your primary inspiration for starting HYMNE? To have an outlet for your own creativity?
When I was in college, before I was working in design, HYMNE was a concept that I had. This was probably 12 years ago. I made the name and even the logo when I first learned to design. I wished I could create whatever I wanted, whether it was to design clothes or furniture. I wanted to have a home base. All these years later, it’s a perfect time and a perfect climate for me to have that unfiltered vision come to life. That was the purpose for me.
One of the signatures of HYMNE is having messages displayed on the pieces, like “Scars” and “Image more valued than truth,” and the merch you created for Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN album incorporates his lyrics. What’s the thinking behind using these messages?
That goes back to when I was first going to concerts and getting into the visual representation of your favorite band or rapper on clothing. When I looked at band merchandise that that I loved, or even general clothing brands I loved growing up, I loved the feeling that you get when you read something on someone’s shirt. On Kendrick Lamar’s album, everything he says is special. Every verse has so many different feelings and emotions that he’s trying to express, but it’s your interpretation [as a listener] that I feel is most important. If I’m going to make a T-shirt that has text on it, it’s because I want you to feel whatever you feel when you see it. I don’t want to tell you what that means. It’s your truth. Whatever you feel that means, that’s what it means.
How did you choose which of Kendrick’s lyrics to highlight?
During his live show, there’s a section where it’s dark and there are voices whispering, “Ain’t nobody praying for me” [from the DAMN track “Feel.”]. What is that? Is it a cry for help? Is it an expression of rage? Is it poetic? Is it angry? A lot of the merchandise we have is based on that because that was what spoke to me. It was a big part of the album, and was a theme throughout the entire thing. You have to address it because it makes you stop.
What can we expect from the new HYMNE collection?
Getting back to purist, clean graphic design and clean lines; being a minimalist brand; and making essential clothing that you want to wear on a daily basis. I want to have pieces that make people say, “I got this shirt in 2019 and I’ve been wearing it for 10 years.” I want to make timeless clothing that people are going to carry with them throughout their lives, not a cool jacket for fall ‘19 that you wear for six months and then sell on Grailed. I want it to be part of your life.
Looking back at your earliest designs and the latest HYMNE collection, how would you say you’ve grown as a designer?
The editing process. When I was younger I’d make so much stuff to express myself; “I like this—I need to make it.” But less is more. I don’t need to do all these things to get my point across. Maybe a graphic doesn’t need to have three colors in the front. Maybe I can just do one and express it that way. I’ve been challenging myself to work with less. That’s something I’ve had to grow into. You don’t always have to go at full speed. You may know how to do this graphic or technique but you don’t have to do it. Do the best thing for the medium. Do the best thing for the art you’re trying to convey.
When you were invited to redesign the logo for Nike Sportswear, your underlying theme was failure as part of the creative process. What helped you to learn the value of failing in order to learn?
Back at Adidas, the first line I did was outerwear. I did it thinking, “Look at all this stuff I can do! This is my collection for Adidas, and it’s so cool.” I sent it off and then everyone politely said, “This isn’t good. You need to really do this again.” And I was devastated! Like, “What do you mean? Look at all these pockets!” [Laughs]. But now I look back at it and, yeah, it was awful. I think if they had said, “Yeah, this is pretty good” and redesigned it on their own, I would not have that reference point of failure. That’s the same thing in my personal life, too. When I’ve had failed relationships or friendships, every single time stuff like that happens, it makes you a better person if you’re reacting to it in a way where you’re fixing it. It’s kind of a beautiful thing. It’s one of the only universal reference points that people have. Sadness or failure. So everybody can relate to that.
From a business perspective, what was a moment when you had to learn from your failure?
When I first moved to L.A., I had jobs here and there, but I was mostly going around, trying to learn how to create a business. I didn’t have much money, so I was running through my savings. I was going downtown, learning how to get prints done, how to get washes done, how to buy zippers and matching tape—literally every single step of the process because I had no resources and I was by myself. I had to learn every single step of the process on my own, but when it came time to work with other people, I’d already learned on my own dime and I was able to offer that to them because I took that year of really struggling and almost going to a dark place. I learned every single step of the process, and I learned how to do it efficiently. So when we talk about the merciless business that we do as artists, this is what we mean. There’s so many pieces to the process and we do it all ourselves.
In recent years, fashion has been embracing more people, including Black men: there’s Pyer Moss’ Kirby Jean-Raymond, Virgil Abloh at Off-White and Louis Vuitton, and even Dapper Dan. How have you seen this as a Black male designer yourself?
It’s an interesting time but it’s a good time. Kerby’s a friend of mine, and seeing the way he runs his business is so awe-inspiring and commendable. That the people of the world embrace his work and what he’s doing, I don’t know if that could’ve happened 10 years ago. People have broken down these façades of what can be fashion, what can be art, what a fashion brand looks like, where a fashion brand is located. There were—and are—so many gatekeepers, but especially in retail now, things are being dictstred by what consumers want. You can stock the most high-brow, expensive brand, but at the end of the day consumerism is really what’s pushing everything, especially online. I know people who work at huge fashion websites and literally they only care about web impressions. It’s actually super scary, but what people want, you have to deliver.
Yeah, that’s why it was such a big deal when Rihanna took Fenty straight to the consumer.
How awesome is that? How awesome is it to build a better process for people that want it? When I’d be in my dorm looking at magazines and watching fashion shows, I had to wait six months to go to the store to look at how they made a pair of pants. Nowadays, you can put stuff online whenever you want. There are less rules, and it’s even more freeform.
Why do you think hip-hop and fashion mesh so well?
I think the beauty of hip-hop is it’s not just music, it really is a culture. I can identify with what the artist’s saying but I can also identify with the artist. It’s so much more than music, so it’s only natural that people who wouldn’t necessarily be hip-hop fans are embracing the culture. When you see ASAP Rocky, without even getting into his music, you know he’s a cool guy. He dresses really cool, and he carries himself in a cool manner. That’s universal. It’s able to transcend so many people of different backgrounds and perspectives.