SF Co.: All in the Family

Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with streetwear designer and entrepeneur Tomas Mc’Sky, as well as collaborators DJ Jus’Me and Isabela Szczutkowska, about the launch party of his SF label, tomorrow night.

International in origin and distinctly Leeside in its creation, the StreetFamily (SF) line streetwear and accessories launches with a special invite-only event tomorrow, at the recently-opened Village Hall venue on Patrick’s Quay, with a pop-up shop for the label’s first collection, a DJ set from beat curators Cuttin’ Heads Collective, and a photography exhibition featuring the work of analogue snapper Isabela Szczutkowska.

Influenced by designer Tomas Mc’Sky’s lifelong love affair with hip-hop and its subculture, as well as his own upbringing, SF represents the achievement of a long-held dream stemming from the fulfilment of a necessity, according to the man himself. “I think I was around 13 years old. Hip-hop culture brought me to street basketball and graffiti, then it all began… I realised I couldn’t afford imported clothing representing my favourite subcultures, so I decided to make my own for me and friends.”

It was from this decision that Tomas embarked on the over decade-long journey to the creation and establishment of his studio. “I needed to learn graphic design to start with the brand. It’s crazy when I think I bought my first computer when I was eighteen. I also couldn’t afford one earlier on. Asking my mother, raising me and my younger brother on her own was not an option. I was painting a lot but I knew nothing about operating systems not to mention all other necessary software at that time… in college most teachers allowed me to paint graffiti during the classes because I was listening and I could answer their random questions. It was very motivating! Very important part of my life. Two years later I came to Ireland to work and invest every penny in what was necessary to build a studio from scratch. It came together after ten years. During that time I worked and studied design, typography, textiles, screen printing, photography and e-commerce. I am glad to say that the launch is happening this week.”

The layout, planning and process of a fashion label of any sort is something that’s still somewhat alien to those outside of the creative process, and while Cork isn’t short of fashionistas of all stripes to appreciate the work of local designers, Tomas’ breakdown of the work that went into SF’s new collection is staggering. “I break it down to these steps. Inspiration: I find it in music, books – I’m a crazy Taschen collector – film, city spaces and local landscapes. I love west Cork. Usually I start from making notes anywhere, anytime I come up with an idea in my mind. It is the key element.

Graphic design. A pencil and a sheet of paper. I usually do not turn on my computer if I do not know what I am doing. Besides the creative process there is the formal side too. Tags, design, and fabric care information are also necessary, and I’ll consult om that with the fabric manufacturer later on. A small selection of tailorings and colour variations are picked up from the whole bunch, a look book is put together for consultation and reference. Then there’s the final production preparation and documentation. Decoration types, swatches and graphic files are put together in detailed and comprehensive documentation. A collection is huge investment and the last thing you want to do is any sort of discrepancy. With the bigger orders, I manage the production line. It takes a few months before you see the final product and waiting is not my favourite part.”

While the label’s creation and establishment is firmly rooted in Cork, it’s clear Tomas is taking the wider view of its appeal, with ambitious expansion plans already on the way. “Big steps ahead. I’m very excited about 2017, the next collection is being finalised now. Expect something much different from the first one. This year also I am launching branches in Germany and Poland, and in 2018, I’m setting up branches in New York and Long Beach. Later, brick and mortar shops in Ireland and other countries. I hope SF Co. will represent proudly Ireland’s first official streetwear brand across Europe and the globe.”

While working away on the label’s naissance in the city, Tomas settled into the graphic design and identity aspects of Leeside hip-hop auteurs Cuttin’ Heads Collective, alongside co-founder and organiser Justin O’Donnell, a.k.a. DJ Jus’ Me. The CHC lads have every reason to be pleased with themselves at present, having topped off their first year in business with a big shindig at the Liquid Lounge. “The birthday is one I’ll remember for a long time. Everything from the performances, the crowd and overall vibe was above and beyond what we had hoped for. There was a lot of love in the room!

There’s already a busy 2017 in it, working with collective member Tomas on his label. Jus takes the time to reflect on the collective’s creation and how Tomas’ work formed an important part of it. “There will always be a strong connection between Cuttin’ Heads and SF. Tomas was with us from day one. He came up with our logo and branding, He does most of our posters and photography, and he’s a killer DJ. The SF influence is all over Cuttin’ Heads. As far as future collaborations, I’m sure there will be plenty.”

Aside from curating the playlist at the launch, the lads are looking after the afterparty downtown at CUBE, the former M-NUS space on Hanover St. There’s something a little special in the works. “We knew we’d need an after party for the launch. We’re DJing at the exhibition but it will be a laid back gallery vibe. The focus is the artwork, we’re just there to compliment it. We thought it would be nice to have somewhere to go after to continue drinking and celebrate a job well done. CHC resident Gary Fitz’s new venture CUBE seemed like an obvious choice. The crowd that go there typically expect to hear house and techno, so we had to find a way to appeal to their regulars while keeping our usual hip hop vibe. We decided to do an 80’s Electro special. These early hip hop records were the foundation for what would eventually become House and Techno so it seemed like a good middle ground. It’s been years since I’ve played a straight electro set, so I’m looking forward to it. Expect plenty of 808s, synths, vocoders and over indulgent scratching!”

Isabela Szczutkowska has been around Cork for a long time now, specifically around the Cork music scene as a photographer and documentarian. Her work has been an important part of the identity of the Cork scene in recent years, specifically its synonymity with the rise of psych-rock five-piece The Altered Hours. Her approach comes from a hands-on, DIY attitude from the outset. “As a teenager, I was part of an art collective called Ośrodek Postaw Twórczych in my hometown, Wrocław, and that is where I got introduced to photography and processed my first roll. I liked it a lot but didn’t completely fall into it just yet, writing was my thing.. and music. Went to study journalism – to be a music journalist – and photography, when I realised it was the language of the world. Went back to study photography in St John’s Central Collage, here in Cork; that’s where it really started to shape – thanks to the best tutors on the planet. To me, photography is very close to the way we see what’s around us, its documentary nature, factual, mirroring but almost always diluted through our personal experience. Just like reality. And I love my twelve-hour printing sessions in the darkroom.”

Being exhibited at the label’s launch is her work with the SF label, a raw and gritty exposition around the city centre that sees familiar places through an unfamiliar filter. “It’s a collaboration for SF. Raw take on fashion and lifestyle photography, where the atmosphere is more important than clothes itself. Grainy, grungy, sometimes bold, blurred, dreamy and colorful. Tom is very brave and open to go with it, although, the final selection of images for the launch may be more balanced too. I don’t want to give away too much, come down and have a look.”

Having been a music photographer the last few years, Izzy has a defined idea of where she sees herself going with her work in the medium next. “As I’m working closely with The Altered Hours, we tour together sometimes. Lifestyle, magazine, intimate picture story – that’s what interests me here, and I would be keen to create more of this kind of work with different bands in the future, like Deerhunter. Also, music videos are a step that I’m slowly taking. There are several personal projects I have been busy with that aren’t connected to music at all. Portraits, and together with filmmaker Christopher O’Neill, we’ve been working on a short film shot on 35mm black and white film, fully made from still photographs.”

The SF label launches tomorrow night at 8pm in a special, invite-only event, featuring the Cuttin’ Heads Collective on decks and the fashion photography of Isabela Szczutkowska. To request an invite, private-message the SF Co. page on Facebook. The party moves onto CUBE on Hanover Street at 11 for Cuttin’ Heads’ ’80s special.

Find SF Streetwear online at streetwearsf.com, and check out more of Izzy’s imagery at http://izyandthesunshines.blogspot.ie/

Cork Vintage Map: Of a Certain Vintage

Mike McGrath-Bryan speaks with Eilís Dillon, of Records & Relics, about the Cork Vintage Map, a unique collaborative initiative between thirteen of Cork City’s specialist retailers.

It seems like such a simple idea, that it must have been hard to come by amid all of its constituent parts. The Cork Vintage Map, released this past month and available at flyer/leaflet stops across the city, brings together the city’s eclectic community of busy vintage traders, from antiquarians, to outfitters and stylists, to record-slingers. Dotted around the city’s side-streets and corners, the Map forms a trail of must-visit locations for avid retro enthusiasts. Eilís Dillon, of Records & Relics on Lancaster Quay, says the project was a while in the works. “It’s something I think a lot of us have been talking about for years, but it never really materialised. There was an event earlier this year by TEDxCorkSalon, called CorkLovesVintage, a lot of us were speaking at it, or in attendance, and it gave us all a very warm fuzzy feeling. We were all chatting about it again, and I decided to make it happen!”

The word “vintage”, of course, makes for a broad church to say the least, with different demographics getting older and appreciating the bits and bobs of the past at different paces, from older, nostalgic crowds, to kids that are well-used to returning trends, reboots and remakes. When attempting to set a definition. “Vintage simply means that the item is at least 25 years old. So, we are talking ’80s, and anything before then.”

Taking in everything from fashion, with the outfitters from Mercury Goes Retrograde and Brocade & Lime among others, to hairdressers and technicians like CHAIR and the Pink Octopus Dreadshop, it makes for an eclectic offering.

Juggling thirteen different outlets’ schedules, blurbs, meeting times, etc. seems like a tall order, before one even gets into aesthetics, specialisation, etc., but Eilís insists the whole thing came together with ease. “It all came together surprisingly smoothly, obviously you are dealing with lots of different businesses, and you want everyone to feel a part of it and equally represented, so the design part was really important. The graphic designer, Pedro, did a great job tailoring each ad to fit the personality of the shop, and the overall theme of the map. The map design itself, I think, is really classy and professional. All the businesses were really positive, and into it, so that made it all quite straightforward.”

Vintage is very much a sector that has established itself in Cork in recent years, with something for everyone presenting itself in the city’s retail spaces. With that being said, given the nature of the economy in recent years, the shops have seen fit to build themselves up on niche trades, rather than attempt to catch the vintage craze that emerged a few years back. In that mindset, the venues have relied upon each other for support. “It’s so important for small businesses to work together, we need to see each other as partners, rather than competitors. We are small fish, if we all swim together we have a chance of competing with the larger, multinational corporations that threaten small businesses. Cork has so many cool little vintage-inspired businesses, we have an opportunity to highlight that and attract consumers, who are looking for something unique and interesting. Our businesses are completely local, all the money remains in the economy, this, in my opinion is so important to sustainable economic recovery. We are also in a unique position, as everything is pretty much a one off piece and so there really is no direct competition.”

Vintage seems to have outlived any perceived bubble or craze in Cork, at least, in terms of fashion and clothes: to what can this be attributed? “Vintage fashion is made to last, it’s a niche market, it’s not a fad. People who buy vintage don’t necessarily follow the latest fashion, they have their own unique style, it is also about nostalgia and stories, appreciation of history. For me it’s very romantic. I like to know about the life a certain object might have led before it got here, or it reminds me of my childhood, or my grandmother. Of simpler times. You can express yourself and be more creative mixing up styles from different eras.”

Closer to home for Eilís is the vinyl boom, which continues unabated. Music plays a big part of the Vintage Map by its nature, with Mother Jones’ Flea Market home to numerous record stalls, and Records & Relics stocking a panoramic range of music on pre-loved wax. Eilís discusses its importance to the traders amid a boom period for records. “Vinyl is our bread and butter. We have noticed a massive increase in sales, and a increasingly varied type of buyer. From students to grandparents! It’s great to see so many people appreciating this format. Vinyl sales have exceeded digital sales this year in the U.K, so we are happy.”

In the run-up to the holiday season, and with more people looking to get out and take care of the presents early to avoid crowds and perhaps have bigger seasonal celebrations than previous years, sales have been on the up. The collaborative strategy has been working. “Sales are increasing, slowly but surely. Nice vibes and happy heads all round!”

It must seem quite odd to be asked about the future when trading in memories and tangible experiences in an increasing market for new ideas and intangibles. But Eilís responds in the positive. “There has already been lots of great collaborations, like Fable in the English Market so hopefully more of the same. It would be great if Cork got a reputation, and well known as a great place for vintage buyers to find treasure, especially when there are so many shops within easy walking distance of each other.”

Find the Cork Vintage Map online at corkvintagemap.com, or physically at participating locations around the city centre.