Brand Underground

Posted by Rob Walker on July 30, 2006
Posted Under: Brand Underground,Subculture Inc.

In addition to Consumed, this week’s Times Magazine includes my look at the “brand underground.” Here’s a no registration required link, although it’s a rather long piece to read online.

Here are some additional links related to the story. First, the three main example brands are The Hundreds, Barking Irons, and aNYthing. Also mentioned are Futura and Stash, I think the best link to give for them is the Recon Store site. My thanks to all of these folks for the time and patience.

Two of the blogs I mention are HypeBeast and Slam X Hype. If you’re curious about the parenthetical mentions: here are links related to Neckface and Mister Cartoon. If you’re curious about something else in the story that you’d like me to link to, just say so.

I was really pleased with the idea to have a T-shirt created by Kevin Lyons for the cover shot. I think this is his site. Here are some examples of his art. Here is a T-shirt of his, and some coasters, via Arkitip.

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

article was nice, but why do it now? because every one is trying to cash in? trying to be hip and cool and write about a scene they know nothing about. the best thing for OUR scene is too not write about it. keep it word to mouth. fuck any outside media.
but thanks for taking the time to write abou t it.

Written By glade101 on July 31st, 2006 @ 3:54 am

On the glade101 comment: Uh, … thanks?

On the 54Monkey thing: Just for the record, commodify your indifference is a phrase that appears on this web site, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the brand underground story.

Finally: If you’re looking for a comment you submitted that involved slamming the people I wrote about or whatever: I’m not going to publish those comments. If you have something to say to those people, say it to them. You can slam me if you want, but I’m not going to play host to a flame war about other people. This is doubly true if you submit a slam-driven comment annonymously — just too lame to address.

Written By murketing on July 31st, 2006 @ 9:26 am

I’m interested to note that A-ron seems to think he comes off pretty well in the article, otherwise he wouldn’t have linked to it himself, or he would have included some comment about it under the link.
To my reading, while your article seemed generally sympathetic if a bit puzzled by the drive with which kids like A-ron sell themselves, the kicker pokes a pretty big hole in his self-image as some sort of agitator descendant of the beats or the punks of whomever.
I’m sure you encountered a certain amount of ‘once the nytimes hears about it, it’s over’ sentiment, and I’m sure you will continue to (glade101), which leads me to my question.
I was really surprised that you didn’t mention American Apparel or VICE, two companies that have just about broken through to the mainstream and are obviously being looked at as a model for these Million Little Things.
American Apparel certainly has encouraged hip startup design companies to use their T-Shirts as the medium for all of their paradigm-shifting edgy urban countercultural communiqués.
As far as VICE goes, their site has links to A-ron and has featured tons of stuff from McGinley, and has generally been the springboard for a number of the things that give A-ron peripheral credibility. VICE seems to be quietly moving towards some of the more-important “movement-esque” aims (international, TV, the festival they held in Chicago this summer) that kids like A-ron seem to think they can accomplish just by announcing.
Was it a conscious decision to exclude any references to them because they have both been featured hard in other sections of the times?

Written By cj on July 31st, 2006 @ 12:40 pm

What do you think, besides the fact that they all took place in downtown nyc, the connections are between the Warhol and punk scenes to this crop of micro-preneurs? I think simple logo appropriation should not warrant the imprimatur of a NYTimes Magazine cover story, so hopefully you can point to some thread that i’m completely oblivious to.

Written By dola on July 31st, 2006 @ 1:54 pm

I think the story is fair toward A-Ron, I certainly tried to be fair. Different people seem to interpret that stuff differently. I’m okay with that. I assume he is, too, but I don’t really know.

American Apparel is a fascinating company, and I’ve written about it before, but it would be hard to put a company that big into the context of these tiny startup minibrands.

Vice, I don’t know, I guess what you say is about right: I feel like enough has already been said about Vice.

The other thing is, maybe they’re being looked as models (Am Ap and Vice) by a lot of these people, but as it happens the people I wrote about never really brought up either one as a model or even as a reference point, really. So for me to bring those in would have been somewhat artificial.

And even in a story as insanely long as this one, I can’t mention EVERYTHING!

Written By murketing on July 31st, 2006 @ 2:29 pm

I really enjoyed reading this, it brought up a lot of elements to think about.
It’s true that your treatment of these brands and the people behind them can be interpreted in many ways. the most important idea i got from this article is that although this generation of trendsetters seems to be creating consumerism simply by being plugged in to underground culture, they seem to have their finger on successful branding.
whether they become sellouts or not, they are able to come up with a concept that popularizes youth ideals, even if vaguely so, and open the door for many others to follow suit. maybe since a lot of these brands are not backed by any sort of concrete message, or even an artistic movement (i appreciate low brow art, but in your article it seems that some of these guys want to revive the energy and creativity of warhol’s new york in a half-assed attempt), they seem to falter kind of quickly, easily replaced by the latest vapid trend. but i guess thats the meaning of trends anyway.

Written By df on July 31st, 2006 @ 3:28 pm

Loved the article. Check out this post we wrote about anything:

Written By James on July 31st, 2006 @ 4:20 pm

Okay, to the annonymous person on the Warhol comparison and all that:
The question you ask is sort of what the entire story is about. Ultimately, it is up to the reader to decide if they believe these comparisons are valid or not. I am not in the business of telling people what to think, and the Times is not giving its “imprimatur” to this scene. But this is a scene that is actually happening, for better or worse, and it’s worth examining — not necessarily endorsing, but examining — and that’s what I’ve done.
And so, I’ve had my say, and I have nothing to add.
And now you’ve had your say. If the prior-subculture comparisons don’t work for you, that’s totally cool, I respect your point of view. I wish you the best.

Written By murketing on July 31st, 2006 @ 5:13 pm

Nice article, I will definitely be reading it again.

Written By Rob J. on July 31st, 2006 @ 11:25 pm

Hi, have just read your article which highlights some very interesting points about branding but it does somehow seem contradictory that these underground labels seem to want to stay small and in a carefully chosen shadowy spot yet when the ny times throws a massime mainstream spotlight on them they actually seem quite chuffed and voluntarily mention and give your link on their site ??? intrigued reader from Paris… France actually working on a dissertation about branding in fashion.

Written By liz fazenda on August 1st, 2006 @ 2:27 pm


Thanks for the great article! My friends and I have been discussing this article a lot. I’ve found some of the negative reactions to the piece from so-called “members of the culture” to be predictable yet still somewhat disenchanting. When you look at the way A-ron and Bobby Hundreds see their growth and exposure, they seem to express gratitude for it. [Some people] are stuck in the cool kid/uncool kid, immature high school mentality, fearing that what the hold so dear to them will be ripped away by the masses. I don’t think that’s the case. Not that the it needs it, but this article adds a bit of real-world legitimacy to the scene that so many people seem to not understand. Just as hip hop changed (for better or worse) when people took note of it downtown and across the globe, it was rocketed to the fourth dimension in a way that has dramatically altered culture as a whole. This article, and the tak that is sure to follow it, could do the same. I really want to take a look at some of the books that you cited in the article. Are there any others you could recommend? Anyway, keep up the good work. Check out my blog entry on your piece when you get a chance at

Written By Justin C. on August 1st, 2006 @ 4:05 pm

Justin, sorry about the edit in your comment, I want to eliminate any flame-war possiblities — flame me and only me! But lots of good poihnts there, thanks. As for books, the one book I wish I had found a way to mention in the story is “Our Band Could Be Your Life,” about the 1980s/90s indie rock scene. It’s very good, very readable, and very relevant. I recommend it.

Written By murketing on August 1st, 2006 @ 7:28 pm


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