Boston is quietly becoming a hot bed of urban fashion with brands and companies like Karmaloop, Handsome Boy, Society, The Don, and Annie Mulz all making waves. They’ve broken barriers by turning “street wear” into every day wear.
Technology has leveled the playing field. It‘s allowing people to make their designs reality with a the click of a button. If you can dream it up, there is someone somewhere who can turn it into a profit. More and more entrepreneurs are making their way in the clothing business. Now, the question isn’t: Can you do it? It’s: What makes you different from everyone else who’s already doing it?
One group willing to take on the challenge is SOS (Save Our Souls) Boston founded in 2008 by brothers, Samson and Simeon Awosan. They were born of Nigerian immigrant parents who always told them “You are not black American, you are Nigerian.” They speak their tribe’s (Yoruba) language. They know where they come from, and they are proud. They have taken their morals from their Nigerian roots – to respect and honor both their elders and their community; and have allowed them to be refined in them in their stomping grounds of Roxbury. They decided to honor the cross-cultural traditions by making fashionable tees with a historical perspective.
In a city where Malcolm X walked the streets and the Underground Railroad stopped, marketing director Seun Ajewole feels that nowadays a lot of that history has been lost. “[Some of] the people of Roxbury don’t understand how beautiful this area is. Malcolm X once called Dudley – ‘The Harlem of Boston’ – we don’t want to lose that history. People always talk about NY this and NY that when there are some things Boston was doing before New York. The contribution that Boston has made to the world, to hip hop, has been greatly marginalized. ”
He also talked about the disconnect the youth have with that history, “I grew up in the Boston school system, so I know what these kids are experiencing. They aren’t being inspired. We saw a need, a niche, where consciousness needed to mesh with the surroundings. There seems to be this idea of what a typical black male is. We see in the media all the time people from our community going to jail, and people don’t get to see both sides of the story. People are being fed that if you like hip hop, if you wear clothes like those hip hop artists, well then you’re a thug. We say it’s okay to go to college and like hip hop – all of us in S.O.S are college educated. That’s what S.O.S is about…save our souls…we’re speaking to those kids.”
In addition to knowing where they come from and impacting future generations, it was instilled in them at an early age to remember where others had been and to above all – respect their elders. “It’s the most important thing in our culture,” says Ajewole, “They teach you things that you couldn’t have known without them.”
The history of Roxbury is highlighted in their tees like “Fort Hill” which displays the Fort Hill tower; “Militant Minded” which features a prowling black panther; “Wisdom Tee” which has a tribal insignia on the back; and “Respect Your Tribe” is the slogan for a line of tees that come in bright primary colors; these are a call for unity within the nation of Nigeria.
What started out an expression of heritage through fashion has expanded out to the broader community. They have put on free or low budget shows; an art show at Waltham’s Lincoln Arts Project that ran for a month this past summer; a web launch party at The Good Life in downtown; and earlier this month, they collaborated with Laced Boston to bring West Coast rapper Dom Kennedy to town. The urban wear store in the South End features local and national brands and has in stores with hip hop artists that travel through the area.
Laced owner Joamil Rodriquez who says they’ve helped jumpstart more companies than “American Express” supports the brand wholeheartedly. “We need more kids like them who are doing what they’re doing.” When giving brands advice about marketing their products, specifically at Laced, Rodriquez says for startups to think about affordability. “With new brands that come out, as much as they need to keep their originality as everybody wants to look like they could be on stage, they need to keep their consumer in mind. Who do you want to be wearing your brand?” With tees and tanks starting at $18.00, SOS keeps a stylish outfit cheaper than most club cover charges.
Design-wise they’re still finding their voice. The patterns in the “Wisdom” tee that has bold geometric shapes, indicative of their African roots, will become more prominent in future collections. They will also incorporate more African words and phrases into the designs.
For SOS it’s not just about elevating the country and city that they love, but the hip hop culture that inspires them. They want to bring hip hop back to arguably the truest sense of the words: authenticity, expression, collaboration, and community. There’s even a hidden common theme in the tees: 1994. “You have to look for it,” Seun says, “1994 was a big year for Hip Hop…Nas…Big L…Jay Z were all out at the time, and we pay homage to that in our clothes.”
Their love of hip hop and art even stems from their African roots. “We get our inspiration from where a lot of hip hop artists got their inspiration from. Hip hop comes from artists like Fela Kuti. People don’t realize there are a lot of Nigerian artists are out there. For example Wale, is Nigerian.”
Fashion, art, music, can one group really do it all? “We just want to bring music, hip hop, and entertainment, to the people while reppin’ Roxbury and Nigeria,” says Seun, “Black is power. It is where the world came from. If our history is lost, we are lost.”
To learn more about SOS Boston visit their website here!