Zach Kinninger started doing design work when he was a freshman in college. At the time, it was mostly because he wanted to get tattoos but felt other artists weren’t able to sketch the artwork the way he’d envisioned them. “They were throwing out concepts for me and I was like, ‘There’s no chance I’ll ever put this on my body,’” he says. So he taught himself how to use Photoshop and Illustrator, and later began making tattoo stencils for other people. “That opened the door to the design world for me,” he says.
By his senior year, that creativity had bled into clothing design, and Kinninger launched Basketcase in August 2017. “I love sneaker culture, collector culture, and I wanted to be able to make something that people thought was as valuable,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to do a brand, and I knew if I didn’t do it now, I was never going to do it.” At first, he was digitally printing T-shirts and casted friends in his lookbooks. It wasn’t until a few months later that he realized people were paying attention.
In December of the same year, Kinninger opened a pop-up shop at a house in Costa Mesa, California, where he’s from and currently still lives. He partnered with a local tattoo artist and designed a stencil line sheet and a few T-shirts. For $50, customers could get tatted and cop a tee. Roughly 200 people stopped by. “Looking back, they were shitty tattoos, man,” Kinninger says, with a laugh. “But that was the first moment where I was like, ‘Holy shit. This might be worth doing.’”
Basketcase is still heavily influenced by tattoos, as well as vintage graphics and clothing. Many of Kinninger’s reference points, for instance, come from tattoo artists that he follows or what he discovers at flea markets. While not all of Kinninger’s designs repurpose vintage garments, he’s printed graphics he’s made (Western imagery, skulls, basketball-inspired art, etc.) on Dickies, jeans, Army physical training shorts, and sweaters he’s sourced from various flea markets and alters himself. “I love vintage,” he says. “I shop at the flea market every weekend. It’s in my blood; my grandma spends every weekend at the swap meet in San Diego. It’s the best moodboard for me. It’s really easy to see the same things over and over again on Instagram and get stuck in this creative box.”
At ComplexCon Long Beach, Basketcase will have new pieces, like a special painter jacket they’ve been developing for some time, as well as a print activation where attendees can customize vintage pieces. “I’m excited. It’s a cool place to first introduce people to the brand,” he says.
Three years ago, Kinninger was simply attending ComplexCon as a consumer—he admits he shot photos at the first ComplexCon Long Beach using a fake press pass—so November will be full circle for the young designer. “I remember the first ComplexCon I went to. I thought it was the coolest thing in the world,” he remembers. “It definitely feels really special and validating to be a part of it now.” —Karizza Sanchez