Wu-Tang Forever: The History of Wu Wear

Oli "Power" Grant recalls the history of Wu-Tang branded clothing.

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Image via Complex Original
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Starting Off

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You've always been interested in fashion, so when did you first get into the idea of making a clothing brand?

Well, you know, at the end of the day, we are all interested in fashion. Initially, when we started doing the music, my interests just came from trying to figure out a way to diversify what we was doing, based on the fact that you know, I wasn't a rapper or a producer or anything like that.

Through playing around with just fitting the guys for videos and all of that, and always being a kid that was into fashion — the Polo's, the Tommy Hil's, and all of that stuff that came before. It just made me want to try to expand out and make another avenue for what we was doing. Give it a little oomph, and that was it.

You mentioned being fans of Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger, both were definitely big in the mid-90's. So did that influence a lot of design?

Yeah, definitely. Of course, there ain't nothing new under the sun so I had to really look at what they was actually doing in order to try to get a feel for what it was. A lot of the stuff that I did in the beginning was direct stuff that I kind of made our own as Wu-Tang.

But yeah, I definitely had to look at they stuff; they the kings at this shit, they pioneered it on their side of things in Middle America and the international scope. They put it all together; they laid it down. So I was definitely a fan of that at that level of business and I was just trying to emulate that I guess.

Growth of Wu Wear

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Initially, what was the type of guy you aimed Wu Wear towards?

Well at the moment, the main thing was the creation for the Wu-Tang fan. Something that was fashionable to them that they could wear and appreciate, but again, make it our own and make it a Wu-Tang thing. So initially, it was for the hip-hop Wu-Tang fans when I was making shirts, but as it expanded to us actually doing cut and sew things and all of those different things, we had to change the perspective.

At Wu Wear's peak, you guys had about 4 or 5 stores? 

We had New York, Philadelphia, Virginia, Atlanta, and I had one in L.A. but I never fucking opened it. I just fucking paid rent on the space for about a year.

I never got to open it because during that time, you know, I was just going through stuff with my partners, not knowing. They didn't really know about the shit, you know what I mean? And it was like, the product was changing. So I never really got to open up the store because I kind of knew at that moment I wasn't going to be able to put it together the way I wanted to so I had to fall back.

Wu-Tang Involvement

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How did you choose where you wanted your locations to be for the stores?

It was majority driven off the fact of where we sold records at, where we had frequented, where we did shows at, where we had the best turnouts at, and where the best fans and the people embraced us at, and then just based on the overall markets, the major markets.  You know, when people come from globally they hit the major cities: Los Angeles, New York. I just tried to follow that trail of where we got our support at.

How involved were the actual Wu-Tang Clan in the design and the garments? 

That was all me. I had a crew of people who worked with me and helped me achieve and do the things that I wanted to do. But that was all my direction, based on how I saw it. At the end of the day, it was just something I made for us, for them to project to the people. They never really actively took a part in it like that, although they were influential in the styling of what it was, just from being who they are and me knowing them as my friends, and now, my business partners.

That's what I would look at also, try to interpret things to make them happy, but you can't always make everybody happy all of the time. The information that I've acquired over time, I've looked at it, and decided to bring it all the way back. Now that the business has grown up, what I understand and what the business understands is far more advanced than what it was when we started Wu Wear, so it's a great time.

Breaking Business Barriers

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Changing the Business

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What things have you learned then that you know now?

I think it's more or less about just how you weed out bullshit and just the whole fundamentals of it. Like I always had the basic steps of it before, but it's like now, with technology and all those things of that nature, that nostalgic element of it, we still got our place here. I want to make a heritage brand out of Wu-Tang and I think the best way to do that is just to reinvent it.  The way that we reinvent it, Wu Wear has been out there, whatever, whatever, and I just decided to come back and shake it up, and change it and switch it around and do it as the Wu-Tang brand. Different feeling, a little bit more boutique-y, but build it from the bottom and tear it up and out because the business has now advanced so much that the tiers is crazy.

All of the different levels and the intricacies of the business, like, if you can create those niches, you can probably do some good shit, because there's a lot of offsprings from Wu Wear that I look at, and take cues and take notes from, so how they looked at it and probably got inspired from what we did and what we were doing. I think that with all those elements there is a lot of good stuff going out there besides the good ideas that myself and the folks that work with me have, and that we can shake some things up.

Do you take your cues more from streetwear brands, sportswear brands, or high fashion?

I think it's a mix of everything, because in the end the game has advanced. Remember, early on, when we were doing it, it was so taboo. Everything was segregated off, like: this is hip-hop wear over here, and then there was a time where you see the Tommy Hil's and Timberlands, when they had the rumors, or whatever the case was, "we don't want black people wearing this," whatever.

 Now, it's so much of a melting pot and so much more advanced that everybody is taking cues from a piece of everything from the high-end to the low-end, so I think that in order to create something good for the people, you got to be able to reach them at every one of those points.

 Some folks want to pay a lot of money for stuff because they can afford it, or better stuff, or perceived better stuff, whatever. Some people are like, "Yo, I'm gonna pay $20 for my shit and it's gonna be just as good, that'll be my piece of it." You gotta affect all those avenues right there in order to be effective.


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Speaking of strategic partnerships, you're also in change of licensing the Wu-Tang name to other brands, so did you sign off on that recent Gap T-shirt?

Yeah, I definitely have something to do with that. It wasn't even a collaboration though so I don't even know what the fuck people was talking about like this was a collaboration. Again, we got tiers of our business. That shirt, that's like a novelty shirt. It's a different situation. It's a licensee situation on the whole music side of what we did. I don't even actively do designs for none of that stuff; I just look at shit and be like "Cool, whatever." Because I know it's money at the end of the day. They was able to get a sale with Gap, boom, it's all good.

If you notice a lot of these spots, be it the Gap, Urban Outfitters, H&M, all of those spots, they're fuckin' with throwbacks, so they're gonna try and get some shit and make some money. It's dope; it's good for the artist; it's good for the people, you know what I mean? 'Cause folks get to see stuff that they may not otherwise have been familiar with, but that shit comes and goes. Unless you're like Jason Wu and Missoni for Target, you see even folks like them aren't discriminating no more and that's the point where you see the business has changed. Because when we started doing this in the era and time in which we were doing it, you either had to be here or there.

Right now that doesn't exist anymore. They got all high price shit with cheap shit. That's what Wu-Tang brand is all about. No matter whatever the fuck they say, everybody is in business to make money. We're not here to twiddle our fingers; we're here to be creative and get money, make money and create money.

Looks like C.R.E.A.M. is as true as ever. Speaking of classic Wu-Tang, how did 1999's Nike Dunk come about?

The Nike Dunk was like a fluke almost. We were so cracking at that time, doing what we were doing at the market, and you know, Nike had never put nobody's name on its shit unless you was a boxer or an athlete or something.

I just think we were so on fire at the moment and you know the big company was always looking to be cool. The little guys make the big guys bigger, you know what I mean? And vice versa. Cats talked about it or whatever and it happened. "Oh shit, our shit is on a Nike!" You know? That was the first part of realizing, like "Oh shit, light bulb goes off!" You know what I mean? You get a little more inspiration to keep it going.

A Wu-Tang Life

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Did the success of the Nike shoe affect the decision to express the Wu-Tang heritage through other avenues?

Definitely one of the things. Yo, I still got people today that try and hit me up like "lemme get a…" What you think, I'm just sitting around holding Nike Dunks? It wasn't mad pairs like that anyway, so if you got some, you was lucky, you should have held on to them, but it is what it is, but it sparked the thought to try to come back to Nike and reintroduce that and also tweak and make a possibly new pair with them, 'cause thats whats poppin'.

The Nike Dunk is definitely a part of the heritage because its a part of the Wu-Tang brand, Wu-Tang Clan, and Wu Wear history.  It was the first for the genre — hip-hop and streetwear — there's no one that pre-dates that one. So yeah, you get to look back at those things as part of your history.

You guys collaborated with ALIFE for a couple years with the "A Wu-Tang Life" Collection, how did that come about?

The thought process behind the ALIFE collab was a no brainer. Prior to this there was no authentic Wu product on the market for a while. It would first serve as a barometer for where we would go with the  brand, and it was a great marketing tool which got the people fired up and looking around for what would come next. 

 Second, it would gauge the people's appetite for something dope and obviously Wu. it would also serve as the brand's re-entry into the marketplace. ALIFE had built a good, consistent business from scratch, much like the Wu Wear Model, the only difference was we had built in customers due to our following in music whereas they had to use their creativity to bring customers to them based on what they were doing. Of course, with them being influenced and inspired by Wu-Tang, it was an easy fit.

What other collaborations do you have in store for Wu-Tang Brand?

There ain't really gonna be too many collaborations or anything like that, but I'll definitely put something together with G-Shock. Something basic: nothing particularly super groundbreaking except for us coming together. You know what I mean? Respect and appreciation for both the brands. I'm also talking about doing something with Burton and the Nike stuff we just talked about. I'm looking to do that, bring that Dunk back. Revamp another one and possibly do a SB version.

Going With the Hits

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An SB version of that Dunk?

Well not even an SB version of that Dunk but a Wu-Tang Brand SB version period. Not particularly of that Dunk, but I'm gonna try to propose bringing that Dunk back, and maybe making a different one. But then also pay homage and make money with the skateboard folks. 

So with the new collection we’re seeing references to classic Wu-Tang songs like hats with
C.R.E.A.M. and tank tops with the W logo. Is that the kind of aesthetic we can expect to see in
the future of Wu Tang brand?

No, that's the fun part of it. That's the classic, so you know you always gotta go where the hits is, so of course I would be foolish not to capitalize on that or not make that a special part of what I'm doing but nah, that's definitely not all we're going to be doing. We making hot shit! That's what we gonna do, make hot shit: cut-and-sew, those special collaborations, and we're gonna just do what we're doing, make dope shit, deliver dope product.

Hooking Up with Rocksmith

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Can we expect more like outerwear like leather jackets?

All that, all that. Well I highly doubt that we're going to try to repeat the '90s, but we're gonna give today’s flavor with a '90s vibe and that '90s feel. We're gonna give you a piece of today, and we're gonna throw those classic elements on it that just make our shit, our shit. You know what I mean? That's what we're gonna do, keep making better and dope products. That's the name of the game; that's what drives it, that's the key and that's what we're gonna play with right there. That's what we're gonna do, zero in right on that.

How has the partnership with Rocksmith like helped out in terms of getting Wu Tang brand out there?

Well the partnership with Rocksmith is actually was definitely a strategic move, I got good partners over there that actually are part of the culture and into the culture and  they listen to me and I listen to them and we get it. 

How did that collaboration happen?

The collaboration is crazy because the collaboration happened through my man Nairobi from
StrictlyFitteds. Actually, at the time I was like "I ain't doing anymore collaborations." But he kept on hitting me up like “I'm telling you to come mess with them."

Finally one day I just went and met with them and I was real nonchalant about it because at the moment, I honestly wasn't into it, and I'm sure he'll even tell you the same thing. I had a whole 'nother plan about what I was starting to do and where I was going with it and he convinced me to take a look at it. And we did it, reluctantly. Based on the success of it, I was done.

The Future of Wu Tang Brand

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And now the partnership has lasted just about 2 years?

At the end of 2009 they went and did the numbers, and I stood on it. So at that point it was like,
"Yo, we're gonna move it like this because this is the way to go.” If it wouldn't have worked, then I would have had to rethink it and reconfigure my position, but it worked, and from that we just kept it moving. 

We worked some things out, we're doing business at the level we're doing business at together. It's good. Like I said, I got good partners over there, all the guys that work over there are good guys. They understand the culture, they're a part of the culture, they work in the culture. And you know me, as executive producer of the Wu-Tang Clan, I watch and follow the talent. I go where the talent is at. This is just another form, a pool of talent. So I follow these guys and they follow me, and we're working.

What kind of things can we expect from the new line?

Oh man, we're gonna make all type of shit! Dope product, dope shit, that's what you can expect, dope shit. We basically finished what we're showing at Magic in February, and it's really dope. But it's going to get doper, it only gets better. Hopefully we're gonna do something folks like. Again, we can't please everybody but whomever we're out to please, I'm sure they'll be pleased. And the ones that we can't please, sooner or later hopefully we'll do something they like, and they can pick out from it. Even the ones who love to hate, still love. We making dope product.

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