Tremaine Emory Talks ‘Streetwear’: ‘When it's Outsiders Talking About Us, Just Call it Clothing.’

Tremaine Emory sits down with Complex to discuss what's missing from streetwear, the popularity of his Cotton Wreath Levi's, his essential items, and more.

Tremaine Emory

Image via Getty/Alexander Tamargo

Tremaine Emory

On Feb. 16, Tremaine Emory was named the creative director of Supreme. It marked the first time the VF Corp-owned streetwear giant had publicly confirmed an external hire for the position. Thus, it was a move that was celebrated by many, and rightfully so. 

Emory has a proven track record of using clothing as a vehicle for meaningful storytelling. His brand Denim Tears makes various references to the Black experience. A 2021 project with Champion paid homage to the Black activist and choreographer, Alvin Ailey, for example. Perhaps the most notable items thus far have been his Cotton Wreath jeans with Levi’s. The cotton wreaths printed across each pair are a reference to slavery. 

“The world kinda don’t need more clothes. So, I think clothes should have some type of meaning, a reason why,” Emory tells Complex about his motives for communicating these types of messages through his clothing. It is this mindset that has people excited about what Emory will create at Supreme, a brand that has often referenced various areas of Black culture with its collections but not always completely followed through on educating the consumer about those touchpoints. “I thought making clothing about the plight, glory, all parts of being part of the African diaspora was a good place.”

Emory’s future with Supreme is something everyone is still curious about. Not much has been said aside from the initial announcement by either party. But it isn’t the only thing Emory is working on right now. At the top of the month, he debuted his latest Denim Tears collection, an offering consisting mainly of jeans and striped rugby sweaters bearing imagery like Black Jesus and peace signs made of cotton. This past weekend, Emory joined BMW in the desert for the first weekend of Coachella alongside a handful of other ambassadors to celebrate the unveiling of a custom BMW iX car wrap inspired by Doja Cat’s Planet Her

While Emory was unable to speak on his new role with Supreme, the designer did have a moment to talk with Complex at the event about his thoughts on using the term “streetwear,” the success of his Cotton Wreath denim, his essential items, and more. Check out the full conversation below.

(This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)

Tremaine Emory BMW

Your Cotton Wreath Levi’s have been very popular. What are your thoughts on how well they have been received thus far? 

I’m just grateful that I have the opportunity to talk about what the cotton wreath represents. So I’m grateful to Levi’s and grateful to people that spend their hard earned money on my art. That’s pretty much the thing. The whole idea is to have as many people wearing something that represents the plight of the African diaspora, African Americans. I tell that story. So it’s beautiful to see all kinds of people wearing it, white kids, Asian kids, Black kids, Spanish kids. It’s beautiful to see all types of people wearing something that represents that. 

What inspired you to communicate that message through fashion?  

The world kinda don’t need more clothes. So, I think clothes should have some type of meaning, a reason why. I thought making clothing about the plight, glory, all parts of being part of the African diaspora was a good place. 

You can keep telling different stories. So, the cotton wreath is about slavery and how America was built off of the slave trade and cotton. But then I did a collaboration with Alvin Ailey and Champion and talked about one of the most foremost dance creators in the history of dance. My Uggs collaboration is about Black Seminole native heritage. I’ll never run out of stories. There’s an infinite well of stuff to talk about. And that’s any culture. Whatever culture you’re from, if you decide to make movies, or clothing, or write a book, or whatever, there’s an infinite amount. That’s what Denim Tears is all about. It’s all out there. If I haven’t read it or know about it, I can find it. Really, I like to find experts and people that have lived it and then connect with them. I learn from them and help tell the story of what they’re about.

Tremaine Emory

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