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When the graffiti artist Josh “Stash” Franklin first started screenprinting his own T-shirts in 1985, he wasn’t necessarily envisioning a “streetwear brand.” Instead, he was looking to service folks within the graffiti community by selling them T-shirts emblazoned with the logos of popular spray paint brands. An artist who exhibited his work alongside subway graffiti writers like Zephyr and pop artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat, T-shirts were just another vessel for Stash’s art. But his graphic T-shirts went viral and were worn by musicians like Mick Jones of The Clash and members of the Beastie Boys in the early ‘90s. Many vintage streetwear aficionados are familiar with Stash, Futura and Gerb’s famous 1992 “Phillies Blunts” T-shirt, an item which is frequently cited to be one of the first popular pieces of streetwear because of how much it got bootlegged after its release. However, his 1993 graffiti-inspired brand Subware, which was co-signed early on by Fragment Design’s Hiroshi Fujiwara and Errolson Hugh of Acronym, eclipsed the lore of that single T-shirt.
“If people really look at what Subware was, it was a celebration of other artists. I just knew a bunch of really amazing artists that I would love to have a T-shirt from,” says Stash. “I wanted a Futura T-shirt but there was none. I wanted a Zephyr T-shirt, but you couldn’t get one. So I was selfishly indulging with a group of my friends, but broadcasting and really promoting the [graffiti] movement. I was educating and reaching audiences that hadn’t been reached with the artwork before.”
Years before Kaws and Futura collaborated with luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Comme des Garçons, they collaborated with Subware. Stash’s pioneering New York City streetwear brand was akin to other graffiti-inspired clothing labels of the time, such as PNB Nation, Conart, and Tribal Gear. But Subware’s early impact on the genre of streetwear was monumental. It was one of the first brands to architect fashion-art collaborations as we know them today while also tightening streetwear’s ties to “techwear” through early collaborations with brands like Acronym. Although Subware faded out in the late 2000s along with Stash’s brick and mortar store Recon/Nort, he recently relaunched his line through a marquee collaboration with Mankey—the Japanese graphic artist behind A Bathing Ape’s famous “Baby Milo” characters.
We spoke to Stash about the origins and impact of Subware, early ‘90s New York City streetwear, his collaboration with Supreme this season, and more.