George Nichols IV, the 27-year-old behind Mailroom Season 2 winner Suspended Animation, treats his brand like the cartoons he grew up watching. Each capsule is like its own episode, themed after a particular moment or emotion that resonates with Nichols at the time. Sometimes it is coping with the stress of the pandemic. Other times it is preaching the message of perseverance to achieve your goals. The styles and colors might change up from capsule to capsule––a tie-dye shirt for the summer or a sweatsuit to lounge in––but it all remains rooted in positivity.
“I’ve always loved cartoons. I’ve always loved animation, drawing, things like that. How I took it as a child was that these characters were suspended in time. You can make them however you want, new illustration style, they can do anything. At the core of it is still the same exact character in every single episode,” Nichols tells Complex. “So, that’s the approach I’ve taken with this. It’s kind of like, you can change as many times as you want, but at the same time, you’re still going to be the same person at the end of the day.”
Mailroom host Racks Hogan took a liking to Suspended Animation’s colorful tie-dye T-shirt, graphic hits on its sweat shorts, and original screenprinting that covered the back of one of its T-shirts. The simple yet well-executed designs are what helped Suspended Animaton advance to the final round of Season 2 and eventually win the entire competition. For its exclusive drop on Complex SHOP that launched earlier today, the brand is releasing a cream graphic T-shirt and pair of faded black sweat shorts. Each is similar to the items that were reviewed on the Mailroom episode, but boast a new orange, yellow, and purple color palette. Currently a full-time graphic designer for an agency in the DMV area, where he has lived for the past 14 years, all of the graphics featured on Suspended Animation’s items are originals created by Nichols. Most are positive affirmations like “Show Some Love” in various font styles, smiley faces, and sketches of individuals throwing up the peace sign.
Suspended Animation, which launched officially in June 2018, actually began as Nichols’ thesis project while obtaining his master’s degree in graphic design at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Enough people took a liking to some of the pieces he made for his presentation that he decided to actually sell some of them. While the brand is still only a part-time undertaking for Nichols at the moment, he says that eventually he wants to be able to fully focus on producing new collections for the brand, and expanding into cut and sew to create a more unique brand identity.
“I definitely want to get into cut and sew, just getting into something more substantial that’s not just the crewnecks, or the hoodies, or the T-shirts,” says Nichols. “What if I want to make pants, or cardigans, or letterman jackets? I would love to have an avenue to do something like that. [T-shirts and hoodies are] your bread and butter of the brand, but you need something extra special to differentiate you from everybody else.”
Ahead of Suspended Animation’s drop on Complex SHOP, we talked to Nichols to learn a little bit more about his brand, what got him into style growing up, his inspirations, and more. Check out the conversation below.
What was it that first got you interested in style and clothing? Do you remember that moment growing up that you first took a liking to all of it?
It originally came from my dad. My dad loves fashion. So in college he would always do just little photoshoots, make these little magazines based off of GQ and stuff like that. And then he would give them to my mom. So, he had a couple of those saved and I would always just kind of get into them and he’s always liked to dress. He always dressed me as a kid and then that’s how I got started on it.
What got me into just wanting to make a brand of my own and just wanting to get into clothing and things like that was solely because when I moved around so much, I was in all white areas, all Black areas, or very diverse areas. So, my style changed constantly cause I was trying to fit in. Once I got older, I was like, all right, who am I? You know what I mean? Like not to get that deep with it, but what is my style? How do people know me? How am I representing myself? So it was, it all came out of just trying to classify my style for myself.
What is the meaning behind the name Suspended Animation?
I don’t know where I heard it first. I know I was a kid. But the words just kind of popped up on TV or something like that. I didn’t know what it meant. I just liked the way the two words sounded together. I looked it up for my research, for my thesis project, and it means, scientifically, “the cessation of all vital functions in the body without death.” I was like, “That’s a little deep. I don’t know if people could get there with that one.” So I really took it back to being a kid. I’ve always loved cartoons. I’ve always loved animation, drawing, things like that. How I took it as a child was that these characters were suspended in time. You can make them however you want, new illustration style, they can do anything. At the core of it is still the same exact character in every single episode. So, that’s the approach I’ve taken with this. It’s kind of like, you can change as many times as you want, but at the same time, you’re still going to be the same person at the end of the day.
So the overall basis is to suspend doubts and animate reality. It’s essentially just hang up everything that everybody’s saying about you and animate, reanimate your reality, do exactly what you want to do. And that’s kind of what I do with the brand. I release all of my pieces in capsules. Each capsule is like an episode. I have the base brand and the messaging always pretty much stays the same, but each capsule is me just kind of experimenting and reinventing myself, just trying to do something that was relevant for me at the time.
I was like looking at your site earlier, and it seemed like the stuff that you sent into Mailroom was fairly different from the stuff that you just recently released. So it’s interesting to hear the reasoning behind that.
I do like to have a bit of continuity through some of these things. I went through this when everything first started and we were a couple of months into being locked down. I had dropped a capsule called “Hanging by a Thread” because everybody was just kind of stressed. Everybody had lost their jobs and things like that. So, it was just to give them something, like a sense of community, that everybody’s in the same boat. So that was the first capsule. And then the one that I did next was “Show Some Love,” which was last summer when everything was going on with the protests. And of course it’s ongoing, but it was just a lot of animosity, you know what I mean, a lot of things going on. I felt people needed a positive message. So that was “Show Some Love.” Then, this last one I just dropped was essentially like the bookend to a trilogy. It was called “Picking Up the Pieces.” So it’s like, we’ve been through a new president now, we’re getting the vaccine, we’re getting all of these things. We’re getting back to “real life.”
Can you talk about the pieces that you’re going to be dropping on Complex SHOP?
Yes. So I’m going to be doing a new pair of shorts and they’ll be vintage black. I know a lot of people are coming out with a lot of the nice pastel colorways for spring and summer, which I think is amazing. But I wanted to break it up a little bit and do a darker color, but put the pastel colors on top of the shorts with the print. So that’s just trying to do something different while still staying on trend. And in my last capsule, the shorts sold out the quickest. A lot of people have been asking, “When are you getting the shorts back?” So I made a variation on the shorts. It’s got a different print, but it still has the same feel.
For the T-shirt, I wanted to do tie-dye originally, but aside from the timeline, which would take a lot of energy because I had dyed all the shirts myself. It would have been a little bit too much. So I had to sit back and think about it. When I was watching the episode again, I realized how hype [Racks] was about the Suspended Summer shirt. He was like, oh, we got a fire hit on the back, the original artwork, and all this stuff. So I just decided to remake that shirt and I’m just going to update the front a little bit to match with the shorts. I wanted people to be able to have pieces that can live separately or together. I wanted to keep something warm and take all the good things from the last capsule and all of the highlights that Racks was talking about on the show and try to put that into something still new and fresh that even people that are already following me or buying with me will still feel like they got something new if they were to purchase it. But then at the same time, new people can get a little bit of the old, even though they’re not getting the original.
Are there any specific people or brands or places or whatever it may be that inspire what you want to do with the brand or inspire your next ideas?
As far as brands go, I really love Kith and the idea that they are somehow coming up with endless collaborations. They always have the same kind of root systems where they put the logo down or have the name or whatever it is, but at the same time, it’s completely different and it’s based off of whoever they’re partnering with. So, the fact that they’re able to do that and still remain the same is something that’s really dope to me. I also am really inspired by Madhappy. I like the fact that almost all of their stuff always has a message to it, which I think is what inspires me to try to tie something into a community, to an experience, when you’re buying something.
As far as people, I’ve always been a huge proponent of KAWS and Pharrell. They are just endlessly re-creating things, and just making exactly what they want to make. They’re just trying their hand at a bunch of different stuff. So, you know, that, that’s how I get into trying to do 3-D renders for this new capsule that I just did or trying to get into video and drones and photography and everything like that. It’s just an experimentation. That idea of just creating something out of nothing is what I like.
Is it just you or do you have a small team that helps you with the brand right now?
It is just me. I do have friends who I go to for photography, or if I want someone to model, or if I just have to like, ping some ideas off of them. But as far as production goes, as far as ideation for the campaigns, designs, all that stuff, that’s all me.
You’re currently residing in Baltimore. Does Baltimore have any sort of inspiration on you creatively?
Oh, absolutely. I don’t think it does creatively necessarily, but I think more so the idea that you’re kind of bootstrapping. I’m not always working with a whole lot of money or a whole lot of inventory and I just kind of have to make do with what I have. So you do kind of see that energy. I mean, this is a dope city. I’m not saying I can’t get any creative outlet from here cause I definitely do. It’s just the energy that I see a lot of people making a lot with very little. I think it’s that idea that inspires me to be like, I don’t have to be huge right now. I don’t have to appeal to everybody. I don’t have to be able to sell 10,000 shirts right now. But just do what I can with what I have and make the most out of that. I think it’s definitely what inspired me to create what I’m doing right now, because it’s still very small. Like it’s all on me basically. That keeps me motivated.
What are some of those challenges that you have had to face so far?
I think the biggest challenge for me and even now, is really just having a foundation. I have a foundation more or less now, but I think it was like, you know, what are your costs going to be? What are your prices going to be? What are lead times? I had an understanding of it, but until you’re actually in it, you don’t know what that’s going to be like. So that has been the hardest. I’m still figuring that out. Whether it’s, how do I figure out how to do international shipping without breaking the bank? I’m trying to up the quality. So it would be great if I could do cut and sew or something like that, but that’s just not really feasible for me right now. Who are some vendors that I can go to constantly and know that I have the product? Because when you’re not buying big quantities of things, it’s very difficult to purchase and keep rolling out things and have the same quality of stuff. With the last drop that I did, the shorts that I got, I had just happened to find a sale at Urban Outfitters. And I just so happened to be able to buy like 30 pairs of shorts in different sizes. It’s just that consistency and really setting a foundation with how you want to move forward about everything that has been the biggest struggle.
When it comes time for you to sit down and figure out what your next capsule theme is going to be, what is that creative process like for you?
It primarily comes from just conversations. I’ve been talking a lot more to my friends and to my family and trying to retain those relationships and, you know, nurture them as well. So when I hear these conversations and everybody’s like, “Oh yeah, we got the vaccine. We’ve got all this stuff going on,” I just kind of take those elements. I don’t write them down or anything. They’re stuck in my mind. So I work off of that, then you will look around and see what’s kind of trending. How can you put your spin on things? How can you take elements of items that you liked or bookmarked on Instagram, things like that, and just composite a folder for inspiration.
And then I’ll just write some words that come to mind that apply to that. How can I graphically create something that makes sense with whatever the message is I’m trying to get across? And then the hardest part, but the quickest part, is the design. I don’t know how it happens so quickly because sometimes I’ll look back at the stuff I made and be like, how did I even get to this point? When I’m designing, it’s essentially like a blur. I get everything deeply rooted and I just kind of consume myself with it. I think in the future, I definitely want to try to get to something where I can just drop some Suspended Animation evergreen pieces, where people can always buy the same T-shirt. Or even if it’s just like having more fun with the capsules where it’s like Suspended Sporting Goods or Suspended Supply, or whatever. Things like that.
What is the next step for the brand?
I definitely want growth because I’ve been doing this for, you know, maybe two-and-a-half years. My following is great. I get traffic to the website, but I want that conversion. I want people to purchase. I’ve had a few people for sure that I don’t know, and they genuinely just came upon the brand, however that was, and they’ve bought products. I think that’s really dope when I can send something to California and I know no one in California. Some random people are buying it and I want that to happen more often where the community is growing essentially organically. So, my initial goal is to just get some more people and keep that conversation going. It was really cool when I had a friend that lives out in California, he was wearing his Suspended Summer shirt and a UPS guy drove past him and was like, “Oh, I love that brand. I’ve been following them.” So, I want those little random moments to keep happening more.
In the future, I definitely want to get into cut and sew, just getting into something more substantial that’s not just the crewnecks, or the hoodies, or the T-shirts. What if I want to make pants, or cardigans, or letterman jackets? I would love to have an avenue to do something like that. [T-shirts and hoodies are] your bread and butter of the brand, but you need something extra special to differentiate you from everybody else.