Another element of your home grown culture is Babylon Cartel. Most recently, we interviewed Quinta Brunson, a close friend of yours who has rocked choice pieces in a few of her comedy sketches. Can you talk about how the line came to be, how your sphere of influence will affect BC’s future, and what separates you from other “street wear” brands?
The line started off as me being an ambitious teenager that was totally inspired by Pharrell Williams and Nigo. Honestly, fashion has always been in my blood and I just have never realized it. My mother, who herself was a former model, named me after designers Gianni Versace and Bill Blass hence my name Gianni Blass Lee.
I worked at a store in Philadelphia called Ubiq. I always had dreams of starting my own line and I brought the idea to my friends: Aaron Ramey, Mark Wrice, and another member who is no longer with us. My second year at Temple University, I had a dream and the name “Babylonian Cartelâ€ came to me. After some slight modifications, which were very Social Network-esque, we came into agreeance with Babylon Cartel. That’s pretty much how it began. We dressed very different in college.
Wearing neon-retro-inspired fits, we stood out from the crowd and it made them take notice to the t-shirts that we were creatng. Eventually, we hit a plateau in Philadelphia and moved to Los Angeles. After I got one of my pieces on Rihanna, our brand value catapulted. We decided to step back and focus on creating some pieces that could stand the test of time. We got tired of being a t-shirt brand and wanted to progress. We added Danielle Allen to our team as a secondary graphic designer and I worked closely with her to create the new image and message for Babylon Cartel.
Inspired by the World Cup, we decided to create some pieces that people wouldn’t expect from us. That is how our very popular “Goalkeeper Jerseys” were born. I believe that my influence will greatly effect BC’s future. As I move up the ladder in the music industry, I come into contact with many influential, eccentric, and stylish individuals. Many of these people would wear my brands, so it is the perfect marketing situation without even realizing it. It works both ways. Babylon Cartel is a person in my eyes. We have a relationship as I grow, she will grow, and vice versa. I want my name to be synonymous with success, as much as I want Babylon Cartel’s name to be synonymous.
As far as separation, it is quite clear that we don’t look like any other brand on the market. So much so that I don’t even want us to be labeled as “street wearâ€. I think Babylon Cartel is so much more than that. Our designs, our story, and our marketing strategy puts us in a league of our own. I believe that one of the key things that separates us is our relationship with our customers. I don’t ever want Babylon Cartel to become too cool or too big that we don’t treat the people who support us as fans versus as friends. The fact that we brand events and create a lifestyle for ourselves for people to follow further push that notion.
You release projects on a free-flow basis, yes? What tips as a millennial can you offer to your generation and the elders about time management and execution? Also, can you talk about how productivity differs today, in your opinion, than yesteryear?
I definitely release music and fashion projects on a free-flow basis. There is no real calendar that I go by, but there is always planning and preparation thats goes into it. Time management is an important part of business because you can get so much done in the conventional work day of eight hours. What makes being your own boss even more exciting is that on any given day you don’t mind giving more than eight hours. The more work you put into your craft the better the results will be. Because of social media today’s productivity has dwindled. Many budding entrepreneurs have become comfortable with the instant success of many brands and entities and they believe they can gain the same by focusing solely on social media–which is wrong.
People become lazy and exist on their phones and tablets as the primary source of outreach versus actually hitting the streets. If you want a successful brand your productivity has to be at an all-time high. You have to exist online as much as you do in the streets. Word of mouth is still one of the best forms of promotion and marketing.
On the next page, Gianni Lee talks about AFROPUNK and his ‘New Philly’ movement…