AWAKE NY's Angelo Baque on empowering through collaboration
One of streetwear's most important voices tells us about his new project, Asics Collective, and his commitment to meaningful representation.
This story originally appeared in i-D’s Out Of The Blue issue, no. 366, Winter 2021. With thanks to Tiffany & Co. Order your copy here.
Nothing is more important to Angelo Baque than community. One of streetwear’s most holistic voices and inspiring storytellers, across a career that spans almost twenty years – across Supreme and his own brand Awake NY – Angelo has consistently pushed streetwear out of its comfort zone and into more dynamic places.
A consistently progressive voice, he’s always striving to increase representation, to work with more diverse photographers, image makers and creators and ensure more people who look like him find their way into the industry.
The latest iteration of this lifelong mission came to fruition during the Covid lockdowns, with his new project with Asics, called the Asics Collective. Working with Tremaine Emory, BornxRaised’s Spanto, photographer Renell Medrano and Procell’s Jess Gonsalves,
to work on designs for the shoe brand, but also to root it in ideas around representation and ideology and how collaboration can be more than something superficial, but give back.
How’s everything Angelo? Are you in New York right now?
Yeah I’m here, and all is good, thank you. How’s London?
It’s starting to feel like winter here. It’s getting dark early now – the clocks just went back.
Those Jack the Ripper, medieval London vibes.
Yeah, exactly. But it’s quite chill here at the moment. Were you in New York throughout the whole of the lockdowns this year and last year?
Pretty much. I spent some time in Los Angeles this year, from January to June. I was going a little crazy in my apartment in New York so I took a sublet in West Hollywood and spent six months there. Looking back on those first months of lockdown in New York though, they were quite brutal.
You’re a born and bred, lifelong New Yorker, right?
Yes, I am.
From that position, did lockdown change your relationship with the city at all? Especially as Awake is such a New York brand, it’s so intrinsic to what you do and your creativity.
One positive outcome of Covid for me at the beginning of it all was time, just being able to sit by myself and think and be at home. At first it was great. I caught up with every TV show. But then you start banging your head against the wall, talking to yourself, you hate your cooking. You’re ready to break up with yourself. The romance was over. But then after a few months, I really started going within myself, to sit with my resources. There was no office, no assistants, no interns. It was actually really nice to start looking within myself for creativity and design inspiration and ideas.
But also where I live, which is Jackson Heights, Queens, was pretty much the epicentre of Covid in New York during that time, and I wanted to be of service to my neighbourhood, I wanted to help and give back. So we started working with this organisation called NICE, which stands for New Immigrant Community Empowerment. They work directly with the undocumented community because unfortunately they were hit the hardest during the lockdowns as they couldn’t apply for any federal aid or governmental help. So I started delivering groceries for them and helping them. I had a car, I had my health, I had a mask and gloves and I just started helping out. We donated money to them as they ran almost like a stimulus programme for the undocumented community, supporting families in the neighbourhood. I guess the common thread that connects all these experiences, really, is time, and having the time to think and help my fellow man and woman.
“I think we need to challenge corporations about the intention behind collaborations. Why are we working with this person? How are we able to give back to and empower the community?”
Also community? I think it’s a common experience right? How this isolation grew into a feeling of togetherness. There was a lot of lamenting for loss of the social bonds that make living in a city, whether it is New York or London, what it is, but then we discovered new bonds and new ways of supporting each other.
Yeah, exactly. It really gave meaning to a word like community. Corporations really love latching onto this word “community” at the moment but they don’t really understand what it means, because community for me is not just downtown and the people who work in arts and fashion, but it’s really local too, in JacksonHeights.
I did want to ask about this other community too, the Asics Community that you’ve just launched.
And this was also birthed during Covid, from me thinking about how I can empower the people around me and also challenge myself. I wanted to work on a passion project, something for myself that is creative but also outside of what I do with Awake, something to kind of keep me sharp. Everyone in it is a friend, although Tremaine Emory and Spanto I’ve known for a long time, and Jess Gonsalves and Renell Medrano are newer friends. But the common thread that unites us, again, is this idea of community, we have the same ideology, we stick true to our roots, we’re about representation – and I really want to emphasise the female representation of Renell Medrano and Jess Gonsalves. One of my main objectives since leaving Supreme over five years ago was to break up the boys’ club with streetwear, first by working with Shaniqwa Jarvis, and now I want to do the same with this platform for Renell and Jess.
There’s quite a cross disciplinary element to it, all these people come from different creative worlds. I’m interested in how it’ll work in practice, and in theory too. Especially with someone like Renell, who is a photographer.
I think, simply, with Renell, it is that she makes beautiful pictures. She has great style, a great collection of sneakers. She’s inspiring. She’s a native New Yorker. It’s a no brainer. I think she’s going to design an amazing shoe, because when you have an eye – and I’m a little bipartisan because my schooling and my teachings are in photography – that transcends to all aspects of life.
What do you want to achieve with this? What would success look like?
Success would look like change. How companies, specifically shoe companies, look at what collaborators look like because, at this point, collaborations don’t really mean anything anymore. Every day, you jump on Hypebeast and there’s fifty new collaborations dropping. Nothing’s surprising anymore.
I think we need to challenge corporations about the intention behind collaborations. Why are we working with this person? How are we able to give back to the community? How are we able to empower the community? How are we creating inspiration through this, because for me that’s success. Selling thousands of sneakers isn’t what it’s about, it’s about getting a DM from a South American kid saying thank you. I see you doing it and because of that it’s going to be easier for me to convince my parents to let me go to art school or to pursue design or fashion. I see you doing it and I believe I can do it. When I got that kind of DM. I’m like cool. My job is done. Secretly that was what I was wishing for and looking for when I was growing up, because I didn’t see anyone in New York City’s fashion world who looked like me. For me it’s always been about inspiring this next wave of creatives coming up.
Do you feel optimistic about that? That change is being made.
I do feel optimistic about it because I do see the change happening. I see the ideologies we’ve been putting forward with Awake for the last five years becoming an integral part of streetwear now. And I do see more female participation and female acceptance in streetwear, it’s becoming the norm. Brands are changing. They aren’t just sexually objectifying girls any more, for example, but treating them with respect, treating them as the muse. It’s not just a scantily clad girl in an image anymore, she is taking the photograph now. I mean my biggest muse was always my big sister. To me growing up there was no one cooler than her.
With thanks to Tiffany & Co.
Photography Lucka Ngô