how to start your own streetwear brand: 7 tips from no stress
Skepta and Suspect approved line is inspired by living a good life.
Streetwear brands are hardly in short supply, with high end streetwear adding 5% to global sales of luxury goods in recent years. But, practically, how do you become an Off White or a Place + Faces, brands that have gone on to encompass an entire lifestyle where t-shirts, sneakers and sweats are barely online before they sell out.
Hackney born Ayo “No Stress”(as he prefers to be known) set up No Stress in 2016 with partners Ben Stookes, Ben Hughes and Jay No Stress. The label quickly caught the imagination of London’s envelope pushers, with everyone from Suspect OTB to Skepta wearing No Stress hoodies, beanies and Ts. For Ayo, it was about creating clothing he wanted to wear. “I stay close to my style. I design for myself and naturally the people around me,” he says. “I never design anything I can’t see myself wearing. I never want to lose belief in it. I design for myself first because I have to wear these clothes too. It’s about creating something that is a part of my lifestyle. I’m not wearing what’s cool or trendy, I wear it for comfort, for me.”
Ayo tells us the seven keys ways in which he’s created one of the capital’s emerging streetwear brands.
1. Decide you want to change your life and do it.
“I was a dibbler and a dabbler for a few years, I was hustling this and that, not really dedicating myself to anything properly. I was living day to day, paying my bills, keeping afloat but there were ups and downs -- I didn’t surround myself with good energy. I wasn’t living a ‘no stress’ lifestyle! I’d had the idea of a clothing line, but I hadn’t put it properly into practice. I would say to myself ‘Ayo, no stress, live your life, no stress’. It became my mantra. Seeing is believing and it can really affect your mood. So in 2016, I decided to take that philosophy to the brand and help spread that idea. We all have a lot to think and worry about in life, so I want people to put on a t or a hoodie and look in the mirror and see that projected proudly -- no stress! It’s an everyday reminder of how to approach life.”
2. Let your friends help you.
“I’ve got friends that are in fashion and music and who are really creative but I didn’t open myself up to them for a long time. I’ve known Burna Boy for years, from when he first lived in London, and through him I met [Greatness] Dex and then Skepta. It was all very organic. But although I had these guys around me, I just kept my head down, kept myself to myself. Towards the end of 2016, I saw I needed to connect a bit more with the people around me. As soon as I opened up I was met with so much love and support. I felt so motivated by my friends that I began to believe more in the vision. And the more success I had, the more ‘No Stress’ became a part of my mantra. People wearing your clothes is, of course, great for awareness. It shines a light on what I’m doing. These guys have access to all the big brands, but they also want to seek out what’s new and fresh. That organic acknowledgement has really helped the growth.”
3. But don’t force people to wear your clothes.
“One thing I’ve always believed if that you never pressurise people into wearing your stuff. Everyone who’s ever worn my stuff has been a surprise and it happens out of love. I’ve never asked Skepta to wear something. He’ll pick something out because he believes in the message -- who doesn’t want a no stress lifestyle! If you show people your vision and they understand it, they’ll want to be invested. If you believe in yourself enough then it’s going to start happening for you. Belief is contagious, it’s infectious.”
4. Be the brand you create.
“My whole approach is about “no stress” -- when people meet me they get a good vibe from me. That energy brings people together. I always meet people with an open heart and without judgement. I like to keep good energy around me because you get back what you give out to the world. I think that philosophy infiltrates the brand.”
5. Seek inspiration from a global perspective
“My first t-shirt was a football jersey inspired by Nigeria. My family are Nigerian, and when I finally visited Lagos a couple of years ago, it really blew me away. Being there fuelled so many ideas. In Nigeria you see people in football shirts the whole time but only the London teams -- Arsenal, Man U, Chelsea. I wanted to create an item of clothing that also spoke to identity, so I thought, let me create a team -- team No Stress. I wanted to get into that zone of sportswear and pull the fashion out of it, but also create a football shirt that was aligned with a way of thinking rather than being based on competition.”
6. And a female one
“My biggest, most major influences are Lauryn Hill and Aaliyah. As creatives, as musicians, as women of colour they are such strong people who were leaders of their time. I want to lead this No Stress lifestyle and make it a way of thought: carefree swag. Effortlessness is something I always aspire to. You don’t have to always kick the hardest to show you care. I love the freedom that artists like Lauryn and Aaliyah embody.”
7. Never rush greatness
“That’s what Dex says and it’s a life lesson. If you want to be great, it’s not going to happen quickly and you can’t get frustrated. You’ve got to keep pushing and be determined, which is why you have to build something you believe in cos it’s something you might end up doing, or being, for 20 years. I’ve learnt that with time and patience comes greatness. No stress!”