la's illegal civilization are inspired by new zealand's skate kids
Photography Imogen Wilson
Mikey Alfred's label Illegal Civilization started as simply as it could, with a series of self-titled videos featuring Mikey's pals skating and stirring up shit around LA. Since then, the label and its crew have grown up considerably. Illegal Civilization is now a beloved fashion staple for the city's skaters; and those friends have become leaders of the new guard of hip-hop (Odd Future) and skateboarding (Kevin Bradley, Nakel Smith, and Sean Pablo).
Through the years, Illegal Civilization has maintained a unique energy, largely because of the way it embraces its global audience. Kids in New Zealand — a world away from LA — love the label too. Auckland photographer Imogen Wilson shot 14 Illegal Civilization fans in New Zealand, and i-D chatted to Mikey about his brand and his dreams of being stocked in Walmart one day.
How did this shoot come about?
Imogen originally just bought one of my sweatshirts. She posted a photo and tagged me, so I'm looking at it like I do with any other kid who posts a photo with my stuff, then I'm scrolling through her Instagram and every picture is just, like, amazing. So I just hit her up, like, "Hey I love your photos. What would you do if I sent you some clothes?"
That was a very organic way for a collaboration to come about. Have you ever been to New Zealand?
Yeah, I've been there once. We went to Victoria Street skate park in Auckland. It's beautiful. The weather is just like LA.
I'm not sure you'd say that if you were here now. Your stuff is very specific to you and your friends in LA. It must be interesting for you to see people on the other side of the world embracing and interpreting it in their own way.
It's amazing. We're from completely different walks of life, but our attitude's the same. That's why I like her photos. When you look at a picture, you can tell what kind of person it is. If you take a picture of someone who's really smart, and they like a lot of random music and they read, you can tell just from the photo. The energy that radiates from it, you know? They're not just some random kid.
That's the appeal of smaller skate-related brands like Illegal Civilization I guess; they get what young people are into in a way the big brands don't.
It's because all these big companies, when they're sitting in a room trying to figure out a marketing strategy, they're thinking: "Okay, what's a hashtag we can come up with?" or, "Who's some celebrity we can get to wear our stuff?" or whatever their little scheme is. But with me, my main marketing tool is going up to people. I just walk up to them and say, "Hey, how are you? Do you want a sticker?" "Sure!" "Do you want a shirt?" I tell them about it, then they go and tell their friends: "Yo, it was so random! I was just walking somewhere and some kid walks up to me with 30 other kids with him and they're all skating, and he gives me a sticker. I looked it up and it's amazing." You know, that's how you market. Word of mouth, there's no price you can put on it.
There's an openness to what you do which a lot of people can relate to.
Totally, I'm like that. Right now, I'm about to walk into an editing bay where we're cutting up a short film, because I'm trying to get into directing and narrative filming, not just skate filming. I suck at it right now, but I'm going to get good at it.
It's good to be okay with sucking at something for a while.
One hundred percent.
So you're applying this energy to all sorts of things: film, clothes, music, and art. Is there a structure to it? Do you have a long-term plan?
The plan is to have a production company, and work on films and TV shows and stuff under that, and have a touring section to send musicians and films on tour. With the clothes, I want to eventually get into huge stores like Walmart and Target and stuff. I wish stuff that's really cheap was cool, that would be awesome.
It would be so easy for that stuff to be well cut and for some interesting ideas to come through, but it's just not.
It's because people are scared to grow and branch out. All the people who are cool and make great designs, they're scared to get into those big stores because they think it's going to ruin their brand, when in reality, it's not. I want to start that revolution. Stop thinking these big stores are just going to kill you. Nothing's going to happen.
It's like using photos of kids on the other side of the world wearing your clothes, instead of just your immediate friends. It's a show of confidence.
Yeah, it's like saying: "Hey, if you're talented and you're down to work hard and put together all these kids and do photo shoots, we'll post it. We'll help you get your name out there." That's essentially what I'm trying to do with Imogen; I just believe in what she does and I like her, so it's like, fuck it.
Text Max Olijnyk
Photography Imogen Wilson