Often times when we are investing in small or local brands, we aren’t thinking of all the things it actually takes to run a successful brand and how much loyalty and engagement they have with the people who are buying their products. Small brands are foundations for impact rather you want to accept that or not and often have a bit of leverage over bigger brands. Why ?Because smaller brands know their audience and their community a bit better then other platforms who just want your coin. This is the reason why more than often you see big brands collaborating with small brands and micro-influencers to create product rather that is sneakers or an apparel collection . The phrase, “If you know, you know” is probably more powerful than ever.Rather it’s the marketing , the graphics, or the overall execution , North Carolina native Greg Cates of GAC GETS IT. If you’re from the south, this is the brand you can look to see expand more and more into the world and if you are into music, his work doesn’t just stop at creating apparel. He’s also responsible for the tour merch and graphics for some of the hottest artists out at this very moment. Luckily for me, I got to deep dive with Greg to see how his brand GAC has came to life and what doors it has led him to thus far. Peep our latest conversation below and let us know what you think !
EB: Greg Cates! How are you ?
GC: I’m good ! No complaints , I’ve been driving all day today but other than that , no complaints. How about you ?
EB: I’m cool, just been working from home so I can’t complain on my side ! I think we’re ready to hop into it today so boom let’s get into it. Where are you from originally ?
GC: I’m originally from Burlington,North Carolina !
EB: Wow, that’s a first ! I have never met anyone from Burlington but wow. What part of Burlington ? Is there a certain area?
GC: There’s a lot of small towns in Burlington but I stayed in Graham and I went to Graham High School so I lived like 10 minutes away from the BURLINGTON/ Burlington area so yeah!
EB: Okay, gotchu gotchu ! So with you coming up in Burlington , where did this love for clothing and streetwear come from?
GC: Honestly I’ve never been a fashion guy soI think it was more so a love for creativity and vintage and because of those two things, I just ended up creating t-shirts and garments and stuff. Originally , I started selling t-shirts as a way of making money after my freshman year of college being broke . I started making these t-shirts that had the city’s nickname on it and we called it Bucktown. I think Burlington played a part because I started selling those t-shirts and they were selling like crazy. I was like oh….maybe I could actually start a brand but I had no direction at that time and I think this was either 2012 or 2013.
EB: So i know you mentioned being a broke college student which most of us can relate to as a drive for starting your hustle. As you were starting your brand.. What life experiences were taking place for you in addition to that which made you jumpstart your brand?
GC: I just started paying attention to local brands like F4mily Matters in Charlotte and other household names that were already doing what I wanted to do. I started paying attention to their marketing tactics and how they designed. I dropped out of college and didn’t get a fashion or marketing degree so I just had to do a lot of research on my own.
EB:Were you always passionate about your community and translating that passion into the t-shirts you were creating?
GC: I’ve always been a people person and a community person and that had already been apart of my lifestyle. So when I started designing t-shirts, it was just incorporating my lifestyle into the t-shirts and the storytelling. The t-shirts and what I put on them all stem from my lifestyle and it’s tied to my community because I always want to engage with people.
EB: So do you think that want has played a big role in who you collaborate with and the stories you tell ?
GC: It definitely plays a role in my audience. I think even a negative person who sees a flyer that I posted may not align with me but I’m always hoping I can be a light to them or either they’ll leave and feel like it’s not the brand for them. I feel like it’s easy to curate and carry the brand the way I do because I have an audience that can appreciate it.
EB: Speaking of the audience you cater to…I’ve noticed that there’s definitely an aesthetic you’ve built around the brand using VHS tapes, throwback moments that took place in NC ,an Aggies throwback game and you use a lot of nostalgic programming from Nickelodeon, the staticy weatherman reports and all that.Have you always had a team that could help contribute to this or has it always been you up until this point ?
GC: So I’m extremely into vintage and I’ve always been. Growing up, I was a sports guy playing basketball and I ran track so I was always the type of person to throw on sweats and and my track or basketball hoodie and not really capture fashion. I think at one point I just wanted to turn my swagg up and didn’t have the means to do it so in the 11th grade , I started wearing vintage from the thrift store. When I went to a thrift store, it made me think of my childhood. I think that’s one of the reasons I curate vintage. I have the eye for it and it reminds me of my childhood and I want my audience to catch that same feeling. So when I post something that’s inspired by nickelodeon or an Mp3 player, it brings people back to feel an emotion rather it’s happy or sad. I always want to get emotion out of people through that connection so that’s why I feel like I am a storyteller.
EB:Now, I know you made a video deep diving into the streetwear is dead quote from Virgil and from what I took away from your video, you highly disagreed . So from the point of view of a small streetwear brand with influence , what does streetwear mean to you and why is it so important to the culture ?
GC: For me, streetwear means that it’s meant to be worn on the streets rather that is a t-shirt , an Adidas track pant or something that has a hole on it, it’s streetwear. So the narrative that streetwear is dying … I just couldn’t rock with that because a streetwear piece like a t-shirt is a canvas . I think putting on something simple and not needing to iron it or get it dry cleaned is what I also think of as streetwear to me. I think streetwear is important because people should always want to be comfortable. I think Virgirl as a fashion guy wears a lot of streetwear so I thought his statement was contradicting.
EB: I feel like a lot of people forget and overlook things once they reach a certain status in life. The Hundreds started off as a tshirt brand and they didn’t intend to take over the streetwear scene through their blog platform and then they grinded their way into shops all over and even mainstream skate shops. Streetwear is what we grow up on , it’s about accessibility and I think when you link streetwear and how black people operate in it… I think of what the founder of 424 clothing once told me at Agenda . He was a black man and he told me that black people have to usually start off in streetwear before they land into the high fashion space and so I look at streetwear as a foundation much like yourself and I completely agree with your point of view.
GC: Completely feel you and you definitely made some points.
EB: Now for people who may have never been on your page before … let’s say they get to your page and they see not only Megan Thee Stallion rocking your hoody but Ari Lennox as well. What are the stories behind getting them the product ? Oftentimes, we highlight the photo or the product cop but we don’t highlight the process in how the product actually reached the hands of certain people.
GC: That’s a really good question so thanks for asking. Sidenote, I always make it a point to be as transparent as I can with my audience and share my processes of printing and all things in between with people because I want them to know that they can do it too and that I started from the bottom. Them getting my stuff has to do with my other job of being a freelancer where I brand other artists and start up companies with a team behind me. I have two illustrators, a production manager, a videographer, and a photographer . One of the photographers went on tour with Ari so when I made her my full time photographer, she had a show the same day as my pop up in Greensboro during GHOE. I guess before Amanda the photographer started taking pictures of her, she asked Ari if she wanted anything from the pop up and showed her what I had. She asked for a hoodie ,I airbrushed it , and she got it. Now Megan Thee Stallion was a crazier story. My boy Joe from LA got hired as a videographer for a certain amount of time. Within 6 months, they had a show in Durham and I was making merch for Big KRIT at the time and his show was in Raleigh. I ended up dipping from the show because I just didn’t feel like I was being treated well. I woke up the next morning to a text message from Joe who asked if I was in NC. He wanted to link and I was already in Raleigh so I drove to Durham and I know how I am around celebrities so I wasn’t going to press him to see Megan or anything like that. Ironically I had hoodies in my car that I had planned to give to Krit and them so I took them when I went to see Megan and her team and they said it was hot. Ended up kicking it and Joe needed some graphics and I told him I could do it. He pulled some strings and Roc Nation and her management were pleased so yeah, that’s how she got the hoodie. Pretty crazy
EB: Wow !Thats fire !
GC: Then I don’t know if you know the song “Uno” by Ambjaayy ?:
EB : Oh yeah, I love that song !
GC: Word ! So when that song dropped, I was interning for a creative agency who was in charge of his merch and stuff at the time. I was kind of like a middle man , I followed him on instagram and reached out personally. He followed me and he’s dropping his first album under Columbia on April 4th so me and my team are putting together all his merch right now. I met him through the same agency that put me in contact with Krit so yeah !
EB: That’s really crazy! Do you have a favorite collaboration amongst your brand thus far ?
GC: At this point, it’s hard. I’m not going to collaborate if I know I am not going to love it at the end. This used to be easy for me to answer but my best executed one was a collaboration with a church youth group. They basically were doing a back to school thing, I talked to the students and did a pop up shop called GAC To School. It was 107 students there and I collaborated with the youth group that was catered to them and my audience as well. That sold really well and then my favorite is the Bojangles one. No one was really thinking about doing stuff with Bojangles. I think people expect household names to do that but I had shooted my shot to the Bojangles headquarters and their franchise and that ended up working out. Then I got something special coming up. My dream collab is with Adidas because of Kobe though. I couldn’t afford a Kobe jersey and I bought a Kobe Bryant t-shirt that was Adidas and from there , my love for Adidas stuck.Then when the Adidas track pants came out and became popular, I seen everybody wearing them and it was fire.
EB:Is there anyone you look up to that motivates you to keep pushing ?
GC: At the moment, I would say JoefreshGoods probably because he’s relatable. He’s super pro black and never compromised for the dollar and I’m very big on that. Plus he shows how you can remain authentic in the creative industry .
EB: What can we look forward to next coming from your brand + what’s the long term goal for you?
GC: I see my audience is growing so I want to do more pop up shops and collaborations with companies so right now , I’m just in motion.I have an agency i’m trying to build so those are just some of long term goals because I want multiple large streams of income. As far as stuff that I’m dropping… I don’t have a schedule. As stuff comes to me, I get with my team and we create it.
EB: You technically have your team already so that agency is already put in place really.
GC: Exactly !
EB: Well this was great ! Looking forward to everything you have coming up and thank you for your convo today