Welcome To Denim University
is a designer based out of Philadelphia that's creating some of the hardest digital printed denim in the game. We spoke with Liam about his experience starting to make his own clothing last year by experimenting with different creative mediums to now gearing up for the release of his fourth volume of nostalgic pieces. In addition, we also spoke about the inspiration behind some of his most iconic releases, his advice for other people looking to make their own clothing, and his plans to set his mark in fashion forever by continuing to create timeless works of art.
Where are you from?
Liam: I’m from a small town in Pennsylvania right outside Philadelphia.
When did you start designing clothing?
Liam: It was right around this time last year. I was just starting college and my friends that were around me were making music at the time. I always thought that was cool being around that scene and going to the studio. It was very creative so I wanted to find a way to be a part of it. I wasn’t really sure where to start at first, but I eventually started making clothing that I wanted to wear. At the time I was inspired by seeing a lot of people expressing themselves creatively I felt that I could do that as well. It really proved that whatever I set my mind to I can do.
Has it always been under your name?
What made you want to start making clothes?
Liam: I wanted to put what I thought was cool out into the world. It basically just started as me wanting to wear my own clothes. Eventually I wanted to sell it but when everybody starts you’re making a lot of free stuff for people for promotions. In the beginning you’re mainly making it for yourself or people around you. For a while I was super inspired by color. I was really into working with dyes and it was also affordable and easy to access in the beginning. I think that's why it’s so saturated now with young up and coming designers. I feel like I inspired a lot of people to do that. Obviously it wasn’t just me, but I feel like I had a small part in that which is cool. In the beginning people want to make everything fantastic and expect it to come out perfectly. But I was sitting there for easily six months straight spending $3-5k on mess ups and mistakes. People don’t really understand the process and they don’t really appreciate how much work you have to put into it.
How did you start?
Liam: The first thing I made was with a fabric marker sharpie. I wasn’t really sure what form to use so that’s where I started. I was definitely lost in the beginning just like everyone else. So I made a few pieces with the sharpie and realized it was going to fade as soon as it was washed so I moved on to acrylic fabric paint. I started dying stuff and then I would combine the dye and paint designs that I was doing at the time. After that I did a drop with around 40 pieces that were a combination of dying paint and spray paint, but the spray paint shirts were really stiff and just looked messy. Compared to what’s going on now it was definitely garbage. I ended up selling 10 things out of that release to the people that were around me at the time and people I’d met in Philadelphia. It was very small at the time. The next thing I did was buy a heat press and I started heat pressing vinyl and combining that with dye. But I didn’t get too far with the heat press since I didn’t appreciate the process. I realized that I didn’t really like the look of it, it wasn’t what I was looking to make. I did a small drop with that and it didn’t go very well, but all the pieces ended up selling three months later when I started to grow. At that time I was getting into really cool dye techniques that included blending colors. I was doing that and then I started working with denim curators like @lildenimjean
. He only had a thousand followers when we started, but he was growing really fast so I was getting a ton of attention from them. At that point I was gaining at least 100 followers a day. It was going super fast and I kept pushing out pieces every day. I was doing that for 2-3 months and developing my process and perfecting my technique. After a while I was getting bored with dye and it was becoming too much work for one person. It wasn’t very optimal for me and my style was changing too. I stared because I was making stuff that I wanted to wear so I had to start making different pieces to match my style. I found out about digital printing and thought it was super cool. But the digital printer I wanted was $20,000 and you had to learn everything yourself so it was a really big commitment. I was getting ready to start calling digital printers that Saturday and I got hit up by @levagabondny
out of nowhere. He was Ev Bravado’s printer for about five years and he does a bunch of stuff with Off-White so I was super excited. He said that I should hit him up if I wanted my stuff printed, and I saw that he was located in New York so it was perfect. It all happened 100% naturally. We set up a date to meet and it was completely different from your average experience since you normally work with Chinese manufacturers where there’s always a language barrier. Working with a local goods shop is completely different, I just walked in and there’s no minimum quantity so I could go in there and get 1/1’s of 10 different samples. That helps me because I don’t have to drop every time I order and I learn something new every time I go in there. There’s also a graphic designer that works there that’s super helpful as well. That’s basically where I’m at right now and it’s getting better every day.
Were you always interested in art and fashion growing up?
Liam: I wouldn’t necessarily say it was big to me but I was really into sneakers. I wasn’t a hypebeast but I would always wear Kobe shoes. I had 30 pairs of Kobe’s, I’d buy every pair. In elementary school I was always wearing jeans, Etnies, and DC’s, and in high school I was wearing Birkenstocks. I just starting doing my own thing that was different from everyone else. I had my own style but I was never into making my own stuff until about a year ago.
Talk about your recent release of Yori Vol. 3. What was your favorite piece on that drop?
Liam: It’s definitely between "a different take on camouflage" and the "toy soldier" pants. I had the idea for those so long ago and then I finally got the tools necessary to make it come to life which was super cool. Those are my favorites for sure. I’m not really the best with coming up with the names though so I had a friend help me.
Are volumes your version of collections?
Liam: Yeah basically since I didn’t want to just do an average collection. I’m thinking that in a year or so I’m going to start getting into dropping seasonal releases with a few different volumes for each one. From here on out I plan on dropping at least once a month, but I want to get to the point where I can do two a month. I have a lot of plans now that I have access to what I need to make it happen.
What was the inspiration behind the “Black Power” denim?
Liam: I’m a big believer in treating everybody equally. Racism is the one thing in the world that really irks me so that piece meant a lot to me. I’m around all different kinds of people so I wanted to send a message that I want everybody to get the respect they deserve.
Are you always looking to send a message with the clothing you create?
Liam: I wouldn’t necessarily say always. There’s lots of pieces that have a message behind them for example the MLK pants and hoodie and the “Votes For Women” crewneck that I previewed. It’s basically just harping on the moment in history when women were protesting because they wanted their rights. I was raised to treat everybody equally whether it's race, gender, sexuality, anything really. So that’s where the inspiration came from. But pieces like the toy soldier sweats didn’t have a message and were instead based off of nostalgia. Toy soldiers were a huge childhood inspiration for me so I’d say nostalgia is a big thing for me. There isn’t necessarily a message in every piece but everything’s being inspired by something. I make a lot of pieces that the average person can relate to by harping on things you see everyday and stuff from my childhood.
What does your creative process look like?
Liam: A lot of my ideas stem from one another. For example, I try to come up with at least 3-5 new designs every day. I find inspiration from somewhere and then try to find an image to relate to it that I think would be cool. Then it goes to my graphic designer and I have him either cut something out or sew things together and then I go to the printer. I have to figure out what color I’m going to do for the denim but that’s going to change soon. I’m going to be getting more into cut and sew so I’ll have control of the piece from top to bottom versus having to use a pair of Levi’s. It’s going to be a whole new realm for me with new challenges, obstacles, and things to learn which is exciting.
Are most of your pieces one of one?
Liam: They used to be but not now.
What was the reasoning for the switch?
Liam: I realized that if I really wanted to make this something that I could do for a living I couldn’t afford to just do limited 1/1’s all the time. I still make 15 1/1 pieces a month for myself, but not all of those get dropped. Whenever I post a new piece it’s a 1/1 at the time, but when I actually drop it becomes a pre-order. In order to turn my craft into a real profit I have to make multiple quantities. A lot of people think they can run a clothing brand on their own without proper funds, but everyone realizes that everything you do costs money. You can still go drop to drop, but in order to get it off the ground efficiently you’re going to need to have some funds.
You recently debuted your “Navy” pants that will be on Yori Vol. 4. What was the inspiration behind those?
Liam: I really like the look of vintage pin-up girls, so I was finding stuff that had a similar vibe to that. I came across some vintage advertisements for the Navy that I thought were super cool. The design on the back came from a vintage cover that was depicting the time when they tested atomic bombs in the desert. You can see that it all has the same vintage theme and advertisement look.
What makes that your favorite piece to date?
Liam: Every time I go get samples something new becomes my favorite piece. As soon as those came off the press I already had a fit in mind for when I got home. The next time I went the pair that I made with the three camels on the front in orange, green, and blue instantly became my new favorite. So that changes a lot for me and I’m sure it will again when I go print stuff tomorrow. I’m the type of person that gets bored very easily so once I print something I’ll wear it as much as I can and then switch to the new stuff I make after. That’s a big thing for me so my favorite piece pretty much changes every time I go.
When is Yori Vol. 4 dropping?
Liam: That’s dropping on October 11th.
What else should we expect to see from that release?
Liam: I haven’t really announced everything in it yet but it’ll be four pieces. It’ll include the tan MLK pants with the newspaper article and him walking on the back. The theme of those pants was black and white together along with African American rights and treating people how they want to be treated. Then I have the MLK hoodie with the “I Have A Dream” newspaper article on the front and the article about the march on the back. That piece is harping on history and highlighting how beautiful and important the movement was. I also have the “Set Fire To Prison” shirt that I made after reading an article about prison that hit home with me. I feel like there’s a lot of messed up things within the prison system so that’s where that idea came from. That’s the third piece, and then the final item will be the vintage advertisement piece.
What made you want to make the “Holy Spirit” denim pants from this past summer?
Liam: For a long time I’ve always woken up and said thank you to God, I love you, and I appreciate everything that I receive every day. That’s something that’s been right in front of me every day, so when I was thinking of designs and it came to me I knew I had to do it. That really hits home with me and I feel like a lot of other people can relate with it as well. It was a win-win for me since the inspiration came directly from my beliefs and was something that's directly in front of me every day. When I was in the print shop and saw them for the first time I knew people were gonna go nuts. Those ended up getting like 10k likes which was super cool. It was an amazing experience being able to make something that hit home with that many people.
What appeals to you about designing pants as opposed to other garments?
Liam: To be completely honest, right now I’m just obsessed with pants. They’re my favorite part of an outfit. I wake up and put my pants on and then decide whatever else I’m going to add to my outfit. I really can’t describe it unless you know how it feels, but I live for that. It’s a beautiful thing that a piece of clothing can do so much for you. As soon as I’m dressed I feel like I’m ready to tackle the day.
Are there any other mediums, garments or accessories you want to experiment with?
Liam: I’ve basically experimented with everything besides shoes, socks, and underwear. But everyone’s going to be seeing more stuff now that I have a person that’s going to be sewing for me and manufacturing what I print on. Now that I have access to cut and sew I can experiment with everything. Expect to see new T-shirts, hoodies, different fits, different fabrics, and a bunch of other new things. Even the tags are going to be different since I have access to new stuff with that as well. Everything that's happened so far has been laying the foundation for what’s about to come.
How did the denim collab you did with Malo in August happen?
Liam: Malo was always someone that I looked up to. He had 8-9k followers when I started and he was one of the bigger fashion people in Phili. When I came across his work he was doing something completely different from everyone else. I followed him for a long time and I’d always send him stuff saying that I was ready whenever he was down to work together. It wasn’t until I sent him the marble technique that he said we should run it. We came up with the idea for what we were going to do really quickly. I was going to go crazy freestyling the dye and he was going to freestyle the airbrush so we had creative control on each side.
Which pair were your favorite from that release?
Liam: It’s hard to say, but I’d have to go with the first pair. They had a design across the butt and there were some burns on the back, it was a messy looking vibe. We didn’t have names for any of the pieces since we just numbered them out of eight, but those were definitely my favorite.
What makes you want to work with another designer or brand?
Liam: I would never work with someone who’s work I don’t like. At the time I was a big fan of Malo’s work and things were going really well for me. I was starting to grow a lot so I knew it’d definitely work well for both of us. Both of our crafts go together and it’s definitely cool because in my opinion it comes down to having good taste. Like I said before, I make stuff for myself and nobody else. If you like it you can buy it, but at the end of the day everything is made for me. That’s the beauty of what I do because a lot of people make stuff for other people and clout has a lot to do with it. I’m out here just making stuff that I like, and I think that’s why people like my work. Everything’s real, there’s never any bullshit.
Are there any other brands or designers you want to work with in the future?
Liam: There really aren’t too many because right now I’m not focusing on collabs. But I am working with @vincentpeak._
, he’s an artist from Nevada that’s currently living in Phili. We’re working on a five piece collab that we’ll preview on October 18th and drop the first week of November. That’s the next collab I have planned. After that I don’t plan on working with anyone for a decent amount of time since I like working on my own. I’m not into too many other designers but two that stand out to me are Ev Bravado and Vivienne Westwood. Ev is one of the designers whose work I really love and would pay a lot of money for. I’d also love to do a necklace collab with Vivienne. Those are two that stand out to me.
What advice would you give to someone looking to put their own spin on denim?
Liam: I’m definitely glad you asked that because I have a lot of people that hit me up every day asking where to start. All I can really say is that you need to have some money to start. That’s a big thing for me because you’re going to be creating a lot of stuff to send out for promotions and pieces to get the word out. You also have to work really hard, and you’ll figure out real soon if you really want it or not. It isn't easy doing everything by yourself since there’s so much that goes into it. Especially when you get a little bigger and have to keep your content and quality up, so be prepared for what’s going to come. And staying ahead is huge. You always have to have ammo and content ready to go because you have to be so consistent with your activity and your posts. That’s really big if you want to grow. You can go piece by piece and post one every 2-3 days or once a week but it’s really hard to do that and grow in a reasonable amount of time. You just need to have faith and really believe that it’s actually going to happen. If you don’t have confidence and you don’t believe in yourself there’s no way it’s gonna work. I really believe that everything I’ve accomplished was manifested. I’ve always had confidence in what I’m making because I know it’s fire. The next big thing is having good taste. If what’s cool to you is cool to a lot of people you’re going to win. But a lot of people fall into the trap of making things that other people like which is why brands these days die so fast. You really have to like it yourself.
What should we expect to see from you next?
Liam: After the first collection in November the next drop will be pieces that are all cut and sew. That’s really what’s coming next because you’re about to see a whole new dimension. Right now there’s limitations to what I do because I’m just printing on Levi’s or a regular T-shirt. But now I’m going to be able to really do it from scratch, and that’s where the real designers show.
What do you want to be known for at the end of the day?
Liam: I want my pieces to be timeless and I really just want to set my mark in fashion forever. I feel like the power is there and I’m really starting to see that I can make it happen. I’ve always believed it but now I’m starting to see it with my own eyes. I really just want my name to live on forever, and I want college classes in the future to bring up my name and learn from me. Once you get to a certain age all you can really do is help the younger generation, so that’s where I want to be.
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