Gavin South is a designer and animator based out of Brooklyn that's creating the most famous cat in fashion, and soon the world. We spoke with Gavin about his experience making his first animation at age 13 and taking his main character, Glenn, and applying his creative talents to designing clothing and his iconic "Monkey Cat" shoes that've been worn by Dom McLennon, Asspizza, and many others. In addition, we also spoke with Gavin about his other shoe designs and collaborations, what we should expect to see from him next, and his plans to continue creating cartoons and pursuing new artistic endeavors while establishing Glenn the cat as a cultural icon for the ages.
Where are you from?
Gavin: I’m from Fort Worth, Texas which is in the Dallas area, but I’m in Brooklyn right now going to school at Pratt Institute. My mom's family is from New York so that’s why I don't have a southern accent.
When did you start designing shoes and clothing?
Gavin: I started selling custom painted shoes in March of this year and I started making clothes in June, so it’s been a very short amount of time. But the purple cat character that I’ve been drawing has been my character for a few years now. I’m not really a clothing designer or a shoe designer, I’m an animator that makes cartoons. So on my shoes you see all the cat heads and the monkey head which is actually a sequence. It’s an animation sequence of a head turn, and as it turns the characters are changing. Since I’m an animator I try to bring animation elements into clothes and shoes, but animation is my primary goal.
How did you get into animation?
Gavin: Just from watching Newgrounds when I was like 12 or 13 and seeing all the flash animators of that time that I thought were really cool. I made my first animation when I was 13, I called it “stoned mudkip” and ever since then I’ve been making cartoons. I’m now finally studying it here. My first year at Pratt we had to do foundation courses like traditional drawing, but now we actually get into our majors. We’re doing a lot of paper animation here which is cool since I’ve never been able to do that until now.
Are you doing digital animation as well?
Gavin: Yeah, I’m gonna post more of my cartoons but I do all the voices and edit it. I’ve been doing video editing for a while. I used to make montage parodies and I had over 1,000 followers doing that on Youtube when I was 14, and I finally bought a decent mic when I was 15. I started making decent animations by my senior year of high school which was two years ago. I’ve always made the voices for my animations monotone. A show that influenced the way I do my voices and really got me into cartoons was 12 oz. Mouse. If you look it up, it was a show on Adult Swim back in 2006 that's the most shitty looking show you’ll ever see in your life. Some people think it’s hilarious and some think it’s stupid, but I thought it was the most genius thing ever. It’s my biggest inspiration. The writing is so dry and it’s coming back in 2020 so I’m excited.
Have you always been working under your own name?
Gavin: Yeah, it’s been gilfgavin for most of it. I don’t want people to think I have a brand or anything though, I’m mostly just a person. I’m more of a designer and less of a brand.
What made you want to get into fashion design?
Gavin: I got pretty big into sneakers last year. I was into the newer sneakers coming out and started borderline obsessing about it. So I decided to try painting on a pair of fake Air Force 1’s that I bought for $12 since I didn’t want to fuck up a real pair. Some people that I knew asked if they could buy a pair so I just started to post it and it continued as more people started to request stuff. Then at the beginning of the summer in mid or late May I had this big thing where I was gonna make 40 custom pairs. I made a website and made this huge promo video with animation in it for the release. I worked so hard on it and I think I only made one sale. At that point I thought I was trash but I bounced back. It initially flopped because I was selling the same painted design on each shoe, but I started getting more sales from people dm’ing me and sending me shoes they already had that they wanted me to design on. So I started gaining a decent amount of money and recognition from that. But the original shoe design was when people started paying more attention. When I posted that design in mid June I had 200 followers on Instagram, but when I started producing and posting those pictures it grew way more than I thought it would.
Were you always artistic growing up?
Gavin: Yeah I’d say so. In elementary school I was pretty big into graffiti art. Then throughout high school I was big into drumming and that was my main focus for a good few years. It wasn’t drumset drumming either, but marching snare drumming where you do all the tricks. I got pretty good at drumming and won a few competitions since drum line is a pretty big thing in Texas and there’s lots of competitions for it.
Everything you do seems to revolve around your famous cat. What’s his name?
Gavin: His name is Glenn.
How did you initially come up with idea for him?
Gavin: I was in animation class in high school, but it was actually terrible because my teacher didn’t know anything. I knew more about animation than she did and she just gave us Youtube tutorials to watch. Youtube tutorials are great, but if I’m taking a class I’d rather learn from someone teaching it. On the first day she told us to draw up an original character, and mine was Glenn. It was a different variation but still the same general idea. From then on I just kept drawing him.
Talk about your "Monkey Cat" shoes that just released. What was the inspiration behind those?
Gavin: Initially I saw the guy that made the Travis Scott shoes and I DM’d him. It was in the early stages of that concept, and he kind of blew up on that. I actually hit him up on Reddit since that’s where I saw it and I asked him how he made them. I told him that I’d buy a pair if he gave me his manufacturer and he did, but all those orders got canceled since his Paypal got locked. If you get too many orders Paypal locks your account, and the same thing happened to me which was stupid because I thought I could do it even though I saw the same thing happened to him. But I thought the silhouette was cool, and if I could actually get a shoe manufactured and printed I might as well do it. So I sent the design to the manufacturer and he said something like, “holy fuck, nice shoe” but in broken English. Once I posted that design people were asking if they could buy it and Dom from Brockhampton DM’d me and wanted a pair too. At that point it was just an Adobe Illustrator vector graphic of the shoe design. If you just order one pair from a manufacturer it’s super expensive, but I got about six people to buy it so it worked out. Ever since then I’ve posted pictures of the production and anything the factory sent me to get more people interested. But overall they were influenced by cartoons and just wanting to bring my designs into the sneaker world.
What made you want to do a bootleg?
Gavin: It was the only thing that I could make. I didn’t know anything about manufacturers and I still don’t know much about fashion, but I just saw that the manufacturer he gave me made that silhouette so I thought I’d go with it. It’s not that I don’t love the shoe, I actually bought a pair that I custom painted earlier this summer and sold them. I got them on eBay for $80 which was a good deal.
How long did it take to bring that concept to life?
Gavin: It took a good two months since I had to get them and tweak a bunch of stuff. The manufacturer is in China so they text you when it’s midnight because the timezone is flipped. I’d be up till 4 AM adjusting the size and emailing him back with changes so we went back and forth for two months till I got them how I wanted.
With your recent release you also dropped a bootleg "Monkey Cat" themed tee as well. Where’d you get the idea for that?
Gavin: No Paradigms said that I should drop a T-shirt as well for people that couldn’t afford the shoes. I thought that was a great idea, so when I was coming back to New York I was in the airport and drew the design on my iPad. I had a little group chat called “gilfchat” that people joined from my IG story and they thought it was awesome so I went with it. I wanted to make something for people who couldn’t afford the shoes or for people who wanted to get both.
How do you avoid getting sent a cease and desist for doing something like that?
Gavin: If they did it would be a different story. The site would definitely be down and the clothes and posts would be taken down. If you’ve seen my website there’s a cat over the star and all the branded stuff, and people were asking if that is what it looked like. Obviously it wasn’t since I did that in 5 minutes on my iPad and you could clearly see it was drawn on. In that same vein, it was crazy how many people asked me if they were real. I’m grateful for all the support but there’s people that were asking me how I was gonna sell fakes. I personally don’t like buying real shoes, they’re way too expensive. Those Louis Vuitton trainers that I posted were fake but someone sent it to Virgil and he liked the message which is crazy.
What was the inspiration behind the custom Louis Vuitton Trainers you designed?
Gavin: Those were hand painted. I like the shoe a lot and I think the LV trainers are really cool. I bought them to paint on them because I knew it would be good exposure. I added some LV things in there to tie it all together, and I posted it on Reddit and got on the front page of r/streetwearstartup and r/streetwear. For anyone wondering, Reddit really helps brands that are trying to grow. I posted it on Instagram and Lil Jupiter reposted it too which was pretty cool.
Are we ever going to see the Monkey Cat Crocs in production?
Gavin: I wish because I wear crocs all the time. That’s probably in my top three shoes that I wear a lot. I either wear crocs, knockoff birkenstocks, or my own shoes. Those were mocked up by @greshkicks on IG, he has like 150K and he’s this 17 year old kid who’s actually thinking about going to Pratt. I told him I’d give him some money to do the crocs which came out crazy. I don’t think they’ll ever get made unless I find the right manufacturer. But the more exposure I get, the more opportunities there are with different manufacturers so who knows. I like how it came out and everything that’s come with it, but after this the plan is to put out more of my own original stuff. I’m glad because I don’t think people are here just because of the brand since I have pretty good support with my own art.
Are you planning on getting another bootleg manufactured in the future?
Gavin: I think every year around this time I’ll make my own shoe. But I have a bunch of other stuff I’m working on right now that’s gonna get made. I’m getting samples made for a puffer jacket. Photoshop is crazy since you can make something, mock it up, post it, and if people like it you can actually get it made. So I have a puffer jacket coming with some pants, and I have something coming with Enchanted Armour. I also have something coming with @kiddtr333 who makes crazy pants. I made the digital design and all the art for the fabric but he’s the one that’s gonna sew them together. Those might be done in the next day or two. But as far as shoes go I’m planning on making an original on a Air Force 1 silhouette, but instead of the swoosh it’ll be a cat. That’ll make it more of my original shoe and not a bootleg thing.
What’s your favorite pair of shoes you’ve designed to date?
Gavin: Definitely the "Money Cat" shoes because the design on the outside is the design I’ve been painting on shoes for a while. But I have stuff on there that I really couldn’t do with paint. For example, the little details on the star since they're too small to do with a paintbrush. If I was to make an ideal custom it would probably be that.
What does your creative process look like when coming up with a new concept?
Gavin: Recently, a lot of my work has been done on my iPad. I just made some pants that turned out amazing. But mostly it’s just drawing. With a cartoon character and animation in general, you just start by drawing basic shapes. If you don’t have a single thought in your head you can just start making something by drawing circles and expanding from there. But sometimes I just get an idea and run with it. My friends also give me really good ideas as well.
Do you think your design style has changed since you started?
Gavin: In general, I’d say it’s definitely changed. But also not really, I think it’ll just keep changing as I learn more. I don’t think I’m an excellent artist, but with a character or an idea I’m pretty good at making short comedy sketches. I’m gonna probably post the one I’m making right now that’s really bizarre. I think it’ll keep changing the more I learn and the more mediums I experiment with. This whole fashion thing is completely different than what I was doing before. I’m minoring in fashion right now, and I respect anybody that can sew or make patterns because that stuff is super hard. I’m majoring in 2D animation, but as I learn more my style will keep changing.
How did the jacket collab with Golf Lab happen?
Gavin: I don’t remember how I found his account, but he’s a super nice guy. I definitely had less followers than him at the time, maybe 300. But I thought he seemed pretty good at photoshop so I told him I wanted to mockup his Golf Flame puffer. He said sure, so I drew the graphic and sent it to him. When drawing animation on clothes, following the shape of the physical jacket itself makes the design pretty effective. Once I sent him the design he mocked it up and I thought it was insane since it looked totally real. Anytime I talk about a jacket my mom she still tells me that she wants that jacket, but I always have to tell her that jacket’s not even real. But the new puffer I’m making is a color block jacket, and the two samples being made are for me and my mom. It's funny because anytime I go on live my mom always joins, and I tell everyone to tell my mom you love her and to tell their moms that they love them too.
What makes you want to work with another designer or brand?
Gavin: If they have something very unique, a really cool style, or something that differs from my style. I’d say that Enchanted Armour has a style that’s on the dark side, and my cat is a more happy, energetic thing, so that contrast is pretty cool. I also want to work with people if they offer something that I’m not capable of doing myself.
Who’s your favorite artist that you’ve worked with so far?
Gavin: I haven’t really done any actual collaborations, but I’d say working with Asspizza has helped me out a ton and the guy who made his website and my website. After my Paypal got shut down, I texted him and he told me the same thing happened to him. After that he gave me the number for the guy who made his site and some guy that worked at Wix. I got on Facetime with the website guy and had a new site made that same night. The whole drop wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for him.
How did you originally get tapped in with Asspizza?
Gavin: I posted this mockup that I did of one of his masks where I drew cats all over it. I posted it and tagged him and he DM’d me and said he wanted a pair. A few weeks later he said something else about the shoes, and since he filled out the Google form that I made for people interested I knew his size and told him I had a pair that I could send out right away. So he paid me for a pair and I shipped them to him. It was super cool. I asked him if he liked the mockup of the mask and he said it’d be impossible to make, but that I'd be successful if I kept doing my thing. Just hearing back from him in the first place felt great, but when he followed me back I was really shocked.
Are there any other artists, designers, or brands you want to work with in the future?
Gavin: The dream collaboration would be with Teddy Fresh since I love Ethan and Hila so much. Hila recently followed me and DM’d me saying she wanted a pair of the shoes. But there’s other brands I’d like to collab with as well, @litotsunami and I are gonna work on something together. He’s pretty small right now but he has a character that I love. I’m drawn to anyone with their own character since I can connect with that, so we’ve got something in the works. Absent also comes to mind since Parker and I have been talking for a long time, he’s a cool dude. Other than that, Enchanted Armour is a big one because I’ve been in awe with the stuff he makes, it’s pretty insane. Imran Potato would be crazy too, and @slumpykev. He’s probably higher on the list than Imran Potato since his whole cartoon thing is really cool.
Are there any other garments, mediums, or accessories you want to experiment with?
Gavin: Not necessarily, but maybe some more painting. I might do more paint stuff and more experimental things. I drew all over a Macbook that I found on the side of the road with paint markers. I haven’t posted that yet, but anything that I see and think I can customize I’ll make. I’m also going to be posting more cartoons. I want to get more people interested because that’s my real passion. Not that fashion isn’t super cool, but with animation you work on the same thing for a month. With fashion there’s more of a payout and it’s cool to see people wearing it and wanting it. It’s a much more responsive community since people get much more geeked about fashion stuff.
What’s your favorite creative concept you’ve come up with so far?
Gavin: I’m pretty in love with this new puffer jacket that I made. That’s been my favorite one recently, but the shoes are a big one too.
Who are some other up and coming designers we should be paying attention to?
Gavin: My friend who makes these abstract watercolor paintings, they’re incredible. His instagram is @wesleyware22. If you look at one of his paintings for more than a minute you'll know they're insane. @nasirsroom is also crazy, I just bought a jacket from him. @sh.lump has this little character that’s super fire, he makes hats and other stuff. @unimpressed224 and I are making a jacket together. He does these crazy cut and sew pieces. That’s all I’m gonna drop for now, but all those people are really cool in very unique ways.
What should we expect to see next from Gavin South?
Gavin: More cartoons and more artistic endeavors. Not really any big drops but more of just me previewing mockups and samples and seeing if people are interested for the next drop that I’m going to do. Expect to see more clothing accessories and maybe some plushies. That’s a big thing that I want to do.
What do you want to be known for at the end of the day?
Gavin: I want to be known for Glenn the cat. He’s more of a character and a symbol than a clothing brand. I want to be known for being multi-talented rather than being just a designer. I want to be known for the cat in a similar way to how Kaws has his thing. I’m not a big Kaws fan, but when people see it they know it’s Kaws. Or Banksy and Murakami type stuff. Those are huge names though, so I don’t want to compare myself to them yet.