Sean Kelly & Under Construction: A Work In Progress
Sean Kelly is an up and coming clothing designer out of La Crosse, Wisconsin. We spoke with Sean about his experience moving to California and starting his self-titled brand SEAN KELLY which has collaborated with the likes of TeamSESH and Xavier Wulf. Sean also spoke about his experience starting the brand Under Construction, how this has allowed for him to experiment with new creative ideas and his plans for both brands in the future.
Where are you from?
Sean: I grew up in La Crosse Wisconsin. It’s a decently small town of about 50,000 people in SouthWest Wisconsin. I came out to California about 4 years ago and I’ve been out here ever since.
What made you want to move out to California?
Sean: It was originally for a girl to be honest. That fell through pretty fast but there were business opportunities that made this where I wanna be.
When did you start designing clothes?
Sean: It was about sophomore year of high school when I had this brand called Valley Life. My dad had this vinyl cutter that I would use to cut out single graphics in vinyl and heat press them onto stuff. It pretty much evolved from there and once I found out how to source manufacturers I realized you can take designing to another level beyond graphics. My friend also gave me this sewing machine. I wasn’t the best but I did simple stuff like replacing pockets on hoodies and doing extensions. I switched my brand to Sean Kelly since Valley Life didn’t fit the theme I wanted. Going by my name instead gave me a lot of freedom.
What’s the background on your interest in art and fashion?
Sean: Originally when I went to college I went to study graphic design which played into my brand. I dropped out because I didn’t feel like I was learning what I wanted. It was a tech school and I felt like I was learning more from Youtube tutorials than from my professors. I had grants to go to school but I felt like it was a waste of my time.
And that sparked your interest in fashion?
Sean: Yeah 100 percent. What made me really want to do cut and sew was my friend from New York known Ev (murderbravado). I followed him on insta before he knew me but he was a big inspiration. Kids that had their own brands that were making pieces really sparked my interest.
How did the collab with TeamSESH come about?
Sean: Really it was just me reaching out to them on Instagram. I had mockups of merch I made for them that I’d send to Bones via Instagram. He never replied for a while but he eventually DM’d me back saying that he wanted to work. I had a brand called DeadNever that I wanted to make at the time so that’s why the collab was called DeadSESH.
Did you work directly with Bones?
Sean: Not for the first things we did since I was still in Wisconsin. So it was more through email and text messages. Even when I first came out here I didn’t meet him for four months. But we kept working on more stuff and did a full collection so I ended up meeting him.
What made you want to work with that group?
Sean: At the time I had a monochromatic, dark aesthetic. I stumbled upon one of their songs and looked into what they were doing and felt like the vibes matched.
How did the Xavier Wulf collab happen?
Sean: Since Bones and Xavier are mutual friends I got to know Xavier as well. I had this idea for the jacket we did which was basically automotive companies that we rebranded with Hollow Squad and Xavier Wulf stuff. The graphic designer from TeamSESH was super talented and helped bring the ideas to life.
What was the inspiration behind the whole “racing” theme behind the piece?
Sean: It was mostly because Xavier is super into cars. He has a bunch of older BMW’s that he lowered and shit with the wheels angled. He’s super into cars so it seemed to fit.
What makes you want to collaborate with an artist?
Sean: If I like what you’re doing. Also if I have a creative direction where I can see how something could fit with your brand that helps a ton.
Where do you draw inspiration for your design style?
Sean: At first I was super inspired by the Fear of God freshman collection. But now it’s hard to say. I like the exaggerated long drawstrings and Rick Owens inspired cargo pockets. I try not to look at too many brands because you might take inspiration that you shouldn’t. But Rick Owens is a big inspiration. I love Virgil Abloh but I don’t think that’s necessarily inspiration. I appreciate that he’s able to go from PYREX to the menswear lead at Louis Vuitton and how big Off-White has gotten. I saw him speak at UW Madison-Wisconsin and his whole story is crazy.
I know you also own a clothing brand called Under Construction, correct?
When did you start it?
Sean: If I had to guess I’d say around 2016. The original idea was to release collections and continue to add to them over time. The idea is that it’s something that’s always under construction or always a work in progress. That was my original idea. After the first release I took a big break until my friend from Wisconsin named Samuel William who’s in fashion school wanted to revive it. So we released the latest collection with 6 - 7 pieces.
What made you want to start a brand?
Sean: I’m not entirely sure. I guess I wanted something I could do graphic pieces with and I wanted something else to work on. I feel like with my brand I get caught having to stick to a certain image so I wanted to break the mold again. I was also into yellow and orange which fit with the construction theme.
What about those colors appeals to you?
Sean: I don’t really know. I used to hate yellow but I just started liking it. I couldn’t tell you why it started to appeal to me. As a kid orange was my favorite color but now my favorite colors change all the time.
What was the inspiration behind the name?
Sean: It felt right with the theme. I wanted something that can constantly evolve and be added to.
What appeals to you about something always being a “Work In Progress”?
Sean: It’s never constrained. It’s not stuck in a box. It can be whatever it wants to be and I like that idea.
Was it difficult to grow a brand despite the following you already had under Sean Kelly?
Sean: Yeah but luckily I feel like a lot of the people that already supported me also attached to the new brand. I’d always like to have more support but you’ll always feel like that. It’s not easy for sure and it gets really frustrating to be honest but that’s just how it is.
What’s frustrating about it?
Sean: Just the idea that more people could be seeing it because you’re really confident in what it stands for. And you see not as many eyes on it as there could be.
How did the idea come about for the Sean Kelly shoes?
Sean: I made those with my friend Sam. It was just a Vans base because we can’t afford to make a custom shoe since it’s really expensive and there are minimums. So we used Vans and seam ripped the stripe off. My friend is really talented so he hand embroidered all of them which took like two hours per pair. Before our collab he was doing hand embroidered barb wire designs on random things and I thought it would be sick to replace the stripe on a Vans shoe with that. He did it overnight and sent me a picture and I knew we had to release them. The reception we received was great.
Who was biting that style?
Sean: I was at Avengers last night and for the last 20 minutes my phone was vibrating constantly. After the movie I saw people were mentioning me because Tyler Grosso had a mockup for a Vans silhouette which was no different than what we were doing and had a barbed wire stripe on it. I didn’t want to make anything of it but I felt pressured to mention it. How he handled it made me think he was inspired by us since he called off the release and blocked me and shit. I’m curious if he’ll actually not release them, but either way it was nice to see how many people had my back. Yesterday was an eye opener for how people feel.
Who are some other brands or designers you want to work with in the future?
Sean: I’ve wanted to work with Ev for a while but that wasn’t fitting where we’re both at right now. IndigoChildRick is a friend from Florida that I’d like to work with. Also something I really want to do is work with an Esports organization. I love video games. Other than clothing that’s my next biggest love so I really want to do merch for an Esports team like Faze, Liquid or TSM. That would be a dream for sure especially now with how massive Esports is and it’s only getting bigger.
What should we expect to see from you with Sean Kelly and Under Construction in the future?
Sean: We definitely are doing an Under Construction drop that will include graphic pieces with it. The problem with graphics for me is that I overthink them. I just look at them for too long and don't like them even with good reception. But definitely another Under Construction collection is coming soon. With Sean Kelly I’ve been working on some new pants to break the mold. I’m known for cargoes and pockets and I don’t wanna get out of that but I do wanna show people that I’m also capable of other things. Expect new accessory pieces since I want to get into making wallet chains and jewelry. I want to make some more harnesses and pouch things that I’ve done in the past and I generally just want to experiment more.
Where do you want your brands to be at the end of the year?
Sean: For Under Construction I’d just like to do another release and keep that ball rolling. I don't wanna sleep on it like I did before we revived it. For Sean Kelly I'd like to get into some more stores. We got into Marcus last year and everything sold really quickly within like two weeks, but the last piece which had a weird fit took two months to sell. It was really cool to see people supporting me. People actually went in physical stores instead of just purchasing online. Selling stuff online is ideal for me since there’s no middle man and no wholesale prices but physical locations help in getting your name out there. I just want to keep growing and keep selling stuff so I’m still able to pay my rent.
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