"I can't imagine doing anything other than Rebel8 at this point in my life," admits Joshy D, the energetic entrepreneur behind the West Coast brand. "I like to feel it's a job and get away, at least mentally, on the weekend to relax, but really it's with me 24 hours a day. I'm always thinking about Rebel8, and what more I could be doing to make it better."
The other half of the duo is Mike Giant, whose illustrations appear all over Rebel8's clothing and accessories. With Joshy D bringing creative direction and drive to the venture, it's Giant's distinctive style of artwork that has given visual definition to the Rebel8 attitude, brand and logo. Together, they've built a streetwear company that ships items to stores across North America, as well as the UK, Europe, Australia and China. Go into any skate shop today, and you'll most likely see that gothic eight logo somewhere.
"Most of our ideas come from the lives we lead. That's the essence of lifestyle branding," explains Giant. "We're making what we want to wear. Luckily enough, people are feeling our style and buy our stuff."
Consequently, the Rebel8 brand is all about the things that Giant and Joshy D love. Giant started tattooing in 1998, and began writing graffiti the following year. Joshy D, meanwhile, was behind a graffiti website called HiFiArt, which started documenting San Francisco murals in the late 90s. When he decided to get his first tattoo - the HiFiArt logo - he met Giant, who inscribed it on his arm. Gradually the two became friends, and their shared interest in the tattoo and graffiti aesthetics can be clearly seen across many Rebel8 products.
"With Mike, it started out pretty slow - it wasn't where just instantly we're hanging out going, 'OK, we're friends,'" says Joshy D. "But it was very odd when I first met him - literally the second I met him it was just instant comfort. It wasn't like I felt I needed to act differently or talk differently."
"We just get along," agrees Giant. "I got a good feeling from Joshy the moment I met him. When he came to me with the idea of starting a brand I didn't have to think it over for long, I had already come to trust him as a friend, and I could tell he had the drive and ambition to make it happen and keep it going."
In 2003, they produced their first T-shirt - just text saying 'Rebel8' in a Giant tattoo-esque style, white on black. Joshy D had scraped together $500 to have the shirts made and get them out. The brand was up and running, but he was selling them from a messenger bag, and working any job that came along to save up money to continue investing in the project. Next came a hoody, and then a T-shirt with a skull graphic on it.
"Until 2005 I still had tons of jobs," remembers Joshy D. "I was valeting cars, I did catering, I did stagehand and carpentry work, I would clean a yard, I would mow a lawn. I did anything to just make a buck, while at the same time trying to support Rebel8."
For his part, Giant was tattooing, and building a career turning his tattoo and graffiti styles into fine art. He'd do work for other street brands, too, and was becoming well-known in art and fashion. Although he was still working for other people, his contacts would become invaluable to Rebel8.
Around 2007, things moved up a level with a couple of important collaborative projects. One of these was with the footwear company Vans. What started as a project to create artwork for a couple of pairs of skate shoes for a few select stores in the US just kept growing. The project gained momentum inside Vans, and the shoes were sold on to a broader group of outlets and put onto the Vans e-commerce site. Eventually, Rebel8 had not only designed the shoes, but created front windows and in-store imagery for 250 shops carrying the shoes. The whole project came to fruition last year.
Then there's the association with Dickies, which also began in 2007. The workwear brand has just recently released a line featuring plenty of creative input from Rebel8. "The collaboration was with Dickies Europe," explains Joshy D. "Carhartt, which is probably their biggest competitor, is also a workwear company, but they've really been going out with artists and been doing this kind of artist collaboration thing for quite a few years, specifically in Europe. So Dickies approached us to do something to give them that streetwear edge, and to give them that artistic backing and integrity."
While a synergy between Vans and Rebel8 is easy to understand, the aesthetic and cultural link with Dickies seems less obvious. However, it goes back to the Rebel8 ethos of creating things they'd want to wear, and both Giant and Joshy D grew up wearing Dickies. Not only that, they respect the brand for its durability and want Rebel8 to have the same reputation. And when it got down to it, they discovered they could show Dickies a thing or two as well.
"It's been a long road to get these products out there, but it's really amazing when you stump a huge, huge company like Dickies on how to produce the things that we design," says Joshy D. "They've been making the same pants in the same factories for decades and decades, and then we come along and design things that have some little embroideries here, a little printing here, little material pull-outs. It shows how such a large company does still need to take a minute to figure out some of this stuff."
With these major collaborations in progress, and Joshy already working full time on Rebel8, Giant felt the time was right to become Rebel8's exclusively, and stopped working for other brands. On the other side of the coin, Rebel8 is confident enough to bring in guest artists now and again. It comes down to whether or not the pair know them and like their work. Guest collaborators have included San Francisco artist Jay Howell, and Morning Breath and Sean Taggart, who are both out of New York. Another upcoming collaboration is with Andre Bouzikov, creator of many a thrash metal album cover. Sometimes the guest artists work together with Giant; other times they're free to bring their own interpretation of what Rebel8 means.
Even though the range now goes well beyond T-shirts, Giant's style continues to define the Rebel8 look, with his tattoo-led imagery. His work is hand-drawn with a black Sharpie marking pen on white paper, then photographed at about 10MB. He adjusts the levels in Photoshop, separates the file and supplies it to Joshy D, who takes it from there. He works without restraint, and when Joshy D finds something in his work that will be a hit on a garment, they produce something new. "I've always felt like Rebel8 is an opportunity for me to express my personal interests in a free environment," says Giant. "My style was pretty set when we started Rebel8, and I've simply refined things as time passes."
Being the essence of the Rebel8 look, it's no surprise that the company logos are Giant's domain. Originally, he drew a text logo saying 'Rebel8', with a swoosh extending from the 'R' underneath the rest of the letters. This was partly inspired by the logotypes of two British motorcycle companies, Norton and Triumph. Later, they happened upon something more unique - something that has become a mainstay in streetwear. Joshy D explains: "Around 2006 I started becoming bored with that logo, and then on this one graphic Mike did I looked really closely and there was this little eight with a diamond in it, and I said, 'This looks pretty cool.' And I asked him if he could redraw it and make it a bit bigger."
Giant continues: "Our '8' logo began as a tattoo on a drawing of a girl. It was a happy accident. It's become a real brand identity for us, and personally I relate our '8' to Buddha's Eightfold Path, something I've found great benefit in pursuing."
The eight with the diamond isn't going to be replaced easily, or soon. As Joshy D points out, over 100 people have had it tattooed on their bodies in homage to their favourite streetwear brand. And with growing success, why change something that works? Right now the Fall 2010 line is their biggest and best-selling collection. It includes their Dickies x Rebel8 jacket, a range of New Era caps, as well as logo and illustrated T-shirts and a jacket entitled 'Liquor Store'.
In the winter, they'll be coming out with an even larger collection, with more garments that they've designed entirely themselves from scratch. "Cut-and-sew has really developed," says Joshy D. "We have a varsity jacket coming out, a legitimate pea coat and outerwear products. It's definitely the next stage of Rebel8. It's a higher level on the clothing side. From December, we plan on releasing a skateboard every single month."
The energy you sense in Joshy D as he talks passionately about Rebel8 and its latest projects shows no sign of waning. "It's like I'm never going to stop, and I fully appreciate every single person that wears the brand and supports the brand," he says. "I'm more than aware that if it wasn't for the people out there buying even one single T-shirt, we wouldn't be in business and I wouldn't be living the dream."
Giant will keep things fresh and carry on with his art interests. While the new line goes on sale, he'll be showing at the Guerrero Gallery in San Francisco, and has another exhibition later in New York. He plans to hit Miami sometime soon to get his head tattooed. "Fight the power," he concludes.