All photos by Taryn Anderson
Everywhere we look in Southern California these days it’s about getting rich quick. We look around and it makes us yearn for more. It’s G Wagons and mansions and often that becomes the reason we work our asses off. It’s not until you sit with someone that’s created a huge business or been really successful that you realize starting something to get rich rarely works out. Mark Zuckerberg never started FB to get rich. He had a idea that he was passionate about and ran with it. Supreme was a bunch of skaters doing their thing, after 25 years of doing what they thought was cool it started paying off in a big way. The same goes for Born x Raised. Strong words and imagery are two things that BxR are known for. Offensive to some but a beacon of hope for others. They stand for something much bigger though, community. They wear what they stand for on their sleeves and they design for a cause. They didn’t start this to get rich, they started it because they believed in something and through clothing they’ve created a voice for Venice and many other communities going through similar growing pains.
The old saying about reputations proceeding us has never rung more true than with Spanto and Born x Raised. I had been hearing about Spanto and Born x Raised since the day I moved to Venice. I had been a big fan of the Vimeo account of What You Steal, an intriguing gent that directed all the vids for the brand. BxR had inspired any sort of content or film work I was doing many times and the amount of times various videographers I was working with sent me their vids as a reference was a testament to their work. So naturally we were honored when we got approved to carry the Venice brand. After a few months of missed communication through emails Spanto called me up. We got chatting about the shop, mutual friends and a bit about each other. I quickly realized that Spanto was the real deal, everything I had heard about him was true, the good and the bad. He’s not afraid of his past and it’s also not the person he is today. About half way through the conversation he tells me he’s on borrowed time and that’s why he’s on the move and making shit happen. Upon inquiring about ‘borrowed time’ he tells me about his cancer and that he’s been on chemo therapy for almost 4 years. Thirty Two years old and 4 years of chemo under his belt, fuck that. No one deserves that, but he’s just happy to still be kicking along he tells me. We set up a time to for me to come in but he asks if it can be a few weeks down the line since he’s got chemo therapy that week, which causes what he describes as chemo brain. A few weeks later I roll into the offices and it’s everything I imagined. A work space that companies like Google try to imitate. Creativity is all over the place and as I walk in I see Spanto and Alex sitting in the 80’s diner looking office they created for their latest look book. There’s gangsta’s, artists, interns and foreigners like myself all just hanging out and shooting the shit. It’s controlled chaos that gives me that aha moment. Everything they do suddenly makes sense. After about 2 hours of hanging talking shit I steal them away for a few moments to ask them some questions about their brand, gentrification in Venice and what it takes to stand out in todays apparel game.
How did Born x Raised get going and why?
Spanto: What's been happening in Venice had been breaking my heart for years and seeing all that change was sad. I remember the very first home on Broadway went up for sale and I was like yo guys this is a problem. I don’t think anyone else knew what was going to happen. I never knew it would get to this point. Being able to say you were from Venice was not a right, it was a privilege to my generation. So when people would move here and start saying they were from Venice we were like, mother fucker you were not born and raised here, so it started kinda out of frustration and that’s how you have Born and Raised.
And how did 2 Tone (Alex) and Spanto get connected?
Spanto: knew about Alex (2 Tone) since I was young but we never met until 2011 though, when I graffitied his booth at a trade show.
Alex: When I met Spanto I was directing music videos and had worked in apparel previously. I swore to myself I’d never be in apparel again. I bumped in Spanto and he was telling me about all the shit that was going on in Venice and I had seen all his stickers around town. The stickers said ‘Gentrification is Genocide’. There’s so much mindless trash out there so to see something that made sense was really cool. We met up and he picked my brain for some tips and I said the first thing we need to do is shoot a video which we did.
Spanto: We shot the video and somehow everything just worked out organically and fell into place. We flew my dad out from Memphis to come sing the song for us, we were in my grans house that they’ve had for over 90 years and my mom and dad hadn’t seen each other in like 20 plus years. Man it was just so beautiful and from that point on I knew it’s what I wanted to do.
Did you think the brand would catch fire and escalate so quickly?
Spanto: What you talking about? I thought we’d be making millions and be rich and famous by now. Nah, we're happy about where it's at and it's growing fast man.
A huge amount of people that wear your shirts that say gentrification is genocide are spoilt kids who are probably gentrifying areas, that bother you guys?
Spanto: Ah man I don’t even know how to touch on that. That's a tough one.
Do you feel that the best way to beat gentrification is to monetize it?
Alex: I mean here’s the deal, We didn’t make it for them and we’re in the business of selling things so anyone can buy it. It’s also the culture we live in now you know, everything is up for grabs. It used to mean something for you to dress a certain way. If you were a kid you’d look around and say those are the punk kids cause they were making music and dressing a certain way and those guys were gangsta’s, so if you wanted to dress like them you better do what they’re doing and prepare for the consequences. That’s how we defined each other and ourselves. Thats not today though, everything is up for grabs and I ain’t mad about it. I’m annoyed at gentrification and the fact I can’t live in the neighborhood I grew up in but I don’t want to be there anymore. I don’t know anyone there anymore which is sad.
You can’t blame people for wanting to move close to the beach and to emerging areas though?
Alex: Gentrification isn’t new people moving into a community, it’s developers coming in and squashing a neighborhood. It’s buying up condos or blocks, giving them a face lift and then renting them out for triple the price or on Air BnB . You can’t be mad at a bunch of white kids that move to a black community because that’s all they can afford, they’re just making it work. It’s the developers that are squashing a community and everything is for profit. It’s capitalism gone wild. That to me is what gentrification is. Families moving here aren’t the problem. I get it though, it’s how the world works, if you got money you can come in and do whatever the fuck you want. I ain’t mad about it but I sure ain’t gonna be happy about it. Fuck them. Just move to Venice for the right reasons, that’s it.
Spanto: The way I was raised that if you stepped into someone else home you’d take your shoes off. There’s no regard for anyone anymore.
Does all your brands messaging reference back to Venice?
Spanto: BxR ain’t just about Venice. Venice is just what sparked it but this shit is happening everywhere, look at Highland Park, Echo Park and all over the world. We just tie everything about this brand back to ourselves which always obviously ties back to Venice. Don’t let people push you around. I never want to be a statistic, this is our home and we shouldn’t get fucked off and told to leave because some person dangles a bit of cash in front of you.
Is there any hope left for Venice?
Alex: Venice is a wrap, there’s no stopping the gentrification it’s done. The only thing that will stop it is a tsunami or a earth quake but I remember my dad telling me when I was younger that it was going to happen. It took a bit longer than he thought but when it started happening, it happened quickly. We were watching homes that should have sold for 50k go for 300k and then years later selling for 3 million. What’s happening in Venice isn’t just a bunch of trust fund kids buying homes. It’s real fucking money, serious wealth. Just go down there during the day and there’s these amazonian ex models everywhere. That’s an indication of real wealth. The first I saw was when Julia Roberts bought six houses on the walk streets. I didn’t understand it then but it was a flip or an early indication of what was coming. It’s all tied in to the LAPD, developers etc. They’re all working together.
Spanto: Just last week the LAPD grabbed one of the little homies and told him if he keeps spraying on walls they going to start arresting the older guys and punishing them. Because it’s good for business. The gang injunction is directly tied into that too. It’s a violation of human beings civil rights, they target 50 families that lived in oakwood and it’s surrounding areas and told them they not allowed to congregate in a bunch of different areas. They told them that they not allowed to hang out in a bunch of areas, even if they had no criminal charges or any records. They arrested us at a funeral once, how fucked up is that?
Do you think that people often confuse gangs with community?
Spanto: Absolutely. If I was from Ohio or wherever and I watched those documentaries they make about MS13 I’d think they are a bunch of low lives or wild animals. I’ve never done anything immoral in my life. I’m not a purse snatcher or selling drugs to kids. We would have been nighted for what we did in a different time, all we doing is protecting our people. Protecting our tribe from another tribe. Gang members from my area are very nobel a bunch of stand up dudes haha.
Anything you still love in Venice?
Spanto: I don’t even wanna say this cause they’ll go fuck that up too but I love Hoagies and Posole at Garcias Market on Sat and Sunday. I love shopping at the Fox Swop Meet. it’s the final hold out and it’s the shit. I shopped there my whole youth, getting white tee’s and dickies with my mom and then getting my shit embroided. Everything is gone man, all the restaurants, liquor stores it’s all gone.
Alex: I’m a creature of habit and like taking comfort in going to places that I know. There’s history in places and it’s sad when everything you know is taken away so no nothing I love for me anymore.
Spanto: So yeah, Fuck Venice now, I’ll never be okay with the way it is now. I still live there and I hope to never leave Venice, my family has been there for over a century and it’s my home. When ever I cross Centinela on the way home a sense of calmness comes over me. I love my neighborhood more than I’ve ever loved any women.
So what’s next for BxR?
Spanto: More gangsta shit haha, nah we’ve got a video coming up with YG so maybe like a music video/lookbook. A few other collabs. We don’t like to discuss stuff until it’s being produced. We want to expand because at the end of the day this is a business and if we can hire more friends and people from our community that’s what it’s about.
And how do you keep standing out?
Alex: The problem with street wear is it’s all canibalizing each other. There’s a million other things to check out than one another and our refs are all from different things. A lot if it is just us talking shit, inside jokes, songs we like, people we like and stories from experiences, thats where this line comes from. There’s a story behind it all. We slowly piecing together a story and you’ll see it if you’re paying attention. We’re aware of the market but if everyone is going on way, go a different direction and I think we’ve created our own lane. A lot about design comes down to timing. We never looked at streetwear and thought where do we fit in. It’s just us doing our shit.
Spanto: We’ll never run out of ideas so we don’t care. We’re not some one trick pony. Without being corny, our inspiration comes from the streets. We didn’t start BXR to make money and I think people see that. It was an art project and is more about the message for me.
Alex: We’re excited about film, the zines and that sorta shit. The clothes are cool but I’m over it in five minutes and onto the next.
Still here? Peep a few images from their new collection below. Photos by Matt Smith.