Ralph Reynolds: The Man Behind T.I.’s Akoo Clothing
It seems like every rapper these days has his own artists and possibly even a label. In the very least, damn near everyone tries to stretch their business reach beyond record sales and live shows. For some, that means a foray into the world of fashion. But just as not every rapper can achieve continued success, not every hip-hop clothing brand is able to last. One that’s become a force in recent years, though, is T.I.’s Akoo Clothing.
XXLMag.com recently caught up with the brand’s Creative Director and part owner, Ralph Reynolds, who has been with the company since it’s inception in 2007. Reynolds had a dream of collaborating with T.I. even before Akoo came to fruition, and once he heard Tip‘s suggestion for the name—A King Of Oneself (Akoo)—he knew it was the right move. Here, the designer dishes on how T.I.’s legal troubles have affected the brand, how the urban clothing game has changed in the last fifteen years, why some rapper’s clothing lines fail and more. Plus, check out a gallery of their Holiday 2010 Lookbook below. —Adam Fleischer
XXLMag.com: Tell me about your experience in the industry before you got involved with Akoo.
Ralph Reynolds: The first brand that I did is I think considered one of the original urban brands; it’s called RP55. That was in the beginnings of this whole revolution in young men’s [clothing] that happened, that is now known as the urban market. After that, I worked with Azzure Denim. That was men’s and women’s. It was one of the first designer urban denim brands. And then we did Indigo Red, Imperial Junkie, and I always wanted to do a brand with T.I. I had a lot of different entertainers approach us over the years to do a brand, but I always wanted to do the brand with T.I. and I was lucky enough to get it to happen. Over the years, you learn more and you do better and you keep perfecting your craft.
XXLMag.com: What other entertainers have you worked with in the past?
RR: Again, they approached me, [but] I didn’t do it. We also do Play Cloths with the Clipse. Now, when you say “work with,” I’ve dressed everybody. Lots of people have been in the different brands we’ve done over the years, from Puffy to Eminem to Method Man to sports figures. It’s a huge list of people over the years. It’s been fifteen years.
XXLMag.com: How have you seen the urban market change over the last fifteen years that you’ve been involved?
RR: Well, obviously one of the main things that people have seen change is the fit. Where at one time everything was very, very oversized, and that was the fit of the day, now things are much slimmer and much more of a tailored and trim fit. That’s probably the most outwardly visible change that you can see. Obviously as the urban market matured, we had to compete with brands that had been around for many, many years making clothing. So the quality had to be a step up, and the knowledge of fabrication and cut and sew had to increase also.
XXLMag.com: What’s the mission of the brand? What are you guys trying to get out there?
RR: We’re trying to do a men’s brand, as opposed to a young men’s brand, which is quite often really for teenagers. Where the Akoo brand is really focused at young, what I like to call, gentlemen. We use the word “gentlemen” a lot as part of our brand awareness, just to bring back that term. We do an outdoors, kind of urban-Americana menswear brand.
XXLMag.com: What’s your role as Creative Director?
RR: I do design a lot of the pieces [although] I don’t design all of the pieces. I overlook the brand and I try to—I think, quite often, my job is to tell the story. So I look at marketing as well as the clothing design, to make sure that we’re all telling the same story.
XXLMag.com: Many rappers have tried their hand at having a clothing line. What distinguishes Akoo? And what makes something last, and not just come and go?
RR: There are a lot of factors to that, and one of the main factors, as far as the entertainment part, is usually based on the popularity of the entertainer. That is an obvious factor that would help a brand last. But ultimately, it would have to be the ability to create a real brand that surpasses just the entertainer. For example, [with] Akoo, T.I. is one of our partners. Jason Geter is T.I.’s partner, and he’s also one of our partners. [T.I.] is a partner in the brand, and he is pretty much a muse of the brand. He’s not a designer; he doesn’t claim to be a designer. Like a lot of the other businesses that he owns, this happens to be another one.
XXLMag.com: So what role does T.I. play?
RR: He’s pretty much the muse. We look at the brand and we try to make sure that it’s something that he would wear—for the most part, but not every single item, because then it would be a narrow brand. He doesn’t claim to be a designer, but that’s not to say his opinion isn’t here. His opinion is here all the time. He looks at the clothing, he sends us ideas that he sees while he’s out. We look at the things that he’s wearing that’s not from Akoo.
XXLMag.com: Being that a rapper’s clothing brand’s success and popularity often hinges upon theirs, how have T.I.’s legal troubles affected you guys?
RR: It’s affected us as far as internally not having his presence in our partnership. It really has not affected the popularity of the brand. The brand has actually been growing every year. If you really look at it, when Akoo was launched into stores, T.I. was away. So we’ve never had the full benefit of his celebrity. It was launched into stores in the fall of 2008. A few months later, he went away.
XXLMag.com: What are some of your favorite pieces?
RR: The denim is the strong point for us. The wovens are the signature. The denim and the wovens are the meat and potatoes, and the other parts are really the dressings around it. The sweaters are beautiful, the jackets we do are beautiful, but I’m a denim head and the wovens are our signature pieces. Those are the things that sell the most.
XXLMag.com: Do you guys aim for this to be a multipurpose brand? In the sense that people can wear it if they’re going out or going to work, let’s say?
RR: We definitely don’t do the typical office type of wear. But I think that we do clothing that is mature enough that there are pieces in the line that you can wear during the day, and then there are also things that can be worn during the night. I look at it more as daytime and nighttime than work and play.
XXLMag.com: You guys collaborated with Yamaha, right?
RR: We did. Yamaha picked us, and I’m sure a lot of that had to do with the celebrity of T.I. But there are a lot of people that they could pick, so I think they had to look at the whole concept of what our brand was doing and what the clothes were saying and say, We can do this with you. They made an $80,000 motorcycle customized bike. I’m sure they could have asked anyone and they would have done it. I felt honored that they picked us to collaborate with. I haven’t seen the bike again yet, it’s traveling around on tour. I’m counting on it coming back to Virginia at some point.
XXLMag.com: What do you guys have planned for the holiday season?
RR: Wow. The holiday collection, which so far we do almost annually, we do a football collection. We get into vintage American football. You have some great sweaters; we pride ourselves on our artistic ability—that there are very few brands out there that can hang with us on an artistic level.