When 2 Chainz was arrested in New York City last week it was because airport authorities found a four-finger ring in his bag that they thought was a dangerous weapon (aka a brass knuckle). But the Atlanta native wasn’t carrying the accessory with the intention to do harm; instead, he had piece of jewelry with him simply because he really likes the brand that created it.
That brand, L.A.-based Dope Couture, happens to be one of the hottest on the street wear scene. It’s been rocked by everyone from Jay-Z to Wiz Khalifa to Diddy to Mac Miller, and done exclusive collaborations with the likes of 2012 XXL Freshman Kid Ink.
Here, brand founder Matte Fields discusses Dope’s beginnings, its evolution, luxury street wear, building relationships with artists and more. And, trust, they’ve got a lot more going on than just the ring. —Adam Fleischer (@AdamXXL)
XXLMag.com’s Good Life: How did the brand start?
Matte Fields: We started in the Midwest when I was in school. I went to school at Indiana University and I started the brand there in 2007. We really started pushin’ in ’08. In the second season, Lupe Fiasco rocked the brand, and helped catapult us into the blogosphere. We’ve been pushin’ since. There’s a lot of people that ended up in the clothing industry by chance and they’re really just hustlers. That’s me.
How did Lupe get his hands on it?
Lupe got it from a store in Michigan that was selling. One of my first accounts. It sounds horrible now, but it was a skull with a Channel eye patch. It was kinda clever, and in ’08 we were still coming off all the skull trends.
You’re the main designer? How big is the team?
We’re about seven people. We’ve got a boutique in L.A. We’ve got a boutique in Indianapolis. And then we’ve got our online store. I just bought dope.com, and that’s our new web store. Dope.com is going to house not only our brand, but other brands, too. I’m into street wear—not only our brand. I’m a buyer. I’m into jewelry right now. Me and my homie Corey Shapiro of Vintage Frames, we’re curating vintage jewelry for the store and pushing vintage jewelry in general. You’ll see a lot of rappers wearing that now.
How much does what you sell online and in the store differ?
I should be clear: We’re a wholesale brand first. Before we’re a boutique, we’re a brand. We’re actually splitting the brand. We’re gonna have Dope and Dope Couture. It’s an easy separation. Dope is our main line, and that is something you can find more easily—it’s online, it’s in the boutiques. Dope Couture is gonna launch it’s first season—sort of a relaunch, in a way—it’s going to be our high-end brand. That’s gonna come out this Spring in the boutiques and online. Basically, we’re a brand, a boutique, and an online store.
How have your designs and the general landscape changed since you started five years ago?
In general, we do luxury inspired street wear. That’s where a lot of street wear brands start. I feel like we do it the best. We know our shit when it comes to luxury, and we’re trying to make a street wear line that’s affordable that can give that luxurious lifestyle to everybody.
How would you define a luxury street wear brand?
We’re pushing through innovation. We’re pushing through creating our own trends; the four-finger ring wasn’t something that we developed, but we’re bringing it back. We’re doing things that not a lot of brands, if any, are doing. The four-finger ring is one. What we’re doing with our headwear in the future is one. We’re making some quality shit, and we’re making a lot of it in L.A., which is different than what everybody else is doing, because all these street wear companies are making their shit in China. China’s cool, and I still make some clothes in China because you have to, but I’m making as much as I can afford to make in L.A. I love making shit domestically. There’s nothing like putting that “Made in L.A.” tag on a garment.
Quality. For instance, if you go and cop one of our tank tops right now, you’re gonna touch a tank top that’s nicer than any street wear brand out. Better than Supreme. Better than Diamond. Name any street wear brand that’s not Japanese or not super expensive—we’re offering quality shit at reasonable prices.
How have you been developing relationships with artists?
Since Lupe, we’ve had Jay-Z, Diddy, Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, and the list goes on. It’s crazy. I really feel like we’re blessed. For all these artists to fuck with us. Do we use it to promote the brand? Absolutely. Why not? But do we force it on these artists? Absolutely not. We do not push the clothes on artists. If a rapper comes to me and he’s trying to buy a vintage chain in the store, we’ll let him know about our brand, and if he wants to pick up some stuff, that’s cool.
Diddy bought his shirt. Jay-Z, his stylist, who now has her own TV show, she had one of her assistants seek us out. Sometimes they seek us out, and sometimes they stumble upon us. Others come from relationships. I’ve made relationships over the years. We did a collab with Wale way back when he wasn’t MMG.
I love street wear. I love hip-hop. And it’s a fun place to be here in L.A. doing what I love. Seeing artists rock it also makes me happy.
Why do you think they’re drawn to the brand?
The way we feel is you can have some nice denim, a simple t-shirt, and some clean shoes and you’re good to go. That’s what we’ve been pushing, and I think it resonates with rappers. They want something that can go with a pair of Dior jeans, and you can rock our shit because it’s quality, you can rock it with that high end shit and it works.
Do you do denim at all?
Getting into it now, but it’s such a process. It’s one of those things that a lot of people do it, but the ones that stand out are the ones that do it super well. I’d like to launch it for Spring, but if it’s not ready for Spring, I’m gonna push it until it’s ready. That’ll be in the Dope Couture line.
Where do you want to take the brand?
I’m about to downsize the store in the Midwest and just have the store in L.A. I want Dope.com to be the Park & Bond of street wear. I want it to be an online site that offers high-end street wear and give online shoppers a totally different experience for street wear shopping. We also might get into footwear for the online boutique. For the brand, we’re just going to be putting out more products. We got iPhone cases on the way—I never thought I’d be making iPhone cases. It’s cool to just make products that are simple and branded or innovative, but either way it’s our products and it’s fun to push. It’s so clean, our logo, so people like it, because it’s easy.