Welcome to Brand To Watch, a new bi-weekly style column from COMPLEX UK. Here, we’ll be spotlighting the best emerging brands out of the UK, asking them what makes them stand out from the crowd, how they’ve navigated through unprecedented times and determining their vision of fashion and the future.
In 2016, London-based creatives Dajan Bleau and Marvin Armstrong launched their own label. Aged just 17 and equipped with a mindset geared towards levelling up, the duo were determined to create something fresh in the UK streetwear game, having found themselves questioning the quality of the clothes they were wearing on their own day-to-day grind.
Both big fans of designer clothing while growing up, with the likes of UK rappers Nines and Blade Brown flowing through their headphones on a daily rotation, Bleau and Armstrong invested the money they’d earned trying to live, eat and breathe into an idea that represented their desire to live an aspirational life.
This thought process would birth GRAFT3R, a streetwear brand celebrating the grind towards greatness and the luxury lifestyle they were both striving towards as hungry teenagers with the world at their feet, with the pair at a consensus that working hard—or ‘grafting’—would be the route to reaching their goals.
Since launching in 2016, GRAFT3R has gone from strength to strength to develop a position as one of the most steady names on the UK streetwear scene. The brand’s recognisable pieces are now used as go-to fits for the best rising names in two of the UK’s finest exports: music and football. With rappers such as Double Lz and Bandokay, Loski and Morrisson through to ballers such as Phil Foden, Rhian Brewster and Conor Gallagher all regularly repping the brand, the label is being fronted by this generation’s next wave of game-changers who aptly personify what the brand is all about.
We caught up with Dajan and Marvin from GRAFT3R to find out more about how their own sense of graft allowed them to work their way up the ranks in the clothing game and how they honed their personalities into a likeminded community and movement on the come up.
COMPLEX: What were your main inspirations for setting up GRAFT3R originally?
Dajan: The main inspiration came from our want for having nothing but the best. We’ve always liked the finer things in life, such as high-end clothing, Michelin star restaurants, high performance cars, and this desire for an aspirational life led us to be constantly spending anything we earned on designer clothes and lavish meals.
Marvin: In 2016, we realised that the clothes we were wearing didn’t reflect the effort we put in to acquire them, which then birthed the idea of creating our own brand with meaning—one that we were proud to stand behind and is ultimately the result of the hard work and graft you put in.
Who are some of you guys’ main style influences?
Marvin: Growing up, we had so many influences; we loved brands like Moncler, Chanel and Gucci, and saving up to get our Nike Air Jordans. That drove us to want to work hard to earn the money to buy the clothes and to visit restaurants like Hakkasan, Gaucho and STK.
Dajan: We were influenced to lead an aspirational life and to create what is now GRAFT3R. Now, we’re influenced by the people that wear our clothes—our collections focus on a message. Our design process usually begins by something we’ve seen that sparks us, like the iceberg that shows that at the top is success but underneath it is hard work, persistence, late nights, sacrifices, criticism, doubts, failure and risks.
What did you want to achieve with the latest line of apparel?
Marvin: Our customers had been asking for us to design a tracksuit for a long time—it was a constant request—and so with the new collection, we wanted to go above and beyond their expectations by taking our time to get the finer details right. We’re proud to have brought an exceptionally crafted product to the market.
Whereabouts do you run the label from?
Dajan: We first began selling GRAFT3R to our friends out of rucksacks and duffle bags before getting cars; that then led us to selling out of our boots hand-to-hand up until around 2019, which is also when our website revenue started to bring in more than our in-person sales so we switched to selling solely online.
Marvin: Our main day-to-day operations run from an office in Kensington but, due to COVID-19, this has had to close so we do a lot more from home-made office environments. We’re now also living that WFH life.
How have you navigated through the last twelve months as a business?
Dajan: 2020 was our best business year to date! Lockdown began and our online revenue grew expediently. Through all of this, though, we kept our foot on the gas, expanding our team and plotting out precise drops that were going to create more buzz in and around the growing sales, with collaborations featuring Loski, Bandokay & Double Lz, and Morrisson. Our growth meant that we had to create a team to handle orders, as previously we’d been going to the post office ourselves, so we invested in a warehouse unit that houses the new levels of stock which we need to ship out.
What’s the ultimate vision for the company?
Marvin: The ultimate vision for GRAFT3R is to become a prominent brand worldwide, and for GRAFT3R to be a household name. We want to inspire everyone to believe in our message and ethos: that to achieve your dreams—whether that’s to be the next superstar rapper, famous model, world-champion athlete or to design your own clothing collection like us—that you have to work hard to achieve those dreams. No matter what your dreams are, you shape your own destiny.