Upper Echelon | Cape Town Street Couture
After being around for just under 1 year, Upper Echelon founders, Ashley Benn and Keenan Appollis, have managed to ensure that the street wear brand is constantly on just about everyone’s lips.
After speaking about having their own space to showcase foreign labels for quite some time, the duo then decided to move over and start their own label whilst still consciously keeping their original ideas in place.
I've always wondered about the origin of the brand and where the ideas emanated from, and with new ranges constantly being released, I thought I'd get the low down and find out the answers to my ever-growing list of questions.
With their latest release, the head gear range, items were sold out within weeks. It is evident that Upper Echelon's movement definitely won't be slowing down anytime soon.
"...We decided that the label would be minimalistic by nature whilst providing a message that hopefully resonates with those who wear it and see people wearing it. The notion of enlightenment and conscious clothing basically speaks to the message that we are trying to send out; and in that regard, the brand could be seen as a timeline of what has happened and is happening in the world around us..."
Now that it is quite obvious that this is not just another clothing label, and that there's a real meaning behind the vision, I was eager to find out where the inspiration comes from and this is the answer I got...
"Music, religion, a thirst for knowledge, and the skate culture. Other brands such as; Black Scale, En Noir, BAPE - and designers like Alexander Wang and Nigo. Locally, we look up to 2BOP, they stand testament to the idea of sticking with your vision and not going with the safe option, so to speak."
I was fortunate enough to interview one of the founders and managed to get the answers to my questions and more.. Check out the full interview below.
"... to get people to take notice, listen and question the things that they see, hear or read..."
1. So now that we know where the idea came from, what was the plan of action in order to execute your ideas?
"Well, both of us being students has meant that effective time management has played an important role. Equally important was the search for suppliers that would help us out with small orders at a relatively good price and more importantly a good quality blank canvas. You yourself know how cut throat the fashion industry can be, and this was especially so for small independent labels like ourselves. In terms of the design process, we run ideas by each other and things sort of take a natural progression from there, I guess it’s not orthodox in that regard and its different every time so it’s hard to put into words."
2. How difficult was it to break into the industry, and how did you guys manage to overcome any obstacles?
"Going into it, we didn’t know what to expect, so I guess that attitude has helped us a bit because we entered with an open mind and with the intention to build good relationships with our suppliers, printers etc. The obstacles were there, as in any new venture. In saying this, we knew that as new kids on the block, the industry owed us nothing and our ability to get over these obstacles would determine our success, we didn’t become despondent when we were told that certain suppliers couldn’t help us or things like that. Initially the idea of not having capital was daunting, but in retrospect I see it as a blessing in disguise because it has allowed us to do things how we want to and to invest in ourselves. Which is important. So there’s a message for any young people out there: “Don’t be scared to invest in your art and yourself."
3. Upper Echelon is on just about everyone’s lips right now. With regards to marketing and getting your product out there, how did you guys let the word out the first time around?
"Through friends (who are DJ’s or own labels etc) and social networks, namely twitter and facebook. We’re fortunate to live in a time where marketing your product has become a kind of “do it yourself” thing and it’s a great way to reach the youth as well. You just have to look at the rise of some artists who have built serious hype through the internet, The Weeknd and Odd Future are testament to this phenomenon. So shoutout to Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey for that, haha."
4. How has Upper Echelon's growth affected you guys personally?
"I guess it’s just super cool when something you create starts to take shape and to see things come to fruition, it’s really rewarding, but we remain grounded and we know that much hard work lies ahead."
5. What would you say is the most popular Upper Echelon item at the moment, and why?
"Initially people were really supportive of everything we released, but lately it’s been the Indigo snapback. I think the ‘Indigo’ message resonates with a lot of people. It’s got that classic feel because it's a black hat with a green underbill. Yeah, we’re just glad people like it."
6. It must be tough when clients are always excited to see new ranges. Where do the ideas for new products come from?
"Yeah people are always so receptive of what we’ve just released and always wanna know what’s next. We try to keep it hush, hush and super limited. New ideas are spatially and culturally constructed so they come from everywhere. Places we’ve been, stuff we read, music, television, what we’re taught at university, what’s going on in society, it’s easy because it’s all around us every day, you just need to be open-minded and willing to look. In saying this we try to stick to the theme of spreading a message through our designs."
7. With Upper Echelon's exponential growth over the months, what has been the most rewarding aspect of it all?
"Honestly, people’s receptiveness and willingness to support us, the movement and the message that we’re trying to bring forward. It’s still surreal when you’re walking around somewhere and you see someone wearing an Upper Echelon tee or a cap. It still gives me Goosebumps."
8. With both of you studying full time, how do you manage to stay on top of the game with new releases?
"Yeah, as we alluded to earlier, good time management, sharing the responsibilities and investing in ourselves because if you want something to work then your time is the most important form of investment."
9. With different ideas, how do you guys combine your strengths to form one product?
"I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there. It is a sort of concoction of different views and interests and I always stress the notion that difference is a good thing because it allows us to create something that we would not have been able to create individually."
10. Social media plays a huge role when it comes to reaching out to your customers and vice versa. What we all want to know is; will we be seeing an Upper Echelon store sometime soon?
"That is a kind of long term objective. We would like to have our own space, but for now we are working on getting our clothing in a few stores in Cape Town, maybe even build an online store. I think a realistic goal that we’ve set ourselves is to showcase our brand at StreetCred in the near future, but it’s an exciting time for local brands in Cape Town and South Africa, and I think South Africans have so much to offer the fashion industry. We’re just fortunate and humbled to be given the chance to be a part of this movement."
Luckily, I got my hands on a limited edtition crew neck from their previous range before I left the country, and everytime I wear it, I get a "Love your top! Where did you get it?!" and it always feels good to be able to say "I got this back home in Cape Town, South Africa." Besides inspiring others, the boys are also opening up minds and giving Cape Town quite a bit of exposure.
Quite the duo, I`d say....
Background information, Check.
Questions answered, Check.
Now to get my hands on some Upper Echelon Head Gear items...
Keep your eyes open for new releases, and be sure to join the movement.
For queries, orders or any other information on some of their other ranges, contact Upper Echelon via social media, or email them directly: Upperechelonclothing@webmail.com.