Brothers Arben And Kuj left everything in NYC to start their clothing line, BOND, in LA
I met Arben and Kuj about a year and a half ago, at their residence – known by them as, “The Flamingo,” inspired by Miami Vice.
We drank their liquor of choice, Jameson, and they kept dropping the phrase, “nothing crazy,” at the end of every sentence. We cracked jokes all night long, and even to this day I laugh the hardest with them.
I finally asked the Brooklyn natives what brought them to Los Angeles. The kidding around stopped, and the seriousness took play, as they told me about their clothing line, BOND.
Arben dropped out of NYU and Kuj dropped out of New York School Of Visual Arts (SVA) to both move out here with barely a dime to their name. They viewed their apartment, signed the lease, and moved in all in the same day – they didn’t know what a line sheet was and they certainly didn’t know what their first move was going to be.
Nearly two years later, their brand sells in ten stores worldwide, including FourTwoFour on Fairfax. FourTwoFour is one of the most notable streetwear stores in West Hollywood, Los Angeles.
After hearing their story and seeing the dedication they have to their brand, Arben and Kuj became two of my biggest influences. The pair’s journey is an inspiration for all of the underdogs.
I talked with the boys at their residence – over their famous pasta, nonetheless – before following them around Delilah (a swanky dinner & drinks spot in LA) for their favorite night, Jazz Night.
Check out our interview and exclusive Jazz Night photoshoot with the duo below.
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For those of our readers that don’t know, how did BOND become your reality?
Arben and Kuj both take a deep breath.
Arben: Wow, alright. Take it easy, Emma. I need a cigarette to answer that one.
Kuj: Pass me one, too! How did BOND become our reality? Alright, you want the long story or the short one?
Arben: I’ll give you the medium version. So, BOND started when I was at NYU and sick of taking classes. I told my professor and she said, “What do you want to do?” I told her, “I either want to drop out, or do something I really want to do.”
She told me I had to submit her a proposal for a project by the next day, and I told her I wanted to start a clothing brand. I wanted to make a cut and sew t-shirt. She then said, “Ok, how does that relate to what your studying in film, photography, and media?”
We were studying Marcuse’s Theory of Consumerism at the time. I had the idea to take a photo of the theory and put it on a t-shirt as a silhouette of a woman who has a Fiji water dripping out of her mouth.
I told her I was going to make a high end t-shirt and sell it at a high price point and I’m going to market it though new media. I had three months to do it. Next day, I got it approved and had to make a documentary on the whole process. At that time, we had no clue what we were doing.
Kuj was in high school I was working for Kayne West. It was at the very beginning of Yeezy and thats what sort of gave me the inspiration to do it. So, Kuj and I hit the garment district everyday. Finally, I found a manufacturer, but she tried to charge us some crazy amount of money – $30 to cut and sew a T-shirt.
Even though I didn’t know much then, I knew that was way to much money. We left, and as we were taking the elevator down, it just stopped on the 4th floor. The doors opened and boom, I saw a sign that said “Pattern Maker.” This guy pops out of nowhere and is like “What are you guys doing here?” His name is William The Pattern Maker.
Kuj: He’s this crazy, old dude. He was 70.
Arben: Yeah, and he told us, “You need a good pattern maker, then you come to me.” He took us in and taught us the entire process. That was our main man.
We finally perfected how to make the garment. It took a lot of work and three months to make one t-shirt. That’s what the process was like for us at first. We learned everything ourselves and we do everything ourselves. We never had a production team.
Kuj: We didn’t go to school for it.
Arben: We learned from the streets. We both dropped out of school and moved to LA to make it happen. We couldn’t really make it work in NYC, because the factories just aren’t there anymore. The garment district is dying.
We moved to LA and were trying to figure out our way when we walked into FourTwoFour on FairFax. Kuj was wearing one of our plaid jackets, and Guillermo Andrade, head of design and co-founder of the store, came up to Kuj and asked, “Who makes this jacket?” We told him that we did.
Guillermo looks at us and says, “Send me a line sheet.” We had no clue what a line sheet was (laughs). So, we go home kind of freaking out. We looked up what a line sheet was and then we cooked it up. We sent it over and Guillermo was like, “Alright, lets run it.” Our clothes have been carried in FourTwoFour ever since.
Was it difficult for you two to break into the fashion industry?
Kuj: Well, it wasn’t that it was difficult. It was just time consuming. We did a lot of plotting before we attacked. The hardest part was planning the role out.
Arben: It was also about learning and not moving too quickly. If we would have dropped a 16 piece collection three years ago, we wouldn’t have been ready for it.
Kuj: We would have been fucked. We wouldn’t even be here right now.
Arben: This is the long run for us, we want to be doing this for a long time. We don’t want to just be in and out. A teacher once told me, “Arb, you’re either gonna crash and burn or you’re gonna fly. Go too quickly and you’ll crash and burn. But, if you take your time, you’ll fly.”
When was the moment that you felt your career really started taking off?
Arben: I feel like it’s just a process for us. It’s not about our career taking off, it’s about people fucking with what we do. Every piece that we make tells a story. Thats the most important part for us. Telling a story through art, and making sure people understand what we are saying.
The fact that people fuck with what we are doing, means a lot. The fact that a store carries us, and that people in Japan fuck with us is awesome.
Kuj: We just keep on rolling with it. We don’t really realize until we look back a couple months later, and we’re like, “Oh shit, that really happened.” You know what I’m saying? Last year we had one store, and now we’re carried in ten stores across the world.
You’re originally from Brooklyn. Does the NYC fashion culture influence your work at all?
Kuj: Of course, we take pieces from everywhere.
Arben: It’s not just New York fashion, it’s just fashion in general. We don’t look at fashion trends for inspiration. It’s about looking at the past and at our history.
Arben: The energy, the look, and the silhouette all come from our past and shit that we have experienced. But, New York gave us the foundation for being fresh. That’s a necessary thing in New York. Growing up in NYC, you had to be fresh.
Kuj: Going to school, you had to be fresh. It was a big thing for us. We wouldn’t go to school unless we looked right.
What has been your favorite piece that you have created from your collection?
Kuj: My favorite piece is the Iggy Pop one. It’s a picture of Iggy Pop standing on the crowd – he’s crowd surfing. It says “Like A Brick Wall On Fire” around the graphic. Those words came from a text I received from my ex girlfriend right when we broke up.
She said to me “You’re like a brick wall on fire,” and I was like, that sounds crazy. That’s fresh. So, I took that very personal message and I put it on the t-shirt.
Arben: My favorite piece is the rent reminder t-shirt. Since it’s close to the first of the month, there’s a flyer in the building that says, “rent reminder”. The back of the t-shirt has the eviction notice that we got from our first apartment in LA, and the front says “rent reminder.”
That just tells you the story of us and what we have gone through to create this brand. It’s what we still go through, you know every day is still a struggle. It’s not easy to do what we do, we care so much. We literally left everything behind. We left our family, we left everything we knew in New York.
Both of our favorite pieces are the most personal, and is shows that we’re honest. We’re not trying to hide anything were keeping it real. You get us. This is us.
Best business advice you’ve ever gotten?
Arben: Quit (laughs).
Kuj: Yeah, don’t do it. Do something that makes money! Why are you doing this?
Arben: This makes no money.
Kuj: It’s a good piece of advice, because it’s wrong. You take that negative and turn it around into something positive. All we ever hear is that bad stuff.
Arben: We hear it all the time. People that have been in the business 20 or 30 years are always going to give you the negative aspect.
Kuj: And they weren’t wrong – we hate and love the advice. It’s like, shit. These guys are right, but you can always prove them wrong.
What’s separating you from other brands?
Kuj: Personal aspect and personal messages.
Arben: You can’t get this anywhere else. You’re not gonna spend $5,000 on a jacket and then see 10 other people walking down Rodeo Drive in it. You wear a BOND piece, you’re wearing a BOND piece. It was hand painted in The Flamingo, it was destroyed in The Flamingo.
Kuj: Even when it comes down to our graphics, everything is drawn with pen. It’s scanned and then it’s taken further. Designers these days aren’t really telling something personal through their clothes. You don’t really know about them. We are giving you our stories, our lives, and our thoughts.
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A lot of our readers are inspiring entrepreneurs. What advice can you give them about starting a clothing brand?
Arben: Make a hoodie.
Kuj: Yeah, start off easy. Don’t make a full production at first, and don’t spend all your money. You will spend a lot of money – this business is a fucking money pit. It’s to get your feet wet.
Arben: There is a reason why there aren’t a lot of high end brands. It’s expensive and difficult to keep up with. We can’t even afford half the pieces that we make (laughs).
Kuj: Yeah, I can’t buy BOND!
Arben: I can’t afford it, but we have expensive taste. We like expensive shit, and that’s why we make it.
What’s the worst fashion trend of all time?
Kuj: You know, I never liked high-watered jeans.
Arben: Yeah, like when your ankles are showing.
Kuj: I hate that shit.
Fuck Marry Kill: Gucci, Margiela, Saint Laurent.
Arben: I’d fuck Gucci, because it’s sexy, marry Margiela, because its my favorite brand, and kill Saint Laurent because it died already. Shit got so wack.
Where did your interest in fashion come from?
Arben: Really from our families.
Kuj: Here’s the thing, we always got hand me downs, so our clothes were always passed down. If you didn’t get what you wanted, you had to make it work. I learned to work with stuff to turn it into something I did like.
Arben: I haven’t bought new clothes in four years. It’s because everything we do goes into making our own clothes. We will get a sample of something we just designed, we wear it for two weeks, and whatever it looks like at the end of those two weeks, we produce it that way.
I’ll wake up and look at it and be like, “Alright, this needs a hole in it, rip it.” Kuj will then go and add a little paint. I’ll be downtown and something dirty gets on the sweater – that shit looks fresh. I’ll rub it around a little bit. It’s never a plan, we just see what happens.
The point of our clothes is for them to feel worn,. A lot of the time, people think our clothes are vintage. That’s the point of what we are doing. We do multiple processes to make the clothes feel like they have been lived in.
Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?
Arben: We really just like to collaborate with our homies – people we really fuck with. It makes it more personal.
Kuj: If G-Unit was still a brand, I think we could run a sick collab. That would be fresh. It would be a serious clash of cultures. Like, you crop a G-Unit hoodie and throw some paint on it – I think that would look crazy.
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Can you tell us about your side project, “Nothing Crazy At All?”
Arben: “Nothing Crazy At All” is a really fun project for us.
Kuj: We finally took the advice from ourselves! We were like, “Damn why are we doing all this hard shit all the time, why can’t we have a little fun?”
Arben: Yeah, why does everything have to be so serious? When we go to Fashion Week, Why do we always have to work? We deserve a little fun. We wanna throw a little party.
Kuj: We do it for the people. Everyone likes a crazy party and a nice, little hoodie.
Arben: Not everyone can afford a $2000 jacket. Like I said before, we even can’t. So, we wanted to make something really affordable.
Kuj: Yeah, and the same people that buy the $2000 jacket also buy the hoodie. That’s the crazy part about it. “Nothing Crazy At All” has a big range for everyone.
What’s the story behind the phrase, “Nothing Crazy At All?”
Kuj: I mean, it started out as a saying. We were out one night with the other two brothers involved in the project, Andrew Andrade and Diego Andrade. Andrew got into an argument with some dude and he said, “Yo, I’m just trying to live my life. It’s nothing crazy.”
I looked at him and I was just like, “Yeah, it’s nothing crazy.” Next thing you know, we were saying it all damn day. It spread like a wildfire from there.
Arben: We started saying, “nothing crazy,” and now all of LA is saying it. It really stuck. People know us as the “nothing crazy boys.”
What’s something that no one knows about you?
Kuj: No one knows shit about us, but I’ll give you one thing – no one knows our phone number.
Arben: The only way to contact us is through Instagram. We have to really fuck with you to give you our phone number. The only thing you’ll know is what you get on the clothes really. That’s what we save our stories for.
What would your autobiography be called?
Arben: “Open At The Close.”
Kuj: “Tale of the BOND Boys.”
Arben: You get the book when I’m gone.
What do you worry about the most and why?
Kuj: What we want the most. We want to be eating good all the time. It worries us if there’s nothing to eat.
Arben: Not getting too comfortable. When you get to comfortable that’s when you slip up.
BOTH: The Flamingo.
Arben: We created a drink for our apartment. Its Chambord, gin, and a little club soda.
Kuj: Or a Jameson and soda.
Arben: Yeah, Jameson is our drink.
What can we expect to see from you guys in the next year?
Kuj: It’s going to be something.
Arben: Inspiration keeps coming to us. Our next collection comes out this September so you’ll find out then.
Kuj: We don’t plan that far in advanced.
Can you tell us a little about your new collection, Down In Flames?
Arben: Down In Flames is really a story of Kuj and I. Our War was our first collection, and it was all about us leaving New York and coming to LA to star BOND. Down in Flames is now our story since then. Every collection is a reflection of what is happening to us at that current time.
A big part of the collection is shedding light on people we respect, look up to, and take inspiration from that never got in our opinion that never got the true shine that they deserved. Music has one of the strongest impacts on everything that we do. Music and fashion relate to each other so much.
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Photography by Cassidy Galvan
Interview by Emma MacKenzie
Creative Direction by Cassidy Rose Reagan and Emma MacKenzie
Arben and Kuj are wearing all BOND