The hype, and hype beasts, are real. Only a matter of years ago, streetwear represented something subversive, an element of counterculture for those in conscious objection of the mainstream. Now with the ubiquity of brands like Supreme, which still reigns supreme thanks to brilliant marketing schemes and a consistent onslaught of collaborations, the landscape has changed drastically, and streetwear culture has become commonplace (even Hypebeast just posed the question, “Has Sneaker Hype Gone Too Far?”). But that’s not to say there can’t be game changers, and in a sea of heavily branded lines, Chicago-based ALMVGHTY stands out. We talked to 22-year-old founder Dondre Smith about his ambition, inspiration and how spirituality can play a role in streetwear.
How did ALMVGHTY initially come to be?
I started it in my freshman year of college when I was going to the University of Iowa. I was supposed to be a pharmacist. I launched on July 27, 2014, and it started with a baseball jersey with clouds supplemented on it and the number 11 on the back. I’m really infatuated with clouds. When I started the brand, I didn’t realize it’s really about God. But he’s my source, and I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without him. I called it ALMVGHTY because of my interest in Greek mythology. Now it represents the idea of having complete influence or power. The V stands for vision and versatility. If you don’t change, then you get washed up.
Would you call yourself a spiritual person and designer?
I would say spiritual, definitely. I will not say religious. I don’t believe in different types of religions. I just believe I’m in arelationship with our creator. I’m trying to inspire this generation to pursue what they’re passionate about. I feel like doing what we’re put on this earth to do is the only way to live a truly successful life, or a fulfilled life. You can be successful without really being fulfilled, you know what I’m saying? We’ve all got a calling in life. I’m trying to spread that message with art, music and fashion. I think of what I’m doing as more of a cultural movement than a streetwear brand.
That’s what so many established designers are starting to figure out—that the consumer wants a 360-degree experience.
At the end of the day, people are going to remember you not by what you do so much as how you make them feel. The best way to make somebody feel is by giving them an experience, whether that’s an event or just connecting. That’s why my fashion shows aren’t just shows. There are also live DJs, an art gallery, body paint, an open bar. I want to make sure I have an experience with everybody I meet.
What about streetwear speaks to you more than any other medium?
That’s just how I grew up. It’s how I used to dress. Back in the day, in 2005, I was into straps, Air Force Ones, high-tops, low-tops, Sean Jean, FUBU, when those brands were hot. Rocawear and stuff like that. Baggy white tees and jeans were in so I had that style, but I was a sneakerhead. I remember my first pair of Jordans I got in fifth grade. It was the “For the Love of the Game” pack.
Then in high school, I started selling shoes like they were drugs. I would always get them off-market, not retail. Sole Collector was really big back in the day. I got out of the sneakerhead game my senior year in high school and started going to New Balances, Pumas and other brands. I like being different. I’m also dropping a pair of shoes next year.
How do you feel about the kind of collaboration overload that’s happening with brands like Supreme?
I mean, I respect it. Stüssy and Supreme are OGs. It’s like, if you’re around for that long and still relevant and you can drop a box logo tee and people buy it for, like, 10 times more than it’s costing to produce, then good for you. But the people in the fashion game I like now are Virgil Abloh and Jerry Lorenzo. They surpass what they’re doing.
I don’t like to necessarily call myself a streetwear brand because I don’t want to limit myself. Everything I do is handmade. It’s all super limited because it’s all made from scratch. I don’t make more than 30 of each design. We do the embroidery and everything in-house. If you do wholesale and just put a graphic on it, you can sell a lot more for cheaper, but I’m all about quality and purpose. A lot of brands don’t necessarily have a purpose.
Where does most of your inspiration come from?
It comes from what’s going on in my life at the time. My first collection, one of three capsules, is called The Storm because we all go through storms in life, whether mental, physical, spiritual, emotional, financial. We all go through something in life. We’re not always suffering, but we’ll go through seasons of suffering and then we’ll go through seasons when life is great. Season Two is The Rain and then comes The Harvest because I believe in planting seeds. You have to plant seeds. Don’t be a shady person because karma is real. Your words are seeds, too. What we say holds weight. When people say, “I’m broke all the time,” they’re probably going to be broke. If you say, “I’m on my way to riches,” then it’s better. Change your words. Put it out there.
What’s your take on social media? Do you see it as a platform or a necessary evil? Or both?
I mean, it's all about moderation. To be honest, if I didn't have a business and I wasn't doing what I'm doing, I probably wouldn't really be on social media like that. A lot of people don't know who they are. Identity is the biggest thing, especially in our generation with social media being how it is. Everybody’s looking at everybody else. Everybody’s focused on what the next person is doing and then they start comparing themselves. That's what people get wrong because you can't compare yourself to the next person. We’ve got to all realize that whatever our blessing is, that blessing has our name on it. And we all have our different place in life. I definitely believe ALMVGHTY will be one of the most influential brands around once I show my face and use my voice more. I’m really doing it to uplift people. I believe my generation is suffering because they don’t know God.
How about cannabis? Are you a fan?
I used to sell weed, and I’m not ashamed of it because weed is not a big deal. I’ll be pretty authentic and transparent with my audience. I used to sell weed for awhile and then I stopped. I stopped because I realized in order to really get the blessings out of this brand, I couldn’t be doing petty stuff like that. But from my senior year in high school until about my junior year in college, I was selling dope. I rock with weed. Right now, I’m in Chicago probably 'til 2020, but then I want to move to the West Coast and open my own dispensary. That’s going to be another business.