For Young Designer Gavin Karp, the Future is Fashion
Streetwear designer Gavin Karp has already dressed an Eagles player and sold out of collections at high fashion meccas Boyds Philadelphia and Delsette in Ardmore, and he’s not even out of college yet. The 22-year old Philly-born, Florida-raised wunderkind is halfway through his senior year at Drexel University, but don’t expect to find him in the Fashion Department late night hustling to finish an assignment; actually, you won’t find him there at all. Even though he was interested in fashion from an early age, Karp opted to earn his credits learning the less sexy, albeit utterly important, side of the shmatta trade. “I’m in the Business School at Drexel,” he explains “So I’m pretty much doing entrepreneurship, and it’s very focused on marketing too, so it ends up tying everything together.”
For Karp, it all starts - and ends (at least until graduation) with a t-shirt. “Freshman year I was walking around the mall with my mom, I was looking through t-shirts, and I was like ‘Yeah I could do this!’ A couple months later, I had an internship at Ralph Lauren in Florida. I came back here, and with the money I had saved I made a run of 25 shirts with my initials on it just to start, and built it small and slowly like that.”
His already-iconic collection of minimalist basics now includes a handful of tees and sweatshirts in a steely white, graphite and black palette. It’s surprisingly difficult to create something stripped down and simple yet impactful - just ask Off White’s Virgil Abloh or that low-profile dude - what’s his name again? - behind Yeezy. That kind of discipline and focus is even more impressive given the fact that both Karp and his collection are quite young.
Karp does something else few seasoned designers have manager to pull off, too, and that’s creating a brand that feels organically inclusive. Models on his site and social media (who are, most likely, the designer’s friends) are a black, white, male and female. The line is unisex, so it skews androgynous, and one photo on the brand’s Instagram account shows the designer’s grandfather effortlessly rocking one of his tees, which Karp has said in an early interview that he “likes to pair with a blazer.”
The collections have names like “Simple Future," "Black Future,” and “Blank Future” (the latter seems pretty fitting for someone just about to graduate; it’s uncertain and hopeful at the same time) and are centered around a recognizable (read: brandable) motif of squares side by side in earlier collections and stacked in later collections, representing an industrial urban landscape. There are a few plays on each of those in the form of small batch releases, like “Blank Future Express,” which adds a train schedule into the design. His latest collection, “Voltaic”, is a further evolution of his core design, and not-so-subtly plays with the futurism via an armband design that says “Year 2095” and “High Voltage.” The brandability of the central iconic design might reflect something Karp picked up in business school - it's so recognizable that it positions the line as easily identifiable and instantly classic.
For now, pieces are produced in limited run collections as small as 25 pieces - Karp is financing production himself, after all. Once he graduates in the spring, he plans to make a fuller collection. “Stuff to my liking, jackets, pants - for men and women.” For now, he’s limited by time and finances. “Basically what I do now, it’s what I like, and I can tinker, but I don’t have factories where I can put a pocket where I want it and get the exact wash I want.” He’ll begin design in the Spring and have it produced for Fall 2018. Karp plans to source his fabrics overseas and have pieces made in California. But there’s still the small issue of money, which is key to the brand’s growth. “I’m going to save up as much as I can, plus get investors, see what happens.” Then that Drexel business practicality pops up: “It’s not going to be a huge collection, probably seven or eight pieces,” he adds, as if practicing reassuring potential investors.
Luckily for Karp, many design houses - especially those focused on branding - are paring down collections. Countless “seasons” (do we really Cruise and Pre-Spring?), non-stop shipping dates and disposable fashion is so Forever 21, Target, Zara. Smaller, and arguably smarter, indie brands that still have incredibly loyal fan bases (made up mostly by Millenials and Gen Z-ers) are all opting for tight, cohesive releases rather than churning out increasingly more seasonalized collections that are more likely to end up discounted than sold.
As for the coveted store placements and an Eagles player model? Chalk it up to good friends, a trusting work relationship, and being in the right place at the right time. A friend of his was wearing one of his shirts to work at Delsette, where her boss spotted it and immediately wanted to bring it in alongside more established brands like Adam Lippes and Giambattista Valle. Karp works at Boyds, so after convincing his bosses to let him set up a trunk show and proceeding to sell out, he regularly sells his collection there at seasonal pop-ups throughout the year. The rest comes down to some light stalking. “I saw Alshon Jeffery a few times around the city,” Karp recounts. “I got lucky one day, because I had t-shirts in my backpack and I saw him walking out of his building to his car. I just went up to him and pitched it to him, and he posted a picture of himself wearing it to his insta story that week.”
Next up, Karp hopes to plant roots in New York City, the fashion industry’s central hub stateside, but would like to see his line continue to have presence in Philly and Florida, branching out to California and beyond.
He’s described the line with words like “cold, dark winter” and “very futuristic,” which begs the question: Does Karp think the future will be that bleak?
“Not necessarily. I think the future is going to be not dark but very...electronic, there’s a lot of silver, dark colors, so I feel like the environment is going to change and be more metallic. And I feel like winter is going to be longer in the future.”
If that’s the case, better invest in some Gavin Karp sweatshirts.