Perhaps a mere coincidence or maybe a sign of the times. hmmm. ?!?!? I sat and wondered why my previous post ‘an untitled story of cool’ had suddenly gone missing. Now it has been over a year, and I miss cool more than ever. “Seasons change, mad things rearrange, but it all stays the same, like the love doctor, strange” but despite the pain, the written word remains. So here it is again, with the remixed introduction. An Untitled Story of Cool:
[risk],y, adjective, noun, verb
Before I ever looked at the spray paint on the walls, I saw the street art on my friend Alex’s camera and read the words depicted: “Free Beauty” “Cool is YOUniversal” “Just Be Cool.”– messages aimed at redefinition. Alex scrolled through and showed me pictures, nodding and smiling, the way he usually does when giving something his approval. The idea of scaling walls and evading law enforcement excites everyone. It’s what superheros do.
Just Be Cool., is the brand created by Gavin McNeill - a self-taught designer, Alex’s first cousin, a friend I’d serendipitously met. It developed from a simple t-shirt slogan: “Just Be Cool.” and has started a dialogue with Los Angeles and the world, the proof of which was tagged on top of a building at 1st Street and Labrea Avenue and on the wall of American Apparel on Melrose. Pictures could be found on blogs across the web. Yet the images weren’t imposing like other brand advertisements. Definitions for living were left up to the individual.
Gavin’s quiet partner, Cale Moss, describes a kid’s definition of cool as whatever it is that they’re into, whatever they like. Gavin says it’s a pair of Jordans, a home run, or having a “cool” girl next to you. These definitions are manifested in the people they are today. Cale is the wallflower who is so confident in this position that he’s afforded an air of charming mystery. Gavin is determined to create a brand more influential than Nike, considers a sold out concert a home run, and usually has a beautiful girl by his side in photos or in real life. Yet Gavin, Cale, and the Just Be Cool. Family seek to change our thinking about what it is to be cool. In the process, they’ve given new meaning to the idea of taking risks, which for them reach far beyond a little paint and a positive message.
1. To venture upon;
It’s an amazing time for the burgeoning entrepreneur. While everyone struggles with the same economic woes, young people have a unique space to develop companies of their own. The innovative can take advantage of rapidly changing landscapes across industries and create new models, becoming experts in the process. For Gavin and Cale, risk, in the traditional sense, is manageable. Money isn’t a huge issue. One successful t-shirt can make a profit. Exposure isn’t a problem. Their clients and friends are leading the way for music in the world capital of entertainment. And they don’t have to worry about the partnership that goes awry. Cale and Gavin perfectly complement each other.
You would never know it if you met them on the street or at their desks, but their friendship is relatively new. They met in 2009. Cale had already launched a line of his own but was intrigued by Gavin’s affiliation with the LA Hip hop scene. He attributes his eagerness to collaborate to his love for the music, but like Gavin, Cale is passionate about creating change. At the end of a long day, he sits in the office and vents about the lack of genuine media: “We need to show what’s real, show the truth, and inspire.” When Cale and Gavin met, it was apparent that they would join efforts. A history of doodling, dreams of Major League Baseball, and the drive instilled by hardworking parents produced kindred spirits. Now their work exists as JBC. Global Media, a team that can brand and market anything imaginable but has found particular success in cultivating independent artists. And second as Just Be Cool., the lifestyle brand that tells kids “cool” means peace, progress, and a respect for the natural self - through events, online media, and apparel, which can be seen on t-shirts as far away as Australia. In the close quarters of their office on Fairfax, where nearly every L.A. subculture bumps into and brushes off on one another, they interact like friends who are just having a conversation. When pressed about their design process, they shrug. One person comes up with a concept and the other either loves it as is or drops the final touch to make it perfect. They explain it to me as if every real partnership must be that natural.
Majestic Soul was Gavin’s first attempt at a line. He sold the t-shirts and hats to friends and family. Then there was Stay F.R.E.S.H. (Freedom, Rhythm, Expression, Style, Humanity), which lasted until he realized the name was already taken. That day, while driving down the Harbor Freeway, he thought of LAx or Life & Times. LAx is inspired by the metropolis. The designs are Gavin’s interpretation of Los Angeles cityscapes and iconography. The remaining apparel is treated like valuable vintage by those who knew of it. It’s as if Gavin captured a moment in time, of which everyone is nostalgic. It was during this time that he developed his own aesthetic and met a partner who could match his work, but something was missing. The city offered design inspiration, but Gavin and Cale’s true mission is to improve the quality of the people in it. So when Just Be Cool. was designed as a tee with an enlightened definition of cool on the back, and people liked it, it became clear that Just Be Cool. was not just a slogan but the brand itself.
To ask Gavin or Cale today if Just Be Cool. is a brand or a movement is like playing a game of “which came first?”. They want to cheat and say that it’s both. Gavin’s romantic side tells him that it’s a movement, because they’re revolutionary. His practical side says that JBC. is a brand. He wants to control the direction of it. It’s a risky business, and he knows this. He speaks deliberately about it and chooses words carefully, but his concern still shows. Movements are political. Just Be Cool.’s revenue is dependant on young people identifying with and supporting their campaign’s credo, which asks them to adopt not just the colors of the new season but a particular way of life. As a business, JBC. could easily exploit its following. Gavin and Cale have to work against this. Before integrating each new idea, they discuss the implications for the company as well as the youth they hope to impact. With growth, they will have to carefully consider the way in which their merchandise is made and which organizations to give money away to. Gavin questions whether or not he can speak on the subject of riots in a JBC. video. He doesn’t want to support violence but thinks maybe some issues are worthy of riot attention. He remains undecided.
2. “Something that might take the wrong turn or jeopardize what you are trying to do in the long run.” – Cale Moss
Anything that becomes popular culture or tradition has a following. In “Guadalupe’s Test”, the first chapter of Down and Dirty in Mexico City, Daniel Hernandez recalls his experience of the pilgrimage to La Villa in honor of the Lady Guadalupe’s feast day. It was the end of 2007. Daniel was a 20 something migrant to El Distrito Federal, himself part of a peregrination of young people who desired a crash course in Mexican culture by moving to its capital. He explains the religious significance of Guadalupe: In December of 1531, she appeared, like a revelation, to the indigenous peasant Juan Diego and told him to build a church in that very place. The Basilica of Guadalupe, which presently stands there, attracts sojourners from across the country. They travel by foot each year to pay homage to The Virgin. Yet the author’s description of his journey is more about booze, pot, vendors, and tourists than Catholicism. “Some are true believers but most are only nominally so. For many, the attraction of the ritual of December 12 is its sheer spectacle. The most ardent believers are easy to spot, because they enter La Villa inching along on their knees,” he says. Daniel does his best to join the contemporary effort and blend in.
This past July, rapper Dom Kennedy released his first album for sale, From The Westside With Love II, and sold out Key Club in L.A. for the debut show. It was a big moment not only for Dom, but also for Just Be Cool. Dom is JBC. Family, a term used to describe “cool” individuals who are entrenched in youth culture and closely connected to the brand – many of whom, like Dom, happen to be close friends with Gavin and Cale. Every time Dom has a new release, JBC. broadcasts it, and every time it fits in a rhyme, Dom reiterates the ideology in his music: “Yellin just be cool I come in peace like this.” In order to create a real concert experience, emerging artist and not coincidentally JBC. Family Mike Reese’ constructed the set for the stage. The centerpiece was a painted interpretation of Guadalupe, but Mike Reese’s Virgin Mary wore designer shades. It’s no secret that Dom is an Angelino. His music and lyrics reflect these roots, and he’s been revered as the West Coast’s new hope in Hip hop. Los Angeles is spiritually and visually affected by Mexican culture. The inclusion of Lady Guadalupe makes sense when Reese’ explains that he sought inspiration from the city for the set: “From one side to the next, it’s kind of like a juxtaposition between the gritty shit versus the refined shit… little things that everyone can relate to, because nigga we grew the same way that other niggas grew up. The same thing that influenced you probably influenced us. We just did something different with it.” Some movements evolve, some are reinterpreted, and some just get stolen. Dom’s fans piled into Key Club like pilgrims at La Villa, proudly demonstrating their Just Be Cool. merchandise. The question for Gavin and Cale is what would change if one of those JBC. clad kids one day crept into The Basilica on their knees.
3. “A sacrifice for some form of reward or desired outcome.” – Gavin McNeill
On July 14th, Gavin posted the following on his Tumblr page:
“A lifestyle brand is led by a LIFE, and it represents the STYLE of LIFE that person lives…. I had a conversation with my boy Sergio not too long ago about it and he said “Mizzle, it’s only right that you be honest and genuine about the experiences that make you and that make this brand so that people can understand.”
He continues to explain why ESPN featured his dad, Fred McNeill on Outside the Lines. The retired NFL player had a long and successful career, and now he has Dementia. In 776 words, Gavin reflects on his father’s career, the influence the man had in shaping his own life, and the love he shows Fred now by living with him and watching over him. In the television segment, Gavin looks straight into the camera and divulges the greatest fear of any boy, which has become his reality – his Superman has lost his powers and it’s his turn to protect his family and defend the city.
Sergio is right. It may not be Gavin’s moral duty to share the intimate details of his life to the world and the web, but companies are increasingly transparent. Even Fortune 500s are attempting to tell more personal stories in order to make lasting connections with consumers. Using his nickname “Mizzle” in public, on Tumblr, and on Twitter provides a false sense of security for Gavin, but it’s just enough reassurance for him to remain confident when exposed. The inevitable sacrifice only grows larger. Every movement has a visible leader. History records the portrait of the figure standing at the podium, reciting rhetoric to a crowd of awe filled adherents. This is a position that Gavin reluctantly accepts. During the first day of the Occupy LA protests, he addressed frustrated Americans at City Hall. Those who stood next to him could see him visibly shake, gripping the towel in his hand as he spoke. By the end of it, Gavin had his audience chanting in unison. It’s only a matter of time before people start to seek out the more elusive Cale. As if predicting this, he admits, “I’m excited for what’s to come, but I know this time is the best time.”
When I finally saw the spray paint on the walls, I understood what Alex’s smile really meant. It was not a sign of approval. It was an expression of belonging. The tangible nature of the words made an abstract idea suddenly come to life. It didn’t matter who had painted it there, or put the stickers on bus stops, or drawn the logo in chalk on the sidewalk. Each contributor is a part of this brotherhood, this lifestyle promoting world peace, unity, and progress. It wasn’t until many days later that I received a simple text message from Gavin. “Did you see American Apparel?” it asked. It was his way of acknowledging the feeling that we both had. The answer to the question was clear. The brand came first, but the movement has begun.
- Ashley Ellis