It’s hard to be original when you’re making any sort of streetwear these days. But somehow, Ryan O’Connor does it with RIPNDIP. Through cheeky slogans and pissed off cats, the California-based brand brings together skate culture and ’90s nostalgia to create something that’s actually cool. And since technically O’Connor’s been doing it since 2008, RIPNDIP isn’t even fast fashion. So what’s not to like?
BULLETT caught up with the brand to talk Nermal and the never-ending appeal of cats.
Photography: Bert Wootton
How did RIPNDIP get started?
Back in Florida around 2008, all my friends were doing graffiti and putting up wheatpastes. This was right around the time that OBEY was getting really popular, and I started seeing more Shepard Fairey posters everywhere. I was skateboarding a lot, and my friends were making t-shirts, so I became interested in it. I went to skate camp and I thought of the name ‘RIPNDIP’ and just wrote it on my board with a paint pen. All the kids in my cabin loved it and when I came back, I started writing it everywhere and putting it on shirts, selling them for ten bucks. From there, I was just skating, having fun, fucking off and making shirts.
What happened when you got home?
I tried to do the same thing, and it didn’t work. I started an online store, and hoped to sell the shirts on there, but no one bought any. I even went to my site and bought one to see if it was working—it was. All the kids were saying, ‘We love this stuff so much, you have to start an online store!’ I did, and no one cared. So I ended up just giving out the shirts, and I put up a little bit of money to buy a screenprinting machine. I would go to rave clubs in Orlando to try to sell them—it was always my passion project. Then all of my homies started to move out to California, and they were broke-broke, and I wondered how they were surviving out there. But I figured if they could do it, I could. So I packed up all of my shit and moved there with nothing.
Did moving to California kickstart the brand?
I met so many people in California—like Keith at HUF—and they really showed me the industry. They told me to do seasons and pre-orders, and at the same time, the online store started picking up. But I just wanted enough money to pay rent. Now I have employees and seasons—it’s crazy. And it all started from this hatred of the name RIPNDIP and how disgusted people were. Some thought, ‘This is cool because these kids love it,’ and then there were people who just didn’t like it and never will. It’s a cool filter.
How do you describe your aesthetic?
It’s all just based on fun, comedy and integrity. But it really is just for fun—the opposite of other streetwear brands that are very serious. We’re like the opposite friendly approach.
Where’d the ‘fuck off’ cat come from?
We’d just always fucked around with cat graphics, but none of them stuck. Originally, we had this shirt with an all-over print and a photo of a cat. As we moved forward I thought, ‘How funny would it be if we put him in the pocket, flipping you off as if he was doing something mischievous?’ So that’s what we did. And when we dropped that shirt, and it hit the internet, everyone posted about it.
Were you always into drawing or art as a kid? And why fashion? How did you get the idea to start making shirts instead of just drawing?
It all stemmed from t-shirts—I just liked the idea of people wearing a jacket with RIPNDIP on it. I’ve always liked streetwear and skating culture, and I love building. I never went to school or anything for it. But as things panned out, I wanted to make it work.
Photography: Jason Henry
What do you want people to take away from the clothes?
Hopefully it impacts the way they feel, or at least, makes someone else laugh. But the pop-up stores are different—they’re immersive, they’re fucking dope. And if I can do it, anyone can. Maybe you have to try, and you have to sacrifice, but you can work it out.
How has the brand evolved since your original designs?
It’s fine-tuned—and I’ve made Nermal into the streetwear Hello Kitty. This grimy, street cat that has this really bad attitude all the time, but also has this humor from art. I’m also looking forward to the future—maybe I’ll have a theme park in the future, or a festival.
So RIPNDIP is really about community for you.
Exactly—we can make products all day long, but how do these products affect people? We try to bring it all together—bring people together. That’s the whole point.
RIPNDIP’s NYC pop-up will open September 9 at 40 Mercer Street