August is officially National Black Business Month and PAPER is showing love to some of our favorite Black-owned businesses throughout the entire month. Our dedicated series, Booked x Busy, is all about shining a light on the entrepreneurs and brands that embody Black excellence.
Duos like Kid-N-Play, Kris Kross and Outkast have made an everlasting impact across Black counterculture. Add Whensmokeclears Founders Gil "Thermal" Taveras and Kyle "Ksace" Nelson into the fold, and you have another recipe for world domination.
The sneaker and accessories brand was born in 2015 during the twosome's successful tenure of directing and producing music videos for acts including French Montana, A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie, Cam'ron and Playboi Carti. When a house fire engulfed the pair's apartment and posed a threat to their hard work, the unexpected adversity lit a fire from within and solidified their bond to strive for even greater. Hence, Whensmokeclears was born.
Through trials came determination and their luxury line has become a fan favorite overseas, often selling out within minutes. Hollywood mavericks including Lil Yachty, Bella Thorne, Trippie Redd, Christian Combs, Coi Leray, Quavo and Swae Lee (of Rae Sremmurd fame) have been seen rocking the brand's signature radiant hearts, crosses and pearls, as well as its alternative apparel and sneaker line. Even Theophilipus London is slated to drop a limited edition Whensmokeclears choker later this year in honor of his record label, Bebey.
Beyond fashion, Thermal and Ksace also recently developed the Whensmokeclears Commissary Project, which puts money on the books of those incarcerated and supports those whose loved ones cannot visit them due to COVID-19.
PAPER kicked it with Thermal and Ksace (who are already hard at work on their next capsule collection) to exclusively reveal select pieces from their upcoming Fall 2020 line, discuss the impact of Whensmokeclears and how whenever there's smoke, there are often ideas that are straight fire, too.
How is your Fall 2020 collection (as seen above) different from past seasons?
This is the first time we've put all our ideas on one plane. We've only dropped solo releases in the past such as our signature pieces like our Radiant Heart Necklace, Heart Sneaker and World Boss Jeans. We've never dropped a complete collection all at once, but now all of the pieces have come together to present a collection to the world as one. And we're excited for PAPER to be the first to get the sneak peek.
Where do you draw inspiration from when designing?
We dream of things that don't exist and try to bring them to this world from a luxury perspective. We often draw from counterculture, but mostly the thought of taking risks and pushing the envelope when it comes to creating fashion above the norm is our ultimate inspiration.
What does it mean to be a Black-owned business, especially when the Black Lives Matter movement is getting so much attention?
We would say to be a Black-owned business, you're starting with a lot of adversity seeing as you have to work twice as hard. But the lighter side of it is that we have the best stories to tell. The mass recognition of the Black Lives Matter movement is a little late, though. It's something we as Black people have been on — we've been doing. At our brand, we don't take it for granted nor do we exploit it for profit.
"For us, the perfect collaboration involves a formula where polar opposites collide."
You have collaborated with some heavy hitters like Theophilus London. Who are some celebrities you would like to create your next capsule collection with?
What does it take for another fashion brand to join forces for Whensmokeclears?
The best partnership would come from two totally different worlds. For instance, clothing on clothing or jewelry on jewelry isn't a good equation. For us, the perfect collaboration involves a formula where polar opposites collide. We'd like it to be a supermarket partnering with our jewelry like Wholefoods or our sneakers partnering with M&M's candy.
There's been more time on our hands thanks to COVID-19. How do you keep your creative juices flowing and how has having more idle time affected Whensmokeclears?
For better. Minus all the trauma we're facing during these unprecedented times, this idle time has been sort of a blessing in disguise for our company. We've waited for the chance where we had so much creative juice built up and we weren't distracted by the outside world. Before March, we couldn't use or expel our creativity as consistently because we had to report outside. It was always there, but we couldn't use it all. We had to be social, live our personal lives. Thankfully though, we've never had a problem of not being able to ideate or develop a concept — we always feel creative.
What do you see streetwear evolving into next as far as trends go?
Silhouettes are going to get bigger, if they're not already going there. Designers are going to upgrade to more luxury. Like what Virgil Abloh is doing at Louis Vuitton, he's giving a luxury brand streetwear clout. As an industry, we are also going to see more streetwear brands creating leather pieces.
Being together in business is hard. How do you both continue to maintain the carefree and light-heartedness you're known for while building a thriving business together?
Thermal: The synergy between Ksace and I was Godsent. I try not to think too much about it and let everything flow, but the way we work is magic. As far as being carefree, we definitely moderate, especially since we're getting more mature. I'm definitely like the big brother, encouraging us to work harder. "Everything in moderation" is our daily motto. We have a roof and a round table and that's how we keep it full circle.
Who are some of your favorite rappers, athletes and other influencers that you feel embody the Whensmokeclears ethos?
You all are young, Black entrepreneurs who have found success in being authentic. What advice would you give designers wanting to create their own lane?
Google. We googled our way to today. Google is not going to be free in the future. It's the most affordable school you've got, so use it.
How have you been able to tap into international markets?
Music has been the vehicle for Whensmokeclears. Music travels fast. All of our music friends are real supporters and carry WSC worldwide. We enjoy shadowing them. Whatever comes from that, there's no telling. We might even get into the music industry. Whensoundclears, anyone?
If the two of you weren't in the fashion industry, what would you be doing instead?
Ksace: Probably interior design — HGTV type shit.
Thermal: I have a film background, so I would be telling the same stories on the silver screen.
Where do you see Whensmokeclears in the next five years?
In five years, we should be producing full uniforms. We started with our jewelry, but definitely more clothing, creating luxury everyone can all afford.
Fill in the blank: Our Black is...
Our Black is FOREVER.
Thanks to you, the world can now literally wear its heart on its sleeve. What's next for Whensmokeclears?
Our digital fashion week presentation on August 12th and some icy sweat suits dropping this winter.
Photos courtesy of Whensmokeclears