Samuel Martin is the founder of iconic Boston brand Straws USA, known for his tendency to make interesting cultural references and allude to many different artists in music with his clothing including Gucci Mane, Max B, Fat Joe, Big Pun, etc. Straws has been highly praised by people all over the country, especially becoming popular with the promotion it receives from artists in Boston including Michael Christmas and Cousin Stizz among others. Martin’s ability to create a strong sense of nostalgia within his designs is another major talent helping to grow the brand. Occasionally hosting release events in the Boston area, he also specializes in the interior decoration of the showcasing rooms, making them full of surprises and aesthetically pleasing displays. I was lucky enough to interview him about the events in his life that led to Straws USA being formed, his connections within Boston, his aspirations for his brand and his life alike, and much more. You can read the interview below.
To start off, where did you grow up?
Grew up in Swampscott and Marblehead – one parent lived in each. There’s like a corny small town rivalry I never got into. Although I went to public high school and fucked Swampscott up when I played for Marblehead my senior year. Small town hoop game Judas. I went to Swampscott public schools from kindergarten to eighth grade, though, then I went to Saint John’s Prep.
What were you into growing up? And how did you get interested in basketball?
I was basically just into skateboarding and music until I hit puberty and grew a lot and started to get into basketball more. Better than I was at skating, most likely. We used to practice at the Reggie [Reggie Lewis Center] in Boston and my AAU coach stole my board one time in seventh grade. They didn’t want any injuries like I had later in life skating, lol.
How did basketball affect you as a person?
Basketball made my life more structured which probably made me a better student with more discipline, etc. But I dunno, taking command from another person over something that’s not really that important in the grand scheme of things felt wrong, lol.
Did you realize that at the time? Or do you just feel that way looking back?
I didn’t realize how much it structured my life which I need to improve on now, but I definitely felt that way towards coaches, especially in the town I grew up in. Most of them wanna live in a closed bubble and just please everyone in order to maintain peace in the community – AKA kids making teams because their moms called and complained. Rant, rant, rant, lol.
What music did you like when you were first getting into it?
I loved like all grunge and shit at first, a little rap (mainly NY stuff), a bunch of Veruca Salt, and Luscious Jackson. My babysitter was an R&B DJ, so I’ve always been huge into new jack swing and 90s R&B.
Were you always inspired by different moments and movements in culture like we see in your work today?
Deffffinitely. I’m an only child, and my dad worked in the software industry all his life, so I had a lot of access to a lot of stuff and I learned a lot from my friends in the city and in New York.
What was being an only child like? Did you have trouble finding friends or did you always have people to hang out with?
I always had kids to hang out with; I was just a super depressed kid so I spent a lot of time alone taking in as much stuff as I could through film, TV, and music to get my space to relax. I can’t say I know what it’s like to have siblings, but I’m interested in the psychological effects of being an only child because there’s definitely a pattern across most only children I have met.
Did you spend a lot of time in Boston as a kid?
Yeah, I spent a lot of time in the city skating and hanging with friends who ended up knowing Christmas.
Did you and Christmas click as friends right away? And how did you go on to meet Stizz and other people in the scene?
I actually met Christmas through parties at Annie Mulz and hanging around Bodega. That was like a year after I got hit by a car so I was wild. He asked me if I would be down to start a deal where he’d rep my clothing if I supplied him with big sizes, which I wore anyway. I said I couldn’t be a fake, I didn’t even know you made music. I just fucked with him because he’s a good person. I told him I’d listen and then give him an answer because I wanted to be real but I told him I couldn’t imagine not digging it. Then I heard “Jackie Brown” and the Dipset remix and I sent him a text no question that night.
Stizz I met through Christmas. Me and him got along quick after talking about soulection shit and Kaytranada and Mr. Carmack, I think. Then I lived in the same building as him, Leano, Christmas, and Goodwin. I lived upstairs with my girlfriend at the time and OG Swaggerdick moved in for part of the lease. I met Leano after the “Y’all Trippin” video and hit it off immediately and had lots of crazy ill times in LA.
So you were partying a lot once you recovered from the accident (later in interview)? And did the “Y’all Trippin” video come shortly after making the deal with Christmas?
Wayyy too much. I only smoke pot now, but I had a lot of trouble with everything else in the book and it fucked my life up in many ways. I stopped after I moved back to Boston. And the video came about six months later after me and him became better friends.
What made you move back to Boston? Was it the drugs specifically or a combination of things?
It was a combination of things, but I can’t lie and say I didn’t get lost in the sauce for a bit. Before I moved, I was the only one in LA without any of my Boston people which made me want to move back and finish my degree here and get my head right.
I feel. How were you able to recover from everything that was going on? A lot of people can’t quit it, so you were lucky in that way.
Being in Boston and out of LA was much easier for me to stay clean, better support system here, better healthcare, etc. I started to really take care of my brain which was hard to do in LA. My father who recently passed helped me tremendously.
I’m sorry for your loss. In what ways did your dad help you?
My pops basically helped me stay clean and focused while still living my life. I probably would have gone to rehab and all this Straws stuff would have lost a ton of momentum without his help. And I don’t believe in rehab, except at the last resort.
Why don’t you believe in rehab?
Almost everyone I know who went to rehab died or is still using. I think it’s more effective to find purpose and meaning in life and be able to live with the pressures of it. Rehab puts you in la la land a lot of the time and when you go back home you haven’t gained much but a little clean time.
I feel you. It doesn’t necessarily change how someone is going to act outside of rehab with the added temptations and pressures from others, it just changes a person for the time being. The only way to really change is if you have the strength in your head to do so. Do you ever see yourself leaving Boston again?
Definitely. Just needed to come home to get back on track and it’s worked really well. Since I’ve been back, better things have happened for me. BU public health school has a really good TBI and PTSD focus, so I may stay but I can’t imagine living here forever. Living in different places is one of the best learning experiences anyone can have so I never want to restrain that.
For sure. When does school start for you?
It starts again in the middle of this month, so I’m yet to see how difficult it will be, but I know it’ll be a smooth transition.
And you’re going to BU?
Yessir. Funny I met Tim after never knowing he went there until a year after being out of school. It’s a big school, though, so it’s not that hard to imagine.
Do managers in Boston like Goodwin and Tim help you run Straws at all or is it just your project?
They both helped me spread the word forrrr sure and linked me with people but it’s all my project. Goodwin introduced me to people that gave me the start to get it going. He motivated everyone. And my boy Jeff helps me out with Straws, too. It’s awesome to see his brand (Farewell) getting bigger and bigger. He keeps me at it, too.
Gotcha. How did you come up with the name Straws?
Straws is kind of a mystery, but I wanted something that could be interpreted in everyone’s personal way.
How do you interpret it? And what brands inspired you?
It kinda represents random nostalgia and shit I grew up seeing all the time. I was mostly inspired by Canal St. and parking lot concert tees the most.
That’s tight. I was interested in how you designed the space at the Casablanc Market with the vinyls on the wall, the Newport boxes, etc? Was that all planned out or did you do it by eye?
Just did it by eye, but I wanted to have it look like my apartment would look with all the shit I just stacked through the years.
Have you made your apartment look like that yet?
Not really, lol. I’m lazy about my room. I like to keep it clean.
I feel that. How did you get to use the space because the all white looks really clean and it’s a good size?
I was friends with Pat Dagle who runs it, and Ernest Linden helped me clean it up – he manages the studio.
That’s cool. What’s your creative process for making new pieces? Do you really sit down and try to think of things you might like or do you just create whenever you feel inspired?
I just come up with ideas whenever, but I do sit down and try to focus on different stuff and take in new things at the studio. I kinda turned it into a pop up for that reason.
Are there any places specifically that you find the most inspiration from? Or is it from a bunch of different sources that come up randomly?
I find inspiration from really anything. I always got deep into culty shit when I was younger and have kinda been the same since.
Definitely. On your Instagram there are several pictures of famous people wearing your clothes. Which one(s) were you most proud of to hear about/see?
Probably gotta say Killah Priest. To have an original Wu member like my brand and get along with him was fucking tight. DJ Paul, too, was wild. I had a picture with Bubbles from The Wire but I lost it on my old phone. So, those three.
Does seeing that reassure you in a way that this your calling or at least that you’re really doing well?
Definitely made me know it’s something I should never give up even though it’s kinda an annoying business.
For sure, and how so?
Stressful, I should say. But it’s like that in every type of game so I can’t complain.
What’s a regular day like for you?
I exercise a lot, eat healthy, read, and think of ideas or try to develop them. Lots of movies, TV, and reading, though.. Getting my head back in the game for school.
How did you get the job making mixes that played in Bodega?
It wasn’t really a job, I just hung around and then said put this on and they fucked with it so I kept making more and had a run going on for a but until I started making tees.
Do you ever see yourself venturing into other areas such as film? With the aesthetic that Straws captures, I definitely see it as a possibility.
Mannn, I’m not sure yet, now, but definitely thought about it. At some point in life, I probably will. Appreciate that.
How was living in the same building with all those figures in the Boston scene today? Did you guys work on a lot of different projects together and did that influence you or the way you run your brand at all?
Everyone was working on stuff and kind of looping each other into our different circles in LA. I definitely learned a lot about strategy for a running a brand and exposure out there, being entrepreneurial. I would listen to a lot of Leano’s tracks and Christmas’ tracks, but Stizz joints were a little more secret, haha.
Did you always see yourself wanting to do things beyond the community you lived in because of the way you saw how people were living in such small bubbles? And was clothing your way of doing so and impacting people all over?
I always wanted out of the bubble, so I went to Boston and luckily my parents supported travel for me time and time again. They’re from Pittsburgh and my father always stressed that this was a nice place to live, not necessarily the community you want to be a part of. Can’t fuck with closed minds. Initially, the way I thought I was gonna make an impact was through changing the status quo of psychological health care, and studied biology and pre-med. During the semester when I was about to graduate from school in 2011, I got hit by a car skating and was in a coma for two weeks and had a long, tough recovery.
The clothes came afterward. I was hanging around Bodega all the time, and I made the mixes they played in the store for a bit. Then I made tees one day for myself because I liked one of one bootleg tees the best, and the designer at the time, Randy, said he would buy one if I printed it in his size, so I said yes. He then kept pushing me to show the buyer, Leo, the tees I made and he bought five of them and immediately started a full-size run. The brand kept me going at the time since I scrambled my brain and always will as it opened crazy doors for me. Actually, I’m going back to school now to finish part-time this year.
That’s insane. What was the recovery time for the crash?
That’s hard to say because I’m just finally getting my head straight, but I would say my brain chemistry wasn’t balanced at all for about five years after. When I recovered fully, it made me realize I kind of have a purpose to help people who can’t get help like I wish I could’ve gotten. Many physicians are far from understanding TBIs like they should.
What helped you most to get your brain right and get in the right mindset?
Staying busy on stuff I care about, sleep, and exercise, man… Best medicine. And water, too.
Was biology always your passion, or did you feel like there were other passions of yours that you knew you might venture into later in life?
Helping people was always my passion, and I didn’t want a psych degree because it’s less competitive when applying to medical schools, especially because I was also into neurology and the two are more linked than ever, now. And I read a lot of psych stuff on my own time. But I always felt like I needed to have more than one career to keep my mind awake and my perspectives fresh.
What sparked your interest in psychology? And once you finish school, are you going to pursue another job in addition to running Straws?
I kinda had a fucked up childhood so I always wanted to understand it more, especially because I didn’t have siblings. And yes, definitely. I’m going to go to public health school and focus on treatment research, methods, and awareness for people with traumatic brain injuries and PTSD. Straws designs come popping into my head a lot based off life experience or nostalgia so I’ve always felt like working other parts of my brain gets the creative process going.
I feel you, and why was your childhood messed up?
My parents worked a lot so they were never around, and unfortunately the woman who took care of me was a wild drug addict and I went through a lot of shit from when I first have memories to when I was in middle school that fuck me up today. And when my parents were around they were fighting or not talking until they got a divorce. It made me the person I am today, though. I wouldn’t change it.
I’m sorry that happened, man. I really respect that you wouldn’t change it just because it made you who you are today. How did you cope with that at the time?
I just skated and kept my mind occupied as much as possible as I think most kids do. Most of my friends did the same.
While you were in school, did you have the same interest as when you were a kid in finding out about all different things from music, film, etc?
Absolutely, it was always my thing. I used to rip mixtape tracks and make mixes. Before any websites leaked shit, the DJs were the ones who did. I sold bootlegs until music sharing software took over, right around the time that The Blueprint by Jay-Z came out and so did all the Dipset records. I went to Downtown crossing on Tuesdays, re-upped on selection, then went home and burned copies. I sold them in school and all the suburban kids didn’t get how I had it before it came out.
Was making mixes the creative outlet that took up some of the time to escape? And did they sell well?
Just hunting for shit was the main outlet and always trying to find tracks that gave me the chills when I heard em. Always had to be way up on everything, so I guess my outlet was being a mini hipster (but I wasn’t exclusionary to others, lol). The mixes sold very well. It would get hot sometimes, though. Middle school kids are idiots, too loud. Never got caught, though. I was probably making it too hot on myself, lol.
I feel you. What albums around the time hit you the most and remain your favorites today?
Beanie Sigel The Truth and the State Property record, The Blueprint (although I got over it a bit), definitely Stillmatic and Diplomatic Immunity 1 and S.D.E.
Were the other kids from your school on the same stuff that you were, or did they all learn it because of you?
Nahhh, they didn’t learn it all from me, but I learned a lot of it in school from people who were in the city (METCO was pretty great and I know a lot of my friends today and back then would probably say the same looking back). My friends from the city put me on but then I took off in my own direction. I definitely showed people mad shit, though.
I feel you. One artist I wanted to ask about specifically was Max B/ How did you get put onto him because it seems like he’s one of the biggest influences for Straws?
I found him around 2006-2007, late in high school. Around that time I was going through a ton of shit with family, living at an ex’s house basically, and super confused. Max makes you happy about the small things, he’s so relatable. He made shit that I do with my friends sound like the top level shit. And I smoked Newports, too, which he was the Newport king. Being a fan of R&B, his music was the perfect flowy combination at the time and it made you laugh, too.
For sure, man. “Bricks and Walls” is 12/10. I haven’t explored all his stuff, but the Coke Wave tapes are amazing.
Yesss for sure, think Domain Diego might be my favorite. I like him over west coast beats, too. “Hooosss and bottles on me”. French goes off.
I’ll definitely look into it, and I didn’t appreciate French as much as I should have until I heard that. The video is so tight with everyone hanging in the studio.
Absolutely. Lots of great videos in that studio. Max was just as much of a personality as he was a rapper which is crazy to think considering how great he was. I put all the proceeds from the shirt into his Jpay. Me and his people have been talking since then about possible merch design. I’m not that into fashion, man. I’m more into spreading ideas and the tee was one that connected me with probably the most people.
That’s wild. Is talking with Max B’s people about merch a dream come true to you? And what other doors have opened for you because of the clothes you make?
Definitely, but it was the last thing I ever expected. Christmas and Stizz wearing my stuff in Truth studios got me a gig selling my clothes at the store underneath, Passport Harun Collective, which is owned by this one dude who I learned a lot about life from, Mike Passport. He has probably had more to do with style and fashion in hip-hop than most, but he likes to stay calm and low behind the scene which I always admired. Also, Chase Infinite, the A$AP Mob manager and owner, was the other owner. Living in LA and spending time with them threw me in the right mix in Hollywood, for better or for worse.
It seems like these opportunities come up out of nowhere. Do you feel that people repping your brand and wearing it in places where influential people helps you more than any marketing you could do yourself? Or do you still find yourself pushing your products heavy on social media and other platforms?
The former. And I’m not really into posting the same picture of a tee shirt I made in twenty angles. I do what I have to on social media, but I think word of mouth is so much iller. I’m trying to capitalize on that word of mouth in NY this year.
Definitely. And how are you going to go about that? Also, why are you targeting NY specifically?
I’ve made contacts and gotten some word of mouth going there, and I have a couple sales people who are going to help me this year getting into stores. NY is the best place for exposure and they also seem to like my designs more, there.
What role do you feel you play in the upcoming Boston scenes of fashion and music alike?
I’m not sure. I just have been lucky to connect with all the people in the scene, I guess. Just been giving my homies shirts and they like it and do a lot of representing. Keep it natural.
I feel you. What jobs have you worked throughout your life before Straws? And how did they impact who you are today?
I’ve worked a lot of jobs: a printing shop, a Jewish deli, an insurance company, at a clinic for schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, caretaker for a lot of different disabled people, writing tutor, teacher’s assistant, etc. They’ve given me more knowledge and range of experience which widens my perspective.
That’s a crazy variety. As a kid, what did you always want to be?
A shrink like Frasier. That’s probably my favorite TV show.
That’s tight, hahaha. Where do you hope to see yourself in 5 years?
I hope to see Straws get bigger and a little more widespread, and see myself working to change the practices for how we handle traumatic brain injuries and PTSD. I hope one day I can use my experience to truly help other people as much as possible. I’m pretty open to what the world presents in the next couple years, so in two years I might be better able to answer that, ha.
For sure, man. Best of luck with everything. It seems like you do things out of passion which will definitely help you in the future.
I feel like I have to follow my passion or I can’t get interested in it, brother. And thank you to all of my friends because they helped keep me alive.
After interviewing Martin, I’ve learned a lot about his life that it seems I would have never found out just by looking at social media. He’s an extremely positive and motivated person, always eager to learn and extremely passionate about his beliefs. I believe that these qualities will not only guide him well as he goes back to school in the next few weeks, but they will also help him quite a bit as Straws grows bigger. I wish him the best of luck this year along with everyone who helps out with the brand. Thank you again for the interview.
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