By: Seamus Fay
Chris Brown, otherwise known as OHKAYCHRIS, has always been for the youth. Starting his own brand as a high school student and maintaining it throughout the years in a style by teenagers, for teenagers, he’s one of the most dedicated and invested figures in the scene right now. Whether it’s sending out free stickers to fans and supporters of his business or providing constant inspiration to people everywhere, he’s putting on for the ambitious ones.
Just a few weeks back, within the span of a few days, Ohkay threw two shows at The Sonia in Cambridge, MA, selling the 320+ capacity room out twice in a row. And when it comes down to what this all means for Chris, it’s his way of giving back. Ohkay is a brand all about getting creative kids together and making something bigger than themselves, and with such a strong vision from their favorite brand to guide them, these shows become the perfect place for these kids to meet and find inspiration. I was fortunate enough to interview Chris about his brand, his most recent sold out shows, and more. Read our conversation below:
How did you start your brand Ohkay, and what does it stand for?
Well, in actuality, it was my junior year high school class project. Like I had this class, it was a business class, and we joined this club type thing called DECA. Long story short, for this DECA thing I had to write a 30-page paper on a business I wanted to make. So I got this giant outline of everything I needed to cover. Everything. Like the stuff no sixteen year old would ever know about business. And I knew none of it. Like nothing. But I just taught myself. I read a lot. A lot a lot. So long story short I write this 30-page paper and make this 30-minute presentation on this idea I have called OHKAY. It was originally a business model geared to creating a platform for photographers to share work around the world, but over time I realized that was too complicated for me to make, so I made it a photography brand. Fast forward, I win the local and state competition for this DECA thing in the Entrepreneurship category and I get the honor to go compete internationally. The only part of the paper I didn’t get a perfect score on at the state competition was “expansion opportunities”. I had a logo at the time that I was putting on all the photos, right. So I’m driving home from school and I’m in downtown Danvers (the town I grew up in) and I see this new store had opened. It was a T Shirt printing place. I still to this day don’t know how I thought of it in that very moment, but I went right home that day and went in my room and grabbed four different t shirts. Every one of them was made differently, cut differently, printed differently. I drove back down there, walked in, and said “Hey man, I’m Chris, and I’m just like, uh, wondering how you would make these four shirts”.
That’s the first time I learned about “making clothes”. That exact day. We sat there and talked for three hours. I went right home after that and started editing logos. I think I had sent him like four good logos before midnight.
Fast forward a week, I took $300 that I had in my room from previous sketchy stuff and I brought it downtown to this place. The guy Joe handed me a box. A bunch of shirts and hoodies with this OHKAY logo across the chest. I was like wow ok this is a lot to think about and a lot to handle, but I think I just started this as a brand. Keep in mind at this time it wasn’t a thing like it is today for everyone to be making “clothing brands”. So I really had no clue what the hell I was doing because I had no one to look up to. I just had a box of clothes with this new logo on it.
Fast forward few weeks I’m on a plane to Disney with all my friends that also had won their categories and we competed internationally at this crazy elite DECA conference thing. I’m seventeen at the time in a suit and tie and I’m pitching my idea to a judge panel. Kind of like shark tank in a way. But, with less feedback and judging. I pitch the photo brand site to the judge, we go back and forth with questions, then it was time for her to give me advice. She was this younger woman, probably 25, most likely works high up in corporate somewhere. She said “let me see that shirt” as I was packing up. I handed her it, folded all nicely and packed in a little clear package. She looked at me and she’s like “hey, you see this?”. And I’m a little taken back at this point because she went from sounding like a mean judge to my new friend. “Yeah, that’s the shirt prototype, do you like it?”. She handed me it and she said “This is it. Make this your company. Make a full-scale brand. Use the photos to make the clothes cool, and build an empire out of this unique little word. Trust me, just go for it.”
Like those words still two and a half years later ring in my head over and over again. I took the shirt back that day and I smiled back at her. “I’m going to do it” I told her as I was walking out. She raised her voice so it would reach me by that point at the door and she’s like “Seriously! An Empire!”.
And from that day on, I’ve just been working at it.
That exact logo still stands as what we call the “OG Logo” for that exact reasoning.
And as for what it stands for, that’s up to you. And that’s my favorite part of this entire life project I’ve started. Like you could look at it and think it’s a streetwear brand or a lifestyle brand or you could just look at it as a platform for information and stories and photos or you could look at it as something you think of. I’ve never put a title on it. I’ve just always called it my Teenage Project.
And that’s what is so cool. That’s what it is. It’s my big project. And to be honest, ever since that day the woman inspired me, it’s been my full-time job. I’ve never had another job, or source of income. Just brand money from that day on. And it’s worked. Entirely.
What’s your motivation and/or goal in throwing shows in Boston?
To be honest, I just did those just to prove we could do those. In the past few years, OHKAY as a brand has become really known in like, Massachusetts. I don’t want to say in Boston because I don’t know if that’s entirely true, but in MA itself it’s a well-known entity. So I sat there with my friends and team and I’m like “Alright, how can we prove that we’re more than some brand that makes clothes”.
And the one thing that I’m pretty good at is event planning, so we thought “Let’s throw a party, buy a venue out, sell a venue out, and show everyone that it’s way more than just a name on a tee shirt”.
And we did exactly that.
Two shows, a week and a half apart, both sold out The Sonia, capping at 375 people.
Most rappers can’t sell out the Sonia.
Not many Boston artists can sell out the Sonia.
And we knew that certainly no other BRANDS could sell out the Sonia.
So we took the risk, and we did it.
And it worked. Incredibly well.
Like there’s no crazier feeling than when it’s 8:20 and we finish sound check and we have our DJ sets ready to go and everything’s set up and I’m as nervous as could be and we walk outside and the line to get in wraps around the entire building down two full streets.
Like that’s sick. You know what I mean? It’s like all the time growing the brand and spreading the name and proving to people that being a kid means you can do whatever you want, it all came together and just paid off.
All those long hours of me thinking like “how can I make this brand different than every other brand out there” all paid off.
Which is really cool to me, you know?
You’ve done quite a bit of traveling this month, how did it feel to come home greeted by a sold out show at the Sonia?
No, it might sound cool like oh word party in Europe for a month club all over London sleep on a bunch of friends’ couches and stuff, jump off the plane in Boston sleep in my own bed one night then do a giant show for my brand but that stuff is so stressful.
I was in Italy with my girlfriend and we were having dinner in Florence one night and I just kept getting calls from the venue about payment and stuff and I wanted to be like “shut up I’m so done with this” and hang up but you just have to deal with that type of stuff.
Like there’s just a lot to do. I spent hours making the flyer for the first event and I was across the world trying to promote a party / show / whatever you want to call it all the way in Boston.
So it certainly wasn’t easy, but it was really cool.
I love working under pressure it’s exhilarating to me.
I don’t do drugs or any of that so the only time I feel that euphoria is when my ideas all come to life. That sounded corny. Maybe you get what I’m saying. I felt it there
If you were still in high school and someone else was throwing parties just like these, what would be most excited for about them?
Naw like I have no clue! I have legit no clue at all.
All of us always say “wow we wish cool people in Boston did this when we were younger”, because like there was never any such thing. There was never stuff that we could go to and meet people at and dance and listen to good music. Like you either went to a concert once every few months or you went to high school dances, right? Those were the only way to meet tons of people your age from the same city.
I guess I’d be most pumped to just go and meet new people.
But there’s a really really important member to this team and his name is Tristan. He’s going to be a senior this year. I’ve had him under my wing for like a year now, through thick and thin.
He’s our younger voice. He knows exactly what the high schoolers want to do, want to see, want to hear. So creative control is in his hands when it comes to these. Because I want someone from the demographic calling shots as to how to entertain, well, the demographic.
How would you explain the appeal in having such a do-it-yourself brand with close connection to the supporters of it?
It’s a really weird concept to think about. But that in itself is something I think about all the time. Like you can’t just DM a brand like Supreme or Palace or Fucking Awesome or Vans about a question you have. You can’t get in touch with them or ask them for advice or anything. And I get that, because if that was the case everyone would flock them with dumb questions, but that’s something I don’t like about brands.
And that’s something I really dislike about some other brands that are run by internet kids. Like I hear all the time people order stuff from certain brands and never get their orders. And like these are brands that are owned by kids I’m friends with.
So I’ll go on their twitter and stuff and they’re posting their bank statements flexing that they made 300k off a drop, meanwhile kids are out here just trying to wear the shirt they paid for.
But those “brand owners” think they’re too cool to hire teams of people and run businesses correctly, and it just looks so bad morally.
So I just looked at those people growing up and said “ok, that’s something I’ll never be like”.
And I wake up every day and I answer (mostly) all of the DMs that kids send to me regarding the brand. I answer every DM that comes from lame influencers online asking for free clothes. I answer every DM that says like “Oh you inspire me” or whatever. Like I talk to these people who like the brand, because I never had anyone to talk to.
And truthfully, it does hurt the brand image in a sense. People over time think “oh, I’ve talked with them a bunch of times” or they start to feel like we’re close friends or whatever because I gave them advice, and sometimes that might turn them away from buying something since they think they could just get it for free from me or whatever. But on the other hand, it’s sick because I get to hear from all these kids that are inspired by me and what I do and me talking to them makes their day, and those are the kids who buy the stuff we make and tell their friends all about the brand. So it’s got its ups and downs, like everything.
Going to school in Chicago, what are some of the similarities and differences you have found between the two cities in terms of the fashion scenes in each?
It’s….. So….. different. Chicago is an entirely new world. Boston, in its’ entirety, is one-fifth the intensity, fun, and crazy as Chicago. And Chicago isn’t what the media and the news makes it out to be. Like it’s the most beautiful city in the county in my opinion. And I’ve been to a lot of cities. I love it. It’s huge. Easily 5 times the size of Boston. And there’s so many colleges, so many kids, so many people, so many individuals all into the same type of stuff.
In Boston, for example, there’s not many people who are about clothes or fashion or the rap scene too heavily. Like there is, but most of them come from places outside of Boston like suburbs or stuff. With Chicago, there will be a big event for a major brand or a party or something, and there will be 500 kids all inside that, ages 15-22 all wearing cool outfits, dancing to new music, talking about their plans for now and for the future. Like it’s such an amazing place. I was there from September to June, and there wasn’t a single day I was bored. Never once. Not for one night did I have no plans. There was always something to do, someone to meet, somewhere to be. Sunrise to sunset each day I was just busy. And nothing made me happier than being eighteen in an entirely new city where I knew no one. Because by the time I turned nineteen and moved back to Boston for summer, I had known everyone.
Fashion is a funky topic. Because “fashion” is different for everyone. For me, I can go to the thrift store and grab some crazy top cut it up sew it to another top and wear it out and have a ten dollar outfit look better than a thousand dollar outfit but like everyone’s different, you know?
I don’t know, it’s just much bigger. There’s history in Chicago. There’s this guy named Joe (Joe Fresh Goods) and he’s kind of like someone who I’d call my mentor in a sense or something, like I look up to him so much and he helps me with brand questions and stuff, but he tells us stories about when Chance and Vic were in the beginning of their high school days running around Chicago trying to rap with each other. Now look at them.
The guy who does our screen printing in Chicago, his names Raymond and he’s probably 40. He tells us stories of when him and Virgil and Kanye used to run around Wicker Park looking for stuff to do. Like it’s shit like that. You don’t get that in Boston. The best history you get here is hearing about how Tim Larew and Stizz put the city on the map. And that’s one hell of a story.
But you see what I’m getting at? Chicago is just way bigger, way more fun, way more going on.
How are the supporters of your brand in Chicago different or similar to the supporters in Boston?
It’s way different there. The brand is more mature there. Like here, I’ll go out in a suburb town and often times I see kids younger than me wearing something I’ve made. Half the time they don’t even know who I am which is sick. But in Chicago, it’s like there was more light on us. I met this kid named Trey first month of school. He wanted to learn about how to do brand stuff, but he already knew fashion and clothes and brands. So I brought him on board. And anytime I met someone important, Trey did too. And vice versa. He became my best friend and my partner. And in one year, we met every single person we wanted to meet. Every One. And to be honest, all of them really liked us. We worked on some big projects for other people, some big ones for ourselves, and just proved that we’re very versatile teenagers with knowledge of what is cool to the “youth” and the understanding of culture overall.
And a lot of people loved that.
This year my focus is to figure out how to introduce the brand to more kids my age and younger directly in the city, but we have some plans.
A lot of kids from my school really love the brand and support it. It’s crazy, some kids think I’m super lame and other kids would come to my dorm room every day to see what I was working on.
But as the city goes, a lot of people respect us for the brand. They think it’s cool we’re doing our own thing and not biting anyone else. And this way, we don’t need to be like “oh can we work in your store” or “let us intern” it’s like “Oh wassup, let’s be friends” because we got our own thing going on we don’t need to ride with anyone else.
And I have a few friends who work in stores and they stocked a lot of pieces we made from time to time. Which was cool because I’d be in class and I’d be getting texts like “yo we sold ten things to random people today”. And that part is wild.
Did Chicago immediately embrace you and everything you’ve done when you moved there? If not, how did you find your place among it all?
Uhhhhh…. Like yes, and no.
Nowhere should instantly embrace you for who you are online. And if they do, they love you too much to like you.
I had to prove myself. Step by step. But I knew exactly what I needed to do and who I needed to meet and who I needed to become close with. And I did exactly that. And as the year went on, I definitely found my place.
Like my second month of school or something, I got hired to do creative direction for a Vic Mensa and UGGS campaign.
That was the only time I skipped a class all year. A lot of kids at the time knew who I was for some reason, but some of them didn’t like me. I stepped out one day and helped shoot a campaign and all of a sudden people were like “Oh, wait, he’s actually real life cool, too”.
Then I did tons of other things as the year went on. I was helping run a lot of parties in the city, I was on teams that did big shows and big pop up shops and I got to become close with my friend Cole Bennett and I just really found my niche and my place in the city.
I think this year now that I’m not like brand new to the place, I’ll have a bigger voice and more impact, so we’ll see where it goes from there.
What can someone going to one of your shows expect to see and experience there?
Well as of right now, we’re not going to do on in Boston until probably Thanksgiving. Most of the venues are booked up (sadly). But realistically, people should just come to dance around and meet new people and listen to music. We play really good shit. Like fun stuff. We split the crowd and I would jump in the middle and I’d signal someone to press the play button and Look At Me would go on and we all go crazy. I don’t know. It’s just fun stuff like that. Stuff that most suburban teenagers never got to experience before. And stuff that I was never given the opportunity to experience at sixteen or seventeen.
How did you feel when you were younger about the fashion scene in Boston and who were you introduced to in the city or in your hometown that helped you realize your ambitions?
Ok just to be completely straight up Boston isn’t that cool when it comes to “fashion”. Like there’s no stores besides Barney’s that are cool for “fashion”.
If you want to be cool in this scene, I guess a lot of kids think having cool clothes is the first step, and if you’re going to do that, go see my good friend Rod over at Size Run Supply and he’ll help you out.
Growing up being like 16, 17, 18 into streetwear and stuff, there was never anything to do in Boston.
We always used to go to New York. That was my first ever place I loved to run away to. New York City. We’d just go there and sit in Soho all day and hang out with our internet friends. Serafina, myself, and my other friend Hudson used to do it all the time my senior year.
There’s just not a lot going on in Boston. It’s kind of sad.
Only stores I really like are Size Run and Bodega. And that’s because I’m close with the people who run them. And they’re crazy stores. But you get the point.
Do you have any upcoming plans for Ohkay in Boston?
Truthfully, right now, no.
It’s the 18th right now, about noon time, and in four days I’m going back to Chicago until winter time.
Realistically, we have a lot planned for winter in Boston.
But for OHKAY we have a lot planned for fall.
All online stuff.
New drops, new visuals, new graphics, new items, new everything.
We just keep the ball rolling. Over and Over again.
Thank you to Ohkay Chris for the wonderful opportunity and inspiration. The culture needs people like you.
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