By Caroline Li
Northwest Asian Weekly
When we think of the roots of hip-hop, we think of the streets and the youth that made street culture a multimillion dollar industry. The transformation of this underground culture into mainstream industries has allowed people like Karlo Reyes and Rex Korrell to turn what was once a hobby into a living while still staying true to their roots as Filipino Americans.
Reyes and Korrell are the brains behind Jeepney, an urban clothing company that concentrates on graphic tees and the Filipino American experience.
Today, a vast majority of hip-hop heads are of Asian descent, adding to the enormous retail industry. In the U.S., Jeepney clothing is able to mesh together the messages and themes that define Asian American urban youth. There is no doubt these youth have become a part of the culture.
For Jeepney, street culture is global. Their brand is named after the leftover WWII military trucks in the Philippines, which resonates with their audiences from across generations.
The original “jeepneys” were surplus military jeeps, converted into public utility vehicles by the locals. Each owner decorated their jeep with art that reflected their individual character and taste. Today, jeepneys are found along the streets of metro Manila and are the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines.
Jeepney clothing carries this same idea of urban identity into the clothing market.
When Karlo Reyes, creative director and cofounder, chose a name for the company back in 2003, it was important that the name was not only unique, but also relevant to his artistic aesthetic and lifestyle, which he shares with his audiences.
The company first started in graphic T-shirts. They have since expanded into other sportswear such as hoodies and hats, but that’s where they say they draw the line. Their expansion plan is very targeted. “We want to focus more on the graphics. We want to be the best at T-shirt graphics,” says Reyes.
Like the jeepneys of Manila, Jeepney clothing is more than just eye candy — it’s out to make statements. The company takes pride in their edgy graphics because they are developed to have meaning or provoke a theme.
“Our graphics are influenced by pop culture and are conceptual. We also want to have some sort of impact on the Filipino culture, but do it in a way that’s not too cheesy,” says Korrell.
Today, Jeepney is distributed in more than 300 boutiques and specialty stores around the world. Their biggest distributor is Urban Outfitters.
Celebrities who have been seen sporting Jeepney include apl.de.ap from the Black Eyed Peas, Kanye West, Cool Kids and members from “America’s Best Dance Crew.”
Going forward, Jeepney has many projects lined up for 2008 and 2009, which include the cut/sew line, “Jeepney Gold Label,” launching in fall ’08, a project with Inked magazine as well as works with MTV.
Jeepney is just one example of how hip-hop lovers have been able to make a living out of the different aspects of life that define who they are. “We’ve seen others such as club promoters and breakdancers make businesses, within the hip-hop industry, out of the things they’d normally do anyways. At the end of the day you have to do something that you love or it’s not really worth it,” says Reyes.
Jeepney tees explained — for those who need a translation
“Puss N Beats” — a play off of the fairy tale character, Puss in Boots. The Jeepney version doesn’t have cats, but a scantily clad lady in headphones.
“The Wifey” — a woman you can see a future with, who can get crunk with the best of them.
“The True School” — asks, “Can you be real enough to roll with our crew?”
“The Game Recognize Game” — for those with a mean shoe game.
“The Bluntz Booze Bitchez” — the definition of a perfect date.