Chicago, born and thread

Sydney Zink, Columnist

We were reminded as we entered campus freshman year that Chicago is right in our backyard. Well, Chicago is also right in our backstitching. The city has fostered the humble beginnings of a wide array of streetwear labels that, in some cases, have gained popularity worldwide. Most of these clothing companies continue to pay homage to their Chi City roots, continuing to host their operations here or incorporating Chicago references into their designs. As a student, go beyond school spirit to show some spirit for your nearby city. You’ve seen the Bean, but what about the beanies? Get acquainted with some streetwear brands that made Chicago their home.


Dwamina K. Drew and Christopher Coutee-Bouyer founded Enstrumental in June 2006, and more 20 locations now sell the Chicago-based brand. The company wrote in its media release, “Enstrumental’s products converse with the individual mind and apparel’s delectation.” As for the brand’s name, the explanation is, “Instrumental defines playing an important part in achieving a result or accomplishing a purpose.” Indeed, in meeting its name, the label had donated 8 percent of proceeds to President Barack Obama’s campaign from sales of what it claims to be one of the first Obama-themed shirts ever introduced among streetwear labels. The company makes many shirts that have a statement, but they definitely repel the realm of gift shop-tacky statement tees. Such statements range from a Polo Ralph Lauren logo parody of a man falling off his horse (reflecting Enstrumental’s call to “get off your high horse” to its most-touted statement “Rap – Lies = Hip Hop.”

Potential Villain

Founders Neil and Louis started Potential Villain in Chicago in 2009. The designers have a “focus on the inner antagonist … with you as their canvas.” The message behind their name is as follows: “there are no good guys. There are only hustlers …. Own up to your hustle. Declare yourself: A Potential Villain.” The men’s collection consists of many T-shirts that have black-and-white images of icons layered over with text. These icons are specifically chosen to exemplify rebels, daredevils and revolutionaries, ranging from Lindsay Lohan to Machiavelli. Other items such as hoodies sport large “PV” initials, and there are hats that also include a logo of a gunman on horseback. Does this bring Django Unchained” to mind for you, too? Then I’d say the label is doing quite well at “aspiring to create a harmony between art and mass culture.” If I had to sum up my feelings for Potential Villain, consider me swayed toward the dark side.

Other Chicago-based streetwear labels you really must check out include Vita Morte, which cleverly incorporates direct shout-outs to the city such as a “Chicago over everything” sweatshirt that is my favorite of the line. Ends/Wealth Corp, with its wide variety of designs playing upon black and white tonalities; and Roguelephant, whose top-rated and top-selling items commemorate the Chicago Bulls.