Welcome to whatsgood. This is the final instalment of a 5-part weekly series of articles. We’re going to deep-dive into the origins of some of the most influential streetwear brands worldwide.
It was a movement from the 70s. Graffiti, music, b-boys, the punk scene and more. Dubbed after the Zoo York Tunnel (underground tunnel that ran under the New York Zoo), which was clad in graffiti — this movement epitomised the underground and creative sector of the city. The name of the movement reflected the craziness of New Yorkers during this time, making the city feel sometimes like a zoo. The term “Zoo York” was coined by infamous graffiti artist Marc André Edmonds also known as Ali (rap name), when he compared the trapped animals of the zoo to the “free” teenagers of the city who wanted to do nothing more than to spend time in this dark, trapped tunnel. New York City wasn’t new, it was a zoo!
Then 1993 came along and two famed skateboarders Rodney Smith and Eli Gessner teamed up to start the east-coast’s very first skateboard brand, named SHUT. Designed by the two of them, they wanted to bring skateboards to the market that were built for the urban environment — New York had no skateparks, so skaters were grinding handrails, skating ledges, etc. SHUT went bankrupt (later, getting back on its feet). Eli moved on to design for Russell Simmon’s Phat Farm, when Rodney came up with the idea to try clothing, under the name Zoo York. Enter Adam Schatz. The man with the money that helped Zoo York get on it’s feet.
But Zoo York wasn’t built small. It was built to be big immediately. Through a partnership with famed streetwear brand Ecko, they were given access to fabrics, production, etc. that allowed Zoo York to immediately behave like a big brand. Heavily influenced by the skating, graffiti and hip hop scene, the clothes always have had a ‘dark’, ‘grimey’ and ‘gritty’ edge to them — like the city. Paying homage to the roots of the city’s crazy underground and creative scene, they named their brand after the movement.