AloneTheBrand is a streetwear brand based out of Spartanburg, S.C. Designer Ian Brown wants his clothes to help people remain hopeful during difficult times. Photos by Destiny Stewart.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Using the only materials he had, fledgling designer Ian Brown carefully painted the word “alone” across the front of a pair of well-worn khaki pants. Then, he softened the stark black word with a butterfly to symbolize transformation.
The word was an expression of Brown’s lonesome state of mind in December 2020 as winter set in, he said. But his action also planted the seeds for his new streetwear brand, AloneTheBrand.
“I ended up liking it, and people were telling me I could make a brand out of it,” Brown said.
At the time, Brown was a student at York Technical College and worked night shifts at a warehouse. He realized that he wanted something different for his life, so he left his job and enrolled at the University of South Carolina Upstate. There, he committed to school and fashion full-time.
“I started getting serious about my future,” said Brown, who will graduate in May 2022. “[When] you try to get serious about something and try to differentiate yourself from what other people are doing, it can get lonely.”
Brown wants his brand to be a reminder that there’s “hope on the other side.”
“I see a lot of people my age going through growing pains, and [I know] we all struggle with mental health,” Brown said. “So I just feel like I can share what I figured out and what I know … to help other people feel like they’re not alone.”
In his latest collection, Brown emblazons Dickies’ classic Eisenhower jacket and black bucket hats with the message “everything is okay,” accompanied by a smiley face stylized with dollar signs. “Alone 4L,” a saying in hip-hop culture meaning “for life,” is printed on the back of the jackets in chrome vinyl and can be found on other pieces, including T-shirts.
Music, fashion and the experiences of life are some of Brown’s inspirations when designing for AloneTheBrand. Everything he creates, he said, comes from the heart.
“I’m best at making designs that spread my truth through my clothes,” Brown said. “I’m trying to tell a story, and I feel like people understand … and that’s who I’m trying to reach,” he said. “People who feel like me.”
The power of fashion rests in storytelling. Since the emergence of streetwear in the 1990s, individualism and nonconformity has been the culture’s catalyst, according to Daniela Jankovska, a retailing instructor at the University of South Carolina.
“Streetwear is (where) a lot of us feel like we can express our individual selves,” said Jankovska. “Whatever you would like it to be, you can drive that interest into your own expression of what fashion feels like to you.”
According to Jankovska, Generation Z is responsible for moving the streetwear industry forward. But ideas don’t always translate to financial success.
“Sometimes (brands) fail because whoever’s building the company doesn’t truly understand what (streetwear) stands for,” Jankovska said. “You have to have experienced it. It has to have been a part of your lifestyle … to bring that attention that you want from your consumer base you want to be able to relate to them.”
Essentially, Brown said, he wants to design for the individual that walks in his shoes. He credits his personal style for being the inspiration behind what he produces.
Although he’s made a profit off of his past collections, Brown said he doesn’t design clothes for the money.
“I can do both sides. I can run it as art, and I can run it as a business,” he says. “But when people make a clothing brand just for the money, [I feel] it takes away from the value. I’m not as happy running a business as I am making art.”
Brown, who is studying finance and economics, said he’s learning the business side of owning a brand as he goes, relying on his own knowledge and intuition.
AloneTheBrand, a trademarked clothing line, has items ranging from $55 for a bucket hat to $140 for a Dickie jacket. When deciding how to price his garments, he looks towards his competitors and others in the streetwear industry while keeping his target customer and socioeconomics in mind.
In addition to knowing your target market, Jankovska said that doing your research is the most important step in building a streetwear brand.
“Do your homework, I cannot emphasize that enough. You have to understand the target market and the marketplace itself along with the business climate,” said Jankovka. “You need to understand who you’re delivering this product for and why you’re doing it in the first place, because you have to make those emotional connections for the customers of today.”
Brown’s ambition and entrepreneurial spirit is what sets him apart from other brand owners, according to Debra Patrick, CEO and founder of Palmetto Twist, a specialty boutique in Boiling Springs, South Carolina.
“I’ve got a lot of Ian’s out there that are trying to create a brand,” Patrick said. “But I would say that Ian looks at more of a bigger picture than some of the other guys.”
Patrick helps Brown in the final stages of production by taking his ideas and designs and turning them into actual product.
“He’s very creative, and he wants a certain look. Not just the art but even down to the garment,” Patrick said. “He’s particular about his brand and very methodical and thinks things through before he pulls a trigger to do something.”
This thoroughness with his brand is what Patrick thinks has set Brown on a path to success.
“He’s appealing to a certain customer that is willing to pay for an exclusive brand,” she said. “He understands more big picture, the marketing and then the art. So I do think he’s got some longevity. I do think he’s probably going to go very far with this brand.”
Check out AloneTheBrand at alonethebrand.shop.
The “Laugh Now Cry Never” hoodie was released in one of Ian Brown’s earlier collections. The phrase is a play on the traditional Greek masks of comedy and tragedy, and, for Brown, suggests a way to focus on positivity.
Designer Ian Brown says that he’s always had an appreciation for art. When creating designs, he embraces the imperfections in his sketches and includes them in his actual garments. The original “Alone” logo is shown in the drawing.
The “ATB Logo Denim” pant is one of AloneTheBrand’s best-selling products. The pant is embellished with the brand’s logo with rhinestones across the front. This garment was inspired by the first pair of pants created by Brown.
AloneTheBrand released a line of Dickie jackets with “Everything is okay” printed on the front and the familiar “Alone 4L” on the back. For this drop, Brown tapped his close group of friends to model his designs. Photo courtesy of Chris Leach.