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A Sit Down With…Play Dot Apparel

0 A Sit Down With / Culture / Fashion

Play Dot Apparel are a London street wear lifestyle and fashion brand that specialise in providing the highest quality products in a somewhat overcrowded clothing market.

Play Dot make it rather clear that they are much more than just a clothing line, they are a movement, built around the ethos that you can and should wear exactly how you feel, regardless of whether the status quo tells you otherwise.

Play Dot was founded in 2007 by two entrepreneurs from South London, Kwasi Boateng and Kenny Annan-Jonathan. Their purpose for Play Dot was to create a brand that was an expression of your emotions through your clothing, this is what makes Play Dot so unique.

PMB sat down with co-owner and creator Kenny to discuss all things Play Dot, including celebrating their 10 year anniversary, celebrities and the inspiration behind their infamous Skitz character.

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Play Dot Apparel has been going strong for 10 years, where did the incredible journey begin?

It began at the end of 2007, my business partner Kwesi and I came together because we wanted to find a way to express ourselves within our society and general collective. We were the niche in the way we liked to dress and in comparison to what was available at the time. We eventually came to the conclusion that instead of searching endlessly for the products that we wanted, which ended up being so expensive, why don’t we create our own and make it available for a reasonable price. That’s basically how we came together, plus I’ve known Kwesi all my life, we’re like family.

What was the inspiration behind the Play Dot Apparel brand?

The whole theme behind Play Dot is about having fun with everything you do, full stop. It’s also about self-expression; to dress how you feel, and allow the colours to represent who you are. In addition, the character ‘Skitz’ is all based around emotions. When you meet someone for the first time, you’re likely to think of that quote ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, and in many settings that could be true but in other settings it may not. For example, you could meet a person who is very anti-social but they are very loud in their expression of how they dress, or you get some people who are very bubbly but they dress very “dark” and “dull’. We wanted to push the boundaries of fashion limitations, and the stereotypes that state what you should wear according to who you are, Play Dot blurs all those lines and says just dress how you feel.

How did the concept of “Skitz” come to fruition?

So the character Skitz is short for the word ‘skitzo’, someone who changes their personality quite frantically. I know sometimes we look at the word in a negative light because of the negative mental connotations associated with it, but everyone has a story to tell whether it’s to do with your personality or what you do on a day to day basis. The Skitz character has many different faces and every collection we release are themed around distinctive emotions. Each face we bring out in the Skitz range is a representation of a different person, mood, and personality. That’s why in our collection you might see a face with an angry expression but with bright colours, that is where the Skitz character plays in.

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How was the brand first received by people? Were they supportive or on the fence?

Naturally we had such a warm response to the brand. At that time, we didn’t have popular social media platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat when we started, we were operating with Facebook and MySpace. What we would do is find out who was on the radio via the internet, show up and display some of our material, we took on a very hands-on approach. Through that, and the growth of Facebook, celebrities like Chipmunk, Lil Wayne, Omarion, and Memphis Bleek to name a few, as well as people in our local area started catching on to the Playdot wave. I think it would make anyone proud to see a clothing line that represents an individual especially in an area where fashion isn’t pushed, and to see two young guys become hopefuls and representatives, is why people really loved what we were doing. So we felt a great amount of support in London especially close to our postcode and its only growing.

Do you think your past has played a part in the success of the brand?

100 percent. People say ‘you’re a product of your environment’, and normally that’s seen in a bad light especially where we’re from because there is so much negativity being pumped into our community, but when I use this statement I mean that I’ve been down a path and seen what I didn’t want to become. So I’ve created another avenue of success for myself.

Has the celebrity endorsements helped to build your brand?

Yes, and no. I say yes, because like I previously mentioned with N-Dubs, it became a perfect opportunity for us to reach a wider audience. Recently we had Odell Beckham wearing the Mighty Skitz jersey and the internet went nuts, and it contributed greatly to pushing the brand. However, one thing we tried not to do is to make it celebrity focused, it’s bitter sweet but it defeats the purpose of our brand. I love that ordinary people can connect with us personally and we don’t want to lose that by focusing on celebrities.

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In terms of the past 10 years, what has changed about the aesthetic and/or style of Play Dot?

The good thing with a brand like Play Dot is that you represent yourself through the brand. Feelings and emotions constantly change through circumstances, and through time we develop as individuals and learn life lessons. Through time I’ve evolved as a Christian, husband, son, and the brand gets to witness that. I design according to my life lessons and I go through changes in dress sense. The foundation is always the same but I build and adapt based on where I am at the time.

Do you think that is what attracts people to Play Dot?

Definitely. From our core following, that is one thing that people constantly write to us about. There’s a sense of freedom and a sense of ownership, especially those who grew up in smaller estates and want to be fashionable or outspoken but just don’t have the confidence to do so, I used to be that kid, but I broke out of those barriers to be who I wanted to be. We all have those moments where we see someone wearing a nice outfit and we say “it’s not for me” but why can’t it be for you? It’s a mind-set. So we said enough is enough and drove forward with what we truly love.

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What are some of your highlights over the 10 years?

The rebrand of Play Dot is one of my highlights, which is where we created the Skitz character in 2009. Prior to that in 2007, we had other designs where the brand was under another name, which Kwesi was solely involved in. Some politics happened within the company and it was liquidised so we decided to come together. During the transition process we were still using some of the old designs but I didn’t feel a part of the brand, it was like I was using someone else’s identity. I’m a graphic designer by trade so in 2009 I decided to completely rebrand to give it a new feel to what it is today. This is where we saw the brand excel and people warming up to it.

Another big achievement was in 2010, when we made our first cotton stadium varsity jacket, which was our first step into cut and sew rather than print and head wear. We had a pop up store at Brent Cross shopping centre and a stylist picked out a piece of clothing for Dappy from N-dubs. Let me just set the scene here, N-Dubz were in their prime at this particular point, and such a big brand at the time as well. Dappy was wearing a jacket from Playdot apparel during the V-festival and it just happened to coincide with the launch of our first pop up store. Although the pop up store did very well, it was the follow up from the after sales and the press from the festival which really boosted our brand. We were in all of the newspapers, and everything that was headlining N-Dubs, so the mainstream coverage was a big turning point for us.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced in owning your own business?

Finances. You have to make sure you are hitting your targets every single month, because not only will I not eat, but my family as well. Making money is even more important for me because I have other business ventures that need my financial backing as well. Another challenge would be dividing my time equally. Being a husband and father; which I hold very dear as well as a full-time, self-employed businessman is a huge massive challenge. The nature of my job does mean at times I have to be in and out of the country, which is a big sacrifice that has to be made, one business trip not taken could mean my family not eating, so it’s about finding the right balance.

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There are countless streetwear fashion brands on the market, what separates Play Dot from other brands that do what you do?

This is going to sound quite cliché, but I truly believe that every brand has its own identity and purpose.  For me it’s all about personal identity. I believe we’ve built the brand up to a point where it’s not just about us, but a service that people rely on. People buy into our product because they believe it is a brand that represents them. We only put out what we genuinely believe in and the people who buy our services are people that share this same vision.

What’s your favourite collection?

The mighty Skitz collection, which was our hockey jerseys based on the theme of the Mighty Ducks Movie Franchise. The reason why I would say it is one my favourite collections is because it represents the underdogs. The movie is about a whole bunch of misfits coming together and becoming champions, this is the very ethos of the collection, it was about the battle in someone’s personal life, as they try to fit in. You’re wearing something with so much meaning that it makes you feel like you can do it. I truly believe that’s what I was as a young man, I was so street wise but I didn’t have the heart to go all the way and I’m glad I didn’t. I had no idea where I fitted in until I started to find my identity in Christ, and I believe the Mighty Ducks film clearly illustrates our modern day society and even Playdot’s brand and concept.

What does the future hold for Play Dot?

Greatness. We’re a lifestyle brand at core, and we have so much to come. We’re planning art gallery pop up stores, vinyl toys and collaborations with brands to produce household products such as bed covers, mugs and TV stands. The main goal is to be a household name, not just from an apparel point of view but every market we venture into.

Interview by Daniel

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