The start of AMN and the story behind the notorious “Mugshot Tee”
The start of AMN and the story behind the notorious “Mugshot Tee”
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Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Musa (@king_mansa_musa), founder of the clothing brand Any Means Necessary (@any.mean.necessary) or AMN for short. I’m an artist/rapper/designer & a first-generation Pakistani-American from New Jersey. Growing up as a brown muslim in America has given me a distinct perspective and style that shines through in all my work; wether it’s my music or my clothes. Growing up for me was quite rough, the first time I was arrested I was only 12 years old. It was for a crime I did not commit. For me the only way out is through my passion for creating clothing & music. I find solace and true meaning in doing what I love.
I started my brand about 4 months ago. I originally started out by selling t-shirts but now I’m in the process of manufacturing track suits, jeans, winter coats, lighters, and sweaters.
I’ve always been into fashion even as early as elementary school. I express myself through the clothes I wear, the right fit has always gave me the confidence I needed when I felt like I didn’t have any. I believe people are gravitating to my brand not only because of my unique style; but because of the messages I choose to communicate through my clothing.
A typical day of work for me is creating designs, recording 2-3 songs, shipping out orders, designing tech packs, speaking with manufacturers and marketing to promote myself as well as my brand. I do everything myself and that’s the way it has been since I started. I make the designs, concepts, shirts, music, mixing, graphic design, cover art and whatever I need 100% on my own. In fact, I just started working with manufacturers and screen printing companies as of last week, before that I would hand-print everything. I have had little support when it mattered the most. A lot of first-generation children can agree that most immigrant parents aren’t too supportive of their children when it comes to pursuing art as a career. My parents wanted me to follow a different path, they made this long journey to a foreign country for their son to become something like a lawyer or a doctor. So when I started getting into trouble with the law and pursuing my passions such as music and art they were confused; I’d say they still are. Thankfully I have friends, fans and customers who give me all the support I need to keep pushing.
What inspired you to create the business?
Everybody deserves to express themselves. Fashion to me, is a way of life. Many feel like “dressing nice” is a privilege but I wouldn’t feel free as a human being if I was limited to a basic white-t and some gym shorts. Just like how the food you put in your body affects your mind, the clothes you put on your body affects your mindset. Due to this reason, I’ve always longed to create my own brand. I started designing mockups of clothes I wanted to create when I was only 12. Now that I’m 22 and it’s finally a reality, I must consider the fact that I occupy a space that very few brands do. Sure, a lot of my clothing might be similar in style to brands such as raf simons, supreme, a bathing ape, & number 9 (a few of my stylistic influences) but I believe what differentiates my brand are the messages it contains. Any means necessary is a quote by Malcolm X; who has always been my biggest inspiration ever since I can remember.
Freedom is something I value more than many others and this is because I have not felt free most of my life. I fight for freedom, not only for myself but for all oppressed people. At the end of the day clothing is just art you wear on your body yet most brands don’t really have a distinct message like most art does. For me it is not only business but it is a message that I’m trying to push. While not everyone is interested in art, it is obvious that everyone wears clothes; making the message more palatable to a larger audience.
Starting a business was not all sunshine and rainbows for me. For the first 2-3 months every expense came directly out of my pocket and I saw little to no profit; in fact I was losing money. I saw this as a necessary investment and I kept pushing through. I just came back from a pop up show I had in los angeles in which I sold many of my pieces for the price that many designers sell at. This is honestly the first time I can proudly say that I’m starting to see returns on my business and I predict that it will grow exponentially over the course of this upcoming year. Word of advice to everyone reading; take the risk, just do it. If you have a passion then follow it no matter how hard it may seem, believe me I was down on my luck with no one in the world to support me. I truly feel like there is no point of living when you aren’t following your heart.
Walk us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
I have always been an artist so creating designs was nothing new to me. Previous to making clothes I have sold various things; music, paintings, mixing services, designs, beats, etc. You name it, I sold it. So although it may seem like I am new to making clothes, I have really been preparing for this my whole life. The design process on my first couple of tee’s came extremely naturally. I picked icons that represented my brand the most and fooled around with the typography until I thought I had it right. Creating logos for my brand with the skills I had already possessed came as naturally to me as breathing. When it comes to manufacturers, I did not start dabbling into that until last month.
My parents are originally from Pakistan and I have been there many times; conveniently Pakistan has one of the biggest, if not the biggest textile industry in the world. Manufacturers in Pakistan love to work on custom orders even with smaller orders. I also know Urdu, the language of Pakistan so it makes it very easy to communicate with manufacturers there. I am currently developing a tracksuit that I designed from scratch. I found a manufacturer from the same region my parents are from, Punjab. This is another distinctive resource I can take advantage of because most of my family still lives there; meaning I can create in person relationships with these manufacturers when I visit next. Many manufacturers in Pakistan have personally reached out to me via instagram because they saw that I was Pakistani of origin. I’m looking forward to take my brand to the next level by working with these manufacturers. I believe my brand occupies a high fashion space rather than a fast fashion space; due to my attention to detail, quality and design.
What was the process of launching your business like?
I launched earlier this year in March 2019. Luckily I did not have to start from scratch, I have already been making music for years and amassed a cult following on soundcloud, instagram, twitter and various other platforms.
I used all the resources available to me to promote my brand, naturally fans of my music started to support and buy my clothing. My friends were also a great initial push to my business, they loved to have someone around them designing clothes this fly. Everytime I see my friends now they are rocking all AMN clothing if not mixing it with other designer pieces.
Building a clientele was something I had to do on my own. I used instagram ads, twitter posts, created accounts on various forums. Basically anywhere I felt I could plug my brand in I did. I have a simultaneous convergence of clientele; one from online and the other through word of mouth. My friends, those that knew me were wearing my clothes everyday; introducing my brand to their friends, family and so forth. This spread my brand like wildfire, creating sales not only through my website but through cash app, venmo, etc. I accommodated every customer individually and built what felt like a personal relationship with them.
What have been your greatest sources of inspiration?
I have many sources of inspiration; I’ll have to break it down into different categories. I’m extremely inspired by streetwear and designer/high fashion in general. Brands like Raf Simons, Number 9, Acne Studios, Valentino, Supreme, Rick Owens & Moncler are some of the many brands you can find in my closet. I’ve always been enthralled with high quality designs, fabrics and unique fits. I keep a close eye on lesser known “underground” designer brands as well such as C2h4, Alyx, etc. I have always loved the late 80’s and 90’s new york streetwear style. When it comes to fashion that is what I’m inspired by.
The other sources of inspiration are certain figures throughout history that carried their own aesthetic not only in how they dressed or how they wanted to be perceived; but in their overall message. Malcolm X, Che Guevara, & Nelson Mandela are just some of the historical figures that have influenced both my message and aesthetic. Those who are fans of my brand know this very well, Che Guevara is known for having one of the most iconic photos of all time. An image that I broke down and recreated for one of my first T-Shirts for AMN. To me all forms of art are an inspiration. When it comes to painters I love Idalis Reyes, Basquiat, Andy Warhol & Picasso. My friends have inspired me through their unwavering support and belief in me, and even my family in their own way have inspired me. I admire the fact that they were able to travel halfway across the world for their dream, if they can do that much then I could go even further with mine.
What’s been the biggest business challenge you’ve overcome?
One of the biggest obstacles for me has been my run-ins with law enforcement. Unfortunately I have been arrested several times, starting from the age of 12. I was handcuffed for a crime I did not commit, later the charges were dropped but this affected me and followed me throughout the rest of my teenage years. I have no focus currently other than creating music, clothes and a way out for myself. This is all I do, I am not involved in anything illegal or immoral yet I have been beaten, illegally detained, stalked and harassed by both the police and the FBI. When it comes to the FBI I was profiled due to me being muslim, my music and the fact that I am from Pakistan. I was not charged with anything but was harassed by agents for an entire month of my life who even showed up to my parents’ home. I am not the first person in my family this has happened to either. This took place earlier this year, about one month before I started my clothing brand. It wasn’t till I hired a lawyer and arranged a meeting that I was able to get rid of this problem. This is a time in my life where I was extremely mentally ill and paranoid due to the continued harassment. Definitely one of the hardest times in my life.
My story might be surprising to some (unsurprising to others) but unfortunately this is the cold reality which I was forced to endure. My latest piece “Mugshot Tee” actually has an amusing story behind it. One night in August I was coming back from a photoshoot (with my collaborator @freetownradio) in my brand’s latest tee entitled “IMF” and I was pulled over by the police. They did not give me a reasonable explanation to why I was pulled over but unfortunately for me I had a blunt on me. Eventually they searched my car, and brought in a total of 13 officers to push me to the ground and arrest me. All this over two grams of marijuana, when they took my mugshot I was wearing my “IMF” tee. I decided to flip this foolish mistake into a gain by using the mugshot as promo for the shirt as well as my music. I dropped a song called “IDKUKM” https://soundcloud.com/king-mansa-musa/idkukm using the mugshot as cover art and I promoted IMF using this mugshot. I posted it to various forums along with the story of why I was arrested and it went viral. All of a sudden I had hundreds of comments in my inbox telling me to make a T-Shirt, so as a young entrepreneur I did what I was supposed to do; just that. The demand was there so I created the “mugshot tee” out of this negative predicament that I was in and managed to pay a lawyer to fight the case. Moral of the story; even a loss can be turned into a win, it’s all about your attitude.
Being a creative entrepreneur carries a sense of uncertainty that can be soul crushing if one is not properly prepared. New Jersey is not a very supportive place in general, there is a reason why artists don’t thrive here. It is not a conducive environment for one to grow their career as an artist or creative. It is a boxed in over-populated area with not as much economic opportunities as big cities such as NYC or Philadelphia. Many locals are filled with jealousy, hate and envy. Whenever someone stands out of the crowd or creates a new wave; many around the area end up being blinded by envy. Some even resort to violence, shade or other tactics to bring entrepreneurs, artists, and creatives down. I have had to endure every single one of these in my journey as an artist here. I have had people set me up just because they were jealous of the recognition my music was gaining. I have faced violence & hate yet I persevered through all of it.
How are things today and what are your plans for the future?
My monthly revenue is something that’s hard to calculate. I have an extremely diverse income, not only do I get money from selling clothes, merch, accessories; I make money from streams, beats and shows. I have made investments in stocks just as any successful entrepreneur should; it is important to have a diverse portfolio of income. My most popular product right now has been my “solidarity tee.” This is because this is one of the first shirts I released back when I first started my brand a couple months. It has been a best seller and is currently the cheapest product that I am selling – available for $20 USD.
Stay tuned in to my brand because I have extensive plans to elevate my vision to the next level. Custom manufactured tracksuits, lighters, sweaters, hoodies, jeans are on the way. I’m having another pop up in Philly this month and I’m flying back out to Los Angeles early next year for another pop up show due to the great reception the first one had.
Where can we learn more?
Here is where you can find my clothing brand:
Here is where you can find me as well as my music:
Apple Music: mUsa
I am definitely open to working with brands, artists, creatives or anybody else that thinks they have ideas to offer as long as we share a common vision. I appreciate your time, I hope I was able to drop a couple gems for aspiring entrepreneurs and creatives out there! Thank you for reading.