In 1999, Brendan Elliott launched BURN Clothing to celebrate a period of Melbourne street culture that influenced him profoundly: 1988. Fifteen years on, it’s still going strong
Brendan, did you have a mission in mind when setting up BURN Clothing?
I wanted to challenge the usual marketing process of using capital to kickstart a brand. I had no money to invest in product. I had no money to invest in advertising. The plan was always to build a strong history via quality product and street level promotion. BURN was born and bred on the streets of Melbourne, and we spread the word via underground events such as parties (legal and illegal), exhibitions and/or gigs that we would organise, or get involved with in some way. So the mission was all of the above, not just about making clothes.
You're a graphic designer, so how did you come to set up BURN?
Starting BURN was the result of an unrewarding few years designing hundreds of T-shirt graphics for larger commercial clothing companies. I had my own ideas about what makes a well-designed graphic for a T-shirt. My personal history in Melbourne's street culture spawned the idea for a brand based around that culture: graffiti and the street. I could design for that market, and promote to that market.
You have ‘88’ caps. Why is 1988 a fine vintage?
Yes, our cap is about the year 1988. This was a pivotal year for the Melbourne graffiti culture. Before this time there were very few artists who were painting elaborate paintings throughout the city. 1988 seemed to spawn what I like to call 'the second wave' of graffiti artist. From 1988 onwards graffiti seemed to be like a plague. Many writers were influenced by the first handful of pioneers and caught the bug around this time. These years were hugely important to me on a personal level. They formed who I am today. Although I was never a prolific painter, graffiti crews were my family. I am sure many writers from any era of the graffiti scene can relate to this. It is an all-encompassing culture that stays with you forever.
Who wears BURN?
Over the years things have changed many times over. When BURN was born, it was one of the first independent T-shirt brands in Melbourne. Graffiti writers, designers and people 'in the know' were all over it. After 15 years BURN now has such a rich history, and is such an integral piece of Melbourne's creative scene (or whatever you might want to call it), that it now feels like people, no matter what background, appreciate BURN's existence and contribution.
We have clothed many local and international musicians, rap groups, DJs and artists over the years. Jurassic 5 wore our product at Big Day Out about 12 years ago. Peanut Butter Wolf wore our gear when he came out here about the same time, and there have been countless internationals ever since. Over the last fifteen years we have clothed many local artists such as Reason, Bigfoot, Bias-B, Maundz, Plutonic Lab, Hilltop Hoods, Briggs, Pegz, Kerser, the list goes on. We have also had our international reps at the world DMC's and ITF's over the years like DJ J-Red and DJ Selekt. I have noticed other artists not actually affiliated with us wearing BURN, like Bliss'n'Eso and Horrorshow. It's great these artists continue to support local brands.
We have also started to manufacture BURN merchandise for such artists. Briggs just released some limited T-shirts and singlets that include our branding and packaging. We also released some merch with Plutonic Lab, in line with his recent release titled 'Look Alive'. Plutonic Lab has become, in my opinion, one of the most important local beat makers, so it's a huge honour to work along side him. The most important people of all who wear BURN, are our supporters, our day to day customers, and the followers who collect and keep BURN T-shirts wrapped in their plastic bags for years.
What are you working on now?
Graphics, graphics, graphics. We concentrate on t-shirts, crew neck sweaters, hoods, zip hoods, caps and beanies. As well as starting to concentrate on BURN merch for the people who want to collaborate on their merchandise (hit us up!). We will have our winter range in stores and online in the middle of May.