Street culture embodies the spirit of freedom. It is a culture that emphasizes the importance of confidently expressing yourself. Modern street culture has already broken through many geographic and cultural boundaries and is deeply rooted in today’s youth culture on a global scale. The youth of China have been attempting to find their own voice amidst the endlessly changing trends. Many phenomenal streetwear brands have already emerged from the country, but there are still a lot of misconceptions in China about streetwear with many people believing it is only t-shirts, button downs, hoodies, and so on. Many brands look to transcend the generic designs cluttering the streetwear scene in China and establish a unique brand identity of their very own. GRAF&WU is one of those brands that have successfully done so.
GRAF&WU’s logo is a giraffe, but the “GRAF” in the brand name is actually an acronym that stands for “Generation Represent Artistic Fashion”. This reflects their brand ethos that aspires to have a generation of people using fashion as an artistic medium. The “WU” represents Wuhan, the city that the founder and brand director Graf grew up in. Graf is an illustrator, designer, and 3D modeler who is currently studying at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. The entire concept for GRAF&WU began in 2013 when she was studying in Beijing, and it followed her to the U.S. where it continued to grow as she explored her love affair with hip-hop. It was in San Francisco where GRAF&WU started coming into its own as a brand. As the brand continued to refine their aesthetic and vision, their fanbase in China has grown along with it. Read our interview with Graf below.
GRAF&WU以长颈鹿为标志，其”GRAF” 为 “Generation Represent Artistic Fashion” 的缩写，意为“用时尚的媒介传达艺术理念的一代人”；”WU”则为武汉，是品牌创始人和主理人Graf成长的地方。Graf是一名插画师、设计师以及3D建模师，现今就读旧金山艺术大学3D建模专业。GRAF&WU于2013作为一个概念便是诞生于她在北京求学时期，随后随着她赴美并追寻自己热爱的hip hop文化，品牌在旧金山不断发展壮大，而今在中国本土拥有大量拥趸。阅读以下采访，了解更多。
Neocha: When did you start GRAF&WU? What inspired you to launch the brand?
Graf: In 2015, the brand was officially registered as a business in China. In the beginning, I noticed certain societal issues on Weibo that I wanted to address. I felt frustrated at my inability to fully articulate my thoughts through words, but at the same time, I enjoyed expressing myself through illustrations. I then realized even if I make a hundred, or a thousand pieces of work, it wouldn’t guarantee that people will look at them. The internet, magazines, and other kinds of print matter are all mediums people use to communicate ideas. I studied fashion design, so I thought perhaps I could use textile and fabric as a medium to express my ideas. Nothing will makes people pay closer attention to your work than if they spend money on it. Also, if someone wore my work and walked around in it, then aren’t my creative concepts being displayed even more effectively? So then I decided to create something basic: t-shirts. That was how the first GRAF t-shirt came to be. From then until now, I’ve lost track of how many I’ve designed.
Graf: 2015年正式注册成公司。最初，我在微博上看到一些社会问题就想表达自己的想法。无奈文采不好，可我喜欢用插画的形式表现。但络上千百个画作，不一定会有人仔细去看。于是我就想，网络、杂志、纸张都是传播媒介，而我在念服装设计，是不是应该用服装面料去传递我的想法呢? 而没有什么比让一个人花钱消费你的作品更能使他仔细观赏了。另外，假若有人穿着我的作品四处走动，那岂不是更有效的传达了我的设计理念？于是，我决定用所有人都能想到的: T恤。就这样开始了GRAF第一件T恤，然后到今天，有了第N件。
Neocha: What do you consider to be the distinctive characteristics of the GRAF&WU brand? How did you develop this style?
GRAF: Originality in design. Many of my illustrations and images requires careful observation or understanding of a certain culture to fully comprehend it. In that regard, my customer base is a fairly select group of people. But there are also a large number of people that just like the aesthetic qualities of the images. Most of my designs are closely related to rap music, which is something that I really love. Sometimes I might be feeling the lyrics of a song and I will want to turn it into an image. My focus generally revolves around cultural aspects from the ’80s and ’90s, but my work will also sometimes touch on more recent events.
Graf: 原创设计，非常多的插画和图案，内涵要仔细观察或者你懂某个文化才会理解，有一点挑客人。不过光是喜欢图案的客人也很多。大部分设计和我喜欢的Rap Music有关，有可能是某一句歌词我特别喜欢,就用一个画面表达出来. 许多80-90年代的文化都是我关注的重点，跟随时事推出相关设计也有。
Neocha: Wuhan is obviously important to you, as can be seen in your deliberate choice to call out the city in your brand name. How do you think Wuhan influences your work?
Graf: To be honest, Wuhan isn’t a huge influence on my work. I just wanted to be constantly reminded about where I came from. Many streetwear brands originated from Chinese cities, but they will force an “LA” or “NY” somewhere in their brand name. When it comes to a person’s creation process, I think it’s important to keep it real. That’s why I included Wuhan into my brand name.
Graf: 武汉本身并没有太大的影响，单纯只是希望自己时刻记得来自哪里。很多原创潮牌其实也来自中国的某个城市，可是他们要在自己的品牌后面加LA，NY。我认为keep it real在一个人的创作态度里很重要，所以干脆加到品牌名字里面。
Neocha: What are the concepts behind the brand. What message do you intend to communicate through your brand?
Graf: I often hide slogans in the details of my clothes, such as “Hustle Hard,” “Be Great,” and so on. These can be found on the inside of sleeves and at the bottom of shirts. The concept here is to encourage being persistent and doing everything to the best of your abilities. It’s about pushing your potential to the absolute limit. It’s easy in theory, but hard to actually do. We live in a comfortable world now, and many people think that working eight or nine hours is a hardship. The people that are actually working hard are trying to push themselves and improve themselves every second and every minute. They’re never satisfied. The images on my clothing might just be a fun little cartoon, or just some text, but I intend for these details to become a constant reminder to the wearer. I want to remind them to always be determined and push themselves to do everything to the best of their abilities. This is a big part of street mentality.
Graf: 我经常会在衣服的小细节里标注一些口号例如“Hustle Hard” “Be Great” 等，在一些袖口、衣服底摆之类的小地方。从这里看出GRAF&WU的理念就是努力去做好每一件事，做到最好，把自己的能力发挥到极致。乍一看很简单，要做到这一点很难。现在环境好，很多人以为工作8,9小时就算艰苦。其实真正努力地人时时刻刻都在提升自己，永远不能自满。可能衣服的图案就是一个好玩的卡通或者字母，但是这些小细节会时刻提醒着穿着这件衣服的人，你需要努力，你需要做到最好。这也是street mentality(街头的思维方式)。
Neocha: Does your personal work and your designs for GRAF&WU conflict with one another?
Graf: Some people say it is impossible to turn your hobby into a career, because once a hobby becomes a job then the pressure of work will make you hate it. But this mentality doesn’t apply to me. I love working. I am basically at home creating everyday, or looking for new inspiration in my travels. Even if I am attending some party or event, it will be related to the brand. The majority of my personal artistic creations have turned into products for GRAF&WU and can be found as products. It’s a perfect example of killing two birds with one stone.
Neocha: Can you tell us about the collaboration between GRAF&WU and Vital? Do you plan on working on more collaborative projects in the future?
Graf: Vital is a very talented rapper on the West Coast. He’s collaborated with the likes of Snoop Dogg and Berner. Currently, his label just finished a coast to coast tour in the U.S. and he is preparing to release his brand new album. I am already working closely with his team to start planning out their next tour. GRAF&WU will be designing and supplying all of the products and merchandise for it. Our clothing will also appear on stage during the tour. I am also talking with many other U.S. artists about possible collaboration. These will all be announced on our Weibo or on our online shop in the near future. In China, besides our upcoming Fall/Winter collection, GRAF&WU will also be working with Yo It’s Free between August and October to host a street dance competition. We also plan on working together with Japanese street dancer Kato to release some new products. The street dance competition will make stops in cities all over China. Everyone is welcome to join!
Graf: Vital是西海岸很有实力的说唱歌手，他和Snoop Dogg还有Berner都有歌曲合作。目前他的唱片公司刚做完一个全美巡演，正在筹备新专辑的发售。我和他的团队已经在制定下一次巡演的计划，将由GRAF&WU来设计和赞助下一次演出的周边商品，整个巡演也只会出现我们的服装。美国方面我有联系更多艺术家合作，这些都会随后在微博或者我们得店铺更新消息。国内方面,除了固定的秋冬新品发布，在8月到10月，GRAF&WU将和Yo Its Free街舞赛事一起做很多有意思的活动，包括和日本街舞大师Kato的联名产品等等。全国都会有站点，有兴趣的朋友不妨关注起来！