Front row with Korey Gunnin of Boycott Studios


Edited by Makwatsi


Front row with Korey Gunnin of Boycott Studios


My next interviewee for the FRM Blog genuinely embodies the future of fashion design in South Africa. Korey Gunnin is the founder and creative director of 'Boycott Studios' & 'Death 2 Self'. Yes, you read that correctly – he creative directs two of his own brands whilst immersing himself within a sea of other creative talents and escapades.


Korey is the future of local design and I really mean it. Within our frequent engagements thus far, even through mutual friends, I've noticed him to be an extremely intelligent and well-researched creative. For example, one can clearly notice the post-punk references within BCS & Death 2 Self garments, and creative direction. Specifically the radical 90's British post-punk movement – spearheaded musically by The Sex Pistols and fashionably by Vivienne Westwood, whom Korey further mentions within the interview as one of his favourite designers of all time.


Photography by Channel Redd


The energy of his work is palpable and what really excites me is his usage of references, not only provocative and rebellious but also clever and tactical, all at the same time. So, from quoting the late Virgil Abloh's iconic '3% Approach', right through to his ideation behind the Death 2 Self 'gathered pants' – I had the absolute pleasure of virtually engaging Korey in order to further understand his creative vision, his inspirations, his design process, and more.


Edited by Makwatsi


(Interview text transposed by Khumo Kraai)


Would you mind introducing yourself and including a short description of what you do?


Korey: Good day. I'm Korey and I wouldn’t wanna say I only make clothes because that’s such like a – nah I wouldn’t wanna call myself a designer because I see it as a bit cliché to only limit myself to one form of expression. But more so – I'm a curator you know? I'm a tastemaker. I'm just an overall entity of fly shit for lack of a better term. (I'm not sure that you can actually swear in this thing lol)


But yeah most people today just know me for making clothes. Yeah I am a “designer” for now from what people have seen. I'm just a designer, I'm just Korey, an artist, creator so to say.


Photography by Slxck.93


Could you speak to me about 'Death 2 Self' – what is the inspiration behind your brand?


Korey: Uhm, I feel like Death 2 Self is a mental state because prior to that existing, I had to do a lot of growing. My first brand – which is Boycott Studios – was more like a bunch of my inspirations glued together. I started it when I was very young, so I had no sense of artistic direction at the time, but I still knew, like I've always known how to curate, fly shit. It's like it's been in my DNA for a while now, so with Death 2 Self, it started in a very dark place in my life late last year.


I've been teasing Death 2 Self for a long time – I was in a constant loop of complete and utter chaos and destruction. I just felt like shit almost every day. And then one time I was just like, “damn, Death 2 Self” but initially it wasn't supposed to be a drop name – I think. And then it just possessed way too much power and it was just too close to my heart for me just to let it go, so I created a whole other thing out of it. And I also feel like it’s the brand that I was supposed to go with. It's basically a state of mind – I just felt like “offing” myself at that point and you know what they say, “Turn your pain into art.”, so that’s what I did. So that’s what it is and where its derived from.


Photography by Channel Redd


What is 'Boycott Studios'?


Korey: BCS is basically my entry point. It's like my matric certificate, let me just say it like that. It's my entry level into the art world; not even the art world per say but everything you see there is a reflection of “young-n*gga-me”. It's the shit I was on at the time and what I thought was cool, so it's just a compilation of all my inspirations. I'm a very influenced kid, artistically that is, so that's just the funnel and I use Boycott Studios as like a visual diary for whatever I am going through at the time.


The clothes are what I'm going through at the time. So Boycott is also a very personal thing to me – it's like my main source of expression. It's my baby, my first love, my first-born child. The dictionary meaning of "boycott" is "to go against or to protest against certain things", and with BCS I am protesting against social norms. What people think designers should be, what people think artists should be, how people think a kid, more specifically a Black kid in South Africa, should act speak or dress. It's me going against a lot of social ideologies, against the grain and just saying, “fuck it, imma do whatever I wanna do,” – that’s why I feel like a lot of people can relate.


Some would say its like a “cult” I don't want to see it as that – even though it has gathered a cult following. But that’s only due to the fact that I have been authentic and real with it from the start.


Photography by Channel Redd


On your website I see a lot of graphic heavy tees – somewhat bootleg graphics like the Osama Bin Laden tee – as well as a mixture of high-quality gathered pants. Why do you opt for this specific "blueprint" of design?


With the bootleg tees, more so the Osama one, like I mentioned, it's just influences; i'm just very influenced by stuff like that. I like to put my own spin on things and that’s what I aimed to do there. Just have fun with it, that’s why I love having tees available – then I allow myself to dive into stuff which makes n*ggas think. I get to have fun while simultaneously. Not that it's not fun to make "heavier garments" but that is so much more work. So the bootleg Osama tee is just for the swag, it's for the children, it's somewhat a rebellious act because he is a very controversial figure in history.


Can we really say anyone knows what happened during 9/11? Like was he spitting, was he not spitting? You see, I just like controversy and starting conversation. I feel like everything on the internet now is "straight forward" – nothing is questioned or makes you think. I want you to see my work and just say, "WTF. What is this?" – that’s basically the inspiration behind the tee and why I made it.


With the gathered pants on the other hand, I had to draw a distinct line between certain things – up until the 'Existence is Chaos' drop which is where those pants are featured. Everything I exhibited was more so "simple" stuff like truckers and t-shirts. I believe people started to think I am a gimmick, a one-hit wonder or not a "real designer", like I just print on things. Also I was waiting for the right time to show my artistic abilities. Sometimes when it comes to the pieces; I don’t work like a fast-fashion brand or designer. This isn't Mr. Price or H&M, I don’t make stuff for the now. I want it to have a certain impact and I want my pieces to last. That’s why I refer to them as being heavy. Because it’s a “piece” – similarly with the Death 2 Self zip-up – that is a piece. That is my most proud piece to this day and this is because a lot of time went into it and alterations too. A lot of thinking had to go into it, and that’s how I feel about the gathered pants too.


Edited by Makwatsi


Obviously certain design styles and ideas I come up with aren't through me, I also want people to understand that I am showcasing my interpretation of something that I think is cool. I'm altering and adding my 3% as Virgil would say. I'm pivoting it distinctively, giving you something you're used to seeing but from another lens – my lens. And that’s why I think it's special. No one can give it to you through my eye.


But I digress, the gathered pants and the meaning behind them and the reasoning behind the way that they are stems from how I view my supporters, I like to call them a family. It ties into that, we're gathered, “We are gathered here today to celebrate fly shit. We're gathered here today to swag, were just gathered here to, you know? Be fly”. At first we didn’t even have a name for them, the first few weeks of them being out they were known as the Existence is Chaos pants, and then we had to dig a little deeper to establish a name for them.


What are you most inspired by when it comes to your design process?


The past. Definitely the past. That’s one thing that has inspired me heavily. Knowing those who came before me and what became before me. Without the past, how can we move forward? Without what was, how can we determine what is? I'm very inspired by sounds too. The 'Existence is Chaos' drop was actually inspired by Fimiguerrero’s 'Black flag' album. What you hear is what you see, I'm very inspired by music. I'm also very inspired by past designers and their work. Even painting references like Van Gogh’s 'Starry Night' – I can find inspiration in anything, it also doesn’t necessarily have to be artistic, even a conversation. If I fell one time, the emotions I felt in that moment can serve as inspiration. Certain emotions evoke certain concepts and ideas within me. It's life, life inspires my design process.


Photography by Channel Redd


Your three favorite fashion designers right now? This could be anyone local or international.


My absolute favorite designer who inspires me constantly is Makwatsi. I just love Makwatsi’s work and I love wearing his clothes – they make me feel real, more like myself than anything. Cold Soul Seventeen, just add that in there so they know where to find the swag, that’s my favourite designer man. Cause it'd be a bit cliché for me to only name people I haven't gotten to watch work personally. What does their process entail, what they stand for outside of their brand and how they translate it. No amount of show notes and interviews can compare to the physical experience of watching the process behind the garment.


Buut hold on – I do have to admit I have a few external fashion designers who I do favor... one is Rei Kawakubo. I love Rei's work. I’d marry Rei Kawakubo if she wasn’t that old. Shout out Vivienne Westwood too, if you're reading this I love you! Also Jil Sander! Okay wait that’s too many, let's put Jil Sander, Rei Kawakubo and Makwatsi, that’s final! Cause I love Jil Sander for her minimalism.



What has been your biggest achievement within your short career thus far?


Those kids terrorizing people at Montecasino with the BCS hoodies on – that’s my biggest achievement. That’s a monumental moment right there, it was a milestone. Cause at some point the clothes were not selling, like the first two drops? Only a few people were tapped in, caught like three or four sales only man, that’s it. But now there's literally kids begging to buy this shit, you know? I just love seeing the clothes being worn, that’s my favorite part about making clothes. Just seeing them on other people and how they put it together. And their love for the clothes. And that was my pivotal moment, it was monumental, just watching those kids represent those big Bees man. It’s not a cult, it’s a family bro!


Edited by Makwatsi


What are some of the things you are looking forward to in 2022?


I'm working on a collection. I haven’t really told anyone, but imma go piece for piece, hopefully in November it drops. If you get it then you get it, if you don’t then it's not my fault. My collection is mainly all I'm looking forward to, but I'm also looking forward to seeing some of my people grow, seeing where this art scene, specifically in Johannesburg, can go. So essentially I'm really looking forward to growth.


Yeah that’s its, Growth.


Edited by Makwatsi