The albums we gravitate toward are one of the things that defines us, and Kinship’s founder Reggie Thomas has figured out a brilliant way to let people wear their music taste on their sleeve–that is, if your record collection includes a whole lot of '90s R&B and hip-hop.
Thomas has created the perfect tribute to that era—and a fresh take on a current trend—with his collection of album-emblazoned bomber jackets. There’s one for the ladies that pays homage to the greats like Aaliyah, Mariah Carey, and Janet Jackson, a hip-hop one for the guys, and more targeted ones for fans of Bad Boy Records, Cash Money Records, and Dipset. Best of all, they’re each done up with a next-level attention to detail that leaves no pocket (or sleeve!) unlined.
Aside from being a fan of these albums, Thomas’ music connection isn’t coincidental. The 30-year-old label head, who handles everything from design to production and shipping with help from his girlfriend, got his start working in the industry, managing day-to-day affairs for artists like Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, and Jim Jones. He’s usually the one prepping artists for interviews, so when we connect over the phone to talk about the concept behind the line which started this past May, Thomas is understandably warming up to his new role. “I still work with different artists managing them, so I’m not used to doing interviews,” he says with a laugh. “I’m used to watching them.”
MTV: How and when did Kinship get started?
Reggie Thomas: Kinship dates back to high school. Kin is slang me and my friends would use to address each other like, ‘Hey, Kin.’ It was a concept I came up with to bond music and fashion. This past spring, I was thinking of what I could do with it, and I decided to do the bomber jacket as the initial serving.
MTV: What prompted you to finally start the line after thinking about it for all of these years?
Thomas: I was involved in music, working with different artists and labels, and it’s always been a huge part of my life, but I had been thinking of getting into fashion because I’m a huge fashion head as well. I thought, ‘Let me just finally get it done.’ I initially made the bomber just for myself, but the feedback was so crazy I knew I had to launch a full line.
MTV: Since you’ve been paying close attention to music and fashion for at least the past decade, how have you seen the relationship between the two evolve?
Thomas: You see a lot more collaborations now, and a lot of artists getting involved in fashion on their own. It’s almost the next thing to do after music, before movies. There’s always been a connection between music and fashion. If you go back to the early musician days, I remember my mom going to a Janet Jackson concert fully decked-out dressed like Janet.
MTV: So how did the bomber jacket come about? Did you start with a men’s jacket?
Thomas: The first one was unisex. There were women featured on it like Lauryn Hill. The reason for the female jacket was that I wanted to do something specifically for the ladies with a better cut and fit.
MTV: Was it hard deciding which ladies to choose for the women’s bomber jacket?
Thomas: That was a very hard process. [laughs] I have a sister and some older cousins who I consulted with. After a long, heartfelt week, we were able to narrow down the albums to 35.
MTV: That’s a lot! I didn’t realize there were that many on the jacket.
Thomas: Yeah, there’s people inside of the jacket, on the inner lining and on the insides of the pockets. It’s very detailed.
MTV: Have you gotten feedback from any of the artists you’ve featured?
Thomas: Yes, I’ve gotten a lot of feedback and it’s all been positive. I work closely with some of The Diplomats and they were positive—they just wanted to make sure they had theirs first. I had a sit down with Birdman before I dropped the “Cashed Out” Cash Money bomber, and he gave me his blessing. I’ve even had labels reach out to me asking for custom jackets to celebrate an event.
MTV: Do you have any plans to do custom work for artists?
Thomas: I don’t want to be a merchandise company; I’m launching a line. This jacket was one offering that I started with so I’m trying to be selective about what concept I do if I use the jackets again. Next up, I’m going to do a West Coast jacket and a collaborative jacket for Pigeons and Planes, a website for underground artists.
MTV: Was there one moment when you knew you had hit on something special?
Thomas: I think there were two. The first time I wore the jacket, people loved it. I had people from all different walks of life stopping me on the train; stopping me while I’m walking down the street; telling me how an album on it inspires them, or which ones they have in their collection. It was the craziest icebreaker ever. It really hit every demographic. I didn’t even tell my friends–I made it so I could get an honest opinion.
The second would be when I got my first order. Within that week, Rich Homie Quan reached out to wear one of the jackets in Lifestyle’s “Rich Gang” video with Birdman and Young Thug. When we got that request within two weeks of launching, I was like, ‘I think we might have something.’
MTV: It’s amazing how quickly things started happening for you. Do you think that’s just because of the internet, and the fact that you had connections in music?
Thomas: The industry connections did help. I’m good friends with a stylist, and I sent her a picture of [the jacket] and she was like, ‘Send it to me now. I’m getting it in the video.’ We had to overnight it to make the second day of shooting.
MTV: You kind of touched on how edited down the line is. Most retailers when they come out of the gates try to do everything at once, and it seems like you’ve really thought it through. What are your thoughts on how the brand will evolve?
Thomas: We actually started with jackets, so we kind of worked backward. At this point we want to do a full line, so we’re going to drop some T-shirts and hats, cut and sew, and build more outerwear brand. More than that, we want to get more involved with helping out the community. The word 'kinship' means more than just a clothing brand—it means more to me personally. It’s what my close friends call each other and how we relate to each other. We’re a family.
MTV: The marketplace of streetwear has obviously exploded over the past five years, especially. What do you think distinguishes your brand from all of the other ones out there?
Thomas: One of the main things that differentiates us is that we came in as a jacket line. I don’t think there are too many streetwear brands that focus strictly on jackets—and that will be our focus. We view T-shirts and other things as secondary things. So much has changed over the last five years like you said, but we started in May, so the main thing that’s changed for us is the weather. We can sell jackets now because it’s a little colder.
MTV: Have you noticed your sales geographically coming from one place more than others?
Thomas: Yeah, besides the U.S., Japan has been incredibly supportive. The majority of our sales have come from Japan. I would have to credit social media for that. I’ve seen videos of kids in the jackets, memes of kids in our jackets, people running their own ads for our jackets. It’s crazy.
MTV: Japanese memes of kids in jackets?
Thomas: Yes, I actually have a friend in Tokyo who sent me a picture of the Dipset jacket and was like, ‘I need this.’ I was like, ‘Hey, that’s my jacket!’
You can purchase the female bomber jacket at Kinship's site and from VFILES' brick-and-mortar store in NYC.