I’ve always been a fan of history, especially the history behind history, if that makes any sense. I’ve always liked learning stuff, I guess! So I started thinking, on Throwback Thursday or Flashback Friday (courtesy of social media, these days will never just be Thursday or Friday again), I’ll travel back in time (no, like for real) into the annals of fashion history and bring you some dope readings related to either a brand, designer or just movements within fashion that maybe you and I were too young to be aware of, or weren’t born yet to be able to experience it.
After watching the CNN documentary Fresh Dressed, (you should watch it, it’s on Netflix) a documentary about how hip-hop culture influenced fashion and style, I was inspired to write about some of the first streetwear brands that were thriving in the late 80’s to early 90’s mentioned in the documentary. There were quite a few I’ve never heard about before watching Fresh Dressed.
Enter: Cross Colours
Cross Colours (originally called Cross Cultures, but had to be changed due to some issues) was one of the first brands created with a street point of view and was totally embraced by the rising and popular movement of hip-hop during that time. Cross Colours did not just want to bring you dope clothes, but also a socially conscious message at the same time. The brand’s mission statements and slogans, if you will, were and are still “Clothing Without Prejudice”, “Educate 2 Elevate,” and “Love Sees No Colour.” How can you not get down with brand philosophy like that? So, who are the creators behind Cross Colours?
Cross Colours was started by Carl Jones and TJ Walker in a studio loft in downtown L.A. around ’85. What inspired the look of Cross Colours started with a piece of Kente cloth, which they used to make a woven shirt. This inspired TJ to begin color-blocking on fabrics. This translated into a whole collection —a look—a lifestyle of what the brand is.
In addition to color-blocking and bright colors, which are their signatures, Cross Colours took advantage of the trend of baggy clothing which was happening in the streets, primarily here in New York, when they first saw kids wearing oversized jeans (buying jeans 3x their size). What Carl and TJ did was take that oversized fit, bring the waist in to be fitted, but kept the large silhouette and spec it as a medium. Needless to say it took off, and if you know anything about the 90’s, baggy, oversized clothing was all the rage! Carl’s and TJ’s timing was perfect!
Cross Colours was super popular amongst rappers and singers such as Tupac, Snoop Dog and TLC who wholeheartedly supported the brand. Even actors and celebrities such as Magic Johnson, Mark Wahlberg and the late Muhammad Ali also showed love. They were able to get their clothes on “In Living Color” and “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air” (now that I think about it, Will was wearing some bright, oversized clothes).
So what happened to Cross Colours?
Around the time the brand began, so were today’s media giants such as MTV, VH1 and Source Magazine, to name a few. They were helping each other and it was these collaborations whereby the brand got a wave promotion and branding. This catapulted them to being noticed and looked for at the 1990 Vegas Magic trade show where they wrote their first large order of about 12 million! In six months they manufactured about everything. Clothes hit the stores and 100% were sold!
Unfortunately, this run only lasted about three years. It’s good to grow, but growing too fast and doing everything can hurt more than help. As Carl said “…one big mistake we made was – I think we were too nice and never said no.” One of their biggest accounts was the store Merry-Go-Round, which went bankrupt and dealt a crippling blow to the brand. They were stuck with millions of dollars in inventory (if you know anything about the fashion business, that is not good at all). They were forced to stop and liquidate everything in order to pay their contractors and the big guy, the bank! The brand went dark for about twenty years due to trademark changing hands in order to go back into business, but that did not work. Carl and TJ finally got the trademark back a few years ago, and even did a collaboration with The Hundreds in 2014.
I suspect we don’t hear much of the brand today as this is a generation (us) who are not really privy to the it. Also, the market today is very different from when it first started, however Cross Colours is still worth bringing up in any conversation about popular streetwear brands from the 80’s and 90’s.
If you want to learn more, check out this interview that Bobby Hundreds, founder the streetwear brand The Hundreds, did with Carl and TJ.
Sources: the hundreds.com,crosscoloursla.com