Gav Lawson is founder and CEO of THTC – an environmental clothing company with unique links to UK and world Hip-Hop. His tees are regularly seen being worn by the UK Hip-Hop elite and he returns the favour by sponsoring and promoting events.
He speaks to UKHH.com about the THTC soldiers, his Hip-Hop roots and keeping a fiercely independent company afloat amidst a crippling recession.
Could you sum THTC and the ethos behind it?
THTC is an organic, activist clothing label that uses street art, graffiti and design to raise awareness of environmental causes, music and charities.
THTC these days is a fairly small operation. We started off, my brother Dru, a good friend Dan Sodergren and myself, twelve years ago producing Hemp clothing before building up to produce tracksuits, t-shirts, hoodies and accessories but have since cut back to selling mainly just hemp and carbon neutral organic screen printed cotton organic t-shirts. My brother left the company a few years ago to set up an electric vehicle agency (called www.solstisbikes.com) and I’m now running the brand from home with my PA (Monika), a few interns and support from friends. We have various distributors and agents across the world and the brand is supported by a huge amount of urban activists, but essentially, I now run the business from home as a wholesale business.
Does mainstream fashion generally shun or embrace THTC, or is there approval not something you look for?
I am definitely not a Fashionista! Like I say, we only really produce t-shirts now plus some accessories and bags but it is really about the print itself. Also, I don’t really operate as a traditional seasonal brand, I tend to produce a few new designs every couple of months to keep things fresh and then sell from stock. We tend to sell from stock instead of selling ahead as we found that selling six months in advance means having to put pressure on the factories to produce on time; one of the traits of fashion that leads to longer working hours and forced labour which is just not the way we work. But yes, the mainstream fashion scene are quite scared of our politics as we tend to wear our hearts on our sleeves. We used to be in a lot of small independent shops but in recent years a lot have gone out of business as the high street has been bought up.
Yeah it is difficult to get editorial space in newspapers which is a shame considering the amount of trees cut down to promote what mediocrity like Jordan and Victoria Beckham are getting up to! We have so many talented artists representing the label but the press often only really want to know about the “big” celebrities, the A-listers. But we’re hanging in there, we’re doing alright.
So Gav as a long term supporter of the urban music scene, what does Hip-Hop mean to you?
I’d say Hip-Hop means everything to me and has done since I was about thirteen. I love everything about the lifestyle. I mean, I love everything about what Hip-Hop used to represent, it’s sadly dwindling these days. When you speak to people who don’t necessarily live and breathe Hip-Hop then they’ll tend to throw around the same few names, but there’s a lot more to Hip-Hop than Jay-Z and 50 Cent. There is a lot of relatively unrecognized talent in the UK, the States and all around the world. Probably my favourite U.S. Hip-Hop band is Zion-I, who we have recently started working with, and it’s just amazing to me how, with so much talent and so much to say, they still have a relatively niche following after so many years in the game. This is often the way with socially responsible bands with a lot to say. If they were talking about crack and guns they’d probably be a lot better known. Hip Hop has a responsibility to create awareness about social ills instead of perpetuating negative stereotypes.
A lot of the biggest names in UK Hip-Hop wear your clothes, acts like Foreign Beggars, Rodney P, Lowkey, DJ Vadim and Phi-Life Cypher etc, how did you forge such tight links to the scene?
Well that’s really from just hanging around the clubs from an age when I was far too young to be hanging round in clubs. I think passion rubs off on people and they can see if someone’s trying to do a good thing or trying to do something original, I just really stuck at it. After meeting the mixologists I was introduced to Rodney P and Skitz, DJ Yoda, and it went from there. You know it’s a small scene in the UK and after a few years you just meet people. It’s really all about these artists though, all I have tried to do is persuade them to push what I’m trying to do and become what I call “armchair activists”. I’d like to give a special shout to MC Sense and the Grass Roots crew who have been flying the THTC eco flag for years and are still struggling to make a big impact.
Which artists in particular have you worked with?
It’s difficult not to mention everybody because I love them all, but in terms of some of the bigger names we have worked with…Foreign Beggars are probably my favourite UK Hip-Hop act, Rodney P and Skitz have been with me from the beginning and are obviously legends, as have Task Force, Phylife Cypher. A lot of the Beatbox scene have also become affiliated with us since we sponsored the UK Beatbox championships. Beardyman is obviously a superstar now but he’s been supporting us heavily for seven years, along with MC Zani, Hobbit, Shlomo, Pikey Esquire and BeatFox etc. Beyond music, we’ve had great support from other activists, Woody Harrelson, Danny Dyer, Benjamin Zephaniah, even the X Factor mentor Sinitta, who has really helped to push us beyond the urban scene. THTC is not me and it’s not whoever is working in the office, it’s these people that make THTC what it is.
Hanging out with some of these guys must give you some interesting stories?
Yes, ha, I have many stories. One rapper who I wont mention by name were at a charity event in Kensington Palace a few years ago and we snuck off into Queen Victoria’s bedroom with a video camera and did a 4 minute freestyle, finishing by lying on her bed with his feet up. I could hardly stop laughing, we were both pretty smashed
Any of them non-libelous?
Plenty of them are non-libelous, I just can’t think of any now ha.
Why do you think THTC’s message seems to speak to people involved in Hip-Hop?
I wouldn’t say necessarily it does. In fact I’d say if I had aimed the brand at a different demographic then I’m sure it would talk to them a lot more directly. If I had wanted to pick a market to sell to, I probably should have gone for fair-trade fashion for women because women buy about 80% of the fair-trade and organic fashion in this country. It’s a lot harder to sell to young males, especially to sell organic eco-clothing to them, it’s a higher price point, it just generally doesn’t appeal to them. I am actually having to try to create a new market and convert people into becoming activists, which is never easy.
A lot of your designs and prints have openly activist agendas and could be viewed as being provocatively anti-mainstream, do you personally favour artists whose lyrics are more socially and politically conscious?
Yes, I absolutely do. With Hip-Hop I have a love-hate relationship in a lot of senses, because of the amount of shit Hip-Hop out there which seems to be at the top; making fortunes for people who don’t seem to have anything particularly to say. Artists I work with whose lyrics I think have a lot more substance to them include, Natty, Phi-Life Cypher, Skinnyman, Aruba Red and more recently in the States Zion I. Talib Kweli is also one of my favourite artists and in my opinion probably the best lyrically that the States has produced, he is gaining a big following now but it took a long time. People would rather listen to Gangsta rap… it doesn’t really mean anything.
And is it up to musicians and art in general to try and provoke change do you feel?
I think if you have a platform then I think you have a duty to use that platform to say something interesting or worthwhile. I mean, there are so many people now who are kind of Jesus-like figures, followed relentlessly when they don’t actually say or do anything worthwhile. England football captains what do they do? They basically sell us crisps or Pepsi or fast food, it is just the most ridiculously misleading and damaging thing you can do. It is up to everybody, musicians, artists, poets, celebrities to say and do something to try and improve the situation for the poor of the world and the environment.
Environmentalism as a subject matter seems to have been ignored by urban music and music in general, do you believe this will ever change?
This I believe is changing, definitely. Tours and stadiums are looking to become more “green”. MTV is actually being “greened” up by a friend of mine and he is making sure that the tours are as ecological as possible. Festivals are changing…there is a band called Phoenix Rose, Jarvis Smith who I have worked with. His band are trying to be the first carbon neutral band. If the musicians demand greener tours then their labels are going to listen to them.
THTC have sponsored and promoted a lot of UK Hip-Hop events in the past, are there any more events lined up?
There are. We are doing quite a lot to promote quite a lot of nights in London and beyond. If you look at the calendar page on our website there are flyers of our sponsored events and t-shirt give-away’s for competitions. There is a big one in Brighton on the 1st of May that I am co-working on, which is Trojan Sound System and Jest, that’s going to be quite a big one. We also work regularly with Throwdown, Heducation, Hoochinoo and many other events.
Going forward how do you see the relationship between urban music and THTC changing or expanding?
More collaborations, I do a lot of t-shirt collaborations with bands and artists and I can see us doing a lot more of those. At the moment we are working on doing a t-shirt for DJ Vadim, possibly a shirt for Beardyman, another one for Zulu Nation, Trojan Sound System. I’m going to need to spend less time with UK Hip-Hop and try and break into the Rock and Beatbox scenes, purely because I have exhausted UK Hip-Hop and there is not a lot of money in the scene. That is not to say we will forget all our THTC soldiers who have been with us all this time.
Are there any more plans for Hip-Hop inspired wear like the Blasta tee?
Yeah, I mean the Blasta, Weapon of Choice, The City Bass and Amen Break have all been really popular, I’ve been running them for years and they’re all hip hop-inspired designs. Recently, we have just done a piece called Boombox with Gibla73 who did The Harder They Come t-shirt. We’ve also just released ‘THTC – Too Heavy Too Carry’ which is an old reggae, Studio One kind of sound system on the back of a truck, again from Gibla 74. He’s a very talented designer from Brighton. The music designs are always popular so I’m going to keep running them until they stop selling.
Could you tell us about working with the legendary Graff artist Mau-Mau who seems to have created some of your most iconic designs?
Mau-Mau is unlike most of our other designers in that all of his designs are basically designs he has either printed on canvas or painted somewhere that I have managed to convince him to provide for t-shirt graphics, he doesn’t do this for anyone else. He’s got a massive collection of other artwork that I’d love to print at some point. Mau-Mau should be bigger than Banksy, as from an art point of view and a creativity point of view he far exceeds Banksy, he just perhaps hasn’t had the drive Banksy has but I can see Mau-Mau in a few years becoming absolutely massive.
What are THTC currently spending their hours on?
My time is taken up juggling about five or six different roles. THTC needs about five or six full time staff but really at the moment it’s just me. Apart from that it’s people passing through, interns, friends, anyone who can help. I’m spending my time trying to keep THTC afloat for as long as I possibly can and wait for us to come out of this recession. There is so much to do that it is very difficult to think long term and it’s just a lot of fire fighting at the moment. But I will be looking in the next few years to produce more for ladies and to license the brand and prints onto anything sustainable and ecological. For me, it’s more about the artwork, the t-shirt is just a vehicle to get the activist artwork across.
Gav has kindly given the people who read this interview a voucher code which will give everyone 20% off all orders at www.thtc.co.uk (apart from the Smiley Culture charity shirts)… just use UKHH when you checkout for the discount.