Alternate culture is at the centre of Pleasures. Combining a lifelong relationship with music, alongside a zeal for challenging norms, the brand stands out as a unique and forward-thinking brand. Co-founder and designer Alex James maintains an unyielding ideology that cannot be challenged, and with that is working towards building a loud and controversial powerhouse.
We’ve spoken a few times before, but I’ve never asked where you are from? I'm originally from New Jersey, but I spent a lot of time living in Brooklyn, and just running the streets of New York. I guess my fondest memories were going to places like CBGBs when I was twelve, and getting inspired by punk rock music at an early age. I was always lying to my mother and taking the train to New York to hang out.
How did you get into that world so young? Did you have friends who guided you? Yeah, I had a few in New Jersey, but I had also made friends that were already in the city and were hanging in these circles.
How was the New York music scene back when you were a kid? It was cool. It was very cool. There were a lot of really, really dope venues that I wish were still around today like Tramps and Wetlands. They were these dope kind of DIY places, but I guess ABC No Rio is the only one that's still functioning, however I haven't been in New York in two years, so can’t confirm. That was my childhood though, I grew up always interested in music and fashion.
With your love of music, did you ever make it yourself? No, well I mean there was a long period of time where I was deejaying. I've probably deejayed in maybe twenty countries.
Oh wow really? Yeah, mostly outside the United States, obviously. I learned from my friends who spun records and stuff, pre-Serato. However when Serato hit, I learned to use that as well. You’ll probably notice, my main inspiration in life is music, and it sits behind everything that I do.
Was deejaying how you made a living at that time? No, I always had odd jobs, from pizza delivery to working at Staples. I even worked at a PR company when I was in high school and I actually learned a lot.
Like what? I learnt the business side of creativity. I guess it helped develop my business savvy at a young age. Within the music side of my life, I had a lot of friends that were doing screen-printing and stuff like that within the hardcore and punk scene. I noticed that culture segued into sports, with the scene up in Boston always making their own shirts against New York sports teams. This unique exchange added a cool edge. Bands like American Nightmare and Bane were printing their own band shirts but also printing like, "Yankees Suck" shirts at the same time.
So it was kind of this funny thing, and I was like, "Damn, well it’s OK to like sports, clothes, be into music and fashion." I think if you're only into just a single thing, you’re kind of just a one dimensional type of person. I wanted to be involved in it all.
Feels like you figured your interests quite young, did you find school worth your time? Not really. Usually I would cut seventh and eighth period, and go hang out or go to work. Eventually I graduated high school, and went to community college, but I was definitely like, "Fucking college sucks."
Why did you go? Just appeasing my parents. College isn't really for me. They were like, "What do you want to do?" And I was like, "Oh, I want to move to LA." I was always obsessed with Los Angeles. My brother moved to LA from New Jersey in the mid-90s and he'd always be like, "Yo, it's fucking sick out here.” Growing up, California was always like this distant dream. When I came out to Los Angeles for the first time in 2001 for a visit, I realised I needed to be there, and I finally did in 2005.
What did you live when you moved there? Did you have a job or plans? My brother lined me up with a job. I was just doing simple IT work for a mortgage company. Straight up just mindless work. Changing people's appraisals, there was a lot of shady stuff, however I just saw it as a paycheque. I was more interested in meeting people from the streetwear world, and I did meet a lot of people.
Was it just from going out? Yeah, and a lot of these people ended up becoming my friends. I would see brand figureheads like Nick Diamond, the guys from Crooks. These are just normal dudes like me. I was just engulfed in that Los Angeles party scene, Cinespace, LAX, all those early like party days.
So when was the move from being stable and having a full time job going to starting to create your own projects? It took a lot of years. I moved back to New York in 2007, because my dad's health was failing, and I went to take care of him. At the same time I was just trying to figure out what to do. As luck would have it, my good friend Michael Huynh hit me up and said, "Yo, I have a shoe project I think you'd be interested in. Will you help me design some of it? I know you're not a designer, but I know you have good ideas." He was one of the friends that I had made when I was living out in California. I obviously said I would love to be a part of it. In 2008, we launched a brand called Thorocraft. I was still living on the East Coast and Mike was out on the West Coast. Right off the bat, it gained popularity, and we were selling at Lane Crawford and Barney's. Drake was wearing it before he was super huge.That was kind of my first segue into the industry.
Shoes must be a hard first move into the fashion world. It was so hard as it wasn’t something we could personally make. We were producing them in Vietnam, and it wasn’t until we went to Vietnam to check the factory, the process made sense and felt a bit more in control. We basically took the whole concept of a woven huarache and made it a more formal shoe. It was cool. It was my first time doing this and I was like, "Oh shit, this is tight." We eventually sold and licensed it out to an Italian company.
Did you immediately start working on a new brand? No, I had been selling vintage goods on eBay for a long time, so I started a consulting business selling ideas for vintage and selling vintage in flea markets. It was called Son's Vintage and before I knew it, brands like Ralph Lauren and Levis started to come from me for ideas. My old business partner then started a brand called Publish, and asked me to get involved. I agreed, so was doing my vintage stuff, as well as Publish. I think I came up with the jogger pant concept around the same time.
[laughs] Yes! I remember the jogger pants, every man was wearing it! Ya but I mean, let's be real. Other countries have had that pant for a long time. I feel like in Australia they've been wearing those pants for years. Same as in the UK, but in the States it wasn't so popular. So the jogger pants were launched. It suddenly became this whole movement and the brand exploded along with that style. I think it was because you could show off your shoes, but again, it was sweatpants at the end of the day.
I feel like they came out around the time of a massive renaissance in mens fashion. Yeah exactly. Dudes care, and as far as bottoms go, there hasn't really been that many options, so I think this was a really cool alternative at the time for that. Eventually I made my way back to California at the start of 2014. Working for Publish at the time, I got to travel the world and really see the brand in a global presence. But like anything in fashion, once one thing gets popular, it just gets cannibalised by everybody else. That was about the time I started becoming friends with Vlad, my current business partner. Instead of partying we decided to do something more meaningful.
Always a good plan. Yeah, definitely a good plan, because the LA lifestyle, easy to get caught up in, right?
Easy. VERY easy! It’s easy to do nothing, so we wanted to do something! We started Pleasures with this RIP Morrissey shirt and some other just random music related products that I probably can't talk about anymore. It was a success and within two weeks it sold out. So we're like, "All right, cool. Let's open an online store and let's get the gears moving."
Pleasures has now become a successful clothing brand, with a very strong viewpoint. How do you find your inspiration? We try to pinpoint themes, and start there. Obviously the theme gets diluted, but I guess our main thing here is we only make what we would physically want to wear ourselves. That's a good philosophy. We're not going to make something corny if we all don't believe in it. That's kind of our mantra.
Is that why you think you are so successful? Yes, I believe it is because we have our shit together and are easy to work with. There's a new clothing brand every day, but are you able to get the customer the product, make the product, ship it on time and do all these things? Anybody can put a cool idea on a t-shirt, but how you present it to the world is another story.
Last year you started a cut and sew division to your business, are you excited to move beyond tees? Shirts will always be our bread and butter, but it’s doing really well on an international scale. Obviously there's a couple misses here and there, but overall the people have responded positively. We're just trying to keep the price affordable. I am concerned about creating good design, good ideas, at a reasonable price point that people can actually relate to, instead of seeing something on the Internet that it's just thousands of dollars and you can't afford.
Is there something you want to do that you haven't done yet? It's a tough question. For instance, we made our first puffer jacket, but we also made it reversible. So one side is a crazy print and the other side's very plain. And that took a lot of trial and error to figure out, but we sold it and it was all good. So I think that just making styles that we all wear and we know, but in our way.
Because of your obvious passion for music, would you ever start a record label? Yeah, I think that's probably going to be on the horizon. Maybe AnR. I knew artists like Cuco would blow up, a long time before they did.
I’m also surprised you never wanted to work at a record label or in the music industry? Yeah. I mean, just deejayed. I've opened up for some pretty major acts, but in the future, but I think maybe having a label or working for a progressive one would be fun.
So what are you working on right now? A lot! We've got to give the people what we want. Honestly we all know that this industry is so volatile and it's like, I didn't really anticipate Pleasures lasting longer than a year. And now we're still here and working on a lot of projects and putting people on to new music, art, culture, and ideas.
Anyone or brand you’d dream about working with? Would love to work with Apple or Mercedes Benz. Two brands I use on the daily. [laughs]
I am sure many people want to collaborate with Pleasures, how do you decide who to work with? We're at a point now where people are courting us, which is cool but we want to stay true to ourselves. The internet can see a cash grab a mile away.
Do you think it possible to over collaborate with brands? Yeah, I mean, there's definitely times where it's just like, wow, we need to slow down. But at the same time, it's like instead of making just regular products, let's just always make it special. Why make something regular when you can make something extraordinary?
Exactly. With so much going on, do you ever relax? Def! I got a house in Palm Springs. Me and my wife go on the weekends and just veg out. I like to sweat it out at the gym, go to shows, and hang with my son. Watch crime shows.
I feel you on that, I love a dodgy crime show. Dodgy is the right word. I remember watching one on the Las Vegas shooting at that festival, and it basically said that the police were behind it.
Madness! I was suspect at first, but by the end of it, I was a believer. I thought, "Oh my God, this is real!" Those type of shows feel like people are making whatever low-fi documentaries at home and uploading them to Amazon Prime themselves.It’s great! [laughs]