Ephin Apparel [Article]
Surrey, B.C. – Transformation is inevitable: so life moves, so it changes. Hip-Hop has, in many ways, captured the quintessence of these jagged adjustments, in the scratch, the freeze and the jilted flow of rhythmic expression. In the city of Surrey – where gangs are on the rise and drug culture is more evident than the arts – cultural innovation is not only necessary but inevitable, for hip-hop thrives in such an environment. Ryan Wiese is a major player in facilitating these movements and along with a crack team of MCs, DJs, b-boys and graf writers, he’s taking on the whole ephin city.
Ephin Apparel was born about eight and a half years ago when Ryan and his partner in crime, Capital Q, were still in high school. Their good friend Caspian, who is now the face of Ephin, was performing all over the city and needed some merch: “from there people started feeling the product so we branched off and made up our own name, which was Ephin,” explains Wiese. And what started as a couple of guys pressing shirts has turned into a veritable media outlet: Ephin’s new location near Guildford Mall is a photo studio, warehouse, board room, party venue and retail store. In the past 3 years Ephin’s team has filmed, edited and put out over 350 videos, ranging from graffiti flicks to music and event videos. With a mile-long roster of hip-hop talent, Ephin supports their artists by aggressively promoting them in the 80 stores they supply, as well as posting artists’ videos on the heavily trafficked Stompdown YouTube site, the pet project of Capital Q, “where the world watches Ephin.” Add to that the custom pieces which Ryan and his team create to keep their artists looking slick, and you’ve got a pretty good set-up: Ryan confidently claims that “pretty much anything the artists want to do can be accomplished through Ephin.”
But what is now a solid hip-hop community was fuelled by the very lack of one. Wiese recalls, “we all liked hip-hop and art; I came up from a graffiti background, which got me into a lot of trouble but also got me doing design and stuff. There was a lack of community out here, especially for hip-hop, and we felt that vibe missing.” In true hip-hop style, the Ephin crew used what little resources were around to create something new: “I think that even though Surrey is a rough area, it’s sort of played into the vibe that we’ve been putting out there,” explains Wiese. “When we brought that edge to an industry of clothing and hip-hop, all the rough aspects of Surrey gravitated towards us, in a good way, and it got a lot of those rough-edged kids to really understand that we don’t have to do all this crime that’s been going on out here for years.” This year has been the transition from 8 years of hard work and moving headquarters couldn’t have happened at a better time: “Everything’s happening right now,” says Wiese excitedly. “All our artists are finally blowing up and we needed the room to be able to organize ourselves. We’re going to be doing lots of stuff here, photo shoots, videos, skate events, big BBQs. We’re taking the opportunity during this so-called recession to really find good deals and move forward during the slow time so when it does pick back up we’re going to be on top.”
It’s easy to lose focus on the clothing when there’s so much going on, but image is everything and tees and fitteds are an important part of gangsta fresh. Wiese describes Ephin’s style guide as “a little blingin’, baggy styles, and looking at the artists we represent is definitely a good showing of where we go with the clothing.” Not into tight fits or too much gold, Ephin uses high-end fabrics and cuts to custom-clothe their artists, receiving in exchange undying brand loyalty and frequent flashes of the Ephin logo in their rap videos. Clothing can transform an image pretty quickly, and I couldn’t help but experiment with this process as I let Ryan make me over from a somewhat conservative journalist to a much more fly version of myself. Decked out in a “Link’d” men’s T-shirt and “La Polka Nostra” jacket, I started to understand the appeal of a little bling. The fabrics are indeed high-end, they felt good against my skin and sort of made me want to swagger a little.
There’s protection in branding; the symbols worn on our fronts as we face the world tell others about who we are and what’s important to us. For Ephin, those symbols are deeply ingrained in a community of innovation, be it in the breaks or the breakdowns, the bombs or the beat box. “We never came from money but we came from hard work and aggression and that’s helped the artists who are a part of us,” says Wiese, who heart is obviously in his city. “I want people to understand that Surrey is on the map and will be worldwide very soon.”
Written by Amalia Judith for HipHopCanada