Branden Whitfield —founder and creative of Originate Clothing — stands by the words “do what defines you.” This is why he has worked for the past nine years to create a brand that largely supports other creatives working hard to achieve their goals. Having built a community in Denver through his brand, Whitfield continues to spread his positive message through new collections.
The brand is described as “streetwear for creatives” as Whitfield and his team are constantly inspired by artists, creatives and originators. Originate Clothing features comfortable clothing like graphic t-shirts, hoodies and even some accessories. Whitfield talked to 303 Magazine about the creation of his brand, the inspiration behind some of his pieces and what the future looks like for Originate.
303 Magazine: Tell me your story and where your interest in fashion began.
Branden Whitfield: That is a great question. Funny enough I didn’t think I would wind up pursuing a career in fashion design. It started through my love of dancing, I was inspired by the streetwear I saw during the dance competitions I attended and competed in. And also I love graphic tees, which got me interested in graphic design. From my two passions, I wound up going to school for design to become a better designer and also worked on my brand Originate Clothing throughout my schooling.
The main thing that kept me and also that helps keep me in this field is seeing that people resonate with my brand. It’s cool to see random people wearing the gear or hearing about me or the brand, purely through the work me and my team have done. My peers have influenced me a lot in my journey to building my brand I was inspired early on by a local brand called 2Kool led by Ratha Sok. And in school, my teachers not only taught me a lot they also connected me with who I needed to know to get better. It’s been a fun journey so far and I’m always learning and excited to learn more about fashion design and building a brand.
303: When did Originate Clothing begin? How long has it been up and running?
BW: I started working on Originate Clothing in 2011 but it launched as it is now in 2015. I used to breakdance more frequently and started selling shirts at the local competitions I attended and from there I built a small following.
Fast forward to 2015 I re-branded Originate Clothing for a senior class project and that’s where the panda logo came from and a lot of the branding you see now. I’ve always loved pandas since I was younger and thought it would be a great mascot to connect with people. Also, the colors stand out in a crowd and have resonated with me.
Shortly after launching in 2015, I landed my first of many store placements after Notorious Lifestyle in the Aurora Mall gave me an opportunity to sell my clothing there. After that first placement Originate Clothing was also sold at MegaFauna in RiNo, MAM Couture Boutique, & Culture Street in Northfield. We’re currently still partnered with Notorious Lifestyle & MAM Couture locally.
303: What landed you in Denver/Colorado and made you want to have your business based here?
BW: I was born in Colorado and raised in Aurora, Colorado, so I grew up here and I love the friends and community I grew up with so I always thought having a brand locally would’ve been great. It’s cool to see friends and family wear my products but it’s always great meeting new people through my brand as well. Denver is growing especially creatively and it’s been a great place to network and meet other creatives so I’m excited about the future.
303: Why do you think it was important for you to have your own business as opposed to working for someone else?
BW: I’ve always been a hard worker and I grew up hanging with a lot of entrepreneurs that were creative and made careers out of their passions. So that showed me it was possible to be your own boss you just have to work hard at what you love and think of what you do as a business. Give yourself value.
303: Why was it important for you to create a brand that brings support to those working towards achieving their dreams and goals? Why was this messaging vital for the brand?
BW: It was important to create a brand and platform for creatives working toward their dreams and goals because I feel like doing what defines you is important. That’s the tagline for my brand “Do What Defines You” I truly feel when you do that things come together in all aspects of life. So being creative myself and still working towards my goals. That message was vital and used to connect with my fellow creatives and customers. The brand gives a spotlight to those working towards their dreams and goals but also while helping their communities.
303: Can you tell me about some of the work you’ve done like past designs you have created? Take me through what you do to create an item and the creative process behind that.
BW: I would say one of my favorites pieces to work on was our Starter Jacket release from a couple of years ago. For any piece I make, I always start by getting some inspiration for my new piece or collection by looking at Pinterest or just by what I see peers wearing at events and out clubbing, etc. After finding some inspiration I’ll sketch out the design whether it’s a graphic for a t-shirt or actually drawing out how the cut and sew piece will look. Sketching is always the most fun part for me because you can be as creative as you want.
After sketching and getting my ideas together I make it digital or send the sketch to my manufacturer to start the sampling process. Samples take about 2 weeks to be made and shipped normally and that’s the part I love too cause getting something you drew or thought up made into a piece never gets old.
303: What have you found to be the biggest challenge of working in the fashion industry specifically?
BW: The biggest challenge in my opinion has been managing opportunities. Not everyone’s opportunity is good sometimes in the sense of being good for your brand or even being a good use of your time.
303: Would you say that fashion/styling influences/impacts your daily life outside of work? How so?
BW: Streetwear has been a big influence in my life since I was in high school. I have a love for graphic tees and sneakers. When it comes to my personal style I like to wear bold colors and a lot of neutrals so that translates into my brand and also my design aesthetic.
303: Has COVID-19 had any effects on your business? If so, how? What have you had to change/adjust and how have you and your business adjusted?
BW: Since COVID-19 I’ve had to deal with various challenges abroad and locally. The effects I’ve had abroad have been delays in product samples since my manufacturing takes place in China. The factory I get products made in shut down due to the country shut down that took place before Christmas. After re-opening I had some hesitancy ordering from them so soon. Locally I saw a slow down in online orders for my site and also we support a lot of local hip-hop artists and with concerts and shows being canceled everything had to come to a stop. I’ve adjusted by re-thinking how my brand supports local music and fine artists and also how I plan events with all of the limitations. We’re going to start posting interviews with artists that are active in the hip-hop community and also that have been helping with the Black Lives Matter and police reform movements. We will be sharing more content from creatives you should know about.
303: Is Originate Clothing working to use their platform to speak about what is going on with the BLM movement and the protests? If so, how?
BW: Originate Clothing will be sharing accurate information for our followers to know how to get involved with the BLM movement. Also, we will be highlighting creatives in Denver you should know about that are actively involved. We will have a tee or hat launching soon that we will use to raise money that we will donate proceeds from to help support bail or local creative groups.
303: Why do you believe it is important for you and other companies to speak out about issues like this?
BW: As a black man and creative I think it’s crucial companies not only speak out but also do things actively to help out minority groups and social issues that aren’t up for debate. I think the conversations and actions being taken now are great but are only just the start of how all of us can get involved with social change and how we can hold companies/brands accountable.
303: What do you hope for the future of Originate Clothing? And can you tell us about any upcoming projects your currently working on?
BW: I hope Originate Clothing in the future can expand on being a platform for upcoming creatives and also provide more opportunities for them as well. I want to use my brand to help the community as well, by working with schools to connect their kids with creatives in the community that are working in fields kids might find interest in.
For the immediate future, I will be launching some fundraising to get funds for our Fall release that will include jackets, hats, and more.
All photography provided by Originate Clothing