Founded in 2007 by Mill Valley’s own, Sam Kraus and Jeffrey Herbestein, Chromaculture Apparel is a breath of fresh air in the fashion industry. The self-proclaimed “outdoorsy” duo, use the plethora of natural activities available in Marin as inspiration for their designs. Printing their shirts in their new Novato based printing lab, Sam and Jeff use a chromatic compilation of colors and cultures in their designs. Recently Chromaculture has been working with LA Fun-Raising, designing and printing shirts for the tsunami relief efforts in Japan. Their t-shirts were key components in ‘The Flash Mob to Benefit Japan’, held on June 19th in LA, which raised over $2,000 for the Japanese Red Cross. Jeff and Sam hope that their efforts for Japan will be the beginning of more initiatives by Chromaculture for impoverished countries that have been ravished by natural disasters. Going forward, the ambitious duo will continue on their quest to success; using their passion and free spirits to establish their own unique brand. Check out our interview with Sam and Jeff below, and learn more about what Chromaculture Apparel is, and where this burgeoning company is headed.
How long have you guys been working together?
Jeff: Since 07, in this business.
What initially inspired you guys to create Chromaculture Apparel?
Sam: I started screen-printing freshman year in my dorm room in Santa Cruz. It (screen printing) kind of became a hobby that took over my schooling. Sophomore year at UCSC, in my garage on the Eastside of Santa Cruz, Jeff would come over and help me print small jobs for clubs and things. Junior year we moved into a house over on the Westside of Santa Cruz, and we filled our two-car garage with equipment to print shirts.
Jeff: it was a Tetris puzzle, the whole place. To expose a shirt we had to move the dryer out of the way, and then jump past the surfboards. Thankfully we have moved into this new place (a two story warehouse in Novato) and we now have enough space to stretch out and do what we need to do.
Sam: I needed an artistic outlet, and I wasn’t finding it at Santa Cruz. My friend, Alex Hought, came down to Santa Cruz one day and I had a little screen-printing kit, and he said what do you want to do today, and I said, “Hey let’s try this thing out.” All of the inks in the kit were from like the 50’s and completely dry. So we went down to an art shop in Santa Cruz, I don’t remember the name of the shop, and we got some supplies and printed our first shirt, “Life is a garden” on the front of the shirt, and “Dig it” on the back.
Jeff: In terms of me, he (Sam) definitely started it. Being best friends and both being interested in art, one thing kind of led to the next, and it became a collaborative company.
How did you guys come up with the name for your clothing line?
Jeff: What were we drinking?
Sam: I don’t remember (laughter).
Jeff: I remember lying on the floor, staring at the ceiling.
Sam: There was a fire.
Jeff: (Laughter) There was a fire. We were brainstorming name ideas, there was a whole piece of paper filled with potential names. Chromaculture was the one name that kind of stuck. We felt that Chromaculture reflected all of the different cool colors, cultures, and experiences in the world, and fit with the theme of our designs, “getting out there and living life.” A lot of people are pretty confused by the name, but I think it (Chromaculture) will be self-explanatory once our company takes off.
Do you guys have a process you go through when creating designs for your shirts?
Jeff: It really depends. Our shirts kind of come from every different direction, like our name, we just try to incorporate activities we like with different mediums of art that we like. Some of our designs are photo based, some are ink drawn, some of them are painted; it’s all just a chromatic compilation of colors and cultures.
Sam: It’s also kind of part of the identity crisis we currently find ourselves in. It’s something that needs to be defined, but so far that (what Jeff stated above) is what has happened, “hey this is a cool design, let’s go with it.”
What is/are your sources of inspiration?
Jeff: Our lifestyles. I bike all of the time, so my designs are definitely geared towards the biking culture. We are both outdoorsy people, so we are inspired by an active lifestyle.
Sam: Recently, as designs have been developing in my mind, I’ve been trying to incorporate more photo-based art with my active lifestyle inspirations.
Growing up in Marin, how do you feel Marin has affected/shaped your fashion and entrepreneurial style?
Sam: I have been biking since I was four, it has been a major part of my life for as long as I can remember, Marin has the mountains and the oceans, and surfing was a big part of my life as well. The general attitude of Marin, that you can really do anything, has helped nurture both my fashion and entrepreneurial style. It’s a good place to grow up, because you have so many people, who have so many different backgrounds and experiences, all in one place. Specifically the amount of outdoor enthusiasts is amazing.
Jeff: The scope of available outdoor activities is incredible; you can surf, mountain bike, and hike all in the same day. It’s compact, it’s a great place to grow up, and I wouldn’t want to grow up anywhere else.
How do you feel your shirts have been received?
Jeff: I think that when our name and imagery has clicked with people, they’ve loved our stuff.
Sam: I think it has been hard to separate our two different brands. We have a screen-printing company, which we do for private label apparel printing for other people, and then our brand, Chromaculture, that we are trying to start. The passion side has not completely flushed it self out yet.
Jeff: But, as we have been learning, it has recently started to flourish.
Sam: I guess the inspiration we get from blogs and internet research, or even printing jobs for other people, provides us a running education of what we want to do differently, or what we believe could have been done better.
What has been the most daunting aspect of running your own company?
Sam: Getting our name out there. Fashion is a hard industry to get into because it is forever changing, which can leave you feeling overwhelmed at times. But, if you have something to stick to, an idea that you want to follow, I think that helps the cause.
Jeff: I think that creating a cohesive brand has been difficult. We have so many different sources of inspiration, and art styles, getting everything to come together under the Chromaculture brand header, instead of just under the cool art header, has been daunting.
Sam: Yeah, getting our brand to the point that people recognize our work as that of Chromaculture has been quite difficult.
Have you worked with anyone in Marin?
Sam: We have worked with Tamalpais High School a few times, we are doing all of their spirit wear for the 2012 packets; we also did shirts for their athletic teams. We have also done jobs for local e-commerce startups, and we are trying to work with Marin Bikes.
Jeff: We have worked with a lot of small scuba clubs and bike co-ops, and we are now just really starting to get bigger return clients. It’s all still in the works, but the ball is making its way up hill with a little more momentum.
What is ‘Rise for Japan’?
Jeff: We are trying to make a difference by using our tools. We feel that by making art, and getting people thinking about the tragedy, and spreading hope through help is the best way for us to make a difference. We figured that we could donate some money to the Red Cross, or we could make art and have that give money to the Red Cross.
Sam: This is just kind of the start of something bigger. Hopefully we can begin helping more and more impoverished countries that have been ravished by natural disasters. We are trying to build a new way to give back. The Rise shirts are available on our website.
What’s the next step for Chromaculture Apparel?
Jeff: Separating the two companies; having our art, and that whole passion, drive our brand more, while we automate our silk screening business. The Chromaculture Laboratory will be the screen-printing headquarters for all of printing, but a lot of our printing is going to be our own designed garments.
Anything else you guys would like to say to the people of Marin looking for that new fresh line of clothing?
Jeff: Stay aware, friend us on Facebook, and see what’s happening in our world.
Sam: It’s updated with inspiration from us so far, but hopefully we will have some bigger things posted once our website is fully updated. So stay posted.