Today we’d like to introduce you to Corey Populus.
Corey, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I am from Los Angeles, CA by way of Sacramento, CA. My Story begins with skateboarding. It has always been a huge part of my life. Coming up, it was all I cared about at one point. I devoted all of my time to it. Early on a lot of my friends were progressing really fast and starting to get sponsored and I thought it was the craziest thing that you could make a living off of being a skateboarder. Coming from where I come from (Leimert Park) there wasn’t many of us back then that were black and skated. I vividly remember other kids calling me and my friends “white boys” because we skated. We would catch like 2-3 buses to get out of the neighborhood and hit Venice beach to skate the park because there wasn’t one near us at the time.
Off of my skateboard, I was always into sneakers. I always felt like sneakers and clothing went hand and hand. Through online forums like NSB.org, Hypebeast and Niketalk I discovered a handful of streetwear brands. I instantly fell in love with The Hundreds and Diamond Supply Co. I would frequently message the owner of Diamond Supply Co. Nick Tershay on myspace. I would tell him how much I wanted to skate for his company one day, and just let him know how big a fan of the brand I was! He was actually really cool and always replied and connected me with the skate team manager Sean Apgar. I always resonated well with Nick because I related with his background of how he came from nothing and was a skateboarder/sneakerhead and he was making a name for himself through these things. Fast forward a couple years later I was helping my friend in San Francisco Anthony Schlander promote his 18+ clubs and through a host he had booked a couple of times(who is now a good friend) Ben Baller, I got to actually meet Nick in person. Ben asked me what my favorite clothing brand was and I told him I loved Diamond. He said no problem he would have Nick come out next week. Nick ended up coming and he actually remembered me from talking to him on myspace! We exchanged numbers and I would hit him up every time I visited LA.
As my friends excelled more at skateboarding, I didn’t as much. I kind of gave up the dream of being a pro skateboarder and became more infatuated by the idea of starting my own brand one day. I went to a semester at the local city college and I did not like it all. I convinced my mom to help me enroll in Art school for graphic design down in LA. At first, I thought it was going to be everything I had ever dreamed of! I thought I’d get to learn all the programs to make graphics for my own company one day, but it ended up being lots of book work and not really hands on with a computer at all. I’d find myself ditching class frequently and going to hang out on Fairfax. I’d go visit the Diamond offices while I was there and one day I just started picking stuff up helping and kind of never left. They would let me help out at the office everyday shipping out orders and then when those guys would get off I would go hang out down at the store. Eventually, the same thing happened there, one day I just started picking up stuff helping out customers and never left. I stayed down for two years just interning which eventually turned into a full-time job.
I got to Fairfax at a good time because it was still like a hidden gem, it wasn’t as mainstream as it is today. It was awesome seeing Nick grow his business and him letting us grow with him. We watched him build a multi-million dollar brand (which was inspiring to say the least). He let us be the faces of the store and we got to connect with everyone that would come through there on a personal level, from customers to up and coming now a-list celebrities. As cliche and corny as it sounds that saying that goes “your network is your net worth” is very true. We were able to gain major personal relationships that have helped me on my journey to this day. This was around the time that Instagram and Twitter were blowing up and we would build massive followings just from being at the store and connecting with all these people. In between working at the store I was using youtube and learning from friends on how to use programs like illustrator and photoshop to make graphics. I started my first brand(idk if I would even call it a brand it was more of a project haha) Above Average. It was a lot of trial and error and more of a learning experience because it lacked structure but it taught me a lot.
After working at Diamond for 5/6 years, there wasn’t much room for growth and I became very stagnant working at the store. I decided to put in my two weeks and just go for it and figure out what was next! Dont get me wrong working there and being on Fairfax was probably one of the best things that has ever happened to me. I would go back and do it all again ten times over. I am forever grateful for Nick Tershay for giving me a chance and letting me work there, but I always knew I wanted more and to this day he still supports me and gives me props on my brand which I appreciate (one of my dream projects would be to collaborate with Diamond). My roomate at the time was doing production (manufacturing clothes) for a brand and would teach me stuff here and there (tech packs, POs, etc.). I eventually just started to do freelance production and graphics for different people and brands while running my project on the side.
I eventually ended up working for two companies (Hawkers Co & Alpina Division) which I applied my skills that I learned throughout the years to. Working for these two companies taught me one thing I was always lacking, which was structure. I can’t sit here and tell you that I know it all and still am learning day by day but if your business has no structure then it makes things that much harder. With help from Alpina Division I was able to start my latest brand (which I can actually call a brand) Circulate. I still do a lot of freelance work, but now my main focus is running Circulate. We are stocked in 10 boutiques shops around the globe and 85 Pacsun locations across the US as well as our e-commerce site. The road has not been easy especially with me doing pretty much everything (shipping, creative, sales, production and marketing) but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love being hands on.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Things have not been easy throughout any of this at all! When I was interning at Diamond I didn’t have a solid place to live but thank god one of my good friends and his mom let me crash on their couch for 2 years. I was determined to work at Diamond so I would show up everyday and work hard regardless of what was going on in my personal life and the end was very rewarding. That motivated me and still does to this day with anything I do because not everything will always be easy but if you stay true, work hard, and get the job done by any means the end result will more than likely be good. My biggest struggle through life has always been financially. Coming from not a rich family is sometimes some what hard but it makes you appreciate things more and work harder for what you want. One of the biggest struggles of starting a brand also is capital but there are ways around everything. If you find manufactures that will give you terms and keep your overhead low you can make things work. In this business you always have to remember that just because you think something is a great idea that will sell out thats not how it always works out, I want to say you have to build a fan base that trusts your ideas first.
Please tell us about Circulate.
I came up with the name Circulate for a couple of different reasons. I like the idea of the life span of a clothing garment and how it can Circulate around from person to person. In example you could own a shirt forever and it becomes too small or you’re over it and you could pass it on to the next person and it kind of can just keeps cycling around. I also wanted each collection to have a theme or topic that would ‘Circulate’ around when you see people wearing the brand, thus sparking a feeling or conversation about the graphics. The thing that sets us apart from other new brands is we try to stray away from trends and stick to what we know. If I wouldn’t personally wear something I try not to make it because I want this brand to be as authentic as possible and a reflection of myself. I feel like when brands follow trends, they usually are in it for a quick buck and the brand doesn’t have any life or longevity. I would say the thing I’m most proud of thus far about our business is how much support we are getting in such a short time span. It’s really humbling to see people appreciate my ideas and spend their hard-earned money to keep us going. I am very thankful to be giving a platform to do what I love and people supporting it.
As far as future plans right now we are just taking it day by day. Working on some cut&sew pieces for our latest drop. I feel like nowadays you kind of have to have a couple of things that aren’t just t-shirts and hoodies in your line. Kids are becoming a little bit more advanced and want to see more. We would love to collaborate with some of the brands that inspire us and our friends. I feel like thats who and what a collaboration should be with, brands and/or people you admire. I also want to do a Los Angeles pop up at some point. We did Complexcon earlier this year and it was awesome putting a face to our customers that shop online. So I definitely want to do something special here in LA. I feel like people want more from brands not just clothes but experiences are just as important.