Russell Simmons, a business leader in the fields of music, fashion, and media, as well as a longtime social activist, recently added eyewear to his list of licensed brands. Argyleculture Eyewear from The McGee Group seeks to involve those born into hip-hop to lead professional, responsible lives with eyewear that complements their lifestyle. Here, Beth Schlau speaks to Simmons about the gap in the fashion and accessory market for the “urban graduate” that he’s seeking to fill with the Argyleculture brand.
BETH SCHLAU: Argyleculture is geared to the urban professional. How does this reflect in the brand’s products, particularly the eyewear?
RUSSELL SIMMONS: I think all accessories are things that you should have a fashion sense about. Lots of people in the past have viewed their glasses as just some tool, but they have become a fashion accessory and people are conscious of that. When I’m branding and designing and thinking about Argyleculture’s potential, I always think that I want to service all facets, whether it’s the bags, the shoes, or the eyewear. And glasses are a thing that I wear and I feel strongly that they have to reflect my personality.
When I made my records years ago, 80% of the people who bought hip-hop records were not people of color. The style that evolved from this whole cultural phenomenon was one that created a space that still seems to be underserved when it comes to fashion and accessories. We want to bring more design input into the mix from and for the group who grew up with the hip-hop movement and is now ready for something else. So we design for this urban graduate to reflect this creative cultural space that’s underserved.
BS: When you say “urban graduate,” is that a term you coined?
RS: I guess. It’s the idea of the people who grew up on hip-hop and on this new America and now they’re adults. But after they grow out of Rocawear, Sean John, Phat Farm, EJ, and G-Unit, among the many hot brands, and they become adults, do they wear Ralph Lauren? Ralph doesn’t really represent them and they need something that speaks their language.
BS: Why did you choose the name Argyleculture?
RS: My first campaign for Phat Farm almost 20 years ago was an argyle sweater. It was a statement that kind of spoke the language of that generation where so many people were overlooked in terms of their needs. And the fashion collection of Argyleculture speaks right to the heart of these people.
BS: How does hip-hop reflect on the eyewear brand?
RS: The reason our glasses sell so well and speak to so many people is because they fill a hole in the market. They’re not as traditional—they’re classic with a little edge. We twist out the traditional ideas and make them new and make them our own. And that’s what the whole Argyleculture brand reflects.
BS: What is the importance of eyewear as a fashion statement?
RS: All accessories—bags, belts, shoes—kind of really reflect you and your character. People see it and they kind of relate to it and they know it’s a signal to the next person that you speak their language or that you speak a certain language.
BS: How involved are you in the design of the eyewear collection?
RS: When the designs get to me, sometimes I have changes and ideas that, you know, they might not have thought of or ways to reshape what they’re already done and so I’m very involved. Argyleculture is a classic American idea with a twist. That’s the brand equity and that’s what we’re building on.
BS: I know your social activism is a big part of who you are and how it extends into your business. How did this evolve for you?
RS: It’s a part of your life. You can’t survive without having some politics. If you’re connected to people, every day there’s some new discussion that you could be part of and have your voice heard. I don’t think I could sleep if I didn’t do the activism work that I do or run the philanthropic or social or political initiative that I’m part of. It’s what I breathe.
BS: What do you see on the road ahead for Argyleculture?
RS: I’m pretty excited about what’s on the horizon for Argyleculture. I feel like it’s growing and evolving and filling a big hole in the market. I hope that it opens doors and more designers of color or more designers of culture, of new American culture, are included. Because I think right now fashion is bland; it needs culture, color, a real post-racial kind of viewpoint injected into it, and inspiration from this country’s ethnic communities. What urban graduates do culturally matters also to what happens socially, so I think it’s important to open this door.