DIANE ABAPO: Hi Mateo. Thanks for meeting with me outside of The Last Bookstore on Monday. You were the first person I met with during my week off from my 8 to 5 job in Orange County. You yourself used to live outside of L.A. for a few years, Ontario to be exact. Can you delve into how you started your brand, Do You Not Them (DYNT) and how the storefront pop-up shop/loft you operated out of there in the IE came about?
MATEO BERRY: Yes, I moved out to the Inland Empire halfway through my senior year of high school from Carson. That wasn’t the best move for my social life – I went to four different high schools. I was already heavy into the street/fashion culture derived from skating and the rise of fashion inspiration around it. I used to always design tee’s & design my own colors of my favorite Nikes & Jordans since I was 13. It was only within due time that I started doing a brand, or at least working with one.
The story behind the birth of the brand is a long one but I will keep it short & sweet: DYNT is the rebrand of a previous brand. The original brand first started as somewhat of a hobby; I say this because the level of seriousness wasn’t exactly there. There were a ton of people in it – at least 10 – way too many cooks in one kitchen, in my opinion. I actually started off at the bottom, not as an owner but a friend who they wanted to come in and help film videos. When you have that many people calling themselves “Owners” you are bound to have problems. A split happened after a meeting I chose not to attend; I chose to stay neutral and not take a side within the situation. A couple of months down the line, I met Weezy who is now Co-Owner of DYNT. He didn’t like me when he first met me, but we noticed our business minds were up to par. We eventually started making things happen as others were dropping out or dismissed from the brand for not carrying weight. We eventually started a new brand that you could call a rebrand of the original, which was DYNT International. It was our original idea that we wanted – to make the brand an internationally-cultured one – but we weren’t going to label it that until that was the case.
What started as just DYNT California changed quickly to DYNT INTL as our orders started increasing and recognition was given. We started the brand with no investments; we used to meet at random places like my mom’s crib, Weezy’s garage, etc. We eventually leased a storefront loft in Ontario. It was 1,100 sq. ft. and two stories. We turned the bottom floor into a store/showroom and the top floor into a living space. It was in the cut, but we threw some crazy events which helped us build buzz. We eventually started investing in our own production equipment which started first as a table-top screenprinter to a full warehouse that we acquired after closing down the loft. Although we don’t have the storefront anymore, we now have a production warehouse, a loft in Downtown L.A., and a shared showroom at Next Chapter. This is very rewarding for us because we built this from our own pockets and hard work…
You mentioned that your first assignment while shooting freelance photography work for the blog “Behind the Brand” was meeting with Michael “Mega” Yabut, the owners of Black Scale. How did that initial meeting, and Mega deciding to head back to Ontario with you after that shoot expand into your current position as Store Manager at the La Brea Blvd. location?
MATEO: I first met Mega briefly in the Black Scale store about three years ago. He came into the store while I was talking to Berto (one of his employees at the time). The next week, I was hired to shoot a segment called “Behind the Brand” for this blog. The first brand was Black Scale, so when Mega pulled up he mildly remembered me. When we finished filming the segment he said he was down to come to my crib to help cut it down. At the time, I was sure he wasn’t going to drive all the way out to Ontario, but sure enough he did. When he stepped into our spot he asked me what it was once he saw all the clothes and stuff. I told him I designed clothes and have a brand but chose not to speak on it too much, since I assumed he had tons of kids insisting on a collar or for a shoutout. Once we told him our story more in-depth, he became impressed that we did it all ourselves.
After the “Behind the Brand” project, Mega started calling me every once in awhile to shoot visuals for Black Scale. The first shoot he called me for was a collaboration with BGRT, Terror Hardcore, and a couple other jobs. The biggest visual we worked together on was the ODB-inspired photo with ASAP Rocky for a collab, and Rocky’s Solo tour flyer and poster. When I chose to make the move back to L.A I had mentioned to Mega and Mars about a job at the store. I actually got turned down at first, but Mega kept telling me it was all about timing. I eventually ran into him one night out in Hollywood and after we hung out, he called me the next day to have me meet at his office. He told me he was going to bring me in part-time to learn the operations and within a couple of months, I ended up taking over the store full-time.
Many of the Fall/Winter 2014 pieces (set to debut in November) contain iterations of the number “4”. Can you expand on the meaning behind that and the heavy references on International countries in your pieces?
MATEO: Where we are from, IV means family. “D” is the 4th letter of the alphabet & there’s 4 letters in DYNT. The heavy international references are derived from people and places that we have come in contact or connected with. We not only are building a brand, we are forming a culture which we want to be recognized with worldwide.
What I left with following our initial meeting on Monday is your quiet focus and your ability to stay calm under situations where others would use his or her connections as leverage for certain promotional perks. What has been your main philosophy?
MATEO: I will always be a strong believer that it takes good energy & hard work to make it where you want to be. In my life, this theory has alway deemed itself to be true. I could be in the worst situations at times, but I always try to stay calm because 9 times out of 10, it has always worked itself out. There may be that one time I had to take an L on something but for the most part I just continue to live my life – shit happens. As far as using my connections, I believe everything has to be genuine. That starts from relationships all the way down to promo. I will never give out free clothes or work to someone because of his or her following or what celebrity status they have unless I genuinely believe in what he or she is doing (or I have a real relationship with the person)…That’s not how we do things. I have worked alongside a lot of celebrities and I always treat them like regular people; I feel they respect that even more. You will never see me kiss someone’s ass to get them to wear a piece or work with me. When I ran into Rocky (ASAP) at the Rose Bowl, I walked up to him and told him, “Look, I know who you are and I fuck with what you are doing.” It was something as simple as that and once the conversation persisted, we eventually spoke about visuals. We exchanged contacts, he wanted to work that night, and when I texted him about linking I didn’t get a reply & that was it. (I wasn’t about to blow up his phone.) Ironically, the next week Mega called me to shoot a project we had an idea about and the model was Rocky.
When Rocky saw me, he asked me what happened to us linking up. I told him I texted him with no reply, to which he laughed, pulled out his phone and handed it to me. It had something like 800 unread text messages. He laughed and said, “Call me next time”. The project we shot ended up being one of his biggest photos. It was genuine, not forced and after that project we still kept in contact, shot a couple concerts, etc. It’s crazy how energy brought that together and connected the dots…It has always been that way for me.
Where do you go to find inspiration?
MATEO: I find inspiration in life as a whole. There are plenty of different ways I gain inspiration. There are some amazing people in the world – they inspire me. My peers keep me driven. This is a DIY generation that has become fearless. I live Downtown so sometimes I’ll just hop on my BMX bike and cruise the city. Inspiration is everywhere – You just have to have an eye for it, know what you are looking for and where you want to go with it.
What scares you?
MATEO: Nothing really scares me, it’s kind of weird but if I had to say one thing, I’d say Failure. I’m scared to fail, but on the other side of things I know that sometimes you have to fail to know how to succeed. I dropped out of college to do what I have a passion for and it has been working for me. This is all I have for the moment, so failure is not an option.
What is one misconception people have about you?
MATEO: That I’m an arrogant asshole… I can be an asshole, but not out the gates. You would have to give me a reason to be an asshole to you or trigger it. It’s been a persona that has been misconceived for years now, and I’m not sure where it came from. I like it though because on the other side of things, I’m not the dude you want on your bad side.
What has been the biggest challenge as an entrepreneur and managing your own brand?
MATEO: My biggest challenge right now is managing time. I do a lot and as we grow and clientele numbers become larger it becomes harder for me to manage time and ration it all to the right places but I am definitely getting better at it. Also being that I do a lot, I have been trying to hone in on the ones I want to do the most. I don’t want to become a “Jack of All, Master of None.”
What’s in store next for Do You Not Them?
MATEO: We are closing out this year with our AW14 Season – we had some catching up to do. To end this year and open up next year we will be doing a “Pop-Up Shop Tour”. Each Pop Up will have certain product made exclusively and unique to each location. You will see our transition out of solely a “Streetwear” Market (I hate that term, a lot.) We are slowly evolving and growing, we started opening select door accounts to close out the year as well so you will start seeing a few retailers across the world carrying pieces. That’s all I can give you for now….
Interview and photography by Diane Abapo
Follow Diane on Instagram at @dianeabapo