Jide Osifeso on Reigning Champ, Sustainability, and Becoming His Own Master
Jide Osifeso, a 32-year-old California native, had a somewhat conservative upbringing. "Growing up Nigerian, my parents were like, 'Maybe you should study business or engineering because that can lead to an actual profession that we know about—and you need to pay your bills,'" he tells us. But while majoring in Business Administration, Osifeso couldn’t repress his thirst for fashion. His obsession with art and fashion led him to enroll in night classes for design, and he cut his teeth interning at RVCA, juggling his studies at the same time.
His hard work paid off, and adidas scooped him up to design mass market sportswear. After three years of intensive market research and clothing production—with a focus on Asian markets—Osifeso moved on to become his own master, freelancing and creative directing projects for the likes of Top Dawg Entertainment (TDE). Kendrick Lamar's infamous Nike DAMN pop-up series was born under Osifeso's supervision, including the Tokyo-exclusive Undercover collaboration.
Fast forward to 2019, and Osifeso has added another job to his roster: He joined Reigning Champ, releasing his first collection with the brand in December of last year. As "Reigning Champ by Jide Osifeso" Season 1 comes to a wrap, we spoke with the Wu-Tang Clan lover about how he got there, his vision for Reigning Champ, and what motivates him to keep on juggling it all.
Can you explain the timeline of your career?
My first job was interning at RVCA in Orange County in 2007. I learned how to make proper tech packs, do CADs, write emails, general workplace things. I was there for about a year, then I met a design director at adidas who was working in Carlsbad. I was a junior designer at RVCA, and an opportunity came up for me to be a designer at adidas. I got hired there in 2009, and was doing sportswear primarily for the Asian market. I spent a lot of time in Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and China, and I learned how to make commercial clothes for the mass market. I was there for three years before freelancing and working with TDE.
Where did your obsession with clothing begin?
It definitely came from sports. Growing up, I was obsessed with football and basketball. I would see what Nike and adidas were doing at the time; Kobe Bryant came into the league when I was in the fourth, fifth grade. He was the coolest person ever. I was a big fan of Grant Hill's FILA shoes and obviously Jordan stuff, Anfernee Hardaway’s product. I was obsessed with product. I loved that you can do so much outside of the game of basketball with just the product and telling its story. I was constantly begging my parents to let me have this new jersey and this new T-shirt. That’s where my obsession was born.
Jide Osifeso with Craig Atkinson at Reigning Champ’s headquarters in Vancouver
What is your personal connection to sports?
I grew up playing basketball from the youth level, up until high school. I still play basketball as much as I can. Basketball’s just a part of my life and always will be. My brother played at UC Santa Barbara—all my brothers played. It's just what we do. The love for basketball is one of the things me and my family share with one another.
How did you receive the news on Kobe Bryant?
I was in disbelief. I was eating brunch with Pyer Moss' Kerby Jean-Raymond. We were like, “That’s not possible.” By the time we finished eating, it was confirmed. For me, growing up so close to LA—I grew up within a 40 minute drive to Staples Center—it’s just devastating for so many reasons. Kobe’s the ultimate competitor. He lived to compete. He lived to get better. He was all about not making mistakes, minimizing flaws, maximizing effort, working as hard as possible. He had a mentality that we need to teach the younger generation. I’ve seen every single step of his 20-year career, from the missteps to the championships to the misshots and the big shots. And I felt like the happiest version of Kobe Bryant was after he retired. He was doing so much in film, and the stuff he was doing with his daughter—that was his purpose in life. It wasn’t basketball, it was family. He was an amazing person, bigger than life.
Sustainability is all the talk these days. How important is sustainability to Reigning Champ?
If there’s a master of making apparel, it’s Craig Atkinson, the founder and owner of Reigning Champ. The philosophy that we share, both visually and conceptually, is minimalism; it's encouraging people to buy fewer, better things. Buy a great sweatshirt that you can wear for a very, very long time and don't have to replace. That’s been the driving factor behind what Reigning Champ has always done. We want to reduce waste. There’s a real necessity for everyone to strive towards sustainability and hopefully, eventually carbon neutrality. We don’t want the blood on our hands of being the most wasteful industry in the world. At Reigning Champ, the steps are being made in that direction—it’s extremely important, to say the least. The brand owning and operating all its own manufacturing in Vancouver allows it to reduce material waste.
At adidas, you designed consumer clothing specifically for the Asian markets. What is the main difference between the Asian consumer and the non-Asian consumer for sportswear?
Specifically with the places I spent the most time in, which is Korea and Japan, the appetite for luxury goods and nicer basics is a bit higher. I remember people really loved Gore-Tex branding and appreciated the quality, so we would make something with fabric that people could identify with as opposed to just focusing on making something cheaper.
What was the motivation for you to join Reigning Champ, and for Reigning Champ to bring you on?
Reigning Champ wanted to do something that was different but kept their brand identity. The team recognized that we had similar ideas, but mine were different enough from their main line, and could become a progressive arm within their range. In terms of what I want to do going forward, I want to dive into a take on tailored sportswear, with the intention of promoting fewer, better things. I want to create clothing that is very much transitional throughout someone's day or life, making single garments that can serve multiple purposes. You can expect a lot more risk-taking.
When you mention transitionality, I’m reminded of designers like Errolson Hugh. Do you look to any sportswear designers for inspiration?
Yohji Yamamoto for adidas came out when I was in high school. It was before it became Y-3. I thought it was so cool to take what Yohji does, which is very much not sportswear, and apply that through the adidas lens. There’s so much that I saw in the footwear and apparel side that wowed me.
Can you speak about Reigning Champ’s recent Junya Watanabe collaboration?
My collection is separate from the mainline collaborations, but how the Junya collab happens is, it’s pretty much his take on Reigning Champ. Junya will literally request clothes that’ll get sent to him, deconstruct and reconstruct them, send them back and be like, “Here’s what I want to make. Give me a sweatshirt, give me this pant, this shirt, and I’m just gonna send you back what I want.” It’s so awesome.
What are your three favorite Reigning Champ items currently from the Complex SHOP?
The Heavyweight Terry Collared Sweatshirt, Knit Heavy Jersey Longsleeve, and Stretch Nylon Cargo Pant. I wear the sweatshirt probably more than anything else I own at the moment. The graphic on the long sleeve is something I did years ago and loved, but never found a home for it. It embodies what the collection is to me. The pant has been really well-received -- we’re running a remixed iteration of this in Season 2 and likely Season 3 also.
You cite concert merch as a big inspiration for you. Do you feel that there is a lack of the music aspect at Reigning Champ?
I’m able to satisfy what I want to do with the musicians that I still work with. I still work with TDE and do a lot of the projects I was doing outside of Reigning Champ. It’s important to keep versatility and keep my mind exercising doing different things. For Reigning Champ, I like to graphically nod towards the music, concert merch, and bands that I listened to when I was a kid. It’s actually a really good balance.
Please tell us about your personal project, HYMNE Studio.
HYMNE is an uncompromised look at my design sensibility. It's literally what I like, what I want to wear. There’s no control like trying to be true to sport or tailoring or streetwear, and no price restriction. It’s the utmost freedom for me—and a look into my brain. I can pay homage to the silhouettes and styles that I grew up loving, and in a contemporary sensibility. Speaking back to responsibility and sustainability, it's a very small collection that we are rolling out in the Fall with not too many doors, so from the ground up, we have a DNA of sustainability. Going forward, I want it to be completely carbon neutral if we can get there. We are trying to use the most responsible recyclable fabrics as much as possible to tell our story. Everything is produced and constructed in LA as of now.
You were trained in fashion design in school courses and you are a technical designer as much as you are creative. There are designers like Virgil Abloh who say you don’t need to be a designer to be a designer. Do you agree?
Not only is it true, it’s not even debatable. Virgil is a designer, whether he or the next person is classically trained or not. I’m friends with Jerry Lorenzo, and he doesn't have a traditional designer background, but he has a perspective. Tons of people love what he's doing and identify with it. What's a designer now? The old way of looking at it just has to evolve.
What advice would you give to aspiring designers?
The most important thing is knowing when to move on from something, knowing when to take what you learned and go on your own. You can apprentice and learn and study and fine-tune and repeat, but at some point you have to be your own master. You have to be able to go out and execute it for yourself. If you know when it's time to bet on yourself, that's the key right there. You just have to put that on yourself at some point. You can't wait for other people to do that.
What is something that you want to accomplish in your lifetime?
I think the answer is very simple. Especially after talking about Kobe, when people look back on what I’ve done, I want them to say, “You know what? That was better. He made better stuff than what was there before. He made stuff that was responsible or that spoke to me. That was good and we learned from it.” I just want to affect people positively, whether it's creatively, personally, or professionally.
You can shop the rest of Jide Osifeso's "Weeping Eye" collection for Reigning Champ here.