Meet Brain Dead: A Brand Doing Counter-Culture Right
Based in Los Angeles, Brain Dead invites artists and designers around the world to contribute to its line of graphic-led apparel. Styles nod to post-punk, underground comics, skateboarding, and “the spirit of subculture as a whole.”
But while many brands claim to represent counter-culture, Brain Dead founders Kyle Ng and Ed Davis are actually walking the walk.
Keeping It Real
Before starting their brand in 2014, Ng and Davis hit it off thanks to their collective love for music, art, comics, and skate culture. That passion has allowed them to grow the brand for the past six years across two continents (Ng and Davis are based in Los Angeles and Melbourne, Australia, respectively).
Perhaps what’s made it so seamless is that the duo are both immersed in the culture they represent. They grew up in the DIY movement of scouring dusty secondhand shops for hardcore records and hard-to-find comics. “Counter culture seems almost as mainstream as Taylor Swift,” Ng said in a 2016 interview. “We find inspiration from places that people won’t expect, but it’s natural to us.”
Those unexpected places span old comics to LP covers, graffiti, vintage concert tees, graphic internet finds, and real-life people wearing it all.
Brain Dead’s immersive, authentic, culture extends to real-time issues, and the brand was quick to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement on a local and global level. In the days after the first Los Angeles protests, Ng hit the streets to help clean up, particularly around the city’s streetwear retailers. But above all else, he told Complex’s Mike Destefeano, he wanted to use his platform to amplify the message behind the protests.
He reached out to Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes to design and produce a T-shirt that read “If you love Black culture, protect Black lives,” raising $500,000 in just a few days for M4BL and the LGBTQ Foundation Fund. Other projects followed raising nearly an additional $300,000.
Plus, Brain Dead’s nimble structure allows Ng to quickly respond to criticism, like when fans questioned a local manufacturer donating T-shirts. “I think the main thing, for me, is to show humanity. Look, we're not perfect,” he said. “I'm not going to just say that like every other fucking brand statement, but I want to act on it.”
That down-to-earth mindset is what makes the brand so relatable. Ng and Davis are able to cultivate passion projects that benefit the community on a large and small scale by partnering with brands like Reebok and The North Face. Up next is a climbing shoe to benefit underprivileged children.
“With every project we're doing, it’s, ‘How can I incorporate ways to help out and give back and build upon what's happening?’” Ng added. “The people have now empowered us. We don't need collaborations to make money a lot of times, so let's just benefit people who do need money and support.”