Introducing UPRISERS: Streetwear with Substance, Style, and Purpose
"What you wear is what you represent.”
That bold statement is one of the guiding mantras of L.A. streetwear entity, UPRISERS. It’s not just an empty piece of marketing copy, but it’s actually the credo the brand lives by. UPRISERS was founded by Michelle K. Hanabusa, a fiercely independent and driven fourth generation Japanese-American dreamer and entrepreneur. After overcoming her own identity issues in her youth, she mustered the courage to break out of a traditional fashion career and start her own label.
At its core, UPRISERS is a dynamic vehicle for advancing social change and telling the stories of the underrepresented and disenfranchised. Instead of following a traditional seasonal collection schedule, the brand releases drops coinciding with community issues happening in society in real time. Michelle and her passionate team also take time to create thoughtful and empowering educational content to accompany each capsule. Most recently, during the pandemic, UPRISERS created the highly impactful campaign, #HATEISAVIRUS, to combat rising hate and violence against the AAPI community.
We are excited to announce that Complex SHOP is partnering with UPRISERS for an exclusive capsule drop titled: Roots. See our interview with Michelle K. Hanabusa about this new project, and the ongoing mission of the UPRISERS movement.
When did you first start the brand UPRISERS, and what’s the meaning behind the brand’s name?
The brand “WEAREUPRISERS” aka “UPRISERS” was established in 2019 to tell stories of the underrepresented. UPRISERS are those who rise up together, unite and do good sh*t in their communities. They stand behind a purpose. We’re for the community, by the community. I used to work in the fashion and music space as a designer. It was a stable, cushy job that looked great on paper, but after four years of hustling and trying to climb the corporate ladder, I told myself I had enough. I wanted to discover ways to shift the mainstream paradigm. I wanted to ultimately answer the question: “How can our community voice the need for change and what they want to see and witness brands respond to those needs?”
What was your experience in fashion before launching the brand?
I always had an interest in fashion and design as well as creating things from scratch. (Fun fact: Japanese names have meanings/symbolism, and my Japanese middle name “Kaori” translates to “fabric” and “fragrance.”) My first job after college was with a global fashion company. As a young digital designer, they took a chance on me. I remember my boss telling me, “They typically don’t hire straight out of college for this position.” Although my day to day was in graphic design, I was quickly exposed to many aspects of the industry and had the opportunity to explore, witness, and learn under the creative director. I was getting pulled into meetings and conversations that exposed me to all areas of the industry.
How do you choose the social campaigns you decide to champion and does each of these campaigns have an accompanying collection?
Speaking 100% of my truth has actually made it easier to determine what social campaigns feel right and authentic to the core values of UPRISERS. I’ve been told many times that my business wouldn’t work. It’s either too political, too radical (hence the middle figure design), too niche, etc. My entire career was built on the notion of listening to the direction others projected on me. I wanted to go against that with UPRISERS.
Talk to us about this specific ROOTS capsule dropping exclusively at Complex SHOP. What was the main inspiration behind it?
Roots is UPRISERS’s continued mission to amplify the underrepresented. It’s where you can find stories about people, movements and culture that unites and brings us together. My vision for Roots is an on-going series throughout this year that inspires reflection to dig a little deeper into our personal identity, heritage and family history. These stories that unravel through generational narratives shape us into who we are today and provide the blueprint to discovering our own identities. With everything going on in this world, I’ve become more and more passionate about sharing our deep-rooted stories. We’ve already started to share stories our communities have started to share with us.
How does your own heritage and ancestry play a part in the overall storytelling and identity for UPRISERS?
I am a fourth generation Japanese American. My dad is 3rd generation and my mother was born and raised in Japan. Growing up, my mom shared as much as she could about my heritage and my dad (naturally passionate about learning the history of our roots) consistently shared our roots ever since I can remember. Although I didn’t embrace this growing up, I am actively trying to relearn and revisit the traditions my family has instilled in me. You will find a lot of these stories and traditions hidden in the design details in UPRISERS.
Violence and discrimination towards the AAPI community is at an all-time high. How are you fighting that with #HateIsAVirus?
Hate Is A Virus is a nonprofit community of mobilizers and amplifiers to dismantle racism and hate. As we collectively heal from recent tragic events: the racially charged shooting in Atlanta and the ongoing hatred targeting the AAPI community, we appreciate your generosity and the financial impact you’ve made towards creating positive change. We have been able to provide grants directly to organizations including @advancing_justice_atl, @napawf, @emcollectve, and @rakshainc. These local and national organizations provide essential resources and services to our AAPI community, including support to families affected in Atlanta, AAPI legal advocacy efforts, initiatives to build power among AAPI women and girls, programs to equip and protect elderly, and strengthening the South Asian community.
This is just the beginning. We are still actively fundraising towards our $1,000,000 goal for the commUNITY Action Fund which is our effort to come together and raise funds for boots-on-the-ground community organizations that have already been combating racism and serving the needs of our community, including mental health services, improving safety and care for our elderly, and building solidarity among BIPOC communities.
What’s coming up for the brand—for the next few months and your long term vision?
There are some really exciting partnerships and collaborations we’re looking forward to in the near future! You’ll find us at Complexland and Complexcon later this year so please stop by. We’d love to meet you and hear from you. 5 to10 years from now, the foundation of UPRISERS will stay focused on telling underrepresented stories and fighting for change. We want to expand to cut-n-sew, and utilize more sustainable and eco-friendly practices. We also want to support local small businesses and BIPOC communities. I’d also want to own a retail shop (in the heart of Little Tokyo if I could!). Since day one, I’ve also envisioned UPRISERS to be more than just a clothing brand. So being able to put together experiences and events that will bring like-minded people together through good music, food and fashion underscored with a sense of purpose will be a dream of mine to execute on a bigger scale.
SHOP the full UPRISERS Roots Capsule here.