Drift & Essex-Adding Their Twist to The NYC Lifestyle Scene
I spotted them a block away from me, one had a long beard, the other had a small frame and a denim shirt. The one with the beard definitely didn't look like your average looking Latino. I mean, his beard gave my hair competition.
We introduced ourselves to each other and walked down the block into what felt like a 1970's Puerto Rican political meeting house. Everything in there was frozen in time, from the pictures of the first baseball team to the vintage Dominoes set on the table, it was a special place. We then walked over to one of my favorite East Harlem eateries, La Fonda Boricua. This was the place that I chose to get to know CJ (Drift) and Eli (Essex), the faces behind the Sazon hat that some of you may have seen around and the designers for Homesick NY.
We sat down and ordered empanadas de bacalao (codfish) and jugo de chinola (passion fruit juice). I jumped right into our interview and asked them my first question. They hadn't even taken a bite off of their empanada and CJ responds "Un momento mami slow up your tempo". I started laughing and told myself this is going to be good. Read my Q&A with these cool, good hearted, and conscious brothas.
How did you start HomeSick NY?
CJ: My mother works on 26th St. bet 5th and 6th ave and I believe that's Madison Park by there, its across from the 40/40. Funny enough I was eating at a gentrified taco place called Calexo. It’s like a white boy taco stand, bangin’ though. I sit down and I have a older gentleman next to me and he begins talking to me. He asks me ”where are you from son? Are you from NY? How long have you been living in NY?” So we start talking and he tells me: "let me tell you something, if you could fast forward me 5 years in the future or take me back 5 years in the past I wouldn't be able to recognize the same spot I'm sitting in."
I asked what do you mean? And he responded “I'm kind of feeling homesick in my own city.” It got me thinking what has society become where has our culture gone. I'm not with culture shifting but I feel like the wrong things are being glorified.
Why did you start with the Sazon snapbacks?
CJ: The reason we came out with the Sazon snap backs, first and foremost, food is a central staple that unites people. Its comforting. It’s something that no matter who you are you can identify with, it brings people together. Whether you hate your family or not, during the holidays guess where you are, you're with your family eating food. We wanted to tell our story by finding a staple seasoning, something in the kitchen that was so easily recognizable to our culture that I would take pride wearing that. We wanted to elicit and evoke emotion and pride. When someone sees it that they say "my mom used to cook with that" we didn't want to forget where we came from. The idea is things that we grew up on, and doing it in such a way that it would be cool enough for people to wear.
What makes Homesick NY different?
CJ: We are socially aware. We decided to give a portion of our proceeds back. We are working on a idea where we take local rappers from NY and document their community service. I think its important to give back. That’s an opportunity that a lot of brands miss. I come from a social working background. I think we have that social obligation that separates us from our competitors.
Were you ever fearful while starting Homesick NY?
Eli: There was no fear in me to start Homesick NY because it is something I believe in. It is something different and it has a purpose.
CJ: I love this question. My 5th grade obsession was a "No Fear" hat. As a child I was extremely daring and I have the scars to prove it. I swear parkour was invented in the Bronx in the late 80' early 90's. Now as an adult I'm obsessed about peoples behaviours and motives and feel like the greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure and we tend to crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret of the past and fear of the future. I am a very anxious person. I understand that fear is a darkroom where negatives are developed so I decided to make courageous choices. Life is a result of a culmination of your choices.
What does being fearless mean to you?
Eli: Being fearless is being courageous to me. We created Homesick NY because we believed in it, despite the difficulties of starting brand and disapproval of others.
CJ: One of my high school football coaches told me that FEAR was an English acronym for "False Evidence Appearing Real" and we men fear "thought" more than ruin, ridicule, defeat or death. I choose to be honey badger fearless. Growing up In New York City housing toughens your skin and numbs you to certain fears. What would you do if you weren't afraid?
Photos by: Mr. ZoMagic