Interview: Jon Smith from Kill Brand

by Jeanette Nguyen

The Jersey Shore is best known for its stretch of tourist-flocked beaches and legendary rock n’ roll inspired bars. For Ocean City resident Jon Smith, this translated into fusing his two passions together: music and surfing, which ignited the creative vision and launch of apparel company Kill Brand Clothing.

“I’ve always mixed surfing and skating with music. I used to spray paint, so I’d spray paint Kill Brand on everyone’s helmets and skateboards.” Smith remembers, laughing. “It was more of a money issue at first, but eventually we got things screen printed.”

Today, the company is steadily rising to the forefront of fashion. With its bold colors and eccentric designs, Kill Brand has become a staple within the rock scene.
While at music festival Bamboozle Left in Irvine, Calif., FanBolt stopped by Kill Brand’s booth and candidly chatted with founder Jon Smith.

Since Kill stands for “Kids Into Living Life,” how did you come up with that saying?

That was when I got in trouble. I’d say, “Oh, it stands for this!” That’s a good motto to live by anyway. It started off as a joke, but I think that motto’s cool. I try to follow that in my own life.

How do you come up with design ideas?

I’m always drawing on a napkin. It depends on what I can fit on a t-shirt or what’s in season. Basically, whatever goes on in my mind. I have an artist who brings me stuff – pieces that are really intricate. I’ll explain ideas to my designer, and he’ll draw that.

What does Kill Brand say about the person wearing it?

We’re not sold at a lot of stores, so it’s kinda hard to get. We say “no” to a lot of stores because we want you to feel unique wearing it. You don’t see everyone in the world wearing a Kill Brand shirt. You’re walking around proud of that. That’s how I always felt when I was younger.

Tell us about Kill Brand’s girlie line Love & Lipgloss?

It’s my girlfriend’s line. [Cell phone rings.] She’s actually calling right now! Should I have her tell you? It’s a combination of a blog that explains Cassandra’s daily life mixed in with the fashion she’s always been a part of. [Speaks to Cassandra on phone]She says it’s for sassy chicks with attitude that aren’t afraid to be independent!

Love & Lipgloss started off as a blog. She’s a journalist, so she went to NYU for journalism. She printed one of her blogs on a shirt. We’ll make 50 or 60 of those shirts a season. Then we would use a different blog for the next shirts, so you have to collect them. It’s limited edition.

That’s a very unique idea.

She’s brilliant. It’s strictly for girls, so we’re trying to make them more fashionable.

Since you’re very involved in music as well as fashion, let’s talk about the bands you’ve worked with.

We sponsor a lot of bands, from Story of The Year to Senses Fail and Underoath. There are so many bands. I can’t even remember. They’re on our MySpace.
For Bamboozle east, we’re going to be sharing a booth with Keep a Breast Foundation and we’re holding a signing with Gym Class Heroes. We’re also going to be sponsoring the Chiodos and Scary Kids Scaring Kids tour.

At this point, Kill Brand specializes in shirts. Are you planning to branch out and offer other clothing, such as shoes or jeans?

That’s the plan. We had a really slow growth, which was planned since I come from a band background. (Smith was a member of Nitro Record’s pop punk act Don’t Look Down.) You want that following to grow with the band and not get big really quick because people will drop you. You want people to follow the band’s success slowly and once you get to a certain level of success–you deserve it at that point. That’s my theory on it.

It’s like how people stuck with Green Day when they were smaller and now they’re huge. It’s like, “I love Green Day, and I’m not afraid to say it.” It will never go out of style, so if Kill Brand gets mainstream in a few years, I hope to keep the people who have stuck with us.

What stores carry Kill Brand?

In California, we sell at Electric Chair (Huntington Beach), and hopefully, we’ll sell at Tilly’s. We have a meeting with them this week, so we’ll see. Most traffic comes from and a few places on the east coast and surf shops. All the stores are listed on the website.

Do you want Kill Brand to gain wider distribution and be sold at big-name retail stores?

It would be hard to say “no.” I said “no” to Hot Topic a few times because I feel people would get tired of it. I rather stay small and then get really big.

I would like to, but we’re not ready. I don’t know about Nordstroms or anything. It is called Kill! There’s so much competition. If I could have it my way, I’d let it grow for a while, but you gotta get paid! When I do get paid, I want to consider it as not selling out, but taking it to the next level.

What are your aspirations for Kill Brand a couple years down the road from now?

Hopefully we’ll be in a 20 X 10 foot tent! [Laughs.] I mean, I’d like to get into sponsoring stages at Warped Tour, and I want to still be in the music scene. I want to keep on doing what I’m doing now, but with 300 more designs and a few more outlets for the shirts. I’ll still be here selling them. I’m all about the hard work.

Thanks Jon!

Kill Brand