When it comes to innovating the world of fashion and the culture behind it, none are a better example than Raheim Robinson. Raheim is the man behind the branding and marketing aesthetic of CFDA award winning brand Public School and his emerging brand management company Conceptual Architects. We sat down with him to talk style, branding & community development.
Mr.Refined (MR): Tell us who you are, where you from, a little about public school and how you got in the industry?
Raheim Robhinson (RR): My name is Raheim Robinson, Marketing Director of Public School. I own my own company called Conceptual Architects – a marketing, branding, creative hub. Through this venture is how I got connected with Public School while freelancing. I am originally from Harlem, but I move back and forth between Harlem and Brooklyn. Originally, I went to school for advertising and public relations, but music was my original passion. I wanted to work in the music industry – rapping, managing, music production, A&R. I worked at an independent label out of Queens doing their marketing while in school.
Like everyone, I applied to Bad Boy Records. A friend sent my resume to I Want to Work for Diddy, randomly as a joke. I ended up being called in for an internship by Puff’s assistant, who eventually became his marketing director. She brought me under her wings and said, “People don’t usually last three days with me, but I’ll give you a week to intern with me and we’ll see where this goes.” I ended up interning with her for two semesters. That is how I got my start in the industry. I originally thought the internship was on the music side, thinking that I would be able to be in the studio with Puff. I kept asking when I was going to see Puff and be in the studio. Eventually, I realized the internship was not with Bad Boy Records, but on the fashion side with Sean John clothing. I started in fashion and it’s been history ever since then.
MR: So you didn’t have to go to Brooklyn for cheesecake or none of the craziness of sending interns on wild goose chases?
RR: It does happen. It is real. Because that was TV, they do certain things for TV. I did not have to do those particular things, but I did have to do some crazy things. I learned a lot from Puff and his executive assistants though, but a lot of the craziness was for TV and obviously it works.
MR: Talk to me about Public School and how you got involved with them?
RR: The industry being as small as it is, I’ve always had a relationship with a few of the guys – the two head designers – when they used to work at Sean John. I was always doing freelance stuff for them, helping them develop a brand voice. They knew who the Public School guy was aesthetically, but they didn’t know what he talked like. What does he say to Facebook followers? What does he tweet? Where does he drink coffee? Does he even drink coffee? Does he smoke cigarettes? Is it a pack a day? What’s his lifestyle? After living Sean John, while trying to figure out what I wanted to do I became a liaison to different brands helping them figure out what their brand voice meant. What do I do for my brand from a social standpoint? It was me figuring out should I do events or do I pay somebody to wear my clothes or do I build out relationships around that? Because I was doing product placement for Sean John for so long, I had the connections. I knew a ton of celebrities, taste makers, and DJs who wanted free clothes and wanted an affiliation in the fashion world. That’s how I got involved in the niche market because there was a huge demand/need for a middleman and I’m going to supply that.
I started Conceptual Architects and worked for a couple brands from Discover Kite to Cool Mentality, London York and ENYCE. I even worked with an up and coming dating site, helping them create a brand voice. I worked with a kid’s school clothing line, helping the business create an identity for the brand. Businesses were asking questions from how do we move forward and create a genre that doesn’t exist right now to how do we create a demand and generate customers? That is how I got involved with Public School, doing the same thing for them with the Black Apple brand and helping them decide whether or not they were going forward. They were up for an award and needed me full-time to help with that. It was a difficult decision because up until then I was working freelance and working from Brooklyn. Starbucks or any coffee shop was my office – shades on, feet up, laptop. That was my life for a good nine months to a year. So when the Public School full time offer came in, I really had to make a decision whether or not I was ready to go back to that 9-5 job lifestyle opposed to being my own boss. It has been good. I’ve been there full time for over a year. It’s been great. Public School won a CFDA Award, the Vogue Fashion Fund, and Men’s Designer of the Year Award. I am happy being able to contribute to their success. I do not credit myself for anything they do. I am just happy to be around that success.
Public School was a client of Conceptual Architects and I later became full time with Public School, while still managing Conceptual Architects.
MR: Tell me a bit more about Conceptual Architects?
RR: Conceptual Architects – a big piece of it is it being a branding, marketing, social media platform. Another piece is – working with freelancers photographers, graphic designers, fashion designers and helping them get freelance gigs. In my work with other clients, they mention they have a need for a photographer – so I bring in one of my photographers. They may need a makeup artist. So I’ll bring in a makeup artist. We act as a creative services hub, helping young individuals get into their craft through Conceptual Architects.
MR: Do you have any hot projects that you are working on now?
RR: There is always a ton of stuff in the works. I’m currently working with a nonprofit organization called, Design Your Craft. It’s hard for inner city kids to decide what they want to do based on what pays a lot or what just looks cool on TV. I’ve had friends who went to school for four years, got a job, and hated it. Then they went back to school to do what they really want, after wasting money on tuition for a job they didn’t like. Then there’s always the middle piece that needs to be filled – what they want to do until after they are done with school. I want to fill that void. The purpose of Design Your Craft is for mid-level or young adults to figure out what they want to do and to facilitate that by helping them meet photographers, creative directors, marketing and branding people – to give them a hands on touch of what it is like. It is a networking opportunity designed to help people better gauge what they want to do with their life. I didn’t have that coming up as a teen. I think that’s the next void I need to fill for our generation. It’s an endless issue that we’re going to continue to have. So many young people complain about not wanting to go to college after high school. So helping to fill the void will help the younger ones be more receptive and to help guide them in their career choices where they are looking for a lifestyle and not just a job.
MR: What motivated you to step into the arena of helping inner city kids?
RR: Literally my motivation comes from sitting in the Starbucks in Brooklyn and seeing a dad in there looking like he’s struggling with his young son who knows nothing of what his future is going to be like and his pop doesn’t either. I’ve been there like that little kid. I played basketball every day after school and on the weekends, thinking that I would go to the NBA like Michael Jordan and Kobe. I wasn’t trying to be on the street corner. That was a huge motivating factor for me and also the circumstances of my friends. From ten of my closest friends from high school, 3-4 are in jail, 2 are not here anymore, 1-2 just are just now getting an Associate’s degree at 30 something years old, after realizing that the lifestyle [on the streets] was not for them. It’s sad to see that. I appreciate that I never had to go through that. I never went to jail or sold drugs. I chose a different route – a blind route. I chose to skateboard and rollerblade on 72nd St. to expose myself to something different than what we had in Harlem at the time. I knew if I didn’t go get it then, things weren’t coming to me. Things like that kind of forced me to think outside of the box as I started my career in the entertainment business. I knew for a fact that if I continued to follow the generations past, I would end up in the same boat.
MR: You speak from a wide wealth of experience and wisdom. How old are you?
RR: [Laughs]. I feel like I’m 50, but I just turned 32.
MR: You’re a good inspiration for young people showing them you don’t have to be 40/50 before you can blaze your own trail. I’m proud to sit across from you. Let’s talk a little bit about your personal style? What inspires it? How does Public School fit in it?
RR: Style doesn’t exist. To me it’s what’s comfortable and what makes sense. My style is basic, simple, clean, and sleek. Almost every day I wear black, maybe a fresh pair of sneakers. My style inspiration is old dudes, like my grandfather. He wore jeans and a button down shirt – comfortable, but able to blend into different communities (i.e. church, Wall St., or going to the corner store). I was wearing all black before Jay Z announced it in Death of Auto-Tune. I was wearing all black in high school when they were teasing kids for being Goth. I didn’t know what that meant. My mother tried to instill in me being my own man at an early age. She stopped ironing and washing my clothes. I never learned how to iron until later in life. Black is the easiest thing to wear without ironing and that’s kinda how the wearing all black got started.
MR: Public School has a very minimalist, avant garde look that kind of just fits into what you do.
RR: Most people working for brands treat it as a job or a check, not because they believe the brand or product is an essential or necessary part of their wardrobe or lifestyle. Public School fits perfectly for me from basic tees to layering or denim or sneakers. It’s me. Even if I weren’t working for Public School, my closet would be full of Public School stuff. Right now, I’m wearing Public School sneakers, jeans, tank, and a Calvin Klein tee that I never leave home without.