Serving as a center of inspiration for blooming artists and under-the-radar designers, the burgeoning talents within the city limits of Austin hardly stay in the underground for long. Mad Gods is one such creative venture, a lifestyle brand that produces some of the dopest and most mesmerizing tshirt designs we’ve come across. While we can’t exactly pinpoint the source of our obsession with the line, it’s pretty self-explanatory. Just like their shoots, the brand comes off as sexy while still maintaining an effortless cool and incorporating cultural street style appeal.
First coming across this brand at a vendor booth during Austin City Limits back in 2012, we’ve been following Mad Gods’ travels since, always drooling over the latest screen print or the newest collaboration. I caught up with the founder of the line, Chris Martin, to get a low down on the early beginnings of Mad Gods on the west coast, branching out overseas and throwing ATX’s freshest parties.
Where and when did Mad Gods begin, and how did it come together?
MadGods began in the mid 90’s in the San Francisco Bay Area. We produced our first designs in Oakland, California in 1996. I was looking at black book drawings with a friend, also from Texas, who was formerly the manager of one of the better stores back home called Benjamin’s.
We talked about making some of the art into tshirts and he broke down for me the business of wholesale and retail. The actual numbers and models for making money. We learned how to sell it before we learned how to make it.
We took that plan and went looking for production. We pooled some resources and managed our way into a printshop nestled between a rap studio and a 4 color process shop in downtown Oakland. On some street shit, the owner of the equipment found himself unable to access his shop so we said we would run the shop for the chance to print our own stuff. Then we needed to learn how to print and we did. Not long after I went back to Texas for some family matters and decided to bring the business home with me.
Where did you get the name Mad Gods?
Many Creators. The name was adopted from some stoner friends who wanted to start a smoking utensil company. They never did it so I was like, “I want the name.” It simultaneously sounded like the name of a Swedish metal band and A Five Percent rap group. Like some sort of political cult. From the start the intent was to make it hard to define- since we wanted to be able to work with different artists and not get stuck on a specific trend or aesthetic that might exist at any point in time.
How do you choose the designers you collaborate with, and how do they align with the style of what Mad Gods represents?
The collabs come from natural relationships. If we don’t start as friends we usually end up as friends. The initial reason for doing it was to put on friends who had talent but lacked opportunities to commodify their art. That same effort continues but now we tend to work with better established talents. We always work with locals where ever we are. It’s just convenient and makes sense.
Favorite designers to work with?
Everyone has been quality – if I had to pick a current fave it’s Mexican Chocolate Design just because it’s all so fucking bad ass and influential. Most recently, everyone we’ve been working with has experience in screenprint design. This is part of our philosophy of being a TSHIRT company. Tshirts have a history as a medium and we embrace that foremost. We try to match the design with the best print technique and best body for who we imagine the end consumer to be. This allows us to satisfy more than just one demographic. The artists we work with play a role in staying true to that.
In what way does Mad Gods go beyond the aesthetic appeal of clothing?
Fashion and photography have been major for us. We are involved with publishing ventures. I personally come from a DJ back ground- specifically from within Hip Hop culture. So I’ve always supported that scene and the many limbs of its family tree. Design is fundamental to what we do, so we try to support design and art in general. We are from Austin so most popular music and subcultures are represented in our lifestyle and we incorporate that influence. We respect those that respect our effort and will lend our assistance to a variety of events and organizations based on that. That’s why we have become more involved with food and restaurant endeavors, large art institutions and some other places that might not seem obvious.
Your roster of clients is lengthy, and includes several brands overseas in addition to those local to the Austin area. What is it about the style of the Mad Gods label that enables it to translate so well regardless of location?
Challenging status quo helps, i think. That type of conciousness trancends time and geography and people respond to that. We want you to think for your own benefit. We don’t accept that people are stupid. We think they get lost and our designs should offer a bit of light by speaking to them intelligently through the use of dark humor, commentary, and the use of proven techniques.
I personally come from a diverse and cluttered background. No one thing or one place will keep me happy so that affects the way our brand appears in the world. Again, we prefer to be less defined than most brands out there. We like that after a decade of existence, people still discover us and are attracted to us without having an obvious reason why. We don’t defy expectations so much as we just don’t give expectations much consideration. People’s appreciation of stubborness isn’t universal but it’s definitely international.
Mad Gods is in heavy rotation within the party scene, by doing pop-up shops at different events. Does that stem from wanting to collectively share all of the artists involved in collaborations, such as with [Austin based DJs] Peligrosa? DJs, models, designers… a party seems like it would naturally come up next in line.
At this point I don’t think I can escape the party without giving up part of what drives me to keep doing this. It facilitates a certain sexiness that people seem to respond to but really it’s just an extension of the lifestyle. I prefer MG to enhance others events rather than take responsibility on its own. Too many hats to wear and it messes with my buzz.
Most of my designers are exactly what you’d expect. Quieter home bodies that don’t deal with socializing outside of their circle. But we can bridge the gap by collaborating with those in the mix. There is a strength in alliances that allows the individual parts to remain true to themselves but can collectively accomplish things the individual might not. Between limited time, resources and a need to control the message we actually pass on more events than we participate in.
You also throw parties overseas. How is the Mad Gods following in the countries you frequent?
We have had a lot of historical success overseas wholesaling- so I’m really just trying to visit the places our shirts have already been. I wish I could say going to these places helped the shirts get over there but it’s the opposite. The shirts got me there. So the following is alright. The challenge is finding ways to keep it up and improving on that.
What are your future plans for Mad Gods? I assume you’ll go a lot further than just sticking to super dope tees.
After pumping brakes for a couple years and stepping away from wholesaling – I think we will be going back to market soon and try and increase our distribution using traditional retail channels again. As we plan for that, we have other projects such as Purefilth Magazine that we want to develop further and see where that might take us. The recent travelling, focusing on smaller, tighter projects and the time I’ve afforded myself to develop other skills and improve parts of my non-professional life has given me a new perspective on the potential for MadGods. More super dope tees.