In conversation with Pipe Dreamz
How did you find AKINGSNY and what motivated you to work with us?
Alan and I have been watching each other for two and a half to three years online. We actually met for the first time couple months ago. Everything I did, he would comment, "Bro, I see you", and anything he did, I would comment "Hey, this kid is really working." When he first came out with his jeans, he was part of a group called Luxury Fashion. This group had Luka Sabbat and Jerry Lorenzo, a lot of big hitters in this group. The critiques in there were really out there to get you. But Alan's work couldn't be critiqued.
Alan was doing things that was above the rest, just like with the J cut jeans. At first, I thought it was for bow-legged people. Once I heard the purpose of them as well as the type of denim he used, I realized that Alan was on to something. I always wanted to work with him, but my old shop wasn't really geared for the luxury that Alan was bringing to the table. But when I got the marble floor endeavors, this is the perfect place for Alan. So, I hit him up, and after about three weeks of negotiating, I think this partnership will really last and stand the test of time.
Can you give a little bit about your background, and how you started Pipe Dreamz?
My name is Ansar Miller-Abdullah, but people call me AC because I'm from Atlantic City, New Jersey. I came out to Baltimore, MD about 8 years ago. I went to Morgan State University with a degree in Journalism. When I graduated though, even way before graduation, I had made up my mind that I would never work under someone. I never had a job, so I wasn't planning on starting to look for one.
Instead, my former partner and I came up with an idea to open up our own store. This idea came about from our experience on Fairfax Boulevard in LA. We were so inspired by the shops and the interactions that we had. When we were getting things started, a good friend of mine suggested that we make some items just to pass out to other stores and tell them about who we are and what we are trying to do.
Back in 2013, I came up with a snakeskin 5-panel hat, and they started selling pretty well. We even had our products up on Karmaloop. At that point, I said f*ck that, I don't need anyone else. I can do this myself. My next products did pretty well and it started to snowball from there. We were online for 2 years pumping out sales between our online site and through Karmaloop (before they went bankrupt). We decided that once we had enough customer loyalty and attraction, we were going to open up a store in LA.
But then the uprisings happened in Baltimore, and during that time I was out here with the youth. What I realized during that time was that Baltimore needed a space for the youth to cultivate and express themselves through art. So, I opened up a shop back in 2015 on Highway Street for about two years. But we needed a larger space because we were hosting a lot of events. We have art galleries and a boutique that houses over ten designers along with space to accommodate what we do, so opened up this current location back in September of 2017.
So you mentioned events like art exhibits and open mic sessions, what are some other events or features that you provide to the community?
We give a platform for all types of artists across all mediums, whether it's musicians, visual arts, sculptors, poet, etc. At the old shop, I started with one artist and I put his work in my shop to add more decor and hopefully sell it to make some extra change.
Word got around to other artists like "Hey, there's still cool shop that let you put your art work up for free". So from that, we ballooned to 33 different artists. Now, we have a wait list. At the old shop, we had over 700 art pieces anywhere you turned, so much art work that a lot of clothes got overshadowed.
A lot of people would walk in and say, "Hey, this is a cool art gallery!" when in reality it was supposed to be a boutique shop. So, I had to scale it back with a system where a selected artist has their work up in our shop for 14 to 30 days. As for the other artists that are not up, we catalog them on our online portal for people to view and purchase.
Beyond the visual artists, we hold open mic sessions, show casing, art exhibits. For our open mic sessions, anyone can perform free of charge regardless of their genre. We've had opera singers, jugglers, sax players, of course we cater a lot to the hip-hop and R&B community.
So, a lot of people that are making a lot of noise in the industry now, such as Butch Dawson, who just did the A3C tour with Nas in Atlanta, Better than Bibby, a good friend up mine who just opened up for 21 Savage, and YBS Skola, who just signed for Dream Chasers.
"Anyone can give a dollar,
but not everyone has talent"
We like to create an even playing field so these artists can come here, bond and network. We look at it as "anyone can give a dollar, but not everyone has talent". So, at the old shop, we used to have a mantra that read, "Six bars or Die".
If you approached us saying that you are an artist, a musician, poet, or whatever medium, we would stop everything that we were doing, pull out a camera, and put you on the spot to give a piece of your artwork. If that person was in to buy something, we would tell them, "Until you presented your piece, you can't buy anything."
That's how serious we took it.
Like I said, anyone can give a dollar, but not everyone is gifted with artistics talent. If we find someone with that much talent, that means so much more to us than a dollar.
You've established yourself pretty well, so what's your vision going forth for Pipe Dreamz?
I got a two-fold vision.
One fold is for the shop in general. We want to create a wholesale manufacturing by installing 8 to 10 machines down in the basement to train people how to manufacture their own goods and for us to potentially take on potentially wholesale accounts. Right now, we are preparing to be interviewed by the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses in order to get funding to help us reach that milestone.
On the music side, we are in the process of making a music festival called BAHO Festival. It started on Baltimore Highway Street, and it was a response to the SOHO community up in New York. We wanted something like that of our own, so we decided to call it BAHO. The goal is to bring in big name artists and combine them with local artists to create an even playing field.
From your journey, do you have a word of advice for those that are working on doing something similar to what you've cultivated over the past few year?
I have an optimistic statement as well as a practical statement. I implore everyone to follow their dreams. If you told me you wanted to be the best juggler in the word, cool I support you all the way. But I will also tell you what other jugglers are doing and the numbers that go into juggling: the budget, investment, and other requirements. That's what people need to be realistic about. No idea is ever stupid as long as you're paying attention to the numbers.
Most of the time businesses and entrepreneur endeavors fail because people don't look at the numbers. You only have a vision, and that's only a small part of the puzzle. Everyone has a dream. Growing up, we all wanted to be astronauts, basketball players, or rappers, but people don't have fool-proof plans. If you got part A, try to get part B.
Where can people connect with you on the web or social media?
AC, we really appreciate the time you took for this interview! Certainly, there is a lot of lessons here for all of us.