lisn up clothing
When I was in high school,
just like every other 15 year old kid, I was discovering what I liked. Hip-hop never interested me until I heard Lupe Fiasco combine artful skill with social consciousness - then I was hooked.
At the same time, a lot of the streetwear coming out pertained to sex, drugs, or being flamboyantly vulgar - things I couldn't wear around my mother. Down the street from my school I discovered Johnny Cupcakes: the buzzing "t-shirt bakery" on Newbury Street in Boston. I had no money, but I would still walk into his shop every day and soak up the creativity. I spent any extra spending money on his tees, and found any and every excuse to meet him when he was holding events in the area.
I needed a way to fund my Johnny Cupcakes collection, so I decided to start my own brand. Growing up Muslim, there are certain values that are an integral part of my life and other things that I know I don’t want to represent. This was my guide as a young entrepreneur. I knew that I wanted to combine elements of what I admired about Lupe Fiasco and Johnny Cupcakes - their intentionality and attention to detail. I came across a picture online of the two of them together and made it my screensaver. From that day on I told myself I would not change this picture until I had worked with both of them.
After setting the foundation for the brand and what I wanted it to represent, I spent the next 8 months at my kitchen table, researching the nuances and intricacies of starting a brand, as well as different aspects of the music industry (partly for research, partly for fun). I was going to develop a concept-brand, and I was going to do it right.
Lisn Up officially launched in 2011, when I was 16. The designs serve as a commentary on different social issues, with every aspect of the brand relating back to the music industry. Seriously. Each new collection of products is called an album, each individual product is a different track, and your shirt is packaged in a boom-box. When we travel to sell at events or host events of our own, we call it "going on tour", just like an artist would. Not only is this fun for the team, but it also creates an experience for the brand's supporters, showing deliberate detail in every aspect of the company.
I’ve always said that I don't want our customers’ experience to end as soon as they click "Checkout", and I meant it. With every purchase, we donate 50% of our profit to a charity of the customer's choice.* As you purchase your items online, you are given a list of charities to choose from. The list covers a diverse range of social causes and world issues, as our goal is for every customer to find at least one that resonates with them.
The vision was there and the brand was coming together. Now it was time to sell some tees!
Lisn Up's first "tour stop" was at the RIS Convention in Long Beach, CA. This was my opening weekend - my first time selling a shirt EVER! From there, we went on to represent at conventions in Toronto, CT, DC and Boston. Something pivotal happened at this first convention, however, that would eventually turn Lisn Up into what it is today.
At some point during the event, two brothers who played in the NFL at the time, Hamza and Husain Abdullah, had came across my table. After the event, they emailed me asking to collaborate on some designs to be sold on my website. Later that year, at an event in Washington DC, I met Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who knew of my brand from the Abdullah Brothers, and she asked to collaborate next! This little kitchen-table brand now had a waiting list of high-profile community leaders wanting to work with a group of high school students.
Remember that picture I told you I made my screensaver?
After traveling to different events, leaving our mark around the country and gaining incredible exposure from these incredible partnerships, I Tweeted Lupe Fiasco to work on a collaboration. Something caught his attention (maybe it was the bombardment of Tweets from all of my friends and followers), because soon after, he replied. The next day I was on the phone with him, the next week our collaboration was online, and then we collaborated for three summers in a row.
One dream down, one to go.
Still on the heels of our most recent Lupe collaboration, I reached out to journalist Noor Tagouri. Together, we collaborated on a collection, The Noor Effect, to help combat sex trafficking. Lisn Up quickly went from selling from a table at events, to hosting events of our own. With Noor we toured the US, hosting 6 pop up shops for this cause. We made trips to Maryland, Brooklyn, Long Island, Michigan, and our hometown Boston. Along the way, Noor and I met Johnny Cupcakes at his Boston shop. We told him about our collaboration, and without hesitation he offered to host the final shop of the tour at his own shop!
2 FOR 2!
A few months after wrapping up the collaboration with Noor, we linked up with Malaysian superstar and singer Yuna for a collaboration to support refugees. Our collaboration pop up shop was in sunny California, at Kamal Boutique in Beverly Hills.
Spring 2017 brought a brand new album, dedicated to 90’s themes the team grew up on. To debut this collection, a very talented artist, @ratatatataouille drew the entire Lisn Up team (and one lucky fan) as Rugrats characters for our album cover! We hosted an interactive art pop up shop at Villeside Customs in Somerville, MA featuring live art, a DJ, spoken word, food, and our new line. The collection is available now.
Lisn Up, known for its mission and its charitable, high-profile collaborations, has garnered an incredible fan-base that has been along for the ride since our pre-facial-hair days. This unwavering support has allowed us to work with all of our collaborators and mentors, and has resulted in some amazing press from respected platforms like Forbes, Huffington Post, Business Insider, and Upworthy and many others. Our grassroots marketing campaigns (for more on this, stay tuned for our blog, coming soon) keeps people on their toes and puts our dedication to detail on full display.
Our commitment to quality and customer experience has allowed us to post internship positions and receive over 70 applications from around the WORLD. Lisn Up, in its seventh year, is now nine team members deep - from marketing, business development and creative direction teams, to photographers and videographers - all dedicated to capturing the journey and all the behind the scenes work for our Youtube series (link). We strive every day to come up with quirky, unique ways to make every single supporter of the brand feel valued. It's what keeps us up at night, and what gets us excited to wake up in the morning. It's what pushes the brand and the team forward and allows us to continue to push boundaries in our industry.
*Donations are allocated to each charity, given all partnership terms have been met.