Last August, Johnny Travis gave up a job in finance for the risky prospect of launching Faze Apparel, a clothing line focused on streetwear.
“It was a well-paying job, but I wasn’t happy and I knew that this made me happy,” he said.
Three months later, he and partner Herbert Gracia opened a small Faze shop and art gallery on the corner of 21st Street between Mission and Valencia.
Inside, plate-glass windows and incongruous rococo crystal chandeliers light up boldly decorated T-shirts, sweaters, hoodies, baseball caps and beanies. The walls are painted with dreamscapes by Mission artists Alexander Suelto and El Chavi. A mix of commerce and art, the shop reflects the owners’ backgrounds.
Travis, who spent his early years in the infamous Geneva Towers, a large, crime-riddled low-income housing tenement, studied business at San Francisco State University.
Gracia came to the University of San Francisco from Anaheim 15 years ago on a partial basketball scholarship. He majored in film and took art classes, and now works as the instructional technology manager at USF’s Fromm Institute during the day while completing a master’s degree in computer science. After work and on weekends, Gracia works at the Faze store. He also does photography for the apparel brand.
The word “Faze” just came to Travis one day, he recalls.
“Fearless and zealous every day, that was Herbert’s style in creating his art, too,” Travis said. “The brand basically evolved into a mentality that says, whatever you do, if you do it fearlessly every day, you can’t be stopped.”
The idea for Faze Apparel was born five years ago, when Travis and a business school friend, who has since dropped out of the company, decided to create their own clothing line.
“Our problem was that neither of us could really create art, so we set out on our quest to find an artist for the brand,” Travis said.
Their holy grail turned out to be Gracia.
“Immediately we knew that he was a good fit to bring the vision to life,” Travis said.
Travis’s words speak volumes about the transformation in street fashion in the past few decades. Since tees, sweats and caps have become the global fashion uniform, the artist who decorates the surface has become more important to streetwear design than the craftsperson who invents the cut and drape.
Both Travis the businessman and Gracia the artist see clothing as a medium for a strong visual message about their business and artistic ethics. If the Faze ethos demands fearless energy, it also demands that the business grow by building community. To do this, the partners are inviting artists to do shows and eventually collaborate on designs for the clothing line.
In mid-January, the partners held their first art opening. Approximately 100 people packed the little shop and spilled out into the street, where El Chavi was painting a canvas.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m happy to see this huge presence of different people from different communities,” El Chavi said. “I’m seeing nothing but positive attitudes and vibes, and I’m glad that I could be a part of it.”
The next day, Travis and Gracia seemed relieved and enthusiastic. The event had confirmed the Faze ethos, and especially one of its major principles.
“We had people of all ages, we had people of all nationalities, of all classes,” said Travis.
“That’s how San Francisco is in general. That’s what we want. Herbert and I come from different backgrounds. We’re all different and that’s what makes us Faze and that’s what makes Faze what it is.”