Interview with HustleKC
Words By Nikita Satapathy
Photography By Juan Alva
Chances are you’ve seen HustleKC. It has cropped up on everyone’s Instagram feeds, whether they are modeling the clothing or proudly showing off their most recent purchases. Thomas “Tommy” Grass has been at the forefront of HustleKC since its inception and has transformed a simple idea into a lifestyle that epitomizes the hustle and rawness of KC. We sat down with him in January to get more insight into its beginnings and where Grass hopes it can go in the future.
How did the brand get started?
TG: I actually started HustleKC as a social media consultant. I was going to help people build their brands on social media, but then I wanted to start my own clothing brand. Stefan Huggings also wanted to start a clothing brand and he saw that I was growing on Instagram and we combined and said “Let’s go”.
When was the brand launched?
TG: We launched February 2018. We started discussion right around November of 2017.
Do you have any business background?
TG: I do not. I am completely self-taught in this whole game and have been learning a whole bunch. I have been talking with people on my Instagram through DMs; I get information from them and a little insight. I’ve been studying the brands around here like as Made Mobb, of course, and Landlocked KC.
How do you get people excited for the launches?
TG: We like to hype up on Instagram. We like to load up our stories of what we have coming. We like to get the locals involved through modeling and photography. We go from there, really. The hype spreads from there. Everyone gets excited. They’re always getting ready for the next thing to release.
Did you expect [the brand] to take off so quickly?
TG: No. It’s literally been a year. I started on Instagram with 365 followers and when I switched over to the brand, I had maybe 800+ followers and it has been blowing up since then.
What do you see your brand becoming like in the near future? Are you going to branch out or are you going to stay niche?
TG: I would like to stay native to Kansas City but I would not turn down any type of opportunity to expand into any other clothing line. I do have talks to start a fitness apparel brand under HustleKC. I do plan on going that route a little bit.
Is Unruly a sector under HustleKC or is it a brand you distribute? How does that work?
TG: It was a sector under HustleKC. So HustleKC was the umbrella. Of course I have Tsucci as a sub-brand and Rosemary as a sub-brand. Unruly was a sub-brand as well until yesterday; they launched their own store.
So when you design the clothing, is it just you or is there a team that helps out?
TG: I design everything for HustleKC and the sub brands under me currently. Stefan designed everything for Unruly. We kept that solely for him. We do all the designs and everything. We don’t have any graphic designers under us or anything; it’s just us.
What made you want to do streetwear?
TG: I just love [streetwear]. There is really no way to explain it, other than I love the city. That really inspired me. I feel that Kansas City is underrated. I mean, yes, we do have Made Urban apparel, but I feel like they do their own type of streetwear and I wanted to bring my ideas into the streetwear scene of Kansas City.
Where do you get your inspiration from? I see on Instagram you post a lot of random things.
TG: Inspiration comes from different areas. So, the Tsucci brand definitely comes from Gucci. I love Gucci apparel and everything but they also went very luxurious. I wanted to bring the street feel back into it. Rosemary is for a rose bud and weed, obviously. Especially with the legalization of weed in Missouri, I wanted to appeal to everybody who utilizes cannabis. For HustleKC, I’m a hustler for one. I am very entrepreneurial; I studied entrepreneurs for three years before deciding to pull the trigger myself. Other than that, I would base anything off my [Instagram] stories. I post whatever I like. I want people and the stories to connect to me personally and what the brand is about. I post everything from like Anime to street style to motivational quotes. It’s to have people come back, really.
Do you guys sell in any stores yet?
TG: We do not. I do not want to put any of my items in store yet mainly because I like the exclusiveness of being online and being the sole place where people can get their clothing items.
How long have you lived in Kansas City?
TG: I moved here in 2nd grade, so a long time. I’m 28 years old now.
What do you love about this city?
TG: Everything. The culture. I especially love like Westport, where everybody is so free. There is no judgement. Everybody is out there, wilin’ out; it’s raw and uncut. Kansas City has a beauty of its own. I did travel; I was in the military as well; 8 years and two tours in Afghanistan. I traveled there of course and got out. I got a job and traveled for that. Kansas City is now just home.
How do your friends feel about you starting this brand? Have they rocked your wear? Have they tried to promote you too?
TG: My biggest fans are my viewers on Instagram. For my friends, I don’t think it has hit them yet that I am not playing around. I have one really good friend that supports me through and through and through. For everyone else, I don’t think reality has hit them yet.
When producing your products, do you own all the equipment?
TG: We do not. Actually, we do print on demand. We have a third party that handles all that. It’s just easier for us so we don’t lose money on products on hand that we are not selling. We’ve been building our network this entire year. So as we continue expanding, we would like to start doing all of that ourselves.
Have you shown your apparel at fashion shows?
TG: We have not. We are looking to maybe start submitting some items to some fashion shows and maybe make a presence at First Fridays when the weather warms up, of course.
Your sister models for you. Does she help out with anything?
TG: She is my number one model and my number one influencer. I lean on her a lot with her 22,000 followers on Instagram. I really liked the fact that she helped embed my brand into the schools in Olathe, KS and it gets the younger generation hyped and ready for the new wave of clothing.
Do you do your own photography too?
I did buy my own camera to start doing it, mainly because at our last shoot, I had two photographers drop out of the shoot on Saturday. So that’s why I whipped out my own camera.
Do you like shooting the models? I noticed that sometimes photographers like to give a lot of direction and you wanted the models to be themselves and focus on the streetwear feel.
TG: I don’t mind it. It’s kind of fun. I definitely like shooting the models but I’m more so enjoying interacting with them. I want them to feel comfortable when I’m shooting them. I honestly don’t know anything about photography; I just wing it. I know how to edit photos. I want to give the authentic feel to the brand and not want it to be stiff. Don’t get me wrong; every model has their poses that they go to and I dig that. But for the models at the shoot, I wanted them to be comfortable and to be themselves.
What do you notice about brands in KC, in general? Have you noticed if the locals embrace it? Does it attract tourists?
TG: [The locals] definitely embrace it. Most of my buyers are locals that love the brand. They see what we’re doing and love what we’re doing. Not very many tourists. We do have a couple of out of state customers that enjoy what we’re doing. My hope is to bring more tourists here. We gotta bring more spotlight here; there is a lot talent.
When you’re creating, is there any particular type of music you like to listen to?
TG: I love hip hop through and through. I listen to a lot of indie type of hip hop artists, ones that aren’t really well known. They are about the struggle and everything real. That’s what brought me up.
Is there is any other avenues you hope to explore with your brand?
TG: I would definitely like to get more into social media marketing. I know I kind of strayed away from that in the beginning. But as we grow, I would love to build a team to really want to focus on that. If anything, I want to get clients and continue helping other brands grow and whatnot. I would really love it if everyone who wanted to start a brand came to me for advice; I’d be happy to give them advice on where to start, what to do.
Have you been featured in any other publications or partnered with anyone else?
TG: KC photo network just shared a photo from our most recent shoot. Other than that, I sponsored a local rap artist named J. Gray; I sponsored his tour that came through Kansas City. A lot of people reach out, but it’s hard to tell who’s real and who’s not.
If there was one word to describe HustleKC, what would it be?
TG: Grit. We started with nothing. Like I said, we started 365 followers and almost 13K in a year. That makes me feel really good.
Growing up, did you pay attention to a lot of fashion?
TG: Growing up, yes and no. I didn’t really have say of my own until middle school. Then, I really liked dressing nice and looking nice. When I moved to the city, I really liked how it was more dressed down but kinda classy streetwear. I tailored my style to that and absorbed it and made it my own. So I followed certain trends and then took other trends and then mashed it up. Recently, yes I have to study it.
What is the symbolism in some of your designs? Like, the rose and the snakes – what do those mean to you?
TG: I had a lot of friends growing up. Then I deployed and found out who my real friends were; not a lot of them stuck around. The snake really is them and the rose is just me; no matter what, I’m going to outshine them. I can’t stand to be mediocre.
How did being deployed and coming back shape your worldview?
TG: It opened my eyes to a lot and I grew up really fast. I realized that when I got out that I no longer had to take orders. The world was my oyster and no matter what I wanted to do, I could go do it.
What would your dream brand be to collaborate with in the future?
TG: I would say Thrasher and Supreme. I skateboarded and rollerbladed back in the day, so my influence really did come from them.
What do you hope to see more of in 2019?
TG: Tsucci everywhere.