For the last year and a half, State Champs singer Derek Discanio has been building his own brand outside of the band.
That’s not to say that the New York-based pop punkers are going to be slowing down anytime soon, but rather that Discanio’s streetwear line, Steez, won’t be counting on the band’s existing success or looking to ride its coattails. Instead, Discanio is looking to expand Steez outside of his existing platform to reach streetwear fans who’ve never heard of his band before — reaching fans new and old through both online drops and an in-person merch tent for festivals and events that may or may not involve State Champs.
With Steez now looking into retail distribution and expanding into hosting its own events and other endeavors, SPIN spoke with Discanio about where the brand has been and where it’s heading.
SPIN: How did you decide you wanted to launch a streetwear brand?
Derek Discanio: It’s something that I’ve been passionate about since high school. When it came time to decide what I wanted to do during my senior year, Ii was one of those guys that was always a jack of all trades. I was a jock kid who played hockey, I was a skate punk kid who liked to skateboard with his friends, and I’d just started a band with my friends and bought a van — so I didn’t know what the heck I wanted to do. The only college I was accepted to was a graphic design school near New York City, so I ended up going there for one year and learned a lot about design before dropping out because my band was starting to gain some traction. Then I started working for a merch company as the head of the art department while State Champs started touring. I was always designing my band’s merch and doing a lot of our graphic stuff, which I still do today. But it’s kind of hard to have total creative freedom when you’re in a band with four other guys, so the idea behind the brand was to make something that’s totally mine, and that I have total control over. It’s been really cool to express myself in my own way and build a separate community from State Champs that I can hold true to myself, make the ultimate decisions on, and just keep building on the side while my band is going on as well.
What are some of the similarities and differences for you between the band and Steez?
There are a lot of similarities for me. When I design for State Champs, it shows a lot of myself, but I’m taking in other people’s perspective — and my bandmates and I are totally different people — so there are a lot of different styles that come out in State Champs designs. We need a wide variety of styles, because we’re always on tour and have the webstore and such. What I’m really trying to hone in on with Steez is to find its own aesthetic and get a little bit more specific with what the branding is, because it does have a bit of a broad perspective right now. With State Champs, it’s like “Here’s this pop punk band, and it’s got to be edgy and look like a band tee.” But with Steez, I’ve been able to do some more interesting stuff in the fashion industry and think about it more as a designer brand and a streetwear brand more than just band merch. I’ve been experimenting with things like making patterns for button-up shirts and making specific items like varsity jackets, bags, socks and stuff that just normally wouldn’t happen with a band. It’s cool to learn a little bit of that, because I know nothing about fashion — I didn’t go to school for that or anything — but I do know a lot about branding, style and design.
Aside from making merch, are there any skills that you learned through the band that you can now incorporate with Steez?
What’s been cool about Steez is how it can be implemented into what I do with State Champs. When we do big festivals or Vans Warped Tour, you make your own merch tent to sell your merch all day. So I can implement Steez into these festivals and other things that aren’t necessarily even the pop punk world — like hip-hop festivals. I recently designed a Steez brand festival merch-vending tent, and we just did our first big festival at the So What?! festival in Dallas, where State Champs also played. It was really cool, because I got to set up for the whole weekend, not just the day State Champs played. Obviously, I already know how that style of vending works as a band, but it was cool for it to be my personal brand set up for the weekend. I got to meet some fans and make some new fans of the brand as well. I’m building a community on the side from State Champs, and it’s just more of my brain itself. I can reap some benefits from being in a band and having a platform like I do, but it’s cool to just be starting fresh with something that’s totally mine and growing it.
What kinds of things did you learn from starting Steez that you didn’t expect?
If you really care about a business and being an entrepreneur, it’s not an instant money machine that’s just going to pump out money for you. Regardless of the size of your platform, you have to invest a lot of your time and finances into making it better every time. I kind of misled myself thinking “Oh, I’m a cool pop punk singer, I’m just gonna get rich off of this side hustle” — but I was also really invested in spending the time on it. Luckily, I have one of my best friends since childhood, Justin, as my business partner with Steez. He’s been the voice of reason when it comes to not just pumping out stuff to use my platform to make money, but investing ourselves in the brand to see how far we can actually take it. Most of the money and success the brand has seen has been put right back into the brand to do even cooler things. After each drop where we made some money, that success and profit has gone right back into the next drop or thing or event we want to do. The next thing we’re doing is throwing these parties called Steez House Parties, where we rent out venues, have guest DJs — including myself — and sell merch all night. We’re trying to think outside of the box and do things that normal brands don’t do.
Is there anything else that you want people to know about Steez?
The name came from my old AIM and Myspace screen name, DerekSteez, so it’s been with me for so long. Other than that, we’re going to keep releasing stuff all the time, and you’ll probably see us at a local festival or a tour within the pop punk community. The next thing we’re working on is also looking for retail deals, and we’ve already been in talks with stores like Zumiez and PacSun and stuff, so don’t be surprised if you see us there soon.