When Spanto speaks, you listen. And not because he’s yelling the loudest, but because he’s got this undying passion for protecting what raised him. And his message, while tied with a double knot to place, can be felt universally.
BornxRaised is the label he founded with his creative partner, 2Tone. More than clothing, it’s a platform for self-expression, anger management and, most of all, for the authentic stories and aesthetics that are so often bought, borrowed and stolen within the fashion world. In his lifetime he has watched a seething Los Angeles be dismantled by riots, and has been part of the generation that put a flag down in the aftermath. Now he witnesses, with more alarm, the offensive gentrification of his neighbourhood and the forced displacement of his community.
Not to be confused with a “locals only” mentality, BornxRaised stands for the documentation and ownership of a culture that has actually been lived. Upon the release of the label’s collaboration with probably the most authentic footwear brand in the world, Converse, we hung out with Spanto and caught his hometown fever. He talked us through his mission, select parts of his life, and rhapsodised wholly about his one true love: Venice.
I know that BornxRasied is essentially a platform for you to tell stories. What are some of the most important themes of these stories?
A lot of it ties back directly to our story, or the story of where I’m from. But it’s not just about that. It’s a way to really express myself and I didn’t know how to do that before. For some odd reason, I chose clothing. You know, you can’t really have the good without the bad and sometimes fashion, or clothing, or streetwear — it can get tiresome and people can get shitty, but at the same time it has given me a blank canvas to express myself and shine a light on the people that are very important and, in my opinion, get swept under the rug.
Now, I know this because I’ve researched you, but for someone who hasn’t, who are these people that have been swept under the rug and what makes them important or deserving?
If you look at streetwear, it’s constantly mimicking other people’s cultures. They say “it’s my inspiration,” or “I’m paying homage to,” but it’s really just copying. And I think that a lot of these people that come to LA come to reinvent themselves or create themselves — I’m standing at this diner in Echo Park, are you familiar with Echo Park?
I know what it is now…
It’s kind of like trust fund kids that move to Echo Park and they look very goth or punk or metal, and it’s just like… that’s not you, you weren’t like that. I’m not mad, but the way I look at it is that BornxRaised aren’t pretending or gathering inspiration. We just are. This is our story and how we grew up. We didn’t look at it on a Tumblr page.
Going back, it’s interesting that you say that it’s odd that you fell into fashion. I think it’s super natural — fashion is something that, whether it’s conscious or not, every single person is putting something on and choosing it to represent who they are. Even if you’re not “into fashion”, you’re still choosing it and it’s important…
Yeah, it’s still an expression of yourself.
And the name comes from this love of Venice, where you were born and raised, and how you’re protecting it’s history from being washed by gentrification, right?
Most definitely protecting and preserving our history and culture. It’s being exploited so much, it happens everywhere. What happened to my neighbourhood that I love so much is going to happen everywhere. But the way it happened in Venice, and the rapid pace, is just so bad. And now that everybody is there, anybody can claim it, anybody can use it, and anybody can sell it. It makes me furious that these people from fucking Wichita move here for one summer, and then they create a line and plaster Venice and Oakwood and Ghost Town, and use our photos and my friends to sell their product. And, you know what, I’d rather not let these people get away with it while I’m there. It’s a longer, deeper story, but they came up with all of the laws and rules to extract all the people that made what Venice really was — that gave it that dicey and sharp aesthetic and appeal that people gravitated towards — but these rules and laws like gang junctions were to police people out of their own neighbourhood. It happened to 90% of people who lived here, and it happened in a very vulgar, barbaric way.
I wonder if you can explain where this emphasis on the importance of place comes from for you personally… I mean, I grew up somewhere that people used to tease, it wasn’t desirable, and now I live on the other side of the world…
If you look at places around LA in the 80s and 90s, people took where they came from very seriously. You know, they would kill you. And now these places are pretty goofy like Echo Park, Highland Park, Silver Lake and Venice. People’s sense of belonging, and something that was part of their DNA and history, they took very seriously. If you look at photos of people from the boardwalk of Jay Adams, that whole crew of people are very proud to be from Venice. No matter what company they rode for, they represented the neighbourhood first. Why it’s like that more so than other places, I’m not really sure. But that’s the way it was, and thats what I continue to put first always.
Do you think that all people who relocate have a negative effect on their new place?
No, absolutely not. I’m not one to say no one deserves to come in here. I just think theres a wrong and right way to do it. I like the metaphor: if I’m going to step into someone else’s home, I take my shoes off.
Sure, it makes sense. So, I’ve recently been watching these documentaries called ‘The Decline Of Western Civilisation’ and it looks at punk and metal in the 80s in Hollywood Blvd… were those scenes hitting Venice at the time?
Yeah, totally, the whole squatter punk scene for sure. It was more East Hollywood, but the punk scene in Venice was really big when I was a kid in the 80s. It was massive. Short-lived but massive. If you look at parts of Hollywood where most of that film took place, it’s sterilised and gentrified too. That kind of thing just couldn’t happen today. Same with Venice, there was a tonne of Venice punk kids I grew up with the Venice Suicidal Punk kids — there was hundreds of them. If you look at our style and Venice’s style, it’s a big mash up. There’s a lot of punk influence, there’s a lot of Cholo influence, there’s even Crip influence. All these subcultures mashed together. There was a 5mile radius where we grew up called the Four Corners — Venice, Sotel, Santa Monica and Culver City — but if we were all in the room together we would know, just by the way they were dressed, where each one was aligned. I don’t think that can happen now because of the internet.
Yeah, I was just thinking the same. Now, I don’t wan’t to be naive, but LA’s gang wars played some kind of part in shaping the residents of Venice, right?
A lot of people think that Venice was so far from it, but the origins come from Venice. All that early gang culture comes from Venice. There’s lots on the East Side but Venice has a deep history with things like Venice 13 — which I’m a part of. In the 80s and 90s the skaters dressed like gang members because they wanted to be the alpha male, and gangs were alpha then.
When I’m watching documentaries about LA gang culture, it seems like Venice is left out a bit. It’s mostly East LA. There must be so many untold stories…
You know what, you’re right, most of all Cholo culture that you guys get a glimpse at would be from East LA, which looks completely different from the gang members on the West side.
From a global perspective, it seems like New York has always been the artistic or fashionable city, why do you think the West Coast is overlooked? What does Venice offer that’s better?
I’m just going to point out the obvious: the weather. In New York, you’re forced to layer yourself in clothing every day… with the exception of summer. In LA we have one uniform that we’re allowed to wear. We’re allowed to wear Chucks with no socks, a tee shirt and jeans. We have Fashion Week but nobody goes.
There’s a similar feeling in parts of Australia in terms of industry — it’s more about what kids are making do with that becomes inspiring…
I think now, there’s a shift, the light will be on New York and then it’ll be on LA. But there’s only so much we can too because it’s so fucking hot.
What were you exploring when you were coming of age?
I think in Venice you grow up real fast. In the 80s, Venice was engulfed by gang culture, but there was also a lot of punk going on. When it came to the 90s and I was a young teenager, the punk scene was gone. A perfect coming of age reference for me would be, after the riots happened the whole city was smouldering and it was destroyed. But at the same time, after it was destroyed it belonged to the kids again. It was a sense of freedom that I think most groups of kids or generations don’t get to experience. After the riots was done we were like, “This place belongs to us, we own this.” And that time, post riots, is the mode that I’m set in.
Yeah, it gives you the liberty to choose your own adventure…
Yeah. And, you know, I don’t want this whole article to be about gang culture, because it’s not what I do any more, but at that point in time that’s who owned the city — the neighbourhoods. That’s what motivated me.
Yeah totally, that’s what I’m interested in. Not the specifics of gangs, but this feeling. The equal example for me is being here in Berlin and talking to people who were 14-years-old when the wall came down, and finding out what that felt like… having things open up. It’s unparalleled and not many people experience that moment of “This is mine, and I’m grabbing it by the balls.”
What song would you say is the perfect soundtrack to your youth… or even current day?
That’s a really hard question. Can I give you like 40 songs?
No, I don’t have that much time…
My favourite song in the whole wide world is ‘This Must Be The Place’ by Talking heads, but that doesn’t really sync up with what we’re saying.
It does! So, what kinds of things did your family encourage or not encourage?
Growing up, my parents were very anti-government. They didn’t really want me to go to school and they always taught me that Columbus Day and the American Dream was all bullshit. I was very lucky to have parents to teach me that. Most kids don’t. My mum was an artist before she became mentally ill and she was very militant and her head was in the right place. She pulled the wool from over my eyes from a young age. She taught me to stand up for what I believe in. It’s why I’m fighting for my culture now. I don’t think she wanted me to fall victim to the obvious — LA was very dangerous and she wanted to keep me away from it. But there’s no way in hell that that was going to happen. Everything that was happening in my front yard, I had to be a part of. There were so many dudes who lived on my street and it was always so exciting. They were always shooting at each other, always fighting, always loud, always drinking, there was always helicopters and all this shit that to a preteen was so tempting. And there was nothing that could keep me out of there.
So what kind of things are happening in your front yard now that, in a positive way, are pulling you out of your house?
Being able to stay there and not being a statistic. About 98% of the people that lived in my neighbourhood growing up are gone now. Nothing on the planet gives me the sense of comfort, or makes me feel the way I feel when I go home to that same street, same house, that my great grandfather bought 90 years ago. Being able to go to sleep there and wake up there, at that same house, is what gets me out of bed every day.
That’s really beautiful.
You’ve just collaborated with Converse, which is a really big brand, what is it about them that made you comfortable with the collaboration… given your attitude to origins and community?
For one, Converse has always been a Venice boy shoe. You can wear Chucks to a funeral or to the beach. They’ll never go out of style. But another thing that enticed me is the people that work there. They don’t want to just hand over a marketing cheque and have you slap two logos together for the name of hype. They get their hands in there and do stuff that matters. It means a lot to me. The people who work there are like artists — they want to tie emotion into it and do something special. They expressed that early on and it made me want to go really hard for them and with them
What did you want to project for the collab? What parts of yourself and your brand did you want to put in the shoe?
We shot at Milk with this kid Hayden, he’s a model now and he has long blonde hair. I watched him grow up and I used to surf and skate with his father. Most of us kids grew up in single parent homes and we always hung out and played at the beach. So I picked Hayden who looks like your typical LA surf/skater, but he’s mean; I picked Timmy, who’s black; and I picked my friend Enemy, who’s Mexican. It’s because those types of kids — a group of white kids, a group of black kids, a group of Mexican kids – they don’t cross. But when I was hanging out, we were all from Venice, we all hung out and we all understood each other. That’s why I shot it like that.
I noticed this buzz cut feel — for me, a buzz cut evokes military or stripping a personal brand, but what does it mean to you?
When people started shaving their heads in the 90s, it was a statement. You were inviting trouble. If you were bald in the 90s you were going to get shot at or questioned, but we did it anyway. One thing that we all did for each other as kids — we were all very macho and egotistical, almost homophobic, though I not homophobic at all — we would all shave each others heads. It was a very sensual, intimate thing. It was a right of passage.
I get it. I have this quote from Henry Rollins about punk music and hardcore guys being kind of homophobic, but looking at these sweaty shirtless men bumping into each other in front of a band is actually kind of homoerotic…
[Laughs] Yeah exactly. I remember when I was 18 and I was incarcerated. There was two older gentlemen, and I need a hair cut, and one goes “Sit down on this milk crate, I’m gunna cut your hair for you.” And I remember at that time it meant so many things, all wrapped into one. Just him cutting my hair.
Speaking of businesses outside of your own, are there any establishments you want to encourage people to get amongst?
My favourite clothing company on the planet is Wacko Maria, from Japan.
Finally, if you could be the actual king of Venice, what would you change and what would you keep?
I would change the cost of living. I would make it affordable. I have this dream in my head that if I won the lottery, a billion dollars, I would just go buy a ball of Venice and I would knock down all the mini mansions. I would make it look how it used to look. I miss Venice, like I miss a dear friend or lover who passed away.
And what would you keep?
The love is still there. There aren’t many of us, but the love is strong and I don’t think that’ll ever change.
The Converse x BornxRaised Jack Purcell collection launches globally from February 3, at Converse.com, and select retailers.