When Alphanumeric first made the scene in 1998, the brand quickly established itself on the leading edge of the streetwear movement with its crisp styling and broad appeal. Helmed by Alyasha Owerka-Moore, Mirko Mangum and Sal Masekela, the Encinitas, Calif.–based brand was inspired by the trio’s own lifestyle, which was deeply rooted in skate, surf and action sports, as well as music. Now, years after leaving the brand to pursue other projects and 10 years since its inception, Owerka-Moore and Mangum have returned to Alphanumeric to reinvent the brand and continue to redefine the youth lifestyle market.

“It’s been interesting. Looking at the young-men’s market now, I’m seeing stuff that we did eight to 10 years ago that people weren’t ready for then,” Owerka-Moore said. “We were doing hand-numbered selvage denim in 1999 when no one else was even thinking about that stuff. Now it seemed like the perfect time to bring [Alphanumeric] back. We’re like the Blues Brothers , getting the band back together.”

Masekela, who is sitting out round two of Alphanumeric , said when the brand first launched, act ion- spor t s brands were in a rut, making guys into human billboards with a plethora of identical jeans and T- shirts bearing logos. “Back then , you couldn’t be into punk rock and surf and skate and car culture and, for that matter, be a person of color. Alphanumeric brought a real melding of all these things and made a company that was about all our diverse influences,” Masekela said. “We were like the United Nations of action sports.”

Since leaving Alphanumeric, Owerka-Moore launched Fiberops , a division of Sole Tech , and has worked with brands such as Phat Farm , Nike , DC Shoes , Triple Five Soul and The Hundreds . Mangum, a fixture in the action-sports and streetwear industries, launched UNIV , a streetwear retailer and lifestyle brand, with partner Tim Swart in 2006. Masekela is now a television personality and ambassador for the action-sports market, acting as host of ESPN ’s X-Games .

With their return to the brand (the pair bought the name back from investors in 2007) Owerka- Moore and Mangum said their grassroots focus hasn’t changed. Alphanumeric, with its Fall 2008 relaunch, will once again mine Mangum and Owerka-Moore’s surf/skate/action sports/music roots. “We’re going to be doing the same thing every season, just better,” Mangum said.

That means innovative fabrications, crisp woven shirts with subtle design touches, dark denim, clean outerwear, cardigan sweaters and fleece pieces. “Everything has a reason; we’re not just adding bells and whistles,” Mangum said. “These are functional pieces that are well-made and going to last. But mostly, we just want them to speak to people.”

That connection between brand and consumer has gotten lost, according to the pair. “There is a real Seventh Avenue mentality in the young-men’s product category,” Owerka- Moore said. “They don’t understand the customer, and the market is far too broad for them to handle. They can’t put a finger on the guy or the demographic.” In streetwear, brand identity is key to success. Mangum points to seminal brands such as Stuuml;ssy that have built an identity and stood by it, regardless of trends. “People ask why they’ve been able to stay around for so long, and it’s because they stand for something. They are indelible.”

Trend chasing has also diluted the young-men’s market. “You can’t decide that one season you’re going to be one thing and then two seasons later be something totally different,” Owerka-Moore said. Mangum agreed, saying, “No one wants to create a brand identity, so everyone just ends up doing the same thing. They look at trend reports; they don’t go out and see what is actually happening on the streets. There is no connection to the customer and no creativity. I get burned out, too, but I’ll be damned if I’ll put together an inspiration board.”

Mangum said Alphanumeric’s authenticity and ability to create a consistent image will help the brand stand out. “What sets us apart is our message,” he said. “We promote an awareness of self and social issues.” The brand’s message is best evident in its T-shirts, which feature graphics and messages that reflect Mangum and Owerka-Moore’s stance on pop culture and current events. The “Thinker” Tshirt features an oversize image of a brain as a hand grenade. The “Problems” T-shirt says simply, “More Money, More Stupidity.” Even the brand’s team riders exemplify the brand’s positive vibe. New rider Walker Ryan skates like a madman and attends the University of California San Diego . “He’s a scholar,” Mangum said. During a recent road trip to promote Alphanumeric’s relaunch, Ryan studied for his midterms in the car. “He embodies our stance on self empowerment and education,” Mangum said.

Wholesale prices for Alphanumeric range from $13 for T-shirts to $180 for outerwear. Retailers such as Karma Loop , Robust Flavor , UNIV and Active will carry the line when it begins deliveries in July. For more information, call (760) 753-4000.

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Maryan Barbara
Maryan Barbara

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