MENACE is a brand out of the USA founded by Steven Mena. In the span of 9 years, MENACE has become a streetwear powerhouse, earning themselves a spot amongst the top of the food chain when it comes to this space. When you look at their journey, Steven is like your typical brand owner just trying to make it out. This makes him a perfect and relatable character to follow if you have a brand. Let's take a look into that journey.
The MENACE Behind MENACE
Steven Mena found MENACE back in September 2013. He was able to start the brand with $500 working at Pacsun and Subway. Bear in mind he was in college studying Media and Cultural Studies around this time. I think he also did a minor in business and marketing. The first idea of a brand sparked when he saw a guy on Twitter selling wristbands. Steven described himself as someone who is always curious about projects and so he found it cool that someone could generate income online from something so small. Steven had a natural interest in streetwear and knew how to use photoshop, so from there he did his research and stumbled across a free 150-page ebook named “launch a kickass t-shirt brand”.
This was enough to get Steven going with his brand after he stayed up reading it all in one sitting. He called up his friend Ivan and they started getting the brand together. They eventually landed on MENACE after going back and forth on other names. Steven started with humble beginnings as their site was first hosted on Karmaloop. One of Steven's earlier strategies was to get his clothes stocked in shops in the US and abroad, however, I'm not too sure how it worked out. Steven’s startup story is a familiar one as made a small $500 investment which covered his launch, started out of a college dorm room and talked about ideas with his friends. We all know a guy in that situation and maybe it's even you reading.
After a few months of running the brand, Steven would become a one-man band after him and his friend decided to no longer work together. This didn't slow down Steven as we can see from today, Steven kept his focus and put in the work and dedication. To illustrate how dedicated he was, Steven essentially gave up a normal college life to get his brand to where it's at today. He would drive around, pick up and drop off orders in between classes. He even walked 3 miles from his dorm room to pick up a box full of black T's and orders that needed to be made. In his bag were all his school books and papers. After graduating college, Steven saw the most growth in his brand which can be credited to being less restricted with his time and having 100% focus on the brand. Obviously, MENACE has now built up a nice following as well as a team which allows Steven to focus on his role as a creative director and designer. One of the learning lessons Steven learnt around this period is the value of money management. Not living too excessively but also balancing that with investing that money into the right things. I'm glad he mentioned this because brand owners need to hear this. Here is a quote from Steven himself.
At the heart of MENACE is a “for us, by us” mentality. They embrace the dark elements that embody the unforgiving side of LA culture, countering the stereotype that paints Los Angeles as a sunny paradise. MENACE derives inspiration from aspects of daily life, locally and globally, to offer original, street-inspired products. MENACE has a sizeable following of over 100k on Instagram, so the fact that they still run independently kind of comes as a surprise.
When it comes to their collections, MENACE keeps the heart of the brand alive in every drop, however, on a surface level, they switch up the theme for all of their drops by taking a different approach to every presentation, rollout, and design ethos. I think at a base level, a lot of their designs are inspired by LA and Hispanic culture as a whole, especially when you look at the consistent paisley motif, the caps as well as fonts used. They have a rough and unique aesthetic to them which would appeal to a niche audience.
Their catalogue consists of a lot of typical streetwear staples, let's take a look at them.
One thing about MENACE is they love their oversized T's with bold graphics on them. One of my favourites to date is the white T which has a graphic of someone with the MENACE logo braided into their hair.
Steven has to let us know how this graphic was made for sure. One of their most iconic T's was the all-seeing eye T which shows you other images if you look inside the eye, essentially it had the lenticular effect where you see another image based on reflections and how you move the object around. When speaking with NTWRK, Steven explained it was accomplished using a thin vinyl sheet as opposed to the thick plastic this effect is accustomed to using.
I think MENACE may have been the first brand to come out with this. This T where you have to almost squint your eyes to see the word MENACE is also dope. Around the World Cup in 2022, MENACE did switch it up with the T's by introducing their very own football jerseys. I never even expected MENACE to create something like this so it goes to show how tapped in Steven really is.
Outerwear is also a big part of MENACE’s product catalogue. The leather jacket embossed with the paisley pattern was honestly a nuts idea, and this came after their skeletal embossed leather jacket. I'm also a fan of their varsities and fleeces, Steven is also obviously a fan as he recently dropped an alternative colourway to their God-willing varsity which comes in a darker colour.
The first edition followed a light blue and beige version instead. To this day, I think this is another one of their iconic products and definitely another personal favourite of mine.
The creativity doesn't end there as they also dropped 2 Sherpa Fleeces which had Tiger faces on the back. It's definitely one of the best fleeces that dropped when a lot of brands were dropping them. Continuing on the Tiger motif, MENACE also dropped this Tiger blanket, these blankets are also known as Cobijas and are very popular among Hispanics and Latinos.
Looking over MENACE’s Instagram, it's clear to see they have a deep love for denim. Not only have they used it frequently, but they're also able to stay doing something different with each piece they bring forward. Some include the stencil cut design, the embossed effect, the distressed effect, one denim duffle bag and of course, their signature paisley pattern. I feel like MENACE could launch a sub-brand dedicated to just denim the way they're able to bring fresh designs to the table this easily.
We also have to mention their Gun Range Hoodies, I believe these gained MENACE a lot of traction when growing their brand and rightfully so. The hoodie has a paisley sleeve which can also be seen on one side of the hoodie. The other sleeve has a few text details with the MENACE logo there also. The centre of the hoodie includes the words Beverly hills gun range engulfing 2 guns crossed over. To top it off, the words MENACE is printed across the whole graphic. The design is essentially a staple in their locker and has been reimagined on t-shirts as well as for pop-up events.
Last but not least, we have to talk about MENACE’s obsession with releasing non-clothing items. Obviously, we’ve already covered the Cobijas but one of Steven's long-term goals was to release home appliances-type items that aren't necessarily clothing. Let's have a look through them.
First, we have the Money counter with the MENACE logo on the side.
The Culture calendar which marks historic moments or facts in hip-hop, music, sports, & pop culture history.
A Knife set coming with a fully custom cutting board and knife.
Their logo Rug which is hand tufted and made out of wool.
Their custom Alloy Rim.
Their Denim Duffle Bag.
Their Dartboard which is manufactured fully like the ones used professionally and a Bible safe box which is essentially a safe coming in the form of a bible.
With all that being said, MENACE has made a massive improvement from their first design ever. It was your simple T with a ski mask made up of guns printed on the centre. You can still even see some of their early designs on their page which featured angels and heavy use of the “menace 2 society” mantra. MENACE's early designs were a lot simpler and mainly screenprint with embroidery, as we move on to today we can see they have progressed on to more complex patterns and cuts plus sew pieces.
If you're a brand owner reading this, use this as motivation to show yourself you can do it too. The improvement and development of the brand is proven through their T and even though it's a little different, you can still see some of the roots of these designs in today's designs.
As for their design & inspiration process, Steven mentions that he's always thinking, and looking at ordinary stuff from different perspectives helps him stay creative. He’ll sit down, put earphones in and start creating stuff for hours. He also stocks unreleased ideas which he can pull from for collections. He’ll then go on to use illustrator to edit them into final designs.
MENACE’S Events & Marketing
When it comes to moments in the brand history, MENACE shows a track record of pulling off marketing ideas and events that are out of the box and simply go above and beyond. You could say this is another brand utilising guerilla marketing.
I'm not sure if this is the case to this day, but a very large amount of the brand was grown organically without PR, ads or influencers. This is just another brand showing you it can be done. The result? Organic love. Your community becomes stronger and more loyal and all the cosigns from celebs and influencers are more authentic. Which is fundamental when working with them.
I think to this day, this is one of MENACES' smartest rollouts. In august 2019, they replicated myspace to recreate a social network that would showcase their lookbook surrounding mental health. Obviously social media has had a huge effect on our mental health and this was Stevens' interpretation of that through a collection. Creating a website isn't easy. Going the extra mile to create a social network is a whole nother ball game. The website had a fake community of people and each profile featured a different fit from the collection.
I also liked the idea of their May 2020 drop where they simulated an arcade video game for their lookbook at the time. Going back to pay vendors who helped them with a pop-up is also a kind gesture from them.
Another creative idea is their Beverly Hills Grun ran Range pop-up, which was in, I believe October of the same year. Steven came up with the name from brainstorming and going with it, he and his small team held an event where they set up a real gun range where customers could line up and shoot BB guns at paper targets that showcased the lookbook. Being able to immerse your customers into your own world of ideas with your brand, I think will be a key component in the future of running a brand, so this is an idea I have much admiration for. What's crazy is that this was all built and set up by him and his team. No specialists, no 3rd party builders, just Steven and the guys.
One of the hardest campaign shoots I've seen while running this page is for their Members collection. The pieces included Beverly Hills gun Ranges hoodies in 2 different camo colours being green and navy/white. In the shoot models in the green camo set stand in a square formation looking in one direction. The models engulf the other models wearing the alternative coloured hoodie while they look straight at the camera. The contrast and disruption and the way it all comes together are what made me like this shoot. The accompanying shots featuring different angles, poses and locations all fit in well.
There's so much more we can unpack here but I’ll end off with 2 extra things I like. One was the billboard they had up at Fairfax and melrose. No pun intended but the billboard was definitely eye-catching, it was the perfect image to use overall. I like how MENACE also incorporate fashion films into their marketing. I don't think you can market your knife set any better way than with an infomercial video. And their Cosmic Connection commercial looked like something straight out of a Hollywood movie. At this point, it's clearly more than just clothes. You guys already know I love my fashion films. I highly recommend you go watch some of the others
It's 2015 and as Steven was sorting out orders in his LA office, he noticed a shipping label with the name of NBA star DeMarcus Cousins. This was the start of change and helped propel his brand on the right track, all just 2 years in
2 years later came another turning point when Steven met Ian Connor. The beauty of it was that it was all-natural, Ian initially saw one of the pieces in Steven's car and told Steven he needed it. Later on, he posted it on IG and the hoodie went on to sell out in 20 minutes and land on the Grailed resale market.
Apart from that, it's hard to keep up with celebs that wore the brand however some include Gunna, Young Thug, Travis Scott, Lil Baby, Kehlani, The Migos and Bad Bunny.
Another big moment is when Sheck Wes modelled for their FW20 collection. This consists of denim sets, a customizable puffer, a few outerwear pieces and multiple other pieces. Mexican artists Cuco also modelled for their Motherland Collection and rappers Drakeo the ruler & Ohgessy modelled for one of their Beverly Hills Gun Range Hoodies.
The Future of Menace
I think MENACE settling on an official logo was also ideal. It's not only a good logo that matches the brand, but it's also very versatile in the way it's used. I like the way they're able to constantly spin it into graphics which can be seen across their Instagram as well as details on clothes and further imagery.
I always knew MENACE was a serious heavy hitter in the space but me creating this article opened my eyes up more to the brand and the level of quality it truly has. MENACE clearly has a loyal following. I mean people are out here getting the logos tatted, people are filling up their pop-up events and they've stood the test of time for almost 10 years. 10 years of running a business is all the proof you need behind the brand's success.
Also, I like Steven's vision to uplift the Hispanic community as he feels they're overlooked, it's something I highly respect and I hope he's able to fulfil that vision.
What we can Learn?
Now as for what we can learn from MENACE, I'll leave that over to Steven to put us on.
MENACE ticks all the boxes of what a streetwear brand is, I think Steven and his brand is a good figure to look up to if you're on your brand journey. As MENACE closes in on its 10th year in September, which I still can’t comprehend, I’ll be here along the journey with them. I truly believe MENACE can become a streetwear giant in the mainstream and I say this because of their ability to constantly be creative in both their marketing and designs. This is a brand here for the long term.
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