Building an empire no 'Drama' for Pfaff
Born and raised in Akron, Ohio, Chris “Drama” Pfaff had set his sights on one thing: getting a low-profile job working in the skateboarding industry. Building an empire that would associate his name with that of a mini-mogul? The thought never even crossed his mind.
After landing in Los Angeles following high-school graduation, it didn't take too long before an opportunity came along to star as the right-hand man to his skateboarding-legend cousin, Rob Dyrdek, on the MTV reality docu-series “Rob & Big.” From there, Pfaff endeared himself to audiences with additional appearances on MTV's “The Fantasy Factory” and “Ridiculousness,” while producing music with the likes of Kelly Rowland, E40 and Yelawolf and launching his Young & Reckless streetwear line — all by the tender age of 27.
Question: As a kid growing up in Akron, did you ever think you'd be described one day as a mini-mogul?
Answer: To be honest, I did not. My dreams were to work in the skateboard industry in a pretty low-profile job, and to me, living in Los Angeles and working at a skateboard shop was pretty much a dream come true. So, I kind of set my goals a little low, I guess.
I'm very thankful because I know how lucky and blessed I am, but, at the same time, I always am looking for what's next. So, for as much as I've done — and I do take moments where I really soak it all in — at the same time, I'm constantly thinking of how I can do more and what I can do better and how I can be in an even greater situation a few years from now. Which is a strange situation, because you're thankful, but you're constantly feeling like you haven't done anything yet.
Q: What was the inspiration behind creating the Young & Reckless clothing line?
A: I moved from Ohio to L.A. when I was 18, and I noticed that there was a gap between the kinds of the brands that were available to kids in small-town America and the brands available to people in L.A., New York, Miami — those sorts of places.
And I noticed especially in the streetwear culture, these L.A., New York-based brands had a really good relationship with their fan base. The kids sit and wait in line to get the new shirt, or they can't wait to see what the brand does next, and they really have this kind of loyalty that doesn't exist in middle America because the kids just don't have access to it.
So, my goal was to create a mass-distributed brand that still had that feeling and still had a message behind it where the kid felt empowered from putting on a T-shirt or jacket and not just buying something because everyone else at school has it. The main thing was creating that movement. I knew I wasn't going to change the fashion game; the goal was more of giving it some life.
Q: Is it an oxymoron that you can live your best life when you're young and wild?
A: No. I think that is the key to living your best life. My message is not being reckless in a legal sort of way or a harmful sort of way. I think that in its most basic form, what I wanted to spread from day one was the belief of living outside of the box. I think one of the biggest tragedies is that kids, especially living in America, kind of conform to the rules that are laid out to them and the schooling that's laid out for them, and a lot of kids don't chase their dreams or don't take risks or, really, even sometimes, have fun.
I was blessed enough to be able to do that myself and follow my own dreams, and I didn't go to college. Obviously, we've done some, literally, pretty reckless things on our show. But I just kind of noticed, unfortunately, people are kind of trapped in this invisible box of what you should do and what you have to do, and it doesn't really allow you to live the most fun or happiest life possible.
Q: So, what would you say to the old adage that with age comes wisdom?
A: I do believe in that quote very much — and I also feel like the only reason why, at 27 years old, I'm able to not only do the things I do and have the mental stability to run these companies, but also to have these sort of outlooks on life, is only because of how much I have lived in that short amount of time.
To my point, I feel like, unfortunately, that's where a lot of the ignorance in our society comes from. All the way from racism to bullying issues — most of that is driven by just plain ignorance and the lack of experiencing life and other people and other things. The more you do that, the less negativity seems to come from you.
Q: Might making streetwear more mainstream inadvertently take away from what made it unique in the first place?
A: That is an age-old question and will be a debate that goes on at trade shows forever. But my personal opinion is this: I think that the problem, and why I'm doing what I'm doing, is that most people either have a really strong message but are scared to grow the brand for the sake of doing that, of losing their message or selling out. Or, you're a huge brand, you're so big, you're in H&M or Forever 21 or whatever it is, and it's almost literally impossible to have a message, and you're so busy focusing on business and margins and all that stuff to really incorporate a message.
My personal belief is that as long as you grow inside of your brand integrity and inside of your message, you'll always be fine. And I think the challenge is, how do you be smart and creative and spread your message to more and more and more people? But I will forever let any of my brands to grow as much as I feel like they're being shown properly.
Kate Benz is the social columnist for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-380-8515.