By Campbell Fauber
In early June, Threads: React sat down with Rob Bowhan, the owner of the Madison-based August, on State Street, which features unique streetwear and sneaker brands. “Since the first month we opened, we’ve been a hub for Black art whether its visual art or performing art,” said Bowhan, who opened August in October 2017. “One of the things we’ve always done at August was to celebrate Black culture.”
The brands Bowhan highlights have strong ties to hip hop and rap musicians. For example, Bowhan carries Midwest Kids, a brand that features collegiate-font graphics on t-shirts and shorts. Midwest Kids founder, Darryl Brown, got a career-boost when he became Kanye West’s personal stylist. Similarly, Anwar Carrots, known for his eponymous bright orange and green clothing line called Carrots (right), got his start by designing concert t-shirts for up-and-coming LA rappers. Bowhan has also carried the brand Ice Cream, which was co-founded by singer Pharrell Williams and Japanese designer NIGO, and features graphic hoodies and joggers.
While those brands have national name recognition, Bowhan and August want to be an incubator showcasing the unique talents of minorities through art, design, and music. For example, last December, August hosted a gallery night called “Let’s Chill” featuring local artists, including synth and soul musician, Mr. Jackson, and photographer, Gabe Oviawe.
Going forward, Bowhan wants to explore ways he can be supportive of the Black Lives Matter movement. As a white entrepreneur who specializes in streetwear, Bowhan acknowledges that it is important to recognize that his store is fundamentally influenced by black culture. “We have a duty to pay homage to that history,” said Bowhan, who graduated from UW in 2003 with a BA in Sociology. He believes his business can show the deep connection between streetwear, which historically has been about expression and counterculture, and the black community.
Bowhan also envisions his store becoming more involved in elections both on the local and national level. He started this initiative in late-February when August hosted an in-store community-building event featuring the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s Executive Director, Nellie Sires. Attendees discussed voting registration, voter suppression, and organizing for political change. Bowhan does not see this type of activism going away anytime soon. His goal is for August to become a center for young people to learn more about politics and ways they can have their voices heard.
To promote rising designers, Bowhan has partnered with SoHE to help students gain insight into the world of retail. Each year, he sponsors a t-shirt contest with the Printing and Dyeing class where he meets with students to discuss how they can develop and market their unique clothing items that match August’s brand identity. He also partnered with the Design and Fashion Events Practicum in November 2018 to create Every Body, an inclusive photo shoot. In addition, August has hosted several special events featuring SoHE student designers’ collections. For example, in May 2019, August hosted an in-store event introducing Obasi Davis’ senior thesis collection to the public. Against a backdrop of live music, models wearing Davis’ designs acted as living mannequins only changing their positions every few minutes.
Bowhan hopes to continue to feature and mentor even more young, black designers and students through his store. If you’re interested in learning more about August, check out the website here and if you’re interested in talking to owner Rob Bowhan, send him an email at email@example.com.
Watch the Full Interview HERE