Nick Woj is stoked on his Air Max 97s. Sneakerheads know how highly coveted they are and their limited availability in rare colorways, so it makes sense that the drummer from Cold World would be beaming over them, despite his previous history. "I had an O.G. pair of these on ice and wore them for the first time to a show in Philly. I walked a block away from my house and the whole sole fell off of the shoe. It was just hanging and I had to walk back to my crib with one foot and change kicks," he laughs. Suffer for fashion, as they say.
Nick Woj is not only a sneakerhead and the drummer for Cold World, he's also the brains behind the massive subeconomy that is Cold World merch. Co-opting ideas and designs from rap, hardcore and kitsch from the Nineties and beyond, Cold World's merch is the hardcore equivalent of Supreme streetwear — produced in limited quantities, drooled over and sought after on the secondary market for obscene prices. When it comes to merch for hardcore kids there's vintage, Lockin' Out and Cold World stuff, everything else is a very distant second. We won't even start on the Lockin' Out/Cold World collabos.
Considering the intense micro-universe around Cold World merchandise, we sat down with Woj to ask him about his approach to merch and the ideas behind them.
RAP IS CLEARLY A BIG INFLUENCE ON YOUR APPROACH TO MERCHANDISE. HOW DID YOU START PULLING INSPIRATION FROM THAT WORLD?
NICK WOJ You know what it was? Just a simple utilitarian thing. We had our first 7-inch come out, and our homie ran out of money when it came time to print the covers. So we had shows lined up and a 7-inch with no cover, so I knew that I had to make covers for these 7-inches. So we stopped at Kinko's and I'd just check out whatever magazines I had at the crib — old Source magazines or Mass Appeal, whatever was out at the time. So one limited cover was one of Supreme's early ads where it was a Biggie collage with all these old punk flyers, so I just photocopied that and then on the flip side I put Rakim's eyes and then a Cold World tag. So that was a limited cover. And then another was from an old piece in the Source on Lo-Lifes [a New York crew obsessed with vintage Ralph Lauren Polo gear] I turned that into a limited cover.
So I carried that over to merch because it was the same thing. I was the only one who had the time really because I was basically living off of DJing. And even then it was still off the cuff because I would just say, "Alright, what do I have lying around?" It would always be tons of hip hop records because, like I said, I was living off of DJing and was collecting hip hop records at the time. So I would send pictures to our printer in New Jersey, because I didn't really know how to use Photoshop or Illustrator, and say, "Hey, could you rip this off?" "Could you do this?" They would do it. Strong City Records label or Uptown Records or whatever.
ANOTHER SHIRT HAD THE POWELL-PERALTA SWORD AND SKULL ...
Yeah, that's another thing. Whatever we grew up on and were into, from streetwear or sneakers or punk or skinhead shit or whatever, if it's something that's obscure enough to where nobody will really know what this is, it could be visually appealing to anyone.
BUT FOR THE PEOPLE WHO DO KNOW WHAT IT IS ...
Exactly! So it's an extra bonus. If you know what this is, then you're the man or a fucking nerd like me.
OVER THE YEARS YOU'VE DONE SHIRTS AND HOODIES. HAVE YOU EVER DONE ANYTHING WEIRDER FOR MERCH?
We did football scarves, but that's really it. But you just touched on something. For every other band in the world, merch is really huge. The thing that made our merch have that resale value is that we didn't believe in ourselves and our merch. So when we would play a show, I would literally just make 40 or 60 shirts because I was like, "No one's gonna buy this shit, we're not popular yet." And then you know, three days later I would see it on eBay for over $100 and think, "What the fuck? I should have kept one." [Laughs] Meanwhile, we lost money on the show and these kids are reselling our shit. Then we started seeing bigger bands ripping us off and printing thousands of a specific shirt design. When you really make money is when you mass produce something — that's something that we've never done. Once you do that, that's when no one wants your shit. Whenever Cold World has made an effort to capitalize off of our merch, it's always blown up in our face. Other people were caking off of building a webstore, but when we would try, it wouldn't work out for us. So we decided to just keep making as minimal an amount as we needed for each show. It's very rare to see a hardcore band one weekend and then the next weekend and they have completely different merch for both shows. And that is almost always going to happen with us.
SO WHAT'S A TYPICAL RUN FOR YOUR SHIRTS?
Probably 80 tops. So we have these three shows this weekend and, now that Instagram has the Instagram story, I posted the graphics on there just to show friends and stuff – get people hyped. Mad people started hitting me up like, "Yo, homie, this size, can I PayPal you for this?" We'd rather just blow out at the show and if it means not having any merch at the gig on Monday. It is what it is, you know. It makes it that much more sought after, you know?
DID YOU EVER DO ANY REPRESSES?
We've done a couple. The first shirt we ever did just said "Cold World" in block letters, just real shitty. We wanted it to look like a free promo rap shirt. We remade that once, maybe twice. We also remade the graffiti font with the North Face logo rip on the back.
SO ALL OF THIS CAME OUT OF NECESSITY? NONE OF IT CAME OUT OF SNEAKER CULTURE OR RECORD CULTURE?
Well, at first I didn't know how to use Photoshop or Illustrator or anything. Eventually as I got more into it, I kind of taught myself a little just to have more control over how the graphics looks. So I started learning a little more about how to do it myself and then a few years ago my girlfriend had to move to Boston for law school. My homie was head designer for this company Concepts based out of Boston — it's a streetwear and sneaker company and brand. I asked him if he could hook me up with a job there, thinking jI'd sweep the floors or work in the shop. He said, "Would you be down to help with design?" So I got the position and moved up and then that's when I really got more into being hands on with graphics and stuff. I have tons more to learn — I use probably 5 percent of Photoshop and Illustrator's capacity.
AS FAR AS OTHER BANDS ARE CONCERNED, HARDCORE, RAP OR OTHERWISE, IS THERE ANYONE'S MERCH THAT YOU LIKE?
The only hardcore merch rips we've ever done have been Eighties New York hardcore, which is pretty much universal across the genre. That's like the blueprint — the first cool hardcore merch really. Other than that, Floorpunch merch was sick back in the day. Pushead obviously, including all of Septic Death because it's been sort of a blueprint that I've used subconsciously. He's connected to so much ill shit, and then at the same time he'll have streetwear kids that don't know anything about that lining up for a Nike release or a new print or something.They've never heard a Poison Idea record in their life, but somehow it's all getting conveyed to those kids as well. It's subconscious.
One band — well, artist, really — that is inspirational is Sakevi from G.I.S.M. He had a clothing line called STLTH and it was only sold in undercover stores. He just kind of had this ominous presence that ...
THERE ARE A LOT OF LEGENDS ABOUT HIM.
Yeah, but it kind of seeped into the merch. So when you saw it you're like, "What?" Like some of it is too fucked up to wear. So it all goes together, his vision for G.I.S.M. matches his own clothing line, like I was saying earlier about Pushead. I don't accomplish it, but that's something that I'm cognizant of and definitely take influence from. They want to control the entire message. Before, I wouldn't ask to do flyers for shows. But now whenever we book a show, I ask to do the flyer for that reason. I want everything to speak the same language.
A SINGULAR AESTHETIC.
For our upcoming shows I just made one flyer with all the shows and used a Daidō Moriyama photo for it. That's one of my favorite photographers. So I carried that onto a shirt, too.
IT'S FUNNY THAT YOU BRING UP SOME OF SAKEVI'S ART. SOME OF IT IS PRETTY EXTREME. I'VE PERSONALLY SEEN IRON EAGLES AND SWASTIKAS OF SOME OF HIS MERCH.
I have a Sakevi shirt where it has a dude behind a dog and it says "we fuck dogs." [Laughs] And that's the shirt. It has that on the front and on the back. And besides me being too fat for the Japanese sizing, I can't wear a shirt that says, "we fuck dogs," but I have it. It's in a fucking Ziploc baggie because it's so fucking bizarre and interesting. [Laughs]
SO ALL OF THE MERCH OF YOURS THAT I AM AWARE OF IS A TRIBUTE. DO YOU HAVE ANY STUFF THAT IS MORE STRAIGHT AHEAD?
Yeah, there's a lot of stuff that isn't a rip off, but you probably wouldn't remember it. That's the stuff that we make like a really low number of. It could just be a cool graphic that I find. One of my favorites is from a skate zine and it was a kid sitting on a ledge on his board with his head in his hands, kind of like Minor Threat. It was just a really crude photocopy that said Cold World under it. That's like one of my favorite shirts. It's one that no one probably remembers, but they remember the BAPE rip off.
I FEEL LIKE THAT'S AN ICONIC SHIRT, THE BAPE ONE.
That's one of my favorite ones. When we first did it, it was real goofy, at the tail end of BAPE being cool. And we made it really limited, like 30 sweatshirts, and it was for a Canadian weekend and they all sold at one show in Montreal. I think I remember that thing going for like 300 bucks on eBay, which is insane. We sold it for I think like 40 bucks.
I actually became acquaintances with SK8THING, the original designer for BAPE. He like made the BAPE graphic and he did a lot of graphics for BBC [Pharrell Williams clothing line Billionaire Boys Club]. He saw the design and asked me for one and I was like, "Damn, that was years ago. I wish." So I sent him a Cold World hat and I actually found a picture of him wearing it. It was so sick to me, sort of like Pushead wearing Cold World shirts.
HOW MANY DIFFERENT DESIGNS HAVE YOU DONE OVER THE YEARS?
I don't know man. There's a picture of one of our homies in Tokyo, who is probably the No. 1 Cold World collector. He's sitting with all of his shirts laid out and it's a lot. But it might be half of the shirts we've ever made. It looks like 100 shirts.
YOU HAVE THREE ON THIS SET OF DATES ...
And then we're playing a fest in Europe in November, so that'll be probably three more. So, they add up. And we've been a band for 10 years now.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN APPROACHED BY A BRAND TO DO A COLLABORATION?
When I first started working for Concepts, the dude who hired me mentioned it, but I didn't want to cross my paths. Everyone else at Concepts, they don't know about punk or hardcore at all so they'd be like, "What is this shit?" But if it was something cool, I would do it, but a lot of the hardcore streetwear crossovers that have been happening … the heart's in the right place, but when it gets like ...
FILTERED THROUGH OTHER CHANNELS ...
It's tough for me because I see it also through the kids' eyes that aren't plugged into hardcore, that just are plugged into streetwear. So they see it and be like "What is this bullshit?" So I'm cognizant of that.