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What Ever Happen To Mishka NYC: Rise and Fall Of Streetwear Brands

Remember Mishka? Born in Brooklyn, raised in Hell in 2003? Mishka came along during the golden age of streetwear, a pioneer of sorts. Founded by Mikhail Bortnik and Greg Rivera, the company started as basically a t shirt company that blossomed into a staple of streetwear culture of the day.

They were undeniably hot for years, with blood shot eyes all over the place. Get it lol. Then suddenly one day, seems like they had been forgotten, completely. So what happened? How did a brand with so much hype and preceved respectability go the way of the Nintendo? And how could brands of today avoid a similar fate?

The brand can trace its roots back to New York City’s “fertile crescent” of Hip-Hop, Street-art, and Punk. The “do it yourself” ethics of 1980s New York City is what both inspired and powered the brand to the top of the heap.

They offered a range of edgy and creative original art, mixed with tongue-in-cheek takes on established logos and imagery. Once they began to pick up steam they branched out and broadened there scoop.

offering Cut and Sew lines that boasted slim fits and custom sizing. The cuts of garments ranged from traditional silhouettes to unexpected—and strangely sophisticated—pieces that pushed the limits of what was considered "normal."

Mishka with it's images of bloodshot eyes, references to punk songs, and nods to cult classic sci-fi and horror films, but Music was woven into the fabric of Mishka's history: Co-owner and creative director Mikhail Bortnik had been interested in graphic t-shirts since he found an interest in skate graphics and band shirts as a kid.

"There's something about a t-shirt as this blank canvas that kind of conforms to the individual wearer," Bortnik says. "Something about the aesthetic that appeals to me." In 2003, Bortnik took around $20,000 of his own money to start a clothing company focused on making t-shirts.

At it's height, their website averaged 7,000 or more visits a day, and music has played a key role in the success.

Bortnik and company have been integrating music into the promotional wing of Mishka since early on. Compines would team up with DJs to make mixes, and the folks at Mishka would post those collections online and press up a few hundred physical copies to pass out at parties and trade shows.

On Sept. 1, 2007, Mishka launched its blog, know as "The Bloglin," a home for posts about fashion and music that tastemakers check up on regularly. Nearly two years later Mishka released its first proper mixtape, a collection of songs by a personal fave of mine, rap act Ninjasonik called Darth Baño.

Insanely I had actually forgot about these guys cause I haven't heard from them lately but back then I really fucked with there stuff. In 2010 the clothing company began hosting its slew of mixtapes on Bandcamp.

"It's great publicity for us and the artists," Bortnik says. "The way things are right now, if they try to sell this material most people won't listen to it." But Mishka's mixtapes clue many people into artists that might not have been able to get by on their own, essentially getting them to the next step in their careers while giving the company a little boost.

Bortnik had always expressed an interest in the brand and its music wing, but real tipping point came in March 2010: That's when Mishka (along with Greedhead Entertainment) released Das Racist's first mixtape, Shut Up, Dude, an effort that helped transform the NYC hip-hop trio from humorous meme into an underground sensation.

This was huge for Mishka, and Bortnik says the company began receiving a flood of e-mails from dance to hip-hop to indie-rock acts hoping to release their music through the brand. Mishka was never a really a full fledged record company though, they couldn't offer musicians the financial backing of a conventional label. But in lieu of, say, paying to record a mixtape, Mishka gave all its artist free gear each new season and acted as a PR rep for its musicians.

So you may ask, if Bortnik was so innovative and Mishka was so popular, what caused the downfall? And you would be surprised to know that the very same popularity in a way began to work against the brand. Suddenly Mishka was everywhere, you couldn't find a hypebeast in the country that did not own at least a few pieces. They began to be carried in large mall chain stores like Pacsun and Zumes, which you might think is great right? Wrong, the wide spread availability and international craze had began to alienate the core fan base that originally mad the brand popular. So much so that Bortnik himself stated Mishka began to go in a direction he never really intend it to.

Then eventually, people started to place less value in the offers, and suddenly no one wanted to be seen in a shirt with an eye on it that looked as if it was fresh off a 4 day coke bender. Or to be refereed to or know as a "Death Adder". And just like that, the lights went out.

Well not really, Mishka continues to live as a company, there site is stil up and running and they still produce seasonal offerings that are carried in Pacsun and Zumes to this day. As for Bortnik, he moved on to new fashion endeavors and launched Psychic Hearts, described by Bortnik as "non-confrontational".

Bortnik went on record with Vice stating "It's very soft, it's fuzzy, it's warm, it's gentle. Our color is pink." In other words, the premier collection, which officially dropped in May of last year and adding a third round of designs in early November, is possibly a Bizarro Mishka, or even its foil. Psychic Hearts is still true to what its founder is known for, though—there are T-shirts with obscure reference points, as well as original, colorful graphics. As Bortnik says, it's for the same people who once wore Mishka, but no longer want a shirt with FUCK on the sleeve.

Bortnik further explained in his Vice interview, I realized when I started Mishka that I was designing mainly for myself. I was shopping at these [streetwear] stores, but that was at a time in the mid and late 90s when we'd still be seeing Tupac and Biggie shirts—that was just kind of a big vibe with streetwear.

I started designing things that fit more in line with my own taste, stuff like horror movies, punk, indie rock. It was a bit difficult getting stores to want to infuse that in, but once Mishka started getting into stores, I saw that there was an audience of kids gravitating towards it because nobody else was really doing it like us. So I kind of realized that while I'm designing for myself, I'm not the only person who's into stuff like this; there's an audience for it.

But like we all do, Bortnik grew up. "I don't want to do lookbooks with porn stars, I don't want to do shirts that say "fuck off," or like things like that. I'm sure sometimes I'll veer off into that just because of my nature, but a lot of this brand is about the stuff that I gravitate towards and how I feel about my personality. " He also realizes the damage that wide spread circulation caused. While Mishka became a massive international operation, carried in major chain mall stores, Psychic Hearts pieces are handmade with fabrics from Manhattan's garment district and sold online and in boutiques like Extra Butter in New York and Jugrnaut in Chicago.

So what did we learn, growth is normal, we all grow up and most of us have changed in many ways from the person we were as kids. As we get older it's natural to progress to higher more sophisticated levels while still maintaining an edge, artistic, or devil may care attitude at heart. We can maintain out care free sprits form youth in ways that still alow us to express originality and stay cool. Also it shows us that over saturation of hyped items equals bad. As we have seen time and time again once hyped items become available to everyone. No one wants them, let this be a lesson to brands of today that thrive mainly off of hype


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