Oli Sykes on the passion that drives Drop Dead Clothing: “I need everything to be meaningful, to have a reason to exist”

From those first T-shirts shipped out of his teenage bedroom to becoming one of the biggest alternative fashion brands on the planet, Bring Me The Horizon frontman Oli Sykes explains how Drop Dead Clothing has always been a labour of love…

Oli Sykes on the passion that drives Drop Dead Clothing: “I need everything to be meaningful, to have a reason to exist”
Sam Law

There’s been a renewed sense of purpose about Drop Dead Clothing over the last 12 months. November’s Rival Schools drop found owner and Bring Me The Horizon vocalist Oli Sykes, alongside Head of Design Jacob Harry Carter, weaving in the narrative threads of a tale about rival gangs competing for control of a dystopian world. February’s Running From My Demons activewear range reflected the frontman’s life-changing discovery that exercise could be a powerful tool in moving on from addiction. April’s Neutrals collection emphasised social and ecological issues, focusing on muted colour palettes and genderless fits, while also minimising the environmental impact of producing the garments themselves.

For Oli, the flurry of fresh activity echoes a rejuvenation of outsider music. Having started out with only youthful enthusiasm and £500 from his mum, the singer has always been passionate about his fashion remaining rooted in the real alternative scene. And, after a few years of being uninspired by the world around him, there’s finally a new generation he’s dying to dress…

How did the idea for Drop Dead Clothing first come about?
“Around the time Bring Me first got together, I was in college studying film media. It was shit, so I just dropped out. I was like, ‘I guess I’m just going to have to get a job then.’ It was actually my mum who suggested that I could start a small business to make a bit of money and focus on the band while not having to work nine-to-five. I was like, ‘I want to make a clothing company!’ I think she’d been thinking something a little more modest, more of a local business type thing, but I said, ‘No, no, there are these clothing companies in America like Ride The Rockett, Famous Stars And Straps and Johnny Rocket who are independent brands doing really well – and no-one’s done it in England yet.’ My mum was like, ‘I’ve already agreed to it, so I’ll lend you £500, but you’ve got to go to business school!’”

What are your memories of those earliest days?
“I ordered the first set of T-shirts from America because there wasn’t even really anyone doing screen-printing in the UK at that stage. But the clothes didn’t even turn up! They just disappeared and the company went dark on us, so I went to business school to try and get some money to do it in England. Then they did turn up. It was during the MySpace days, and I’d already kinda built up a bit of a [following] – people knew who I was on there, so I made my own little website and put them on there. The first night, I sold about 30 shirts and was like, ‘What the fuck?!’”

You must’ve been working round the clock, starting a fashion brand while also spearheading one of modern British metal’s most important bands…
“It was just me in my bedroom back in those early days. I used to have to walk with these two massive sacks on my back down to the post office, which was a 15 or 20 minutes away. I didn’t have a car at this point, and sometimes I’d have to do two or three trips a day. It just got barmy. The post office fuckin’ hated me, too! People would come in, see I was there, then just turn around and walk straight back out again. I’d be sending stuff to America, Australia and wherever else. Back then, to post stuff internationally, you had to have all the right labels and documents. Then the band started taking off, so my mum had to start stepping in for me when I was out on tour. Every time I’d come back she’d be like, ‘Okay, we’ve moved you out of the bedroom and now we’re at a business centre.’ It all just went from there...”

To what extent did the business grow up in tandem with the band? For a while, it looked like Drop Dead Clothing could be even bigger than Bring Me…
“Obviously, the two helped each other, but the band didn’t even have a record and wasn’t touring when the clothing label started – and the label just took off!”

How does your role in the company nowadays compare with back then?
“I’m still really heavily involved. Everything still comes from me in terms of ideas and the direction I want to go in. But I have a creative director in Jacob Harry Carter, too. Before we start work on a collection, the two of us will normally get together for a week or so, sit down, brainstorm everything, then Harry makes it happen. Sometimes I’ll still do designs, but a lot of time will be spent together looking for designers, trying to find people to work closely with. Harry is more like who I was 10 years ago, really. He’s the guy making it all happen. But nothing gets designed, produced or put out there without being passed through me.”

You’re not dragging sacks of shirts down to the post office anymore, then?
“I’m not (laughs). We’ve got an amazing team who pick and pack, nowadays, and some really cool bits of technology to help with that.”

What do you think has made Drop Dead the alt. fashion powerhouse it is today?
“It’s much the same as the reason the band has continued to grow: that adapt-or-die mentality. I’ve done a lot of things that I was told not to at business school. They said, ‘Once you’ve got your logo and you’ve established what your thing is, you stick to that and keep building on it.’ But what if you don’t resonate with that anymore? When Drop Dead started it was literally drawings, by me, of zombies in cowboy shirts and things like that. People asked, ‘What are you going to do when that stops being cool?’ and I told them I’d just do something different. I get bored easily. When I get sick of how Drop Dead looks, I change it. If I was still trying to do the same shit I was 10 years ago, I wouldn’t wear it. I don’t see how you could expect other people to wear it, either. The core thread of what we want to say and what we want to do – the meaning – has always been there, but the aesthetic has changed so much. Also, without sounding too big-headed, Drop Dead really was the first. So many little independent alternative brands cropped up in the years after Drop Dead started, but Drop Dead really kicked it off in England. People remember that. Again, it’s like the band: we’re a legacy act in a lot of ways, but we’ve grown, and we’re still changing and adapting. To [our fans, we’re well established] but, to a lot of people, we’re a new thing!”

And your ownership of everything you do is key...
“We’ve had offers to sell. We’ve had offers to have out clothes in Topman and stuff, too – wholesale and that. But as soon as it starts going into those places and everyone can get it, that’s the point where it begins to lose its sparkle. As soon as I hand it over to someone else completely, it’s not me anymore. People feel that. You’ve got to stay in control. There have been times where I’ve wanted to give it up and it’s become too much, but I’ve stuck to it. I think letting it go is the worst thing you can do.”

From Sega to Jurassic Park, you’ve had some killer collaborations over the years. Which have been your favourites?
“The Jurassic Park one was like a dream come true because it’s my favourite film – I’m obsessed with it. But we’d asked a couple of times, and they just said, ‘No!’ It was only when we went off and did Itchy & Scratchy and Gremlins and stuff that we built up a really good reputation. Itchy & Scratchy really turned things for us. We went in like, ‘There’s no way they’re going to give us a Simpsons thing, but maybe if we go for Itchy & Scratchy – this darker side – we can make a pitch.’ We got lucky because nobody had asked to do an Itchy & Scratchy collaboration before. Fox were so stoked on it. They took it to an industry awards thing, and from that point we’ve really had the pick of what we’ve wanted to do. So Itchy & Scratchy was a special one, but with Jurassic Park, it was really like, ‘I can’t believe I’m getting to make JP clothes!’”

Are there any dream collabs you’ve still got to check off?
“We’ve got a list, but I don’t want to say and then have anything not happen. We do have some really exciting ones in the pipeline...”

The Neutrals collection is front and centre at the moment: a line that’s extremely progressive both socially and ecologically. How important was it to make that kind of statement?
“One thing it feels like people don’t really know about Drop Dead is that we’re a vegan company. We have been since day one, because I’m vegan. We’ve just never made a big fuss about it. Like a lot of progressive businesses, one day we all want to be carbon neutral, too. But there is still so much still to be done in that area. At one point [a few years ago], Drop Dead had almost turned into a monster: we were producing so much, and there was so much demand, that sometimes we were making stuff that I wasn’t 100 per cent proud of. I hate that feeling of putting that out there. For me to carry on doing this, I need everything to be meaningful and to have a reason to exist, to be able to say, ‘This is why you should buy from us: we’re trying our hardest to have as little impact as possible on the planet, and to make stuff you can wear forever.’ It’s not about creating loads of shit so we can make money. It’s about every piece having that feeling of, ‘I want to wear this. I love this. This is really special. It’s timeless.’ This is the first collection where we’ve really made a song and dance about saying, ‘This is what we do!’”

Finally, given how much of a fashion heavyweight Drop Dead already is, and how much of a difference you’ve been able to make on topics like mental health, gender identity and environmental production, where do you go from here?
“It’s about continuing to push those things. Drop Dead has always been into gender-fluid clothing. We’ve made skirts for guys! But in recent years, it feels like people have gotten way more into it. That’s great for us because, when we used to make those things, they were kind of a hard sell. Now that people are way more open to that stuff, we’re getting to do more of what we always wanted to do. We’re obviously striving to be more environmentally friendly, looking for factories we can work with who’re taking it seriously as well. But the biggest thing is [rekindling] a sense of community. We used to have what we called the Drop Dead Army: all the bands and fans wearing our clothes. It got to the point about five years ago where we lost that a little bit. As I’ve spoken about before, I was disillusioned with the scene. I felt that rock had grown a bit stale. But my viewpoint has really changed over the last year or so, with so many alternative acts coming through. Many of them are younger and see us as this iconic brand. We’d really like to take people back to those days where we feel like this is our scene. It’s all these alternative kids who’re stoked to wear Drop Dead – and we’re stoked to give it to them!”

Drop Dead’s Neutrals collection is available now.

Now read these

The best of Kerrang! delivered straight to your inbox three times a week. What are you waiting for?