by Jackpot on 04/25/2015

From Jackpot No. 1, released January 26, 2015



Words by Naavin Karimbux | Photograph by Patrick Driscoll

Lurking in Ocean View, New Jersey, Jordan Hartigan creates BURMA. A dark, enigmatic company, BURMA remains uninterested in the trends and fads of the streetwear world, instead creating completely original products that blur the line between clothing and art. BURMA draws from a wide range of subjects, from the Rolling Stones to the Jersey Devil, to create its uniquely morbid aesthetic. Hartigan is in charge of every aspect of the company, from the clothes themselves to the incredibly creative lookbooks that are released with every collection. Jackpot Magazine recently spoke with Hartigan about everything from clothes as an artistic medium to Grand Theft Auto V.

JACKPOT MAGAZINE: Would you consider BURMA a “streetwear” brand?

JORDAN HARTIGAN: Streetwear is a broad term that has been sodomized by the internet. I guess it fits the mold of what can be defined by streetwear nowadays, which is anything made by a kid age 12-25 and also has a BigCartel account. Would I personally call BURMA a streetwear brand? If I had to, then yeah, to me it’s the real thing and not the buttfucked version of the word, it’s the original thing the word was created for 20 years ago, so I guess I would have to call it streetwear until a more fitting term to label it with comes about.

JPM: The internet has definitely had a shitty effect on not just streetwear but kids in general. It’s weird seeing a generation of kids raised by Instagram and Twitter. But do you think that BURMA would be possible without the internet? Obviously older streetwear brands were able to be successful without the internet, but would smaller DIY brands like BURMA be able to get the kind of attention they do without the web?

JH: No way in Hell. That’s why the internet is as great as it is cancerous. This brand came from my own solitude and introverted exclusion from the world. When I started, there was no support. I had just moved from home and had no friends in sight. Girlfriend had dumped me. I was seriously socially inept. Without the internet as a way to discharge myself, there is no way anyone in the world would have ever heard of this thing. It’s that kind of idea that [BURMA is] something that shouldn’t exist, people shouldn’t be seeing it, that makes it interesting to me.

JPM: How did you first get involved in the streetwear industry?

JH: I sort of just wandered into it. I started making clothing when the recent boom of DIY streetwear was just starting to catch fire. I still don’t consider myself part of the streetwear scene at all, I don’t really pay attention to what’s going on or what’s cool. If anything I’ll pay attention to what’s lame and laugh about it and make tweets about it so people hate me even more.

JPM: A lot of streetwear brands’ aesthetics are influenced by 90s skateboard culture, and lately many brands have started using a futuristic, computer age inspired aesthetic. BURMA, on the other hand, seems to draw inspiration from more unique, less used places. Is there an era or culture that has a large influence over BURMA’s aesthetic and content?

JH: BURMA is all over the place really. I’ve taken things from 90s and 80s skating, 70s music and movies, 60s military shit, biker shit finds its way in occasionally, then I can just go and base the entire brand off of an urban legend from the 1700s, and then go and do something very modern and progressive if I feel like it. It’s the freedom I have with this brand that I cherish so much.

JPM: Yeah, the brand does draw from a wide range of subjects. But even though you take from different mediums and from really different times, BURMA still has a very consistent feel to it. Did you always have a vision of the themes you wanted to recur in the line, or did they develop as you created each season?

JH: The consistency you see is just due to the fact that this is a one man show, and I have free reign to do whatever I want each season and not worry about other’s creative input, so my style is apparent in each ad, video, design, etc. I do try and stray away from a theme if I feel like I’ve been overdoing it, but for the most part when I start preparing for a collection, everything is kind of random and then I have to figure out how to make it all work as one fluid collection, as opposed to putting out a bunch of pieces that don’t mix well.

JPM: You can tell that BURMA does have a very strong, individual vision. Are you the brand’s only employee? Because BURMA has such a strong style and aesthetic do you find it difficult to work with other brands?

JH: Yeah it’s just me. It is extremely difficult for me to collaborate with other brands. Mostly due to the fact that they leave it to me to design it, and come up with everything for it, and I end up taking too many liberties with it and make something really weird and they’re just thrown off by it. Or other times I feel like I have to put on training wheels to tone shit down for other people. I just hate designing for other people. If someone has an exact idea of what they want and just want it done for them, I can do it. I just hate when people say “you can have full creative reign with it” and then get bummed that what I made doesn’t make sense to them. The same reason I don’t ask for comments on pieces before I get them made. I feel like nothing can make sense until you see it done, whether it’s hanging on a wall or hanging on a rack. Either be down with whatever I want to do and trust me or don’t even ask to collaborate, you know?

JPM: BURMA has such a strong personality but is still subtle and nuanced… I could see a piece’s appeal not being apparent until it’s actually physically created. Is there anyone else that you would be interested in collaborating with on a design level under the BURMA name?

JH: Honestly not really. I want to try to keep BURMA to myself. I’m open to working with other brands and lending my name to it but it won’t be BURMA unless it’s a personal thing from me.

JPM: The Three Decisive Wars collection featured references to the Rolling Stones, both on the clothes and in other materials that BURMA put out around the time of the collection’s release. How did the band become a part of BURMA’s aesthetic?

JH: It’s not hard to tell I’m really into the Stones if you follow the brand. Besides just loving their music I think the thing that drew me to the Rolling Stones was the fact that everyone always wants to say either you’re a Beatles guy or you’re a Stones guy. Nobody in high school really fucked with the Stones. Every boy and girl fucked with the Beatles way too hard. It was kind of a rebel youth type of thing. It shouldn’t have even been a comparison between them, but it was to me like, dude, fuck the Beatles. Don’t get me wrong the Beatles have some songs, sure, but the Rolling Stones are the ultimate. Originally, I fucked with them for the fact that to me they were one hundred times cooler than the Beatles ever could be. But now as I’m older I actually understand the things Mick is singing about.

JPM: In two lookbooks now BURMA has used Grand Theft Auto as a way to display its clothes. Why do you think the game works so well as a way to present BURMA clothing?

JH: Just the fact that I have been playing those games since I was 11 years old, and not just playing them but actually investing in the story and atmosphere of each game as well. I think it is the absolute best video game franchise to ever exist. Rockstar Games showed me the way. The games work for lookbooks because it’s all set up for you, huge varied map with a cool looking dude wearing your clothes and you can go anywhere you want. It’s just like playing with dolls. Don’t have to pay a model, don’t have to pay for gas, don’t have to pay for shit actually, even the clothes they’re wearing aren’t real.

JPM: Did you like GTA V more than GTA San Andreas?

JH: Nostalgia blockers on, there is no way to deny GTA V is the ultimate open world sandbox video game. The one that just came out on PS4 is seriously a work of art.

JPM: The PS4 version is insane. Definitely the best game I’ve ever played. Speaking of dolls, you worked with Patrick Driscoll to make the Natural Disasters lookbook, which featured miniature versions of pieces from the collection on action figures. What was that process like?

JH: Last summer I developed a short obsession with GI Joes and their accessories, don’t ask me why. I would lurk eBay every day for random little miniature sized accessories for them. I came across this lady who made miniature Nike Dunks for GI Joes and shit. Then I was thinking it would be sick if I made miniature BURMA pieces for my guy to wear. Eventually I decided it would be hilarious to get all the new stuff I’m releasing made miniature and have my little guy wear it, and that it would be even more hilarious to have him shot by a professional photographer in an actual studio, so I sent the doll and clothes to Driscoll and he actually shot them at HUF’s LA studio. Shit like that is too funny to me.

JPM: You put out a lot of material with each collection, from posters to films. In terms of product, do you see BURMA as being limited to just clothing? Or could you see it expanding into other mediums?

JH: For right now I’m only doing clothing and focusing on doing clothing. Anything else I do is just to do, whether I’m making a short film or mixtape and put “BURMA presents” or whatever else. At the bottom of the Sarlacc Pit it’s just a brand, and the clothes are just the current medium I’m using to output the brand onto.

JPM: That makes sense. While streetwear is currently a really over-saturated industry, there are some young DIY brands that seem to be coming from a really creative place and expressing ideas almost artistically. Do you consider BURMA pieces art? Or even the brand as a whole art?

JH: I do think a clothing brand can be considered art. To me anything that has been created, whether there is passion there or not, is art. It just boils down to whether it is art that matters, if it’s good art or bad art is unimportant, just whether or not it matters. To me, nothing really matters to me more than this thing, the same can’t be said for lots of other brands and companies. That’s why this thing to me is kind of like my art project as opposed to me trying to run a company. Since I started I’ve seen a thousand brands come and go. Each one a fraction of a percent different than the one before it. Hundreds of good ideas gone unseen in the chaos. If you go in with the idea you’re going to make money nobody is going to give a fuck because there’s a thousand just like it. It’s the ones that are really about making a statement that will survive.

JPM: You see so many brands trying to just cash out on trends rather than actually design something original that will stand the test of time. Inevitably though, money ends up being a factor in what a brand is able to produce every season. Has managing BURMA financially been a challenge?

JH: Yeah, it’s never been easy on me to get stuff out even on a semi-consistent basis. Lots of people will go in on shit like this with a couple of friends to even the workload and bills, but I tried that with my first brand and it was way too constricting for me to have to get everyone to be down for it, so I started doing it myself and it just worked better. This isn’t something to do to get rich, especially when you’re catering to such a small audience that BURMA is. I’ve been broke since the day I started, and still am, but I’ve sent orders all over the world so it really doesn’t matter how much money is in my pocket. It’s not about that at all to me. Any money I get goes right back into it, or I use it to put food in my stomach. That makes it worth it.

JPM: Do you ever find that there are creative limitations to operating in the medium of clothing?

JH: There are limitations in any artistic medium. A writer has to figure out how to express their ideas through words, an illustrator needs describe what’s in their head using lines and color to capture emotion and atmosphere. I think mine is the easiest, you just have to figure out how to make your idea work on a wearable garment. When I design something I always think about someone seeing someone wearing it, and the questions they would have for them. And even more I think about their answers, and if they even know what it means. I think about a person’s immediate impression of the shirt if they saw someone they didn’t know walk by wearing it. I want it to stay with them throughout the day, like “what was that shirt about that person was wearing and where can I get one?”

JPM: Jersey has been a motif throughout the brand’s history, but you recently moved to Arizona. Do you think your environment has an influence over the brand’s aesthetic?

JH: Wherever I am, I always take from what’s around me. The Leeds motif is proof of that. Having not been from Southern New Jersey, BURMA wouldn’t be anything what it is right now. And now I can take what I built in Jersey and apply it to the other places I find myself, and progress with it in the most organic way possible.

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