What’s up everyone, I am Desmond, but some people call me Des Money. I am 29 years old and a creative with focus in design and photography.
How was life growing up for you?
Life was interesting man. I come from a very diverse background. My parents are from Ghana, but I grew up in the hood, on the Southside, Burnside Neighborhood. I had the chance to see a lot of different perspectives in life. We grew up in a very modest home. My Dad had two jobs and my mom was a bank teller. I always watched my parents grind a lot, but they always made sure I was in school and on top of my things.
When did you begin to witness you had creative talents?
I grew up in this school called Betty Shabazz, which is an African Centered school. Because of that school, I was allowed to be myself, while also learning the history and culture of my people. Through that school I was able to get into a lot of performing arts mainly drumming and dancing. Through drumming and dancing I got involved with SPIRITS Drum and Masquerade society, which is a contemporary African performing arts group, where I learned to drum, dance and stilt walk. Through that, I was able to go to different festivals and talk to different musicians. That was my exposure to see people make a living doing the things they wanted to do.
How did you first meet Joe, Terell, and Vic?
I met Vic first from going to Leaders with my cousins Nana and Promokid. We had our own brand Nerdy at the time and we would go up there just to be around Vic to learn more about streetwear and clothes. As a brand we decided to take it more seriously and started to link weekly with Vic and Brandon Rials. We would pick their brains on how to run a brand and the importance of brand identity. After that summer we started releasing t-shirts, which led to us throwing our first ever pop-up shop at Leaders1354. Vic hooked us up with Joe to help print Nerdy’s first crewneck. At the time we already knew of Terrell and Joe because they were doing their thing with Vita-Morte and Joe had a fire ass crewneck “Money, cars, clothes, and hoes”. Joe printed our first crewneck and then we had the official pop-up at Leaders. Nerdy was one of the brands at the time that was younger, but still taking it very seriously. We kept growing little by little, but I knew that I wanted to take it to the next level and keep growing. A few months later I had saw Terrell tweeted that Vita-Morte needed an intern. I tweeted him and told him I wanted to come. He told me to pull up and the rest is history. We’ve been gang ever since then.
Not only are you a designer, but you’re a photographer as well. When did you get involved with photography?
I had been interning with Terrell and Joe and we had this spot in Lacuna Lofts for a little bit. At the time, Joe was also living in Pilsen, and his roommate was Trashhand. When I would pop over to Joe & Trashs house to pick up shirts or just hangout, Trash would be there and he would always be talking about photos, or editing photos. I was amazed by Trash because he was one of the first people that I knew to take iPhone photography to the next level…him and Elise. I don’t even know if him and Elise get enough credit for their influence when it comes to photography and instagram in the city, but they were definitely pioneers in my eyes….from working with big ass brands like Nike, liquor companies, they showed me that possibilities with photography were endless. Because of them and my homie Dre (Andre Wagner) I got inspired to grab my phone, go outside, and shoot some of my own shit.
When did you begin to start taking it more seriously?
I started taking the photography more serious when Trash let me borrow his camera. By this time I was going iPhone crazy shooting everything around me, from the streets to clothes to my family to the school I was at, at the time…everything. I don’t know what made him do it but one day Trash decided to let me borrow his Mark III for like 2 weeks…super wild lol. He must’ve saw that I really had an interest in it and he told me I should make it a serious hobby. I went by his crib picked it up and shot everything around me.
I got more and more serious a little after. My first lookbook was a Vita-Morte lookbook featuring Hollywood Hxlt. Terrell took a gamble on me and the lookbook came out super fire. I didn’t even know I could do that. It was cool because I kept amazing myself with each shoot and I also had the support of my friends. Trash pulled up, Terrell was there and Joe called in to make sure everything was good. It was all love. That summer, I got my first camera. Vic gave me a ride to Best Buy; Trash met us there (to make sure I aint get no weak shit). I started hitting the streets, shooting a lot of what some call “street photography”, and that’s when things started to pick up.
Now lets talk about your brand, SQUAD (WE ALL WE GOT)
It all started with the orange towel. Me, Teddy, and Vic were at the old shop on Rockwell and putting ideas together. One day I was like, yo, what if we took the Nike logo, flipped it, and put squad underneath. Vic was like, “you know what, that might work.” We ended up throwing that on the towels, and the towels sold out quick. We made more towels and they sold out again. It kept building and building. Joe helped me out A LOT. We did some softball jerseys that sold like crazy, I think that was the second lookbook I shot at the time. Joe helped me reach a lot of people and showed me how much power was in that. Then, we did some bomber jackets and they went nuts. At this point, I was like, you know what, I may have to make this into a thing. So I did another bomber jacket the following year and they went nuts again. Even though, the pieces were selling out I still didn’t know if SQUAD could actually transition in being a brand. Squad is one of those words that can stay with the culture for a long time because of what it represents. It only made sense to widen the brand and to continue growing. I did the first collection for it last summer and that went pretty cool. It was a super 90’s nostalgic feel. I’m still learning what Squad is, but I know people like it.
It’s a lot man but if I had to choose one, my favorite piece would be the Free Lauyrn Hill shirt I dropped when she got put was away in 2013 for tax evasion. This was my first shirt where I was getting a bunch orders from the states and a decent amount from Canada and France. That shirt did something for me. It showed me that not only you can make money off your ideas, but clothes speak volumes.
You’ve been apart of brands and companies for 6-7 years now. What do you think is the #1 most important tip to stand out as a brand?
I think the most important thing is to find yourself and be comfortable. I know it may be cliché, but it’s the truth. Nobody is like you, and the more you learn yourself, the more you’re able to use your voice. Your experiences in life are different from others and there’s something unique to that. With branding, if you like or believe in something, trust in your creativity. That’s probably the most important piece of advice I could give to young creators or brands coming up. If you think some shit is hot, do it, be confident with it. And TIME! The most important thing in the world and the most expensive thing in the world is time. Use that shit wisely, have fun in life but, use it wisely.
Over the years you’ve been lucky enough to learn and grow with some of Chicago’s legends, Rello, Vic, and Joe. Talk about the importance of mentors
I think the best type of teaching is shoulder-to-shoulder learning. The idea of being able to watch someone make mistakes, watch them make success, and just see how they engage and interact with life is very very important. I’m thankful for that. Also, a lot of times we think we can do it on our own, but that’s not what life is about. It’s important to be around someone that’s been in the trenches. Terrell and Joe are only a year older than me, but I’ve always looked up to them because they have much more experience than me in certain areas of life. You have to humble yourself to build those certain types of relationships with a mentor. Mentorship is important. However you can get that, whether it is through reading or having an actual mentor, which I suggest. Its good to talk to people because if you don’t you can go crazy. Sometimes you need a big homie that will tell you to don’t do that. You need to be able to put yourself around people that you admire or look up to. I’m fortunate to call those guys my friends and brothers.
Talk about your book Too fly not to fly
Too Fly Not To Fly is a children’s alphabet photo book by my partner Briana McLean and I. We met through some mutual friends. One of the homies told me that she was a teacher and at the time I was teaching 8th grade math and science at Betty Shabazz. We sat down, chopped it up, and ended up having the same issues with CPS. At that time I wasn’t doing photography, but we always made it a thing that we would work together. Then I remember I was on either Tumblr or Hypebeast and I saw this cool Mom that was taking her children around the US and each cool stop they would create these scenes for a certain letter in the alphabet. I was like damn, what if we took that and remixed it for the black community. Briana agreed that it was a good idea. It took a few years for it to happen because at the time I wasn’t taking pictures. We were waiting on photographers to hit us up. It ended up getting to the point where I was confident enough to take the photos and we just rolled it out. It’s a really cool book that touches on a lot of issues that black children struggle with. Whether it is with gender binary issues or complexion complexities. We wanted to make something that would empower the youth from an early age. One thing I want to always stress and encourage the kids to do is just to create. It doesn’t have to be art, you can make the next best bottle opener, it doesn’t necessarily just have to be a t-shirt. I just want to encourage kids to understand that the things in your mind can come out and contribute to the better of humanity. I wanted Too Fly Not To Fly to become an education staple in Chicago and it’s been cool to see people talk about how much that book helped their children or how much the book resonated with their children.
Two questions left. If you could choose three people to shoot, who would they be?
I would love to shoot Erykah Badu, Ai Weiwei, and Pharrell.
Last one, when it’s all said and done how would you like to be remembered
When it’s all said and done I just want people to remember me of course as someone who was a creator and enjoyed the arts, but also as someone who did his part in making the world better. It sounds super cliché, but I want people to remember that I tried to create these different things to make things better. Whether that is with clothes or education. My whole goal is to try and bring people together. The more we can come together and find commonalities in each other, it will create conversation, and hopefully from that projects can come.
Written by: Nico Rud