Introducing: A Thousand Words

Whilst the popularity and proliferation of clothing that re-uses classic images from yesteryear continues to surge, few labels can boast the  authenticity and pedigree like A Thousand Words.

The label taps into something deeper than most are able to. Built and made in NYC, its driving force is owner Koe Rodriguez. Koe has been active in hip-hop since the 1980s photographing graffiti, working with and managing the assets of photographers such as Martha Cooper and generally being connected with the those responsible for documenting and bringing the visual side of hip-hop to the masses.

Now venturing into clothing, art prints and homeware, Koe is determined give something that will make ageing b-boys and girls go misty eyed and excite and wow younger generations. For me stand out pieces include the timeless photographic prints by Ernie Paniccioli that capture a creative high in hip-hop. His portrait of Ice Cube resonates with anyone who understands the impact NWA and Cube had on conservative America and the shockwaves it caused in popular culture.

You’ve just launched a new collection using the works of some quite prestigious hip-hop photographers – how do you choose the people you work with?
The photographer’s in question are great friends of mine and ones that I also brand manage.That said, it was a no-brainer who was going to be the stars of our first tees. Friends or not, I’m honoured to be creating limited edition product with these world-renowned greats.

Regarding your question, I’m always attracted to iconic imagery and those responsible for it. I like working with individuals whose work tells a story. With A THOUSAND WORDS, I’m a narrator using t-shirts to tell great stories. It’s also worth mentioning that I won’t work with just anyone who has great work. Humility and congeniality are very important to me. Sometimes, talent just isn’t enough.

Humility and congeniality are very important to me. Sometimes, talent just isn’t enough.

Who has been your favorite person to work with?
I really couldn’t pick one person. So many of the people I work with are awesome and shine in their own way. I got a chance to work with my man Mr. Freeze of the Rock Steady Crew and graffiti great Chico for the first time. The collaboration with these two legends meant a lot to me because in 1983 when I saw Flash Dance I never thought that I’d be doing a commemorative t-shirt with one of its stars; and in 1985 when I photographed my first graffiti mural in New York, I never thought I’d be doing a limited edition tee with one of the artists responsible for that great mural. I believe it’s my destiny to work with everyone I’m working with today.

Right now, we’re a small operation with big players on board. We’re lean, but mean. We’re rooted in New York with product being produced across the water in New Jersey.

You’re [A Thousand Words] are just coming up in the scene – is this a relatively small operation at the moment? Where is everything produced?
With respect to starting my own clothing company, I’m new on the scene, but I’m not new to the business.

In 1994 I was a partner in a popular New Jersey based design and silk screen business and I’ve had my hands in-and-out of design and custom goods since the late 80s. I began my foray into image licensing about seve years ago and I’ve worked with everyone from Puma, Nike, Adidas, Sony, Franklin & Marshall and Viacom. I was also responsible for those great Sedgwick & Cedar vintage photo tees about 3 years ago.

Right now, we’re a small operation with big players on board. We’re lean, but mean. We’re rooted in New York with product being produced across the water in New Jersey.

A Thousand Words

I heard that Benson Lee was wearing one of your shirts in an interview with the LA Times – who else would you like to see wearing your stuff?

Correct. Benson is the director of the new dance film Battle of the Year: 3-D and he absolutely loves our brand. I just sent him our Mr. Freeze Flash Dance Anniversary tee as I learned from his LA Times interview that Flash Dance turned him on to hip-hop and no doubt what has him making multi-million dollar Hollywood films.

Independent of Hollywood directors, our stuff is for anyone who can appreciate the great art and history behind each tee. I’d love to see our tees on more movers and shakers, but I’m also happy with the average Joe or Jane rockin’ our stuff as well.

What’s next for you guys? I mean in terms of collections, and in terms of the bigger picture.

Being a brand that’s in bed with an eclectic mix of great artists, we’ll never be short on content. I have some key collaborations set up for next year, and I really have my eye on home goods right now.

I have some killer Martha Cooper graffiti pillows that I want to roll-out for the holidays, and we have a custom designed wallpaper product called FlyPaper that’s really cool too.

I was in a meeting with Ice-T and his wife Coco not too long ago discussing a FlyPaper job for their new Edgewater, New Jersey home, which I’m excited about. I really like the idea of taking our work into homes, businesses and places of leisure and entertainment and finally offering consumers some unique new flavor when it comes to décor. I’m really trying to take it there.

Words: Anoosheh Dastbaz