Warpaint: A Modern Fashion Business Model Meets Postmodern Design
I sat down with LA’s own Warpaint, a label made for “the spiritual nomad” to find out how the rulebook has changed for young, growing brands, and how this generation of designers is adapting. Warpaint takes on a message and inspiration reliant on idiosyncrasies and uses the contemporary medium of social media strategy and mass content production to create a brand with a unique sense of design and an already-loyal customer base in just two years.
Warpaint’s co-founders, Opal Steinberg and Talib Leath, feel the modern concept of the individual has become disillusioned, and Warpaint is here to reconstruct it. Of their latest drop, “Shelter Beyond Walls Pt.1” picture the piecewise armor of a post-apocalyptic hero. Warpaint utilizes raw seams, patches, obscure logos, silver hardware, and loose silhouettes to dress “angry, creative people of all colors, shapes, and sizes.”
Opal tells me the Warpaint partnership was somewhat of an accident. Out of his own interest, he had been studying fashion YouTubers and posting regular TikToks of his own when he came across Talib’s designs on social media. Originally, he messaged Talib because of a pair of pants that caught his eye. Talib, with his more technical design background, had been manufacturing them. Their partnership all started with a Pinterest board called ‘warpaint.’ Their shared creative vision brought them to LA, where they have now anchored the brand.
For the first year and a half, Opal made TikToks purely about fashion history and current events, such as the latest runways or commercial drops. Before any merchandise launched, Opal slowly cultivated what would become the Warpaint audience from people who were interested in what he had to say. Warpaint says they “commodified [them]selves… We're products. Our face is the front of our shop.”
This is the reality of fashion business. In order to jump over the initial hurdle of breaking into the fashion industry with any attention and thus commercial viability, the lifestyle and ideals of a brand must speak louder than the actual merchandise. Opal’s tactic of leveraging social media to create a community that embraced him, and then launch a brand to an audience already interested is the business decision that launched Warpaint into a legitimate space unlike so many other internet brands trying to accomplish some recognition. “When I saw TikTok, I knew that was it. I knew I had to do that,” Opal says.
Warpaint can speak best to their mission:
“Warpaint is about the profound forcing the momentary presence. So those moments in life where life just feels so intense that you can't help but feel calm… everything else goes silent because the roar of the present moment is so intense. And that kind of translates to [the brand’s] obsession with postmodern theory.
We're watching the cultural dissolution of the individual and individual's ideas. We live in a world that is defined by modern dialectics and identity politics and new symbols and new archetypes.
We've watched God die. We've seen language and culture become our new God, and it's kind of about putting back the pieces together. It's an individual spiritual journey. You can't rely on culture, you can't rely on organized religion to find that profoundness in life. You have to create your own conception of what it's supposed to be and what your God looks like.”
Warpaint, as postmodern as their vision is, is excelling as a modern brand today, operating on and mastering the internet economy as a young brand. They first gained brand recognition two years ago by utilizing TikTok and Instagram to generate a community of style buffs. In the age of the internet, Warpaint recognizes this business model as a lucrative way to energize an online community. In a reality when people spend upwards of five hours on their phones a day, the attention economy for fashion labels is reliant on a consistent online identity.
Warpaint recognizes social media as a key component to growing in the industry today, but it’s not just about getting followers to them. It’s about changing the way their community interacts. Warpaint’s not just selling and strategizing, they’re building a paradigm. Opal and Talib tell me they have even gifted clothing to students who have reached out saying they cannot afford Warpaint’s pricing. With an end-of-semester transcript filled with all As, Warpaint delivered with the product. The social media strategy was a means to an end of having a Warpaint family, not a game to win.
Many other growing accounts, they say, are embracing the attention of virality, but not using it to produce meaningful change. “There's so many people taking advantage of cheap parlor tricks, especially in this space,” says Opal, in regard to the changing landscape of fashion runways and brands’ media presences. “It’s bad because it kills the credibility of the brands that are adjacent to it as well.”
Talib digresses, “You're allowed to have fun, too.” Warpaint embraces the occasional ironic, even purely aesthetic project, but not those which claim a space of world-building when they lack substance. Warpaint is uninterested in the soulless pathways to fame and exposure.
Warpaint dropped their latest collection, “Shelter Beyond Walls Pt.1” in April, and has been releasing restocks and some individual designs since. Warpaint describes their creative cycles as “always the same vehicle, but driving through different climates.” You can expect to see what new atmospheres Warpaint reaches in their next drop on August 15.