Breaking into the fashion world takes a lot of struggle. With so many rising streetwear brands out there—especially in New York City—it can be tough to stand out among the rest. But Tier NYC is making its mark with a unique aesthetic that combines classical art with a current, pop culture-friendly feel.
Using iconic art pieces like Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night and fashion week videos from Paris, Milan, and London as inspiration, three creative individuals (Nigeria Ealey, Victor James and Esaïe Jean Simon) put together a fashion label that portrays high-fashion inspiration with a contemporary mix. It’s already made fans of at least two major music acts: Big Sean and Desiigner.
MASS APPEAL sat down with Tier NYC co-founder Nigeria Ealey to discuss how the brand came together, the inspirations behind its designs and how his profession as an art teacher helps keep to keep his creativity flowing.
How did Tier NYC start?
We got started with the brand in summer 2014. We were sitting at one of the co-founder’s houses (Victor James). I had my own ideas of a brand—I’ve always had sketches of things like jackets and shirts. Vic was also part of a different clothing brand a few years prior. Me, Vic and the other partner Esaïe Jean Simon were sitting around and thinking about how we look at fashion now compared to fashion in the past and how different trends tend to change over time. I was always into drawing, animation and art; same thing with Vic. He went to art school. I ended up going to college for media arts and computer graphics. EsaÏe went to school for accounting but he was also in the art field. We dropped our first full collection on Dec. 28, 2014.
How did you guys come up with the name Tier NYC? How does it relate to the brands identity?
Tier steams from the meaning “upper tier,” which means higher than or greater than. The name correlates with the brand because when you think of the word “tier” you think about things that are not the bare minimum. When you think of things like tier one, tier two, tier three, it means to get higher and higher. That’s the mindset we have. Whatever we do is lit and we always feel that’s the littest it’ll ever get. We always have a growth mindset, thinking of ways to move forward. The three rips symbolize all of the partners involved—me, Victor James and Esaïe Jean Simon.
How do you find inspiration for the designs?
A lot of the times we brainstorm about our next season’s collection, basically saying “what’s the message we’re going to get across to people.” When it comes to fashion, you always want to have that mindset that [some] people are going to like it and [some] people aren’t going to like it. But as long as you know that you’re staying true to yourself and your identity, that’s all that matters. That’s where a lot of brands are struggling. These brands just want to do certain things because of what’s trendy. We hired another artist by the name of Kav, she helps with graphic design. We also have a sketch artist by the name of Snow. A lot of times we’ll just sit and have creative brainstorm meetings and go over art pieces from the 1900s, videos, documentaries. We use these things as guidance and just revamp it. For us it’s always about staying true to the meaning of the brand and the culture while incorporating new and innovative stuff. Me and Vic will legit sit and watch Paris, Milan, New York, and London fashion week videos for hours just to see what people from all over are wearing at that time.
The brand has attracted the likes of Big Sean and Desiigner. How did that happen?
One of my frat bros is real close with Big Sean’s stylist, Ade Samuel. Big Sean has been one of biggest inspirations, music- and fashion-wise since the Finally Famous mixtapes. I reached out to my bro and asked him to reach out to Big Sean’s stylist so we can get him in some of our stuff. He sent her pics of some hats and she asked him to send it over. That was honestly the fastest I’ve ever shipped anything in my life. I woke up one morning and everybody was hitting me up, texting me a screenshot of Big Sean wearing the hat. My heart dropped. That was the first time, that might’ve been during rehearsals for his Summer Jam performance last year. The second time was when he was with Jhene Aiko. They might’ve been on vacation or something but he posted a photo and there he was again wearing the hat.
With Desiigner, that was different. One of my homeboys I went to high school with is close with Desiigner. He got me into Desiigner’s listening party for his project New English. I asked to get Desiigner something from the brand to wear—this was the first time I’ve ever made a Tier NYC custom. I made a panda logo, put it inside the Tier NYC rips and put the G.O.O.D. Music logo on the back of the jacket. It came out so fire. A few weeks later Desiigner was at an award show wearing the jacket.
As someone who loves fashion and teaches art, how do you think the two correlate with each other?
I went to school for computer graphics and I’m currently in grad school for media management. I teach art from kindergarten to fourth grade. The dopest thing about that and what correlates the two is that I really get to see more hands-on than ever before how kids view art and the freedom that they have while creating it. As adults get older and start to perfect our craft we lose our freedom to really create compared to how it was when we were younger. Just like being in a classroom and watching these kids make mistakes, scribble, use whatever colors they want, even colors that don’t necessarily go together, is a huge difference. A lot of it is a refresher and a constant reminder for me because a lot of these things I’m teaching to these kids I haven’t brushed up on it in years. But now when I get to break stuff down and create lesson plans, I’m starting to see stuff that I missed or maybe things I didn’t pay attention to. Now I can incorporate all that stuff into fashion. That’s what fashion is all about—the art of freedom. It’s the art of being able to express what you want to do and how you want to do it.
Being a art teacher you must have the same belief that visuals are becoming more important in the pop culture society. What are your thoughts on providing quality visuals?
For me, visuals have always been at the top of my list. You’re actually the first person outside of Tier NYC that I’m telling this to: With this upcoming season/collection dropping, we’re also going to do a documentary based on me, Esaie and Vic coming from different paths of life and showing how we ended up together doing Tier NYC. We grew up in three different spaces, environments and lifestyles, and it’ll show how we got to where we are now. The second part is going to be about our super dope brand ambassador Swaggy Sie. She works for Sirius XM. It’ll be her, our interns and employees expressing what Tier NYC means to them.
What’s next for Tier NYC?
Our one big release this year is a varsity jacket for our third anniversary, which is Dec. 28. We’re in the works of getting that done and we’re also working on putting together our spring collection for 2018. It’s in production as we speak. We also have two more collaborations dropping but I can give that away just yet. I just want people to know that it’ll be dope and to stay on the look out.