Style Profiles. In honor of our twice-a-year Men’s Shop Catalog dropping this month, we decided to profile 6 real men of style and substance. Today, the men behind acclaimed style, life, and travel website Street Etiquette.
Joshua Kissi and Travis Gumbs are a lot of things: stylists, models, photographers, expert thrift-shoppers, music lovers, cultural ambassadors, historical preservationists—and proof of the power of the internet.
High-school friends from the Bronx, the two started a blog—called Street Etiquette—to document their growing interest in refined personal style. Their early work followed a successful blueprint: Build a dapper outfit based on a classic menswear item, and explore said item’s significance by delving into historical photos. Think ’60s biker gangs giving context to leather jackets, and Pat Boone rocking suede bucks. The next thing they knew, Kissi and Gumbs were gracing the pages of GQ and The New York Times at the ripe old age of 22.
Two years later, they’re designing their own clothes, producing short films, and generally proving that the universe is kind to those with passion, curiosity, and a willingness to work hard. We caught up with the guys in NYC this summer—to take some photos, shoot a video, and better understand their continual quest to learn and be inspired. Read the full Q&A below.
MEN’S SHOP DAILY: What does the phrase “Street Etiquette” mean to you guys?
JOSHUA KISSI OF STREET ETIQUETTE: For us, it’s more than a website. It’s more than the clothing. It’s like a lifestyle that we’ve built, just on inspirations around us. It’s not all about Travis and myself—it’s bigger than that. It’s what we’re inspired by, whether it’s traveling, clothing—just everything that encompasses life for us, is classified as Street Etiquette. So it’s more than a website. The site is like the platform where we put ideas that we have and what we’re inspired by. It’s just the portfolio.
What was Black Ivy?
TRAVIS GUMBS OF STREET ETIQUETTE: Black Ivy was a photo editorial that we did about three years ago. We got a whole bunch of our friends [together]. We were paying homage to the old HBCs, and Ivy style. We shot it at 145th and City College. The response was a lot bigger than we ever anticipated.
What is an HBC?
Travis: Historically black colleges. We found a whole bunch of old photos, like from Howard, and these guys were super dressed-up, and the style was amazing. And we were like, “We can do this.” At the time, it was a style that we were [already] venturing into. So we were like, “You know what, why don’t we just come together and just shoot this, and see how it comes out.” And it just worked.
[The Blacky Ivy, by Street Etiquette.]
What are some of the things guys were wearing in the historical photos you mentioned?
Travis: Definitely like the typical prep stuff, like tweed jackets, shorts, loafers with socks, ties—
Joshua: …Suspenders, oxfords, paperboy hats…
Travis: …And just wearing it your own way. So we had guys that were super prepped-up, and then we had guys that were a little bit more lax—a little bit more like the bad-boy style, but it was still the same Ivy, prep style. The same clothes, but it’s about how you wear it. That’s what was really cool about it—we would see these photos, and see all these different types of guys, but they were all dressed up in their own way. So we really wanted to show that with Black Ivy, and I think we were able to do it.
You said it got a larger response than you anticipated?
Joshua: It was just one of those things where people kept talking about it.
Travis: I think it challenged a lot of social issues, in a sense, like masculinity, black masculinity, perception of style and who you are—so it touched on a lot of social topics that people didn’t necessarily want to talk about until they saw the editorial, and it was like, “OK, let’s talk about this stuff.”
Tell us about some of your recent travels.
Travis: We did this cool project in Angola this past summer. And that was great, because it was my first time in Africa. Josh, he’s been to Africa before. But we really got to soak up the culture and photograph stuff we never got to photograph before. And then, in a couple weeks, we’re actually going to Thailand to do the same thing.
[Excerpts from Street Etiquette's Travel Etiquette series.]
What do you enjoy about traveling?
Joshua: I think traveling is one of the best educations you can get. Exposing yourself out there kind of reveals who you are as a person, how people see you, as you cross each continent and each country. It’s super interesting, waking up and just walking around the street. It’s definitely fun. We have this thing called Travel Etiquette—it’s basically our series of traveling around the world with style and character, through the lens of Travis and myself.
To decide the destination of your recent trip to southeast Asia, you guys conducted an online poll amongst your readers.
Joshua: The poll was interesting. There were a lot of votes from Vietnam, and Thailand, and Hong Kong. People were really repping for their cities.
Travis: A lot of people were voting from those places. It’s crazy, because you can see the votes; you can see where they’re coming from. A lot of people voted from Asia—I feel like more than the United States.
What kinds of things are you looking forward to seeing?
Joshua: Just the fashion—see what the fashion is like there, even if it’s just regular, everyday people. I’m not saying like runways—just how people live and do their style every day. That’s important.
You’ve mentioned in the past, Joshua, that the streets are like the new runways. Could you elaborate on that?
Joshua: What I meant when I said that, is that style and fashion are not just encapsulated for one week in February or one week in September—it happens every day. And it’s not just downtown. It’s not just uptown. It’s not just Brooklyn. It’s all over the place. [Getting] inspiration from people on the street…is one of the biggest things for us. Especially right now—everybody has a camera. There’s an overload of information for people to go out there and explore.
It’s interesting to delve into your guys’ Tumblr page and see the wide range of art, culture, and history that you reference. What do you think inspires you the most, in life and in your work?
Joshua: My inspiration comes from a plethora of eras, like 1950s, ’60s…1980s hip-hop, punk rock—
Joshua: …Reggae, exactly. Reggae culture. Skinhead, mod—the U.K. had a big influence on us, too. [But] to be honest, I think a lot of our inspiration comes out of jazz.
What are some of your favorite jazz musicians?
Joshua: Coltrane, Miles Davis, Mingus, Max Roach was an amazing drummer. Thelonius Monk. There are a lot of good guys. Chet Baker.
Travis: Well, of course Bitches Brew [1970, by Miles Davis], because that’s a little bit different from anything else. I mean it’s a little bit redundant at this point—to say Miles Davis is kind of like saying Michael Jackson. It’s true, though, you know? It’s not overrated; it’s justified.
[Behind the scenes at Street Etiquette's Sewn From The Soul
project, which honored Black History Month.]
Do you prefer late-era Miles, then?
Travis: I like it all, because for the era that he was in, he was pushing the boundaries. So each era was good for what he was doing. It wasn’t just like, Miles Davis of the ’80s, more experimental than Miles Davis of the ’60s—that wasn’t really the case. [In each era], he was perfecting a certain sound and a certain taste level that he wanted to do. And he did it. He was able to switch his sound for every decade that he did music. It’s very few artists that did the same.
Joshua: The funny thing is, I have no vinyls. It’s all off the Internet. Kind of Blue is great. Even though in his later times, people consider that he got a little bit too weird—in the way he dressed, or his music—I think that as an artist, it’s kind of like your obligation.
When did you guys first get into jazz?
Travis: I didn’t listen to jazz growing up at all. [In] my household…we listened to more soul stuff, reggae, hip-hop in later years—but it wasn’t until maybe a few years ago that I started getting into jazz. Honestly, it was more the style thing, because we were doing research on different styles. And then you see the style, and you get into the music, and you see why the style was so refined for the music. When you start listening to it and developing that taste, it’s phenomenal. It’s one of those things. I listen to jazz at least two, three times a week.
Joshua: [Jazz music] calms you. It’s not as, like, rambunctious and lyrics-driven as [most of] today’s music—but there’s still a message.
Travis: There’s a lot more emotion.
Joshua: You feel that message according to your ears and what you want to hear. And that’s one of the most important things. But for me, I play the drums—so growing up with jazz is kind of essential, just for that beat.
So it sounds like together, the two of you really delved into jazz based on how the musicians dressed.
Joshua: We love the way that the jazz musicians dressed. They kind of represented the first type of “cool” in America, you know? A lot of kids—I mean, the original term “hipster” meant going away and trying to be a jazz musician on the road, and traveling, and just, like, doing your hitchhiking thing. So it’s like they were the original cool.
Travis: And then, when you go back and listen to it, you see how many hip-hop artists sampled from jazz musicians. So it was interesting to see that. Hip-hop is a form of jazz; it evolved from jazz.
Joshua: It’s all related, really.
[Promotional posters for Street Etiquette's new short film, Slumflower.]
Tell us about the project you’re debuting [this Saturday, 9/7] during New York Fashion Week this season.
Travis: It’s called Slumflower, and it’s a photo editorial and a short film. It was, like, 17 of our friends all suited up in tailored suits. We shot it in the projects.
Joshua: …In public housing, which isn’t far from here [Ed. note: we were filming at Milk Studios in NYC]. It’s like 16th and 9th or something like that. The short film just came from an idea we had and wanted to present. [It's about] a kid living in the projects, dressing a certain way, and he’s kind of defying social inequalities. There’s a message behind it, but it’s represented through style.
You guys have made videos of your travels and whatnot before, but this is your first official “film.” How did production go?
Joshua: We did the whole routine, as far as storyboarding, location-scouting, budgets. It’s going good. We’re just trying to define the meaning of having a blog—or a website, or a brand, whatever the case may be.
That raises a good question: What do you say your job title is, when you meet someone?
Joshua: Funny thing about job titles, especially living in New York—it’s like a constant conversation starter. “Hey, what do you do?”
Travis: The number-one question…If I’m not really feeling like [explaining], I’m like, “You know what? I’m a blogger.”
Joshua: It’s bigger than that, though.
Travis: The term “blog” seems too amateur for some reason. I mean, we’ve been “blogging” for five years now. But it’s like, what’s the next level of—
Joshua: …Yeah, that’s the next question. Everybody is like, “What’s next? What’s after ‘blogging’?”
Travis: Are you a “professional blogger”?
Joshua: [In the end], you just want to keep pushing out good work. [These days], everybody is kind of a Jack-of-all-trades—a Renaissance man. So somebody asks you…but there’s no job title. And that’s the best thing about it: you kind of get to diversify, rather than just be in a box.
Travis: Yeah, the title thing is weird. If I could just not have a title, that would be cool. Then, I could just do whatever I want. I could do stuff outside of what my title would be.
How did you two first meet?
Joshua: We met in Iceland. No, I’m playing. We met at high school in the Bronx. Straight up.
Travis: There’s no cool story behind it, though.
Joshua: It was like, biology class.
Travis: We were both into style at the time. That’s how we connected. We would both post on online forums, like Hypebeast and Superfuture, and got a lot of followers on there. That’s how we got a lot of traction when we started Street Etiquette [in college].
So did you guys have different tastes than most of your classmates in high school?
Joshua: Yeah, definitely. We saw a bigger picture in a sense, than our high-school peers. You get ridiculed for dressing different, because high school is all about fitting in.
Travis: We were just curious to know what else was out there, outside of our borough. So, we started coming downtown—because no one came downtown, man. [When you live] in the Bronx and whatnot, you don’t come to the city at all. You stay up there. You come to the city once in a while, you do a little shopping, and you head back up. We would actually come down here and—
Joshua: Hang out.
Travis: That’s how we connected with a lot of our friends from Brooklyn, and Harlem and whatnot. We were amongst all these other—a lot of these guys were actually older than us, too, so they knew a lot more. And they kind of helped us craft our taste level.
What do you guys love about New York City, and how does living here inspire you?
Joshua: New York City is the best city in the world, as far as I know. Just the energy. It’s a melting pot. You can see every type of ethnic group, every culture. You’re exposed to so much here. Growing up in the Bronx…you got the Spanish cats, Jamaicans, West Indians, Africans—all in one. All those cultures are vastly different, and you have friends from each one.
Travis: You know, like, sometimes you go to your friend’s house and you’re eating Spanish food—or you eat Jamaican, or Indian, or whatever—so it molds you as a person, to always be open.
Joshua: There are very few places in the world that you can do that, from what I’ve seen. It’s such a big melting pot; that’s what I love most about it. And that’s what inspired us to travel so much—because we see all these people from different parts of the world, and you talk to them, and they tell you about their country, and you just want to go and experience it firsthand.
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Watch for new Fashion Week coverage from Street Etiquette coming to
Men’s Shop Daily soon—and catch up on their dispatches from last season here.
And, if you’re in the NYC area this Saturday, September 7, stop by
Street Etiquette’s Slumflower gallery show at TEMP Art Space in TriBeCa.
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