We Are Upstate NY with Monstar Founder Jack Barker
Has anyone else noticed? There’s a seriously limitless creative gene running through the Barker Family. This year we introduced you to famed fashion photographer, Nigel Barker, his multi-talented wife, Cristen Chin Barker, of the Chin Twins, teen model and dance enthusiast, Jasmine Barker– and now, Jack Barker, artist, illustrator, philanthropist and creator of Monstar.
What started as an escape, listening to hip-hop music and inspired by basketball culture, became an outlet for Jack to express his feelings and create characters in bright vivid colors that celebrate the differences we all possess. As Jack describes, “Monstars are here to make you laugh, think and dream, they are you, me, all of us, with their stars shining bright, their Monstars that is.”
Here is a look at what keeps Jack busy: a commissioned mural project for Macy’s Believe campaign in Brooklyn NYC, multiple sold-out apparel drops, unique Monstar commissions and collaborations with Hopeland, Halo and Make A Wish Foundation (where most recently a Monstar print sold at auction for $10,000), and a new apparel collaboration with renown yogi Tara Stiles. And, he recently designed a MonStar hoodie for his AUU basketball team, and has been invited to Miami to do a presentation of his work at a private party for 70 VIP guests, including the Mayor of Miami during Art Basel for Fashinnovation.
Inside+Out is pleased to introduce you to Hudson Valley resident, Jack Barker.
“I created Monstars to celebrate our unique personalities and emotions. We all have an inner Monstar waiting to be discovered and celebrated.” – Jack Chin Barker
INSIDE+OUT: Your clothing line Monstars, is very cool! What prompted you to design clothing and how did the business come about?
Jack Barker: I started to design clothes back in middle school when I was twelve. I loved brands like Supreme, Bape, and Off White, but I could not afford to buy a $1,000 hoodie. So I thought I could just start my own brand with cool designs and branding. It started with a brand called O$$um Possum, which was a Monstar-looking character, which I still use for inspiration. I have always loved drawing cool, weird Monstars, and one day after drawing a basketball player, Tracy McGrady, that I planned on putting on a hoodie, I decided to have some fun and let my creativity go wild. By the end of the day, I had a bunch of these wacky unique Monstars. I showed them to my Dad and he loved them.
After months of drawing these monsters that became Monstars I picked my favorite ten and launched them as Non-fungible tokens (NFTs). They all sold out the night I put them up. They were bought by lots of big names in the art world like Nyla Hayes (The creator of Long Neckie Ladys, a popular NFT collection), Halim Flowers (an amazing artist) and Keith Grossman (the president of Time magazine). After the success of my first drop, I decided to make clothes, and that’s where I’m at.
Tell us about your design process. What do you love about it?
When I sit down to draw I have no idea what I am going to create. I just start drawing and add what feels right. I always listen to hip-hop when I draw. To me, music is very important and can affect what you’re drawing whether you notice it or not. Maybe the song is aggressive so subconsciously you make the jaw a little sharper, the eyes a little tighter and by the time you’re done you have one tough-looking Monstar.
What is your fashion philosophy and who inspires you?
My main fashion philosophy is not to let anything hold you back. I like to make new unique art, and I like to break the conventional rules and draw outside the lines. I really like the work of Takashi Murakami. I like how he uses color and creates his own characters.
In addition to being a designer and running a fashion business, you’re also an artist yourself. Tell us more about your work.
I consider it all the same thing, a hoodie is just a canvas you can wear around town.
As a young artist – what do you think of NFTs?
I love NFTs and what they allow you to do as an artist. As an artist that does most of my work digitally, it allows my art to be exclusive in the same way a painting is. It also allows artists to continue to profit from their work after the first sale which is common in most other industries.
What is the most challenging part of running your own business?
Balancing running a business, going to school and playing basketball is tough. I’m writing this right now in a study hall I signed up for to be able to work in school. For me, I found out that if you cut out all the little things you know are a waste of time, you have a lot more time than you would have ever imagined.
What is one question you’re constantly asked or, what’s the biggest misconception about your work?
I think a lot of people look at my work and think it’s childish and just write it off. But the people who appreciate my art really enjoy it and find true meaning and emotion in it.
How do you grow your business?
I love to collaborate with other people I think are doing cool innovative things. New collaborations allow us both to learn and expand.
How did the collaboration with Tara Stiles come about?
Tara has been a friend of my parents for years and supported me from my very first drop. She bought a hoodie and posted it on her Instagram account and gave me a shoutout. As I continued to create new Monstar art and clothes, she always commented on and shared my work with her followers. Eventually, she reached out to me directly and said she would love to collaborate and create a special Monstar Tank for her yoga community. I then designed a new Monstar with a yogic influence and lots of hearts to share the love. It was a great first collaboration as Tara is very kind and thoughtful.
What does this mean for you and your business?
Collaborating with Tara set the bar high for me, which is great. Up until now I had only created Monstar for myself and done a few special order pieces for art collectors. Now I am creating pitches for brands like Crayola and Express, and I just designed a new hoodie for my AAU team Anaconda AllStars, which was really personal and fun!
Anything else you want to share about the experience?
It’s quite different collaborating and involving another creative energy that affects your work. I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to adding my Monstar vibe to a lot of different cool brands that I admire.
What are your hobbies and what do you like to do when you’re not designing clothing?
I love playing basketball. I play in the Amateur Athletic Union Basketball for the Anaconda All Stars, a team from Schenectady, New York.
What is it about the Hudson Valley that makes it unique to live and grow up here?
I think one of the pros of growing up in the Catskills is there is less distraction around. So you need to find things to do like starting a brand.
Your dad is a world-renowned photographer and your mom is a model and dancer – so is it safe to say you’ve grown up in front of cameras? What has that been like for you?
It’s been great growing up with a well-known photographer. It has brought me and my family around the world where I’ve been able to do amazing things. It has opened up my eyes to how great life can be if you do it right.
Are you involved in any causes dear to you?
Charity is very important to me. And one of my favorite parts about starting Monstar is how many charities we have been able to support. Make A Wish is a charity I have been around my whole life. They grant the wishes of kids with life-threatening conditions. I have grown up watching my Dad give speeches at their galas and grant wishes. So when I was asked if I would paint a mural for their Believe Campaign with Macy’s I couldn’t have been more excited to help. After the mural was complete I sold a digital copy as an NFT and a print at the auction at their gala for $10K!!! A new record for Monstar.
Another cause that is very important to me is child homelessness. I have been blessed with a great life full of opportunities, which is not how everyone gets to grow up. I think it is very important to give back and do what you can for people who are in a tough spot. The charity I got involved with is Halo. Halo runs a children’s basketball team among many other things which I connected to because I play basketball. I know when I’m in a tough spot or just need to keep my mind off things, there’s nothing I’d rather do than play basketball.
What impact does your business have on your community?
There’s nothing more rewarding than giving back to your community. One thing I like to do is make special clothing drops at production cost for the kids at my school. It’s so cool to walk down the hallways and see kids rocking your designs! I also love to do photoshoots with my friends. I think one of the coolest shoots I’ve done was going up to Belleayre Ski Mountain and shooting my friends skiing in the new hoodies.
What is missing in the area that you wish we had?
I love Dim Sum! I wish we had a Chinese restaurant that served dim sum!
What local businesses do you rely on to be successful?
I get my hoodies printed at ICL Customs, a local business in Boiceville New York. I love being able to print locally because you know you’re helping another small business and you can have a conversation with the person making your clothes so you know everything is exactly how you imagined it.
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Jack Barker Monstar
Check out Jack’s Website to learn more and to Shop the Monstar shop
Photos courtesy of Nigel Barker