The story of Brooklyn-based brand Only In America is one that’s truly inspiring, showcasing just how much you can accomplish when you never give up on your dreams. Kevin “Trix” Bent, the founder of OIA, considers this brand to be his most prized possession. Oh, and no, he didn’t have to join the Illuminati to get it — but more on that later.
To get an idea of how it all came to fruition, The Source spoke to Bent to get an exclusive on his dreams deferred by incarceration, bouncing back and making a name in the fashion industry, and ultimately how a love for his city turned into a clever “God Was Born In Brooklyn” tagline that skyrocketed his brand to the forefront of guys like rapper Fabolous, the crew on Money and Violence and a countless range of influencers nationwide.
This is the story of Only In America, and we’re more than happy to share it with y’all.
The Source: Tell our readers a little about how the brand got started. There’s a powerful story in the beginnings of the brand and how you came about launching it, right?
Kevin Bent: Yeah, absolutely. The brand got started in 2012. I was actually incarcerated, and while I was there I came up with a concept: “Only in America can you lose it all and later gain back more than you could’ve imagined.” That’s how the whole concept [for OIA Brand] came about. As far as the logo, a lot of people might go “Oh, that’s Illuminati!” Yeah, it’s a pyramid flipped upside down that says “Only In America” around it, but the reason for that is pretty simple. I find that Americans are truly fascinated with the Illuminati story. It’s like, “Oh, Jay-Z and Beyoncé are Illuminati!” or “If you go from nothing to something you must be in the Illuminati!” I find it comical so I play with it, and the reaction has been pretty well-received. I also believe that everybody has their own “only in America” story; everybody has a rags-to-riches tale. All you have to do is put enough time and energy into whatever you’re doing.
What’s the biggest takeaway from your time in prison that you incorporate into the brand as well as your everyday life?
I think the biggest takeaway that I got from my time in there is that you can always use your time wisely and turn something [negative] around from nothing. Yes, I was locked up, but that’s not the end-all and be-all. I was just thankful to not have a life sentence. I felt like I had to prepare for what I needed to do when I exited that facility. You may not gain everything back immediately — not next week, next year, or even in two to three years — but if you stay focused you’ll get what you need plus more.
Let’s talk real quick about the intersection between fashion and politics. The two have been crossing a lot lately, especially with Trump’s “Make America Great Again” hats that Kanye West recently started wearing—
Yo, that’s crazy man. I hope nothing crazy happens to ‘Ye, man. It looks like he’s on a spiral down.
Yeah, we definitely have him in our thoughts here at The Source office. We’ll just see how it plays out. How do you feel about the political message in your own brand, especially with having “America” in the brand name and making those dope Obama tees?
I try not to [be too political] because you never know [a person’s political beliefs]. Well, now you know with Trump being in office who the lowkey racists are — it’s out there now. With my Obama tees, I just really felt like he, out of all the presidents, has the most impactful “only in America” story. He’s a Black man that went through it and won. Even though I try not to touch too much on [politics], the Obama tee is one of our staple pieces; everybody loves it. It represents a change in a period of time where we really needed it. His message of Hope was really fun to play with.
Now, when it comes to the “Illuminati thing”, what side of the spectrum do you fall on: true believer or something just to get people talking?
Personally, I think that if there is a secret society, it wouldn’t be so blatant [Laughs]. People wouldn’t know about it — it’s a secret! I think when Jay does it— he had a video with Swizz Beatz back in the day that had a lot of YouTube dissectors saying “This is a sign!” [Editor’s Note: Kev is referring to the video for “On To The Next One” off Jay-Z’s 2009 album The Blueprint 3]. While I think they definitely play with stuff a little, I 100% don’t believe that a dude from Marcy Brooklyn would get down with that. It’s funny because my little nephew went to school with one of the hats on, and one of his friends said “Take that off! It’s Illuminati!” I was like, “How does he even know what the Illuminati is in 6th grade?!” It was interesting, and I kind of like the controversy. Even with Kanye, I personally think he’s doing this rant because he has an album coming out; controversy sells. I play with it on purpose to get people talking. One of my pieces is called “God Was Born In Brooklyn”, and when you wear that jacket it’s like a walking Mona Lisa. Everybody stops and asks, “Where’d you get that?!” On the other hand, I’ll get, “Oh, that’s blasphemy! How could you compare the two?!” I love getting both sides of the coin.
You literally just led me into my next question. How important does being from Brooklyn play into the overall brand’s DNA?
Oh man! I think Brooklyn is so — man! I was in London years ago, and I walked in a random boutique shop that had shirts that just said “Brooklyn”. I was so confused at first, but it just goes to show how much noise [the borough makes worldwide] and what it means to the whole culture — clothes, music, and everything. Just to get a brownstone in Brooklyn right now costs like $5.2 million; back in the day they were priced in the ten-thousands! People see the value in Brooklyn.
I’ll give you a quick story: I lived in Baltimore for school, and would go home often on the train. One late night on the A train or L train, me and this less-fortunate guy were the only ones on the train, and he was drunk out his mind! He came all the way over to sit next to me and asks “Hey bro, I got a question.” I initially was like, “Yo, what’s up with you, bro! Beat it!” [Laughs]. He asked me where I thought God was from, so me being a smartass I said “Yo, God is from Brooklyn!” Soon as the words left my tongue, I got chills. I was like, “Holy shit!” and just decided to put it on a leather before my trip to Atlanta two days later. Before I even got through the airport checkpoint, I got stopped [with compliments] five times — no lie! — like, “Yo that jacket is amazing!” I felt like I had something, and then when I landed in Atlanta the stewardess behind me was like, “The jacket is nice, but God is from Atlanta!” After that, it just took off. Between God and Brooklyn, of course the two aren’t equal, but anywhere you go in the world people recognize the borough, even if it’s just like, “Oh, that’s where Biggie and Jay-Z are from!” It has that statue. Brooklyn is just…Brooklyn. You can’t go wrong being from Brooklyn, reppin’ Brooklyn, or wearing anything that says “Brooklyn”.
What’s the most important message that you want your consumers, and people who just appreciate good fashion, to take away from the Only In America brand?
That’s a great question. I think my statement [with OIA Brand] is to be known as a brand people will want to relate to. Either they’ve been through what the owner’s been through or they relate to a specific collection. Each collection represents either me or a common “only in America” story. I want people to be able to tap in and recognize themselves in it. It’s not something I just put a logo on; Only In America has meaning. I really feel everybody has their own story, even if it’s like, you got fired from McDonalds and now you’re managing two Starbucks, even though they’re in hot water right now. It’s rare that you’ll go to any country and have the same opportunities that we have here. I want the clothes to speak to that. Always.
Take a look at Only In America’s Money. Fear. Hunger lookbook below, which is available right now in the OIA Brand webstore.