In his recent memoir, Shoe Dog, Nike founder Phil Knight described the inaugural retail store of his first business venture, Blue Ribbon Sports, as “a sanctuary for runners, a place that didn’t just sell them shoes but celebrated them and their shoes.” The Good Company’s Lower East Side storefront, stationed at 97 Allen Street, embodies a similar community-minded approach: upon entering the shop, it becomes clear that the clothing store is much more than the sum of the apparel hanging from the racks — the space also functions as a haven where art, skate culture, and music seamlessly intersect.
Since opening its doors in 2012, The Good Company’s own clothing — designed and sold by west coast natives, co-founders, and owners Kumasi Sadiki and Quinn Arneson — has quickly become a fixture within the new wave of independent menswear. As such, the shop is also known for being home to a handful of thoughtfully chosen and not-really-found-elsewhere streetwear, zines, and visual art from artists like Devin Troy Strother.
During a time when online shops are the heart-and-soul of a brand’s identity, The Good Company’s storefront has become an important home to a community of young New Yorkers: both through its day-to-day, chill-session-welcoming atmosphere, and through hosted events like art shows and concerts. The realness, positivity, and inclusiveness that emanate from the shop are testaments to Sadiki’s and Arneson’s squad-first vision.
On a rainy night in late December, I met up with Kumasi, 31, and Quinn, 29, to learn more about the nuts and bolts of The Good Company’s philosophy, why encouraging the next generation of artists and creators matters, and how they envision the future for their clothing and the shop itself.
Where did you guys grow up, and what were your upbringings like?
Quinn Arneson: I grew up in Los Angeles and I went to [art school] in San Francisco. I took a lot of art classes and then really got into art. When I was younger, I just really wanted to make shit. To make art, objects, things. Jack Grier is one of my friends I grew up with who was just like, always making shit. Right now he’s back into skate videos — he was making skate videos when we were little — he’s always working on shit. People like that are who I looked up to and gained inspiration from, who I respect and have made me want that [kind of work ethic].
Kumasi Sadiki: I was raised really pro-black in North Portland. My dad, his name is Nathan, but he changed it to Kamau. He’s into knowing who you are. Ever since I was young, he put a huge emphasis on knowledge. He always told me: “White people don’t have a monopoly on knowledge. Just go out there and learn what you want.” It was no limits for me as a kid, and I’m really thankful to my dad for that. I was snowboarding, skateboarding when it was not cool, with people calling me “white boy” and stuff. My dad didn’t care about that. As long as you were into what you were doing, and doing what you had to do, that was cool to him. I always got that from him, to learn as much as you can and find something to apply it to.
He didn’t necessarily understand the entrepreneurial side of things. He strongly believed you needed to have a business plan and be really serious, but that's the old school, HBCU — he went to Howard University, so he’s coming from that kind of background. I feel like he gave me the tools, the perspective, to do something different. I think that most people don’t get that growing up. I never thought of myself as a worker. I always thought of myself as either someone who is going to make stuff, or someone who was going to be in business. I always saw myself outside of the grid.
What did owning a business mean to you?
Kumasi: The decision to want to own a business wasn’t really motivated by business; it was more motivated by freedom. The only people that I saw that were really “free” were just people with no financial obligations a.k.a. a job, so they could do what they wanted. Then I noticed even people with jobs — my parents were always like, “Go to college, this is the way that black people do better” — friends’ parents that went to college or didn’t go to college, started getting laid off. That’s crazy, you gave your life to this job and then someone just lays you off and now you’re financially hurting. I was like, “That’s never going to be that for me.” For me, owning a business was the only way to real financial freedom.
Was there one person or multiple people that you look up to who did have the independence you were aspiring to have?
Kumasi: I never met them in person. I guess my imagination is kind of crazy, and I just always had this blind faith. I didn’t really know what it looked like but I guess I just followed my heart. Definitely there were people that I respected how they move from an early age. James Jebbia from Supreme, I always respected how he built that, and Tetsu [Nishiyama] from WTAPS. I always digged WTAPS a lot. Even Sk8thing from BAPE and then when he started doing Cav Empt. Those people are all influencing me but it wasn't necessarily from a business standpoint, just in building something that people could grasp, and I feel like they were doing it the best.
Quinn: [Kumasi] definitely is an influence. I mean, we are definitely an influence on each other. Some big painter friends of mine, someone we just worked with, Henry Gunderson, is a big influence. His work ethic is unmatched in comparison to any of my friends. He literally stays inside all the time, it’s pretty crazy.
Kumasi: I didn’t get here by someone just handing me money. Kids sometimes look at businesses and they think, “I don't have no money, how do I start that?” I always knew that you needed money to get your ideas forward but when I didn’t have any money that didn’t limit me from pushing out ideas. It’s kind of like a give and take, sometimes you have money sometimes, you have really good ideas, you just have to push them both until they equal out. I just knew that money was not the end all be all. I think if you make good stuff it's not guaranteed that you’re going to get rich, but making good stuff will make you feel good. Usually it works out, and people catch on.
“I’d like to see the kids who come to the shop do even more. We ask some of them to draw, sometimes, or do other shit, like we’d ask of any friend.” —Quinn Arneson
In a time when online stores and communities are easy to set up and grow, and likely less of a financial burden, why did you guys decide to open a The Good Company as a physical store?
Kumasi: All good businesses are a direct response to something, you’ve got to see a weakness somewhere and then respond. I just felt like the store atmosphere was what’s fucked up. There are stores that have this attitude of being too cool and so, when you walk in there, you feel like shit. We didn’t want that, and so the store was a direct response to that. We felt like [The Good Company] could be a place you could just go and be in an environment where chill people could come together and kick it. Coming from Cali, there’s a lot of weed smoking, so there are always a lot of people just hanging out and talking shit. That vibe is really good for building a community, a culture like that. I feel like that needed to return to the store environment. Like you said, with everything on the internet, no one needs to go anywhere. The idea of just a place where people could just sit and chill, that’s not stuck up.
At first it was like the store was for us. But I feel like now, the store is for the kids that come here, it’s everybody’s, it’s not ours so much. We keep it going but everybody makes it what it is, more or less. I think that, in itself, is what makes the store important; you always need a real thing in life, a real thing other than Instagram and Twitter shit.
Quinn: There are kids still that order from us online who live in New York. We’d like to send a message to those kids: Come to the store.
Did you have that kind of chill spot to hang and learn growing up, that you might have modeled the shop after? Or was it missing in your younger years?
Quinn: When I was younger, I did go to a skate shop in L.A. that was pretty chill. It's called Hot Rod Skate Shop. Now, I feel like people who shop there go there for Nikes. It started around when Dunks became a thing; it became the Dunks spot versus a skate shop. That place got pretty weird, it changed ownership too, but when I was little, I would go after skating all day and just sit there and watch skate videos and have these older dudes talk shit to me. That was sick. But other than that, most streetwear stores, it’s like, what are they cool for? Unless you design it or make [the clothes], what are you cool for, for working at a streetwear store if you aren't actually cool, actually good at doing something? A lot of kids at skate shops actually skate, and the dudes I grew up with at the skate shops were good skaters. They're like hood-famous skaters, not like pro or anything, but good.
Kumasi: I think for me, there was a void because I don't think I had that “place.” As I kept getting older, I became more introverted. There was a time where I just noticed, people wanna be involved with something. I’ve kind of kept a small six to eight person crew and we just built it up. It used to be FreedMinds and I used to have it in my living room and people would just come over, smoke weed, we’d throw around ideas, and it would just be this little thing that incubated itself. As I grew older, I noticed that is important, that, lowkey, was the whole culture and lifestyle: the people that kept wanting to come around. When we started The Good Company, this idea was just more transparent. It wasn’t anyone's house, it was a store, so people could even more freely come in and soak it up. I definitely noticed that that was an important part of the whole, definitely having a place to meet up and connect with other like-minded people.
I feel like that’s the environment that we have here now: kids come, and sometimes they don’t do shit, but the ones that stay, they want to do something outside the box and want to figure out how.
In what ways have you involved some of those interested kids?
Quinn: It's natural. Honestly, it’s like, “Who do we call that's available?” We see these kids all the time. It's like, “I know you don’t have a job right now. Can you come here and shoot this?” Not necessarily out of necessity, but who else are we going to shoot? Some random models you have to pay for and you don’t know? I’d like to see the kids [who come to the shop] do even more. We ask some of them to draw, sometimes, or do other shit, like we’d ask of any friend.
Kumasi: I do think, though, it’s more about them getting to know the inner workings of a small business. I don’t think anyone at 18 can walk into any business and see how it works, but we're pretty transparent that way. You can come in and talk to us, and if you sit there for long enough, if you’re that sort of person, you’ll notice a couple of things. And if you keep coming back and have questions, we usually try to give you an honest, thorough answer that could push you forward.
You guys said that you pay attention to everything that comes past your door. Tell me about what it’s like being a part of the Lower East Side neighborhood.
Quinn: Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I definitely am cool with all the people on the block, and I definitely want to keep the Lower East Side a fun space. It’s definitely more about the kids and friends.
Kumasi: I definitely want to see the Lower East Side stay chill. It looks like it’s going to the rich pretty quick, but I like it. When we first moved in here, there was a fucking Chinese spot next door that sold dollar dumplings. It was grimier: it wasn't like SoHo, but it wasn’t like Chinatown. It definitely has a culture.
Quinn: It’s about to be four years [since the shop’s been open], and I feel like our neighbors have kind of constantly changed. It’s fucking hard to do anything. It’s not easy to run your own business. It’s not incredibly hard to open it, but you have to keep the fucking doors open. I feel like our neighbors, like certain people — the liquor store, the corner store, the tire shop guy who probably used to be in here, [the guy] who used to make dumplings next door — these people are still on the block. I still feel like I know them, even though I don’t talk to them that much.
Kumasi: I just want to see [more] small businesses. The dude who moved next door, he’s Korean, but it’s just small businesses. I feel like soon, it’s going to be corporate. High rises that no one can afford to live in. That's when you get people that are not chill anymore. Ludlow has a lot of little, independent restaurants. It’s nice. I want to keep that around.
Do things ever go wrong?
Kumasi: I don’t know, it’s worked out better for us when we just stick to our guns. We don’t want to flood the market; we’re not trying to make a million dollars tomorrow. We just want to keep getting better each season and just grow, just let people see our progress
Quinn: And to work with tight people and put cool shit out there, whether it’s us who made it, or a friend who made it, or a big artist who made it. Whatever the fuck it is, [it should be] really good and honest.
How do you see the future of The Good Company?
Kumasi: We definitely want to make better, higher quality, more original pieces, and then get faster at [producing them] — more efficient. Ideally we'd like to open a shop in Japan, another one overseas, but there’s no real rush; we just want to make it work. We really like Japan and we like that market. For now, it’s just going to be making quality pieces that we look up to — cut and sew stuff and original garments, more pop-ups, and more travelling.
“Both of us are into a lot of different things, so we wanted the store to reflect that and be like a gumbo of all that stuff, a place where you could display art, shirts, zines, have a concert.” —Kumasi Sadiki
On many occasions, the shop has become home to radio shows, art shows, album listenings, and small performances. What is the motivation to build The Good Company beyond the shop and the clothes?
Quinn: I think in art shows, everything is important, because it’s about more than just t-shirts; it’s a part of the culture, a part of something bigger. I was trying to open a gallery/store originally, and then I fully realized that it would’ve been really hard to find a space that had two rooms in our budget. The second issue was showing work next to clothes, the artist has to be okay with that.
Kumasi: I think it was just to go further. It was always that, for the both of us. I think that's why [the shop] kind of works. Quinn went to a fine arts school, and I’m a little bit more — I just like good design, and [to me] it’s always been about more than just good design.
Music and clothes have always been related. From F.U.B.U. and LL Cool J to everyone, always. It’ll never stop, but we were trying to widen that perspective. There’s more to it. Growing up, as a kid, people try to pigeonhole you. Especially me being a black kid, they try to pigeonhole you and say, “You have to do this” and “You have to be into that.” I feel like both of us are into a lot of different things, so we wanted the store to reflect that and be like a gumbo of all that stuff, a place where you could display art, shirts, zines, have a concert. Do everything in one place.
I feel like the shirts and everything, the way it’s all curated, brings a different vibe to the shop. Everything merges together. That's how I like to look at it. I like to look at us as curators of an art gallery, and everything in the shop is an individual piece.
We really pay attention to everything that comes past our front door. Sometimes, it might be an art show, it might be a rapper, it might be a beat, it might even be just a musician, someone that plays rock or something. Graffiti to fine art, you know? We don’t discriminate; it just has to be authentic and true. I’m into people who either have been down for it for so long and they have no choice but to be good at it, or have just excelled in it very fast and you can tell they’re in it for the right reasons and they’re not just in it to exploit it and do something else. Those are the kind of people we try to uplift and showcase.
Tell me more about the art aspect, specifically.
Kumasi: I feel like art in itself is pretty pretentious, and dominated by white males, and it kind of scares away minorities, and even young people, to not pursue it because it’s so pretentious. I always felt like everything was art, from a cup, to a pot, to a car, to shoes. Someone put thought into the bettering of those things. Some of them are shit, and some of them are good, and that’s what makes it art. Growing up, I always looked at t-shirts as art. So when I first started [designing and making t-shirts], a lot of people tried to tell me, “No, it’s only commercial art” or “You have to do it like this.” It felt like the museums or the galleries, how you had to get there, then go inside of them — it’s kind of intimidating to even go to a museum and walk around. I felt like the t-shirt was not necessarily bringing the gallery to the people, but it was bringing art to the people, it was bringing a message.
Going forward, the idea of art needs to be more accessible to the people, be more about people, and about interactions with it, rather than trying to put it in this polished environment that says it’s “art.” Right now, I think it’s more just making things that people can relate to and interact with well that makes art.
The Good Company gives us a chance to take back what art is, and give it back to the people. I feel like we get a cosign on that idea from places like Dover Street [Market] or Opening Ceremony, and you see them start to open t-shirt spaces, or start working with smaller brands that are maybe making more authentic clothing, and you see bigger brands starting to take some of the aspects of smaller brands that are good at that. I think there’s a middle ground and that’s where The Good Company, for better or for worse, tries to bridge that gap — just connecting streetwear and fine art.