Meet the Maker: Knowlita
19 Apr 2017
Whether you call it home or have simply dipped your toes in it, you know there’s nothing quite like soaking up the energy of downtown New York. Every street corner has its own unique vibe, and conjures it up with it its own memories and emotions. This is exactly what Quincy Moore set out to capture with his brand of art prints and apparel that has been approved by the likes of LeBron James, Sarah Jessica Parker and Emma Stone.
Knowlita is quite literally a love letter to New York, with a special nod to the Nolita neighborhood. It was this pocket of Manhattan that first made Quincy fall in love with New York in 2010. An aspiring journalist in a previous life, he purchased the domain with the intention to start a blog about downtown life (because “nolita.com” was taken). Instead of writing, he began with making art prints that celebrated New York simply by listing different street corners across the city, and has since grown the brand into a hugely successful apparel line and off-shoot creative agency that works with brands such as Lululemon and Nike.
Quincy, who has never worked in an office or even been to job interview, shares with us how he built a brand based on authenticity– and redefined the classic “I <3 NYC” novelty wear into something New Yorkers actually want to wear.
How did your relationship with New York begin and inspire you to start your own brand?
When New York is on your side, it’s the most magical place in the world. But it can be very tough. It’s a hard place to achieve what you want to achieve, but ultimately gives you the greatest reward if you are able to so.
I grew up in Sante Fe, New Mexico, but my dad’s family is from Queens. When I moved to New York in 2010, I lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn and worked for my cousin’s brand in the novelties space. It was during that time that I fell in love with downtown New York, just like everybody does. The energy, the people, the restaurants, the vibe... it is unlike anywhere else in the world. I wasn’t a part of it and I figured the easiest way for me to become a part of it was to celebrate it, genuinely.
New York makes all these things possible. You could never do this in Miami or Kansas City. Maybe Paris and London, but if you are of a certain kind and you are ambitious to be relevant, I think New York is the only place one can come to find out whether or not he or she has what it takes.
You started Knowlita by making wall art prints. Where did this idea originate?
I was actually on a train riding from Paris to Amsterdam, writing in my notebook, when the idea to start making prints popped into my head. I wasn’t a designer– I didn’t know how to use Illustrator or Photoshop at the time. I thought that prints were novel and had a lower barrier to entry than starting a t-shirt line. At the time, I didn’t see many people making cool wall art that was inexpensive and spoke to you in an authentic way.
We love how you utilize New York as an inspiration for everything. What do you look for when creating new designs?
There’s nothing more granular than street names. We got a little more specific when we printed the fronts of restaurants and coffee cups. It’s really a celebration of design and aesthetic, of the people and places that I love in a city that continues to inspire me.
Using the word “New York” on anything is a guaranteed to make it the best seller of anything we do. We just came out with a shirt that says “New York, Old Soul” and it has become an instant best seller.
Knowlita started as a very niche neighborhood brand and it’s evolved into something bigger than that. The “Or Nowhere” series has sort of taken us global and we’ve gotten a lot of exposure from that. But it’s more important than ever to stay true to our DNA and what we were in the beginning.
How did the “Or Nowhere” idea come about and end up on LeBron James at the World Series?
As with all our best copy, it came to me in a flash. If I have to struggle with something, I abandon it. I think the best ideas come to you in an instant. If you can’t execute on that pretty immediately, I don’t think it’s good enough.
It was first released in 2015 as part of our launch on Spring, the Instagram for shopping. We then launched “Montauk or Nowhere” at Surf Lodge over 4th of July weekend. A buyer from Saks Fifth Avenue discovered us there, who has become our biggest champion. She brought us into Saks and also got the request from LeBron James’ team to create a “Cleveland or Nowhere” design. We sent them a box of 100 pieces and LeBron chose to wear it in front of hundreds of thousands at the World Series – he saw it and it meant something to him, which is so cool.
That’s what it’s all about: about the power of community and the importance of place. The series evokes a nostalgic emotion, which is something we try to hit with everything we do. Making products is basic, and selling them is even more basic. If you can’t evoke an emotion from someone then you won’t have longevity.
That day changed my life, for sure. LeBron changed the company and gave us more exposure than we could ever possibly buy. Then Emma Stone wore our shirt on SNL and Sarah Jessica Parker Instagrammed a “New York or Nowhere” print she saw on the street. So we have all these very cool, organic moments that have come from people with huge reach. This confirms my suspicions that, if you do things the right way, and they come from a place of celebration and positivity, good things will happen.
What is the story behind the agency side of your business?
I started Knowlita as a side project and went full time without a plan for sustainability. Just as many New York projects, things sometimes need to evolve to pay the bills. When people started approaching us for creative direction, Knowlita accidentally evolved into a boutique creative agency that does everything from website development to event activations. We’ve worked with brands such as Nike, Sixty Hotels and Swerve Fitness on art and creative direction.
That’s how Knowlita has become a brand that masquerades as a creative agency, and vice versa. Our products are vessels for our ideas. For example, when Saks approached us to do a stand-alone pop-up shop in their Brookfield location, it was an opportunity to do something that was about experience first and product second, which is the ethos of everything we do.
You’re launching your own store later this year. What can we expect from that?
We want to build Knowlita out into a ‘lifestyle brand’, even though I think people throw that buzz term around a lot. We’re going to keep going into different verticals. This fall, we’re dipping our toes back into ready-to-wear and are going to release a jacket collection, along with leather accessories. We’ll launch this with a pop-up shop to help the brand continue to evolve in different ways, so watch this space.