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How Mega Yacht Went From Selling Bootleg Tees Online to Opening an LA Store

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patrick baslar
September 4, 2018

Somewhere in Ariana Grande’s house—maybe in the back of her closet or next to Piggy Smalls's pig pen—is her mega yacht shirt.

 

It’s a white tee with “Maison Margiela Paris” printed on it. It’s not a real Margiela piece—the fact that it features a graphic of the one and only Very Hungry Caterpillar is something of a giveaway—but it caught Grande’s eye during a shoot with photographer Stefan Kholi, who was wearing the shirt.

“[Kholi] hits me up like, ‘Hey, so Ariana wants one of these shirts, any chance you have any left?’” Jacob Smith, the brains behind LA-based bootleg brand mega yacht said over the phone. “I didn’t have any left and I was freaking out. So I was like, ‘I need to figure this out somehow.’”

 

It was a Saturday evening and, despite a frantic phone call, his normal printing shop was closed and shockingly unresponsive to his “shirt emergency.” So he hopped in his car, drove “way too fucking fast” through LA traffic to their West Covina building to make his case in person.

 

“I get to the shop and they’re really shook,” the 23-year-old remembered. “I was like, ‘I need to make a shirt and it’s for this person: Ariana Grande.’ And they’re like, ‘Are you fucking serious?!’ So they fired the machine up and they made my shirt.”

 

So Smith, Kholi and the Very Hungry Caterpillar himself made their way to Grande’s Beverly Hills mansion, where they hand-delivered the T-shirt as a birthday present.

 

“That was the third design I ever did,” he said. “That’s what’s crazy about LA, shit like that can just happen, randomly.”

 

It seems wild that a small clothing brand’s third ever shirt could make it into the hands of a multi-platinum pop star—especially at her request. But the story aptly showcases Smith’s formula for success: Eye-grabbing, hilarious designs and a penchant for getting his clothes to the right people, no matter how many DMs it takes.

 

The premise behind mega yacht is simple: Smith creates fire emoji-inducing bootleg designs that poke fun at designer clothes by taking their esteemed and trademarked names (Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Balenciaga) and putting them on the ridiculous and recognizable art of pop culture staples like Sesame Street, Dr. Seuss and The Simpsons. The shirts are funny, but they’re also dope enough that you can stunt in 'em without breaking the bank.

 

Mega yacht’s Instagram bio reads “fake it till u make it”—and that’s what Smith has done since starting his brand a year ago with a single hoodie featuring Chanel’s iconic interlocking-C engulfed in Harley Davidson style flames. We chatted with the designer (and former art history major) about how mega yacht got its start, flipping sneakers on Grailed and making the jump to brick and mortar with his new LA location.

Let's bring it back to the beginning. How did you start mega yacht?

 

Jacob Smith: I would just be listening to interviews back in the day with the different people who started streetwear brands. I guess it was that combined with being super into Gucci and shit at the time and I just could not afford it at all. I was listening to Tyler Grosso’s No Jumper interview and even people like Robesman. It made me feel like it wasn't as hard as I had previously thought to just say fuck it and start something. I cooked up a little design and then I contacted a local embroidery shop and I just made one.

 

You mentioned that you made the money to do your first shirt on Grailed. How’d you get into flipping stuff on there?

 

Smith: I got really lucky and got a pair of the Moonrock Yeezys back in the day. Me and my homie were trying to read up on every single website that we could. We went crazy. We were up all night and I ended up copping a pair. I said, “I'm not going to resell these; I really want them.” I wore them for a while but then I was on a plane and the woman next to me spilled her Bloody Mary on them and that was it. I was just having nightmares about these shoes getting ruined. So I said, “Fuck it, I'm going to have to sell them.” I sold those for 700 or 800 bucks.

 

Do you remember the first bootleg thing you bought?

 

Smith: It was an Ava Nope piece. She was definitely and probably still is my number one inspiration ever. Blew my mind. It was the Champion Reverse Weave hoodie with the rose that said Gucci underneath. She posted on her Instagram “Oh made 10 of these” and I was one of the lucky ten.

 

It seems like kind of a big jump to go from a web store and Instagram to a brick and mortar store, especially in 2018. What was the thought process behind that?

 

Smith: It's just an opportunity that came up that I couldn't say no to. I used to work for this LA-based photographer. She had a studio in Chinatown that I would come to and archive her work and organize shit, move stuff to galleries. I've been coming here for four years but then she moved to New York maybe six months ago. So I'm basically here for the low and just trying to make the most of it while I can because she’s paying for a big chunk of it.

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Do you have a dream vision of what your store will end up being?

 

Smith: Right now it’s just more of a showroom, but I would love to have embroidery machines, screen printers, Direct To Garment printing machines, stuff like that, where people can come in and make their own designs. I wanna have these old vintage magazines that have a lot of dope graphics that I look at and read myself and get inspiration from and be able to have kids come through and fuckin’ make designs.

 

A lot of the time people in streetwear make it seem hard. People try to keep it a secret how they started their brand. And really—it’s not that hard. If I can get more kids to feel stoked about having a career in the arts, or something creative, through having them come to the shop and make some designs and get their career started, that would be dope.

 

You just released your first full collection, which had the three shirts that weren’t bootleg, that said “Tax Evasion,” “Cease and Desist” and “Copyright Infringement.” Did part of you want to move away from doing the straight up bootleg stuff?

 

Smith: In a way, I do. It’ll always be a certain part of what I do here, but yeah, I wanted to do something a little different and that felt a little more my own without relying on the brand names. Even though I would still consider—even though they’re bootleg—I would consider all these designs original.

 

But that’s why I did the full season because in context, the “Tax Evasion,” “Cease and Desist” and “Copyright Infringement” designs make a lot more sense when juxtaposing them with these more classically bootlegged ones. I was really into the season because I felt like it gave the work a little more cohesion than it had in the past.

 

What role has Instagram and social media played in your success?

 

Smith: Everything. I was and still am just hitting the DMs on people. Like, “What’s up dude, I really fuck with your work. I would love to send you a pack, it would mean a lot, blah blah blah.” Of all those DMs I send, maybe a couple people will respond. And of those people that respond and get a shirt, maybe one or two people will post my shit. But those one or two people really make the difference.

 

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned so far in the year you’ve been doing mega yacht for?

 

Smith: Just fucking trust the process. Some people, in terms of entrepreneurship, have a grandmaster five year plan—that’s not really what I’m doing. But if I keep going, so long as I have momentum and I keep moving forward, something is going to happen.

 

You’ve got your store opening coming up soon. What else can we expect from you in the next few months?

 

Smith: I’ve got a new season coming up. I have a couple things with different artists in the works like promo tees and collaborations that will hopefully come together by the end of the year.

 

And I’ve got to make pants. I’ve been blowing it on that.