MILFDAD |  “Conversions”

by BJ Panda Bear

I was connected with the brand MILFDAD in the way most people connect these days, via my DMs. When I scrolled through their feed, I saw a refreshing take on streetwear that felt so future yet wearable now. A textural play with the digital and analog, as brown woolen houndstooth trousers were matched with neon track tops designed with incoherent all over prints. It was seductive and subversive, a satirical take on a world which had intellectualized street wear to the point where items were at times literally incased and displayed like art. The work the brand has done helps to bring the clothing back to it’s roots while presenting a take of conceptualism that was grounded in the critique of consumerism culture. 

Started by Ben Fine, a former financial analyst and Justin Butler, a creative with a background in English and film, the brand was conceived to cater to a middle ground of the creative and commercial while aestheticizing the visual language that came from Ben’s financial work of graphs, spreadsheets and charts. Notably their neon color palette tracksuits and accessories has garnered a following including Lil Xan to Billie Eilish and even Bella Thorne. For their latest collection titled “Conversions” the duo brought Flaunt an exclusive look with a shoot in NYC’s Chinatown, we also caught up with Ben to get better acquainted with what exactly is a MILFDAD.

Whats your background, how did you get into clothing and design and where did the name come from?

BF: I’m from New Jersey, spent one year working as an investment banking analyst for Wells Fargo Securities before quitting with the intention to do something more creative. I started spending more time with my MILFDAD co-founder and hometown friend Justin during that period, and he got me into re-selling streetwear online. I had an eye for which pieces people wanted, so that was my intro into focusing on clothing. The name MILFDAD was conceived during an acid experience where Justin and I were spitballing cool usernames for an app. It has a ring to it and it just works, which is the most important thing for a fashion brand. The logo is a bold italic sans serif web font (from iPhone notes app), with the dots underneath representing an incorrectly spelled word for a spell check. That iconography is designed to draw your attention, and since you’re used to seeing it on a screen and not printed on clothes, the eye-grabbing effect is doubled. 

The collection I’m releasing now features a lot of stock market motifs, which is a reference to my own past working in finance. It’s a timeless and clean aesthetic, very recognizable, but almost never featured on clothing. That’s where I learned design, putting together these sterile presentations filled with financial information for big corporations - chart design, color palettes, and the overall aesthetic of the material was considered much more important than the actual information. The finance background is a unique one for a fashion designer - it sets me apart, so I’ve combined it with the streetwear format to create something unique. 

What does New York spring mean to you in regards to the fashions you wear colors you choose?

BF: The mild weather during spring lets people wear what they want in New York instead of dressing for function, so it is the best time for fashion. In winter, everyone needs to wear heavy coats, and the summer is usually a dead period for fashion with people mainly wearing shorts and tee shirts. 

This series of photos depict a very chill post Chinese New Year day, is there a brand identity you'd like to grasp in the downtown scene?

BF: This is where our office is, so it naturally is part of our identity. I like to keep things natural - for this photoshoot, the Chinese New Year thing was a coincidence, but the energy outside was amazing, and all the confetti on the ground created a great image.

Your brand seems to be able to be worn by everyone from skater punks to eastern block dad to art girl of the moment, how do you go about creating a line that is accessible to everyone?

BF: I think a brand is a natural extension of the creator’s mentality, and in this case, the reason the brand is so accessible to different types of people is that I’ve always disliked the exclusivity associated with fashion. I’m not a superficial person, I believe listening to people is the most important thing in life & the number one trait of happy successful people - that  Also, as a creative person doing this project with no outside backing, I’ve been open to working with anyone who’s been down to get involved and help out. Since we can’t afford to really pay employees yet, I usually make sure to at least give everyone I work with some pieces, so you’ll see all types of people wearing them around. In addition, I like working with non-traditional models, especially the elderly, which creates a cool and inclusive feeling for the brand as well. Our first hot product was our tracksuits - there’s something unifying about tracksuits in general - whether it’s black, Italian, Russian, Spanish, etc. there’s a multitude of ethnic groups and age groups associated with tracksuits, and all of the people who wear them have something in common. There’s a shared mentality among people who wear tracksuits, a sort of comfortable-in-your-own-skin feeling which I really vibe with. For us, we were very fortunate that our first tracksuit that we released (the baby blue colorway) gained a lot of traction after being worn by Famous Dex, Ski Mask the Slump God, fatboy SSE, Ronny J, Bella Thorne, and a bunch of other pop culture figures. For whatever reason, this brand has gotten the most support from the hip-hop world - I think because artists see my personal hustle and understand what I’m doing. And also because my clothes fit within the image they’re trying to portray, and especially the mentality of not giving a fuck, putting it all on the line and dedicating your life to the process. It’s led to some crazy experiences which I never expected to be a part of, like being in a SixNine music video or spending New Year’s Eve at Diddy’s house in Miami. Everyone I’ve met in the year or so since starting MILFDAD has been amazing, so shout out to the YRP family, Pop Out Boyz, Sturdy Gang, Treyway, Fatboy Gang and everyone else in the industry who has helped us get our name out. 

Against your contemporaries, your label stands with a great satirical take on street wear is that what you are cornering or what is your approach to design and textiles?

BF: I came into the fashion industry as a reseller, I was raised in a household with zero focus on fashion - my parents are very minimalist and all through my childhood and teen years I didn’t really have any of the popular name brands. The brand that I created is definitely a response to the phenomenon of the hypebeast, people who try to build their whole persona through consumption of brands. It’s mainly teenage children leading this culture - to me there’s something ironic about the idea of a father who works a traditional office job coming home to see that his son is spending all of this money on clothing descended from a hip-hop culture that the father doesn’t understand. In a sense, Milfdad is an amped up version of this dynamic. The stock market motifs in the collection are a critique on the inextricable link between wealth and fashion. Clearly, fashion has potential to be a great art form, but the consumption of fashion in the mainstream is mainly as a status symbol. So a lot of the leading brands, although they may have a great legacy, their brand meaning has been reduced down to nothing more than conveying the idea that the wearer is wealthy or has status. I think clothing can express so much more than that. Also, relative to our contemporaries, I want to deliver consumers a better value for their money, so we focus on sourcing the best fabrics, and compose our collections fully of cut-and-sewn garments. A lot of streetwear brands simply print on cheap blank clothes and promote themselves with influencer campaigns. To me, that’s sad and lazy, but the good news is that it’s easy to do a better job than those brands. They seem to be motivated only by money, but I’m not - that’s what gives this brand the potential to turn into something special - if I was interested in money I would have stayed in my well paying comfortable job, rather than risking all my money to start a business where I’d be statistically likely to fail.

What about expansion and the production end, you are going to eventually have to grow with success. Is there something about the creativity and conformity?

Fashion as art is held back by the constraint of mass production, so designers  are attempting to appeal to what they believe consumers want, rather than just creating art. Steve Jobs said that the consumer doesn’t know what they want and they need to be told, and I believe that. And people will always be drawn to the energy of something authentic. So I wanted to create a brand that quote unquote “doesn’t make sense,” or “shouldn’t exist” to really show people that magic or unlikely things happen all the time, and they should try. 

The name Milfdad has led to a bunch of confusion and some resistance from fashion vets. They’re sort of accustomed to the current climate and maybe fearful of what’s coming next, which makes sense.  The culture of memes on the internet has gotten to a very advanced stage, so the generational gap is very intense at this point in time, even the gap between people who are in their late 20s vs. people in their late 30s is enormous. We’re doing something different, which will always lead to criticism from people who are stagnant. It’s sort of similar to a Dennis Rodman - the way he was dressing was super unconventional for the time and he faced a lot of criticism from his peers and in the media. He was mocked for his style, but is now considered a style icon - current designers are still pulling inspiration from his outfits from 25 years ago. I hope that we’re doing the same thing - I wouldn’t start a brand just to play it safe - I want to influence the next generation of artists in this streetwear fashion game to similarly be true to their vision and not compromise to market forces.

Do you see the brand growing and building different aspects of lifestyle products? You seem meant to be doing more on the accessories side are you going to push for more for those products?

BF: I’m really excited to show the world our next collection, which we are sampling now. Yes, we’re doing more accessories and taking the brand in a higher end direction, with more subtle branding and a focus on improving the quality of the clothing, fleshing out full collections with the aim of eventually putting together a runway presentation. I want to expand into footwear, bags, outerwear, denim, formal attire, etc. I’m working on a number of those things now. I’m also working on a short film and looking into a bunch of tangential industries,  like concert promotion and consumer products. I really want to do an interview series where I put a spotlight on people I think are relevant (not always because of what they’ve produced but because of mentality and their story). MILFDAD was designed to be a blank slate platform - not necessarily limited to clothing - the reason I chose to do fashion as opposed to some other creative project is because I think it has the greatest ability to move culture, in part because celebrities tend to amplify the messages you’re putting out. It also appeals to me that you can work in any creative medium or visual art form as a way of promoting fashion. I’m the type of person who has always wanted to try everything, which is partially why it took me longer to find my path in life. With this brand, I want to do as much as I can, to do all the things I’ve always wanted to do & to inspire people that they can do the same. 

What do you think about the idea of unisex clothing? The name MILFDAD references both men and women, so is that a direction you would pursue?

I’m encouraged by the growth of unisex clothing, I think it represents general progress in culture - the imbalance between men and women is shrinking, and it’s dope to see men move away from the mentality of extreme masculinity, which leads to a lot of foolishness. The idea of the mother and father is referenced in most great art - they are the source of your whole experience and a source of wisdom as well. With MILFDAD, you have the male and the female put together, which is the idea of a genderless “god," which is present within all of us. Everything in the world fits on some spectrum of masculine and feminine energy, when you put those two words together you have everything. But the idea of MILF makes it much more fun, in today’s internet context DAD is a youthful word that also implies wisdom - it’s fun and inclusive. There’s a lot of spirituality embedded inside the brand, just things that I personally think about, but I don’t make it overt. The slogan “The Only Path Forward” featured on some of our graphics from this collection references that, but it also reads like a generic corporate slogan so I put it over a graphic inspired by IBM. Once you’re a spiritual person you see meaning and beauty everywhere you look, I’m trying to spread that worldview as well. Even a slogan like “Better ingredients, Better pizza” is deeply meaningful if you think about it. It’s a mantra. You get out what you put in. That’s what MILFDAD is. 

For more on MILFDAD

Photographed by: Yuta Kawanishi

Models: Yo Foo, Jacuzzi (Jabari Khalid Furry), Cannon Lord

Styled By: Ben Fine