A Fashion Ethic

Rahpheal Hunter is an early riser, an attribute he credits sheepishly to his two little girls. 

“I get them ready for school, we do a little meditation, run them to school, and between the hours of eleven and one, I’m mostly at the computer, trying to get some work done.” He speaks slowly but with assurance, unafraid to take the extra moment needed to choose the best possible word.

“I pick them up usually around one, they nap and I continue to work, contacting people and working on designs. I try to break at around five-thirty for a workout.”

This last part he reveals with a nervous laugh, as if uncomfortable at the public disclosure of a break in his consciously work-driven schedule. His accent, the perfect confluence of sharp, expressive street slang and sleepy, midwestern drawl is deceptive in its cool casualness, seemingly shielding the practical anxieties of the workaholic within. When you’re running what is considered to be Hyde Park’s singular, homegrown clothing company, you can’t afford to be casual.

And yet, at least for the moment, Hunter’s brand, STS33, deals primarily in the most casual of clothing items: the t-shirt.

Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio–a city better known for its disloyal athletes and one particularly tasteless sex act than for its thriving fashion culture–Hunter’s mother’s emphasis on looking ‘presentable’ served as his introduction to the principle of ‘style through substance.’ Today, this philosophy plays an important role in both his personal life and professional career.

“She dressed me up in a lot of Polo,” he says with a smile.

This maternal insistence on sartorial proficiency, paired with an almost religious adherence to the canon of GQ magazine, instilled in the young Hunter an ambition driven by the belief that clothing could be a means for one to express something to the rest of the world.

It was this belief that led him to the International Academy of Design and Technology in downtown Chicago, where he started out studying fashion design, but was quickly drawn in to the more technology-driven field of graphic design. Despite gaining valuable experience and insight into the world of fashion during his time spent at the Academy, Hunter is quick to admit that the less-than-serious and often shallow nature of many of his peers was frustrating.

He was restlessness at an institution where he did not believe he was receiving the best education; a change of scenery was necessary. He dropped out of the Academy, moved to Hyde Park, and immediately began work on a project that would combine his love of fashion with his affinity for graphic design: a t-shirt company he named STS33.

STS stands for ‘Style Thru Substance,’ a philosophy that has, in many respects, followed Hunter throughout his life. In his youth he was intent on carving out for himself a cultural identity free of pretension and phoniness.

“Style transcends the clothes, you know. It’s about the attitude. It’s about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re about,” he says.

Often, this desire to remain true to himself entailed rebelling against traditionally held cultural norms. It makes sense then that Hunter idolized the graffiti-influenced work of Basquiat, head-bopped to the grimy, anti-establishment grunge of Nirvana, and tore through the poetic tropes of a certain Tupac Shakur. He insists that this side of him is now dormant, ostensibly neutered by the dual forces of occupation and domesticity, but his reading material of late–Alinsky’s Revolution for Radicals–appears to suggest otherwise. Hunter’s uncanny resemblance to a young Che Guevara–fierce, hawk-like eyes, perfectly unkempt beard and a constantly contemplative facial expression–does nothing to help his case.

Futures, Past Due, Hunter’s first collection for STS33, fuses together related ideas such as dystopias, space travel, and the impact of technology on society. The designs lend themselves to an evidently futuristic aesthetic characterized by functional, geometric images and a propagandist, 1984-style way with words. The collection is composed entirely of t-shirts (all made in the USA), something Hunter decided on very early on.

“I’ve always had a love of t-shirts. They’re simple and expressive, like walking pieces of art. I saw it as a great way of joining together graphic design and the love of clothing.”

That being said, expansion, both in terms of inventory and accessibility, is definitely in the cards. In Hunter’s view, Hyde Park, with its diversity of people, styles and cultures, strikes the perfect balance between an urban city and close-knit community. So, while STS33 is currently only available online and at select stores in Hyde Park (Hyde Park Records on 53rd), Hunter hopes to set up a store in Hyde Park with an expanded collection including hoodies, sweatshirts, jackets, and jeans. His hope is to use the store as a means of combining his love of clothing with his other passion, riding and refurbishing bicycles

While success has come, Hunter admits that running his type of enterprise–one man, one vision, many tasks–is far from easy. Generous soul that he is, he leaves me with a cool, indescribably soft t-shirt from his current collection, along with his thoughts on the industry.

“It’s pretty tough. How many people do you know who want to get into fashion? How many TV shows are about fashion? It’s something that draws a lot of people. A lot of people say ‘I like fashion, I can design,’ but it’s not like that. There’s far more to it.”