The clothes make the man: Winnipeg high-schooler building fashion empire
Adam Smallwood's making custom clothes for Toronto rappers and Paris fashionistas
When 17-year-old Adam Smallwood started painting designs on blank hats in school, little did he know that three years later, he'd have a successful clothing line and lifestyle brand. And he hasn't even graduated high school yet.
"I just designed the hats for fun and posted them on Instagram, and people seemed to like them," Smallwood says. "I would do a couple here and there, and all of a sudden, I have this clothing brand."
The Glenlawn Collegiate student created Atomik Studios — a unisex-streetwear clothing line and lifestyle brand — when he was 14.
He began sharing his designs on social media and garnered an enthusiastic and loyal following.
"Social media is very important; I've studied a lot of methods on how to promote and brand yourself in a way that is authentic," he says. "I try to be very real. This is what I do every day: I sew and make pieces."
Eventually, Smallwood transitioned into doing full releases. His first collection was called The Koldest Season; he then released Spring 2016, and his last two collections were Fall-Winter 2016 and Spring-Summer 2017.
"Back when I first started, I wasn't very good at sewing so it was hard for me to get bulk product out to the public," he says.
Some guy from Paris bought a custom piece that I wasn't even considering selling, for a pretty considerable amount. It's things like that that may be small but really make a difference when you look back at where you started.- Smallwood
He began by selling his own clothing to close friends and family, but it didn't take long for word to spread. He's now seeing people wear his designs on social media, in cities like Vancouver and Toronto.
"I see people I've never met wearing [my clothing]," he says. "Now we're making pieces for artists that I admire and look up to."
Recently, Smallwood and his team made custom pieces for Toronto rapper Big Lean, who opened for Drake on his stadium tour in Europe. Smallwood has even sold his work overseas.
"Some guy from Paris bought a custom piece that I wasn't even considering selling, for a pretty considerable amount," he says. "It's things like that that may be small but really make a difference when you look back at where you started."
His favourite place to shop: thrift stores. "I love shopping for anything vintage and customizing old pieces," he says. "I only create things I would want to wear."
While most kids go to their after-school jobs around 4:30 p.m., Smallwood doesn't begin working on his clothing line until late into the evening.
"My hours are not the same as most kids; I usually work from 8 p.m.-2:30 in the morning," he says. "On average, each piece takes about two to three hours to create, not including the time it takes to design and draw it out."
"[Peter] used to have a line called Local Advancers and he's now one of my mentors," Smallwood says.
Most fashion shows consist of just models walking in the outfits. But with this show, people will get an actual show.- Smallwood
In just over a month, Smallwood will be tackling a new feat: a 60-piece runway fashion show called "For the Kids." He's putting on the event with his friend and fellow designer, Galata Fira, on Aug. 29 at the Park Theatre in Winnipeg.
Smallwood says the goal of the event is to inspire creativity within Canadian youth and newcomers to Canada.
"We're incorporating elements of dance, poetry, and live art. We're also going to have themes that will touch on certain political movements and interesting ideas," Smallwood said. "And we've been experimenting with fabrics, silhouettes, and even painting on garments."
"I would love to make a custom piece for Kanye West, Jayden Smith or Drake; those are my dream clients."
For now, he's excited to finish high school and keep experimenting with his designs.