Meet Hommy Diaz, the Product Of An Immigrant who has Re-Designed the Culture
It’s around 8 PM in Downtown LA. Rush hour still sucks, but nowhere near what it used to be. A pandemic has its perks, I suppose. The sun doesn’t really set in Los Angeles, it just drips. Pink and apricot colored egg yolk glissades behind the mural covered stucco of the lost angel metropolis. For a moment, everyone from the dustheads screaming at an invisible army to Hollywood executives on 25th floors are all experiencing the world exactly the same.
Hommy Diaz is still at his studio factory designing, pulling thru fabric, sketching ideas. Out of all the materials he has ever used, the only one that matters is the fabric of his story, his experiences, his moments. That particular fabric, it seems, never goes out of style.
It’s yours forever.
For over a decade now, Hommy Diaz has designed culture. A Domincan-American skateboard kid from Queens did pretty well for himself by all accounts. He went from a head full of ideas in high school to a designer who has put forth a string of culturally relevant products and changed the landscape of possibility. Who ever thought an entrepreneur could have his own sneaker? That was a mantle reserved for the Michael Jordans and LeBrons. Ball players get kicks.
As the Senior Designer at K-Swiss, Diaz changed that trajectory with the concept and execution of the the “Crushin It” sneaker - as well as the second kick, "Clouds & Dirt" for business icon Gary "Gary Vee" Vaynerchuk with K-Swiss in 2017.
The Gary Vee K-Swiss collection by Diaz, which opened the floodgates of collaboration possibilities by partnering with an entrepreneur, not a ball player as was traditional for giant athletic manufacturers.
The skater from Parsons School of Design is now a father of 3. As with any great father, he is first and foremost, a teacher. He's a professor that produces. He’s had a front row seat for the biggest moments in the culture, and he knows the game.
A young Diaz, just accepted to NYC's elite art school Parsons at home in Queens, NY. The product of immigrant has been redesigning his world ever since.
Since leaving footwear giant K-Swiss, he threw his heart and soul into building his own clothing and footwear brand, Magnus Alpha. Magnus was never intended to be some uber expensive cool kid brand, he didn’t aim at the hype, he aimed at the heart.
“I start my day thinking as a designer.” He says to me, thoughtfully and humble as ever. “Designers Identify a problem, and then try to solve it with a designed solution. I have to be conscious about my decision. We tell stories through those solutions.”
“I have contacts in China, I can make it there, or in Europe. I choose to work with USA and Mexican based design and manufacturing. I need to support this economy.”
“If I was still working at K Swiss I’d be a contributor to the current and growing dependency problem of mass production in Asia. Making soulless stuff in China and Vietnam. Labor laws and work conditions are still a huge issue. In contrast to the deficit right here at home in the USA with rising unemployment - I've made a strong choice. In my position, it's difficult to ignore all the negatives that come from a place of fast fashion. We will continue to see industries inability to redistribute profits to benefit the work life balance for the people making the product that we excessively consume. I source and produce in the US and Mexico in a effort to offset the traditional logistics of the fashion industry."
Diaz exclusively works from a place of community as a theology, not a buzz word in the COVID era.
The POAI Mid Guero, click the image to discover more.
That’s what makes Diaz special. That’s what makes Magnus Alpha’s collection far more than some streetwear line or hypebeast jawn. It’s neither. It’s a canvas for storytelling. It’s the hand crafted pride of a marginalized community, insulted by an outgoing asshole of a president that isn’t anywhere as passionate or intelligent as the immigrants he maligns.
Diaz and I chopped it up this autumn. In a world built on hype, drops, ultra-high prices and bullshit influencer clout chasing and “disruptors” vying for clickbait dopamine, authenticity and heart is the ultimate rebellion. Diaz is the leader of fashion’s rebel alliance. And he may be the man fashion needs now more than ever.
Diaz's Magnus Alpha collection takes the early 2000's in NYC aesthetic and modernizes it with luxury materials & meticulous cut & sew artisan work by immigrant craftsman, all made right here in the States.
AX: You’ve been what I would call a “household name” in the footwear and streetwear "hypebeast" world for a while now. How did that happen, what’s the Hommy Diaz episode one origin story?
HD: I can only speak for my own household name where I am best known as “Dadda.” The logistics of my day alone is a design strategy. My day begins at 6 AM to get a head start on design work before the kids wake up. I drive my soon-to-be 3 year old daughter to Preschool and come right back home to put on my substitute teacher hat to homeschool my 5 year old, Hommy Jr. My wife and I juggle our newborn daughter in between business. I then escape for a few hours by driving into the studio to work on some prototype designs before having to pick my daughter up in the late afternoon.
AX: How did growing up latino in Queens have an impact on your creativity, or what you made and how you made it? I guess what I’m asking is how your roots lead to your inspiration and world view which later kinda became the backbone of what you created?
HD: Growing up in Queens, New York (80’s - 90’s) counterfeit clothing and footwear was available on every other corner across all 5 boroughs. This was during the era before the internet existed so the level of deception at point of sale was lucrative for the retailers. High end commercial brands were often copied and intended to be sold as the real thing.
The risk of being called out and embarrassed for wearing anything fake was just as challenging as a kick flip down a set of 5 stairs for the first time and walking away without a bruise. I was mostly intrigued and often frustrated that anyone would go leverage their resources to produce counterfeit products to turn a profit.
AX: For sure with the 90’s and early 2000s. The wild west of knock off shit. Basically even if they said it was real it wasn’t. Even the low end shit was Fucci.
HD: That was juxtaposed by skate culture, really. I grew up skateboarding and was inspired by the DIY unique designs created for and by skaters. Skate brands also knocked off other entities although it was usually from a tongue-in-cheek perspective, therefore making the designs really out there and presented as their obvious spoof interpretations.
As a novice I continuously asked myself, do they knock brands off due to a lack of creative originality or they simply didn’t care about fashion or the customer and their experience? I made a promise to myself based on those questions, with the motivation to create my own original brand upon acquiring the knowledge and resources to produce it. This was pre-internet and finding those resources as a below middle class kid within an immigrant household was highly unlikely ever to pan out. This adversity motivated me to pursue a path in design through high school and college.
AX: So from those roots and influences - then you went on to really craft a hell of a career for yourself. Let’s chop it up about your career. This is a free pass to flex.
HD: The job market for creatives was at an all time low after graduating from Parsons School of Design in May of 2001. Followed by the 9/11 attack months later, it was beyond challenging to find employment. I did freelance work to help pay the bills. After months of searching I came across a “Now Hiring" ad for the first NYC Apple store in Soho, New York. As an Apple enthusiast I figured why not? Like, a retail job was not ideal work as a recent college graduate with a Bachelor's degree in Communication Design.
By that point I needed anything that could provide a steady check and applied for a full time position. An early lesson for me in life, thanks to skateboarding, was the power of networking and the benefits of who you know vs what you know. So working at a new hot spot like Apple NYC was a chance for attracting new people that I could add to my network.
AX: So you shot your shot. Respect, bro. I hear that fully. Life has an ironic way of not showing us the path, but just kinda allowing the path to present and if you’re really in tune, you can feel the universe guiding you.
HD: Yeah. I was eventually contacted and scheduled for a one time only in person interview due to the high volume of candidates. As fate would have it there was a scheduling conflict with the time they gave me. I had a wedding on the west coast for my cousin, which I was a groomsman in. I forfeited my non refundable plane ticket and took the interview. I was convicted and said "the hell with the money I spent" and went with my intuition. I eventually heard back from Apple after my return to New York from San Diego (where the wedding was) and accepted the little part time Mac Specialist position offered.
AX: Haha, the universe had a plan, it seems.
HD: I actually really liked Apple. I was good at what I was doing there. After quickly being promoted to a Business Consultant, greeting Steve Jobs personally, hundreds of A-list celebrities and selling over $14 million within 5 years I felt my career path needed to pivot back to the design industry. Time to shoot another shot.
AX: Sometimes you just know and just gotta move, bro. Again, being in synch with the energy matters.
HD: So (skateboarding brand) DC Shoes became one of many clients in my new network. They informed me that they were planning to open the first DC Shoes store in New York two blocks away from the Apple store. I took the opportunity to throw on my creative hat and pitch them an idea. The Apple Store SoHo had over 300 employees at the time and thought it would be ideal for them to design an exclusive pair of sneakers for the employee uniform. Calling it the “SoHo Sneaker”.
AX: That was the deep 3 that was all net, haha. Love it. You would have only been able to see that angle because of more or less, every experience you’ve ever had. You were the guy to pull that off.
HD: Yes. From skating to my innate understanding of DIY culture and streetwear, all that was a factor in seeing that angle. It was a unique opportunity to bring them organic attention before the opening of their store in SoHo. Like a billboard in Manhattan is not cheap. The internet was not what it is now. Getting your message and brand out there was not easy then. I handed them a great idea that ticked all the boxes they would need and see value in. They loved my idea and it came to fruition before the opening of their store - allowing them to successfully draft off the press of the collaboration with the Apple Store SoHo.
AX: That is epic my brother. I’m hella lucky I get talk to creators... “culturalists” if you will, and the one thing we always talk about is that success is just a bunch of experiences that create “micro-moments”- that lead to the seas parting and you get that shot on frame and kill it because all those experiences lead to that “here and now” so to speak. That was the shot on frame. Not only did you absolutely reimagine what the relationship between tech and fashion could be, but you provided value to not one, but two, major brands.
HD: Funny you say that. So again, as fate would have it, I found myself back in San Diego! This time as a California resident- after accepting an offer from DC Shoes as the Global Product Line Manager for the Men’s Lifestyle category. My career in the footwear industry hit the ground running from there. The past 12 years in the footwear industry having worked for DC Shoes, Palladium Boots and K-SWISS has provided me with the experience of visiting over 40 major cities around the world.
I’ve been involved with 20 mass production factories related to footwear in 5 different countries. I came full circle from my early desire as a teenager to find the resources to design and produce unique products of my own vs knocking off a big brand to turn a profit.
AX: You did the work. There’s no goddamn shortcut. You just have to be so driven that they can’t ignore you, and keep doing the work. Whatever the vision is, that comes before all else. And you’ve gotta move out of the love for that, never fear.
HD: Right, and I would say it’s like being on your mission. My mission is to shine a positive light on the luxury of being a “Product Of An Immigrant” está activo! I kept my promise and have leveraged my knowledge and network to design, develop and launch a private label footwear, apparel and accessories brand called MAGNUS ALPHA.
Diaz's Magnus Alpha POAI hightop is a world class work of art, sacrificing nothing and using the entire canvas to tell the story.
AX: So what was the real vision behind creating Magnus Alpha?
A designer's role is to identify and solve a problem with a design solution. With Magnus Alpha - I set out on a mission with my partners in 2015 to create a brand that represented a demographic like us with a higher standard as products of immigrants.
AX: Dude, I’m not gunna be THE politics guy here, but that is a message that is amplified even louder in this current climate. For sure.
HD: The problem we identified was the trend with big brands and corporations re-appropriating our culture, repackaging and selling it back to us with no genuine regard, empathy or support for us. Despite having acquired so many of their resources and energy from us.
AX: Hundred percent facts.
HD: Despite having acquired a great many resources working with the very best manufacturers in Asia and Europe, we decided to produce our leather goods in Mexico and our apparel in the USA. Counter to what the big brands were doing. To be honest, there weren’t any brands with our aesthetic and message being produced in the Americas that could rival the quality and price of what was coming out of Europe and Asia.
AX: So that was launched in 2015 right? Not such a golden year for immigrants for obvious reasons with the rise of this fat orange Confederate reenactor on Addys just railing away on immigrants. Rough go of it.
HD: Yeah, then Donald Trump came along on his official run for office. As history will never forget, his campaign was counter to our brand message of uplift immigrants and their accomplishments.
AX: Right. Totally shameful. My parents are immigrants too bro. I wasn’t even born here, but became a citizen at 2. That definitely made me feel terrible in new ways. My pops has a pretty heavy accent still, my boys used to say he talked like Super Mario and shit when we were kids. That was just the homies joking, for sure, but by 2016, I saw how the energy changed. It wasn’t just jokes. Certain people treated him differently due to his accent, I was there, I saw it. Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric emboldened a whole segment of culture in terrible ways.
HD: His (Trump’s) attacks on immigrants as a monolith in this country just validated our mission as a call to action. It actually encouraged us to push forward and launch our brand with more confidence. Fast forward to today, like, during the pandemic with black and brown people most affected by Covid19, I felt even stronger about the message.
AX:I know you’re super engaged and champion the local LA black and brown community and always have been. Has that been even more engaged in the current uncertain time?
HD: Yes. We are working with black and brown owned factories locally, actually creating jobs, actually keeping the people who we know and love in the game. Here we are standing firm with our brand’s message while creating necessary work by designating the production of our product in black and brown owned and operated factories from LA to Mexico.
Latin trap superstar Brytiago, proudly rocking Diaz's leather POAI varsity jacket on stage in San Juan, PR. Magnus Alpha's authenticity and narrative has been met with huge fanfare in the Latin-American crossover space, pushing its cult following onward across all lines.
AX: So in a lot of ways we can say MA is like an homage to many experiences- and kinda encompasses a lot of latin culture. Unpack that.
HD: Magnus and Alpha, meaning “great” and “dominant” in Latin, these words signify our mission to inspire great dominance in self-identity and to ignite confidence in the luxury of being a "Product Of An Immigrant" (POAI). I am a son of immigrant parents from the Dominican Republic and Magnus Alpha is an opportunity and my personal responsibility to shine a positive light on immigrants. We produce luxury goods as a metaphor to reflect immigrant quality.