The Hype: Justin Mensinger on streetwear inspo and meaningful design

Justin Mensinger. The Hype. Tobin Yelland/HBO Max
Justin Mensinger. The Hype. Tobin Yelland/HBO Max /

The Hype made its debut on HBO Max Thursday, August 12. The streetwear design competition, which pits 10 designers with unique visions against one another for a cash prize of 150,000 dollars, brings a fresh take to the well-trodden fashion design contest.

Each designer has a style unlike their competition, and they’ll need to flaunt their creativity and ingenuity in order to gain the co-sign of their judges Bephie Berkett, Marni Senofonte, and Offset. One such designer is Justin Mensinger.

Hailing from Chicago, Illinois, Mensinger’s patchwork designs caught the judge’s attention early. It’s a staple of his Midwestern upbringing that gives him an edge in the competition considering no one is putting out work that remotely looks like his. Mensinger’s blend of reusable materials and his eye for color has set him apart.

I had the opportunity to catch up with Mensinger ahead of The Hype‘s premiere to discuss what led him to start designing, which may surprise fans of the show, as well as the meaning he puts into his work and the designers that inspire him.

The Hype’s Justin Mensinger on what sparked his desire to design streetwear

Hidden Remote: I wanted to start by saying that I’ve really been enjoying your work so far on The Hype. Everything I’ve seen that you’ve done in the competition is amazing.

Justin Mensinger: Thank you.

Hidden Remote: What inspired you to start designing? Was it something you always had a passion for or did you come into it later in life?

Justin Mensinger: What inspired me to start designing was growing up skateboarding. In the culture of skateboarding, two things that are really important are your shoes and what you wear because it really expresses who you are. I probably used to like streetwear because of skateboarding before I even knew what the term streetwear was.

I didn’t really know early in life that [designing] was something that I wanted to do, but as I got older, I would try to find clothes and I couldn’t really find anything that I wanted. Then I began experimenting with making my own t-shirts and things like that. So, it kind of just happened organically.

Hidden Remote. Oh, wow. That’s really cool and unexpected. Is skateboarding where your design aesthetic comes from? You know with the patchwork and the incongruous patterns coming together.

Justin Mensinger: The patchwork really comes from reusing materials. I had worked at Goodwill when I was in high school and that was kind of random. I didn’t really think that I would take anything away from that job but, as I had gotten older, I had invested a lot of myself into learning more about designing.

I worked at RSVP Gallery in Chicago; I had done an internship. While I was there I wanted to learn how to make clothes from scratch from fabric, but I didn’t really know where to begin. I had started to see some brands that were taking material like army tents and making them into jackets, and I thought it was super fascinating.

At the time I had been reselling a lot of vintage clothes on the side as well so I kind of just connected the dots between everything I was doing at that point and my experience at Goodwill. There were some brands I had liked, too. I liked a lot of Japanese designers and they would do a lot of patchwork, so I think that’s where it really came from.

Hidden Remote: Then that means everything you design has a story to it.

Justin Mensinger: I feel like I do let ideas flow. Sometimes at random. But I also feel like everything I do has a purpose to it.

Hidden Remote: Yes, because in The Hype everything that I’ve seen you make so far incorporates a message into it. Is that a part of your branding? Having a deeper meaning in what you design?

Justin Mensinger: Yeah, I would like everything to have a deeper meaning. I definitely design things sometimes that don’t have quotes on it or might be simpler. But, ideally, I feel like designing something, I would want to make a statement with it.

Hidden Remote: Well, you certainly are making a statement on The Hype, that’s for sure. To go back to what you were saying about reusing materials, is sustainability a big part of your brand as well? If yes, how has that shaped your design aesthetic?

Justin Mensinger: Thank you. Sustainability is definitely at the forefront of my design. It really informs how I design because it kind of creates a barrier to how I operate. It prohibits exactly how you put pieces together.

It’s a lot more work than making normal clothes because you’re working around things that are already made. But within that fact, it’s a little more difficult but it kind of gives you more freedom as well because it really opens up the door to what you can do. It’s kind of like a puzzle.

Hidden Remote: I like how you described it as being a barrier sort of like something that narrows your vision but also somehow expands it. It’s paradoxical in that way.

Justin Mensinger: Definitely a lot of paradoxes.

Hidden Remote: Last question. What streetwear designers inspire you and what from Chicago, your hometown, has inspired you? How has that come up in some of the designs you’ve made?

Justin Mensinger: One designer that really inspires me, I don’t know if he’s technically labeled as streetwear, but his name is Junya Watanabe and he designs for Comme des Garçons. His style combines a lot of different materials, a lot of work wear, but also things that are more formal. So, he’ll combine them together and create something that’s really unique.

In terms of designers from Chicago, things from Chicago that inspire me, I would say one of the first designers, or brands that I really liked, was Joe Freshgoods.

He would do a lot of things himself. His first store I had gone to, I remember he was in there making jackets. Like hundreds of them, there were just boxes. He was heat pressing the letter on these bomber jackets and that was really inspiring because it was so rare to see someone making their own product but given how he was operating, it made sense.

That showed me that I could make my own clothes and there was nothing stopping anyone from expressing themselves as long as they put in the effort and were consistent about it.

I think RSVP Gallery inspired me a lot, too. I worked there for almost a year before I left and during that time I grew a lot as a designer and just as an individual as well.

The first three episodes of The Hype are now streaming on HBO Max. 

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