We continue our Block by Block initiative featuring organizations and individuals promoting and fighting for racial equality and social change with Saeed Ferguson, artist and founder of the streetwear brand ALLCAPSTUDIO. Based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ferguson is quickly making a name for himself and his brand with limited runs of apparel and accessories, which often feature uplifting messages and all-around positive vibes.
Most notably in relation to the spirit of Block by Block, earlier this summer Ferguson released a T-shirt as a response to the nationwide protests against police brutality and racial prejudice. Proceeds from the shirt, which totaled over $100K, were split between the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund and Covid Bailout NYC.
We chatted with Ferguson to get some insight into ALLCAPSTUDIO and what motivates and inspired him for both his brand and overall outlook on life.
Can you please start by introducing yourself? What should we all know about Saeed Ferguson?
My name is Saeed Ferguson. I love my friends and family. I have a black cat and his name is Larry and I love him. I’m one of three children from my parents, I’m the middle child. I’m from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania—Feltonville, to be specific. I’m still in Philly, but in South Philly. I’m a college dropout. I wanted to be a doctor as a kid but the sight of blood used to be super cringey to me so I had to pivot. I eventually landed on professional gamer or game designer which didn’t work out either (laughs). I have a huge social anxiety issue and have worked really hard over the past 10 years to make myself appear normal. I love gummy candy. I’m secretly very, very competitive. I don’t watch sports, I literally do not know what’s going on in any sport. I’m mostly a self taught photographer and graphic designer. I don’t know how to drive and don’t have my license but I’m working on that.
Tell us about your brand All Caps Studio. What is the brand ethos, and how did it get its start?
ACS started first as a way for me to explore freelance photography, I had no intentions of making clothing at first. The name ALLCAPSTUDIO was very intentional, when writing in all caps, it has the tone of yelling and I wanted exactly that. I wanted to start screaming at people to take me seriously as I felt my work was being overlooked and belittled. As I began to do more freelance work under ACS, I started to think about how to take these ideas I was coming up with for photography and transition them into another medium. Video was first on the board, but I didn’t have the equipment for it and getting into video is super expensive and I couldn’t afford to do that. Eventually, I landed on tangible objects and not producing things you see on your screens, and being that I was around streetwear constantly, I gravitated to making T-shirts and tote bags. The rest is history, as they say.
Before you started All Caps Studio, you were a photographer, and worked at a boutique in Philly. What prejudices have you experienced in your career in the streetwear or creative worlds thus far?
There would be times where I would be in a South Philly neighborhood taking photos for Ps & Qs (a family owned streetwear/menswear boutique) and would just get viewed as an intruder and would be told to leave the area. Like all I’m trying to do is take a photo of my friend wearing Stussy and I can’t even do that without someone questioning me and saying I’m disrupting their peace.
There was always this struggle with self worth and self evaluation, too. I was never sure what to price myself at when doing freelance work and would often do work for very cheap and get taken advantage of. This happened for years until I learned what the appropriate rates were and still, people never accepted me at that rate. This is one of the few reasons why I wanted to take the ideas I had for photo and push them through a different medium.
All Caps Studio and you personally have an optimistic outlook on the world, but are also honest about issues of racism in streetwear and beyond. Your collaborative tee with 18East raised money for the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund and Covid Bail Out NYC. Can you explain the inspiration behind the tee?
Absolutely. I designed that shirt during a day where I was feeling incredibly sad and I think those emotions really came through. The idea of “what you allow will continue” I originally saw while diving into the spiritual world of Ram Dass and his likeness, but I thought those words would be interesting to take out of that context and into the context of BLM. The sculpture above those words is a sculpture placed in an ad about agriculture that I found and also decontextualized. “Silence is Violence” is a term that was being spread very heavily to encourage people to speak up and share their thoughts publicly about what’s going on. I thought it would be very interesting to see those words being spread on a wearable item and that’s why that ended up on the shirt. The sculpture underneath that is a piece by Rainer Kriester called “Berliner Kopek II”, but to me the sculpture is very eerie and dark and I wanted the vibe of that sculpture to connect with the words “Silence is Violence.” Like, we have to keep talking about this and keep pushing and keep trying to be heard or we will continue dying. The small text on the back of the shirt is a collaboration between myself and Antonio. I wrote and came up with the general premise of that message, which was very aggressive and cold, but Antonio helped me make it more structured and smoother. Antonio then put the design on a natural un-dyed T-shirt and that was how we did it.
The tee set a great example of what the power of community in streetwear can accomplish. Going forward, what role do you think All Caps Studio will play in the ongoing fight against racial injustice?
We will continue to raise money to help our people. We will continue showing love and embracing our black community. We will continue to show and prove that we are not limited to the spaces that our system puts us in. We will continue working with our black brothers and sisters. We will help to empower black youth and inspire them to believe in themselves.
You have used your platform to amplify black voices and organizations that are actively fighting racial injustice. Are there any that you would like to shoutout?
What advice do you have for young people of color who are trying to find their footing in the creative world?
Keep going. Do what you love. Believe in yourself. You can make your own path, you don’t have to follow what society and the system says. Your ideas are valid.