It may be the Year of the Ox on the Chinese calendar, but make room for the Russian Bear as Mishka are about to take ’09 by the horns. Reminiscing on the last five years of operation, the cuddly mops at Mishka have ticked many a box when it comes to quality collaborations. From the sexual provocations of the Richard Kern collection to the fruit tingled sweetness that was the Adio x Unsteady Hayter sneaker, Mishka continue their hunt for the sweet pot of honey. We caught up with Mikhail and Greg from the bear brigade and get the lowdown on why streetwear is dead!

Hey guys, how are things poppin’ off at Mishka for the ‘09?
Greg: We are excited. 2009 is going to bring about some huge things for the brand.

What would be your busiest time of year for designing and dropping product?
Mikhail: Honestly we’re pretty busy all year long, there is no one singular time when where we’re just relaxing. Designing for Fall however is usually a little more time consuming, as we tend to release the most amount of styles that season.

Greg: The end of the year is hectic because there are so many holidays, and then come January we are straight into the tradeshow season. Now that we are finally on a good fashion/production schedule, there is more work than ever!

Give us the lowdown on the team who keeps the cogs churning…
Mikhail: We just celebrated our fifth anniversary this September. So we’ve been around for a little while now. As for who keeps the cogs going here, we have a small and talented team of designers, managers, sales and marketing people who make sure everything happens as it’s supposed to and does so smoothly. I think if I had to name everyone individually and specify how important they are to keeping us going, this would be one ridiculously long interview. So a big thankyou to Brian, Mike Jones, Ron, Gill, Ease, Michael Cohn, Brandi, Lesa, Kate, Henrik, Loic, Nick, Annie, Ben, and Dennis.

Greg: We have a nice little family working at Mishka right now. There are some tense moments but we really keep it going!

You have a strong affiliation with Japan, especially with the influences in design. What is the obsession with this fashion forward sector and how does it continue to infiltrate into Mishka?
Mikhail: We’ve always been huge fans of Japanese culture since our teens; the cartoons, toys, movies, music and fashion. The Japanese have this way of filtering and reprocessing American pop culture which is truly amazing and next to impossible to do unless you’re Japanese!

Greg: We love Japan! Personally I think Tokyo is the only other city I could see myself living in besides NYC. I love the culture and the people. They are some of the most creative hard-working people that I know. I am also a huge fan of Kaiju soft vinyl. Big things coming for Mishka out of Japan!

You guys recently dropped the ‘Hayter’ Adio x Mishka x Unsteady sneaker; your first foray into footwear. How did the collaboration come about and what was the process like working with not one but two other brands?
Mikhail: Unsteady was one of our first accounts when we started out. Eric (who no longer works there) approached us to do a shoe when one of his close friends started working at Adio. He sent us the silhouette and I thought it was a great looking shoe and something I would wear. I got to work designing it and it came to me pretty quickly. Even the first samples that we saw were pretty much perfect… it just seemed to take quite a while from those samples to the final, over a year to be exact!

Greg: Mike summed it up. This isn’t the first shoe that we were approached to design, but it was the first silhouette that we actually liked, and where the brand was open to let us do whatever we wanted. We are very proud of the shoe design!

Has it whet your appetite into creating your own Mishka brand of footwear?
Mikhail: We have a few tricks up our sleeves and I think you’ll be seeing some more Mishka shoes sooner than later.

Greg: We would love to get into more footwear design, and eventually our own custom shoe. Like Mikhail said, we are working on things.

This wasn’t your first collaboration. What are the most memorable projects Mishka has worked on? Any news ones you can talk about?
Mikhail: Well we have some pretty fantastic ones in the works that I unfortunately can’t really slip any details about just yet. But for me personally, it was working with three of my creative idols, Russ Karablin (SSUR), Ed Repka and Richard Kern. Those were very personal projects for me. And if this all ends tomorrow I’ll be very fulfilled just from getting to meet and work with those talented artists.

Greg: We have some amazing collaborations coming in 2009! I was also very excited that we were able to work with Secret Base out of Japan.

The designs in each collection vary from heavy metal to the iconic Bear Mop tee, to the Black Bart Bootleg tees, all utilising a bold array of colour. How do you continue to stimulate your creative direction?
Mikhail: I wish I could give you an easy answer; I never seem to be short of inspiration. I’m a vulture and gobble up all that I can in music, art and films! The more obscure the find, the better! That hunt fuels me and inspires everything we do here.

Greg: We have been lucky enough to meet some the most amazingly talented artists and illustrators that are into the same stupid and obscure stuff we’re into. They are usually as excited to have the freedom to explore that shit, as we are to have them do something for us. It’s good to be a nerd… there are a lot of us out there doing interesting things!

The Bear Mop has become your staple design, thrown up on New Eras, Varsity Jackets, tees and beyond. Who originally designed the logo and what does it symbolise?
Mikhail: I did. I used to casually tag it around NYC for a short while before doing this became more serious business. It’s a bear (as in Mishka – Russian for bear) and a homage to Basquiat.

Greg: Mike tried to teach me how to do the mop early on, but I was too proud to do something that wasn’t my own creation. But regardless, I love the bear mop and I think it’s an awesome design and logo!

What are your thoughts on the streetwear scene today? How has the economic meltdown impacted on the business?

Mikhail: My thoughts are that there really isn’t a streetwear scene anymore, or we’re on the fringe edges of it at this point. I think all of the brands who started five or less years ago, along with the pioneers of this industry, are staking claim at this point on if they are Urban, Skate or Contemporary. Our goal is and has always been to be a clothing label that is everything to everyone and not just part of any one scene. As for the global economic crisis, it obviously is having an effect on everyone in all industries in some way. But we’re still very steadily growing in many regions and opening new accounts all the time.

Greg: The current state of ‘streetwear’ is fucked. Talk to people who have been in this industry for 10+ years, and they have no fucking clue where it’s going. It’s scary for some, but it can also be very exciting to actually be able to carve the direction of fashion for decades to come! We’ll continue to pursue what best suits us, and that is the best thing for us. We have a very nice and dedicated fan base that truly care about our brand, and don’t see us as the current ‘hot thing’. And in turn, we really care about them and keep them in mind with all of our decisions and go out of our way to let them know the process behind why we decided to do certain things. It’s important to us that we stay connected with them, and they with us. We also make every effort to push our lifestyle, which is so much more than just clothing. I think that is what keeps us going strong.

Taking this into account, how will you cater to the demographics you design for as they grow older?
Mikhail: Well as I said, we’re at the point now where brands are defining their identities and who they are and ‘streetwear’ isn’t really going to apply to many of them anymore. I think we’ve done a good job of setting ourselves apart as ‘Us’ the counter-culture to your counter-culture and I think we’re maturing in much the same way as our demographic. We’re always going to have something for everyone, that’s what I’d like to believe. If you were a fan at 16, I think when you turn 30 you’ll still be able to identify with something.

Greg: We are opening our flagship next year. You are going to see things from us that no other brand is doing. Things that other brands won’t think of or are willing to do. We are going to keep on designing things we like, and pushing the art and culture that we love, live and support what we represent.

Thanks Mikhail and Greg!

Hit up the MISHKA WEBSTORE now to grab your BLACK BART OBAMA BOOTLEG t-shirt today!