Created and operated solely by Caleb Kozlowski, LIES is a brand integrally connected with, and driven by, fixed gear culture. Inspired by secrets, rituals, rivals, and vandals, LIES first collection, “Induction” uses symbology from a variety of sources, resulting in dark, ambiguous designs that set the tone for the future of the brand. With limited production and distribution, LIES will, unfortunately, likely stay underground itself in 2007, but with a solid foundation, deep concepts, and original designs, it shouldn’t be long before the secret is out.
“Hesitation will fuck you up, so you gotta check that shit at the door.”
Format: After a “variety of stumbling steps” you gained a graphic design degree from the Art Center College of Design in 2004. What were these stumbling steps?
Caleb: I say stumbling steps because I really had no idea what I was doing or what I wanted to do. It was nothing dramatic like selling blood to support my coke habit or anything like that. It was more being lost. And when you’re lost there’s no real right answers, just a series of mistakes. For me it was all about recognizing good mistakes and making them work for me. It’s not like that for some people, they know exactly what they are and what they want to do. I’ve always kind of been stuck in between. I was never the _______ kid. So I’ve never really fit in completely, or really belonged anywhere. Not in an, I’m going to get a tattoo and write poetry sort of way. It’s more subtle, and I think most people don’t notice, but I sure know. So nothing’s ever a straight shot for me. But I think in the end that means whatever I do, I come at it from my perspective.
Format: LIES is owned and operated by you alone. What unique opportunities and challenges does this present?
Caleb: It was really important to me from the start that LIES was 100% independent. I’ve got a history with commercial work and it is a very compromising process. I came out of school with a pretty optimistic and idealistic attitude, thinking that good ideas and good design were enough, and would rise above all the garbage that’s out there. In subsequent years working though, I saw countless great ideas killed and good design marginalized, all for really stupid reasons. You notice over time you start thinking in terms of that system and not in terms of common sense or what you like or what is right. For LIES it was important to me to operate outside of that structure.
I have to admit though, it was these compromising experiences that are a big part of why LIES even exists. There is definitely a lot of frustration and anger wrapped up in the things I’ve gone through in the commercial world. LIES exercises that part of me that says, “No, fuck you, it’s going to be this way.” DIY with a middle finger attached. I knew that if I was going to do what I wanted, I was going to have to do it by myself all the way. And if stuff didn’t sell it didn’t sell. But it was still made, it still exists. No one could stop me from making it. That was big for me.
The real significant down side for me is I hate selling. Schmoozing too. I love talking and meeting people, but doing that while you’re trying to push something leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. I’d much rather do the design part and leave the selling to someone else. Better yet I’d give it all away if I could. I actually give away too much stuff. I gotta knock that off.
All that said, help from my friends was huge in getting LIES out. So I can’t say it’s truly operated alone. People really stepped up. It was great to see. You all know who you are.
Format: You’ve worked in Los Angeles, Montreal, Seattle, and you currently reside in San Francisco. Why do you travel so much and how does it affect your work?
Caleb: I fundamentally believe that place is really important. Where you are influences every aspect of your life, whether you notice or not. And everywhere is really different. Not just physically, but in ways of thinking too. If you grow up in the suburbs, eating at chain restaurants and watching MTV, you can easily get a sense that everywhere is kinda the same. The Internet helps, but just because Google can’t find it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. You don’t realize until you get around a bit all the different perspectives that are out there, the things that make a person from Montreal, from Montreal or a person from San Francisco, from San Francisco. As you travel, a little bit sticks to you from every place you live. Being in a place, and I’m really talking cities here, means stuff is going on all around you all the time and you are exposed to things you don’t seek out. That’s the big difference between living in a big city and checking stuff out online. A huge part of my design process is assimilating things that I’ve been exposed too, that I was never looking for. I am not pure. I’ve learned to appreciate things that I hated. My perspective shifts all the time and really that’s my strength. I get a lot of inspiration from embracing and learning to appreciate new things.
Format: Recently, with LIES and other projects, you’ve made the transition to independence. How does it feel you be working on your own now?
Caleb: Well I would say I’m more transitioning into independence. I still have a regular job, and I don’t plan on that really changing any time soon. All the independent projects I do aren’t for money. LIES included. That said, independent work feels like life-blood for me right now. It’s these projects where I can really explore and try new things. I think specifically because these projects aren’t for money is why I have such freedom. I definitely want to keep increasing the amount of this kind of work I do. The only problem is I work way too much. I have so many other side projects backed up in my head. Not sure what to do about that really.
Format: Please explain your introduction to urban cycling and fixed gear culture.
Caleb: Bikes are everywhere here in SF. You can’t walk a block without tripping over a bike, or a track bike for that matter. Years ago when if first arrived in SF I saw this kid bombing Haight street, no brakes, into a four way stop, passing traffic and blowing the intersection right between cars that were going through at the same time. It didn’t seem reckless at all, it was totally measured. I was hooked at that moment. I knew I had to learn to ride like that. It was just the coolest shit. I got a ticket for doing that very thing about a month ago. Bittersweet.
Riding fixed is much more than a just a single speed bike. I’ll skip the technical explanation, but there’s a shift in the way you think when you ride fixed and brakeless through traffic. You stop thinking about stopping, because in reality stopping isn’t your best option. Hesitation will fuck you up, so you gotta check that shit at the door. It becomes more of a flow, like being in a boat on a fast river. You don’t stop, you navigate around and through things. You find the hole in traffic and you go for it before it closes. You have to commit to every move. Its not about being bad ass, it’s about a pure connection between you, the bike and the road. It’s beautiful. Tricks are just gravy.
This shift in thinking was important for the creation of my own brand. To make LIES real I had to go all in and to hell with stopping. Riding fixed is a huge inspiration for the brand obviously, but it also inspired an attitude of DIY, to hell with the consequences, figure it out along the way. Bicycles really changed my life. They’re something I can truly say I believe in.
Format: The first LIES collection, Induction, focuses on the symbols and mystery of cults, secret societies and forbidden organizations. Please explain the parallels in urban cycling that led you to develop this collection.
Caleb: If you’ve ever been to a big messenger event or race, you see the crazy range of people that show up. It’s an amazing unity of misfits. I think there’s something in there that I identify with a great deal. All these people are so different and in a lot of ways they don’t belong anywhere, but this bike thing brings everyone together. Now, while everyone does come together, they are still far from unified. Everyone is solid in their perspective, and any real unity is quite fragile. It’s like cycling is a religion that all these small factions broke off of. The roots are the same, but what and how they worship is very different. Some people are pure flash with their bikes and some people are pure function and actually hate anything that looks good. Some people think fixed gears are just impractical accessories for hipster scumbags. Organizations like Cyclecide here in SF build crazy shit out of bike parts and others like MASH are all about pushing track bikes as far as they can go on the street. Every group is uniquely different. All these perspectives come with symbols and marks of your allegiances or lack thereof. Do you run a brake? Gears or no gears? Is that a true track frame or just a road conversion? Is that all NJS? Are those spoke cards from alleycat races? Messenger or no? All of these things carry certain meanings that align people, for right or wrong with certain groups. People can be quite secretive and protective of their niche as well, being very wary of advertising and people who start to pick up on what they’re doing. All the things that go along with cults and secret societies, danger, secrecy, allegiance, loyalty, are all very present in urban cycling.
Format: The LIES bio states that “Induction acts as an introduction as well as an initiation, laying out the visual language and voice of the brand.” To what degree will the focus on symbology, etc. be present in future collections?
Caleb: I think symbology will always be an important vehicle for LIES, because it’s important to the visual language of cycling. That’s why I say that the series introduces you to the visual language of the brand. Induction is a collection in itself, but in a lot of ways it introduces you to the personality and approach of the brand. This is the lens that future collections will be viewed through.
Format: The LIES “Anthem” shirt is a beautiful and complicated collection of images from different sources. Please explain some of the specific symbology and meaning rooted within this shirt.
Caleb: It was important that there was a certain amount of ambiguity with LIES, and this shirt is a good example. In cults and secret organizations there are various levels and no one really knows everything that’s going on. There’s a certain universal statement in never knowing who is on your side. So following that line of thinking, in this design there’s a beautiful symmetrical unity created, but at the same time there’s a weight pulling it all down. The anchor and the skeletal mermaids are things of the ocean, things that will hold you under water where you’ll drown. These things are juxtaposed with the castle and the flags, which are symbols of physical stability as well as the stability of a group or organization. Things that are established, solid and reliable. All this is attached to the bike wheel at the top of the design representing us, or the populist perspective you might say. The question is, are we the ones in power, bringing things down or are we just getting sucked down too? In the end there is a certain power in destruction, something that gives outsiders a sense of control, but sometimes it takes you with it as well.
All of that said, I can’t say that every piece is trying to communicate a message really. The meaning is in there, its true, but I use the idea more as a guide for design than for one to one communication. I don’t worry too much about people getting it.
Format: Please explain the inspiration for the “Secrets” t-shirt.
Caleb: Secrets is a good example of how pieces fit in even without a direct cycling connection. Secrets are very important to any cult, and at the same time they’re the hardest things to keep. So I had this idea for a skull with swords stuck in its tongue to silence it. I think about the meaning of this design in a very open way. Is it you being silenced by others or is it some dark part of you that you don’t want people to know about?
This is also an instance of what I’ve come to call the “Fuck Yeah” element of design. You can get real heady about design but sometimes you gotta take things one step further just for the hell of it, just because it would be cool. I had this design sketched out with a regular skull and just thought what would make this cooler, more sinister? Make it a goat skull with big old horns and nasty sharp broken teeth. And throw up an illuminati pyramid made of swords like the Slayer pentagram. Fuck yeah.
Format: Selling patches is a perfect tie-in for the LIES brand. What has the response been to the “Induction Patch Set.”
Caleb: The reaction has been amazingly good actually. To be perfectly honest I really didn’t expect to sell many patch sets. I made them purely because I wanted to, and if I lost some money on it so be it. For our first time ever selling LIES, we set up at the North American Cycle Courier Championships (NACCC). And the patch sets we’re just moving. People really responded to them. The other thing that went off big there was the cycling caps. It was great to see the things with the direct cycling tie in received so well. After the race a messenger from DC bought the hat right off my head. She didn’t care that I had been riding in it for weeks. She was just really into it. That was better than selling 10 hats to some shop.
Format: Is LIES a cycling brand, a streetwear brand? How do you define yourself? How have others defined you so far?
Caleb: This is a funny question for me because I really don’t know the answer. People in cycling tend to see it as a cycling brand. People into streetwear tend to see it as a streetwear brand. So I don’t really know. Both and neither. It seems like the people who are into it just like it and that’s all they really care about. And I’m really happy about that actually. I figure that if I’m not solidly in one camp, I don’t have to worry too much about anyone’s expectations.
More Info: http://www.everybodylies.net