Kill Brand Clothing: When Fashion And Music Unite

AA burgeoning lifestyle brand based out of Asbury Park, New Jersey, Kill Brand Clothing has yet to show signs of fatigue. Becoming increasingly near to reaching its tenth year of existence, the label launched yet another new line in 2009’s closing months. Including tees, tanks, hoodies, totes, jewelry and more, Kill Brand Clothing’s official website fully lists the new range should anyone be interested in making a purchase. For those who prefer more traditional outlets, the label’s items are currently available for purchase in Tilly’s, Hot Topic, Zumiez, and over four hundred retail stores worldwide.

“We went really dark, a lot like an old horror movie theme” says founder Jonny Smith of Kill Brand Clothing‘s late 2009 line. “We were doing the last designs right before Halloween, so that might’ve been an inspiration in terms of what was going on – what movies were on, and what everyone was doing. We went with it though. We got a couple of new designers that were just sending us ideas that were really dark, and I thought “You know what? We are Kill Brand, so we should go darker with it. We should give it a shot“. The summer is always so bright and so poppy. Some people might really love it, and some people might be a little scared, but I’m thinking the scared people will think “Ok, well I trust them, so this is ok to wear“.”

Zach Merrick collection

Variety is the spice of life, something Jonny agrees with, a man whose position means he can enjoy creative freedom.

“Yeah. The freedom to be able to do that is very great. As a business owner, I don’t really have to check with anyone to see if something is going to be ok. It could be the worst decision ever made, or it could be the best. I’m willing to take those gambles in the expression of art, and range.”

As with any given story, Kill Brand Clothing‘s story inevitably has its beginnings. Drumming in Tokyo Rose at the time, musician Jonny Smith formed Kill Brand Clothing in earnest around 2001. Here, Jonny charts its formation, and steady growth.

“What happened was I had this hot pink T-shirt. Everyone made fun of me for it, so I just spraypainted K-I-L-L to do a gig, to toughen it up, and make it a little edgier. It took off from there, and a lot of my friends were asking for versions of it and what not. It really started as a joke, and then it went from there.”

When K-I-L-L was spraypainted on that pink T-shirt, was that two middle fingers to those making fun of it?

“Yeah, in a way” admits Jonny. “But it was very tongue in cheek. It was just members of my band and friends who said “Oh, nice pink shirt“, and this was before pink was very accepted. So in a playful way, yeah. I just thought it was the toughest word I could think of, and then more and more people kept asking me for it. I realised that no-one had a trademark or anything, so I went from there, selling them from out the back of the van and at shows, and so on. They were spraypainted (laughs).”


From selling Kill Brand Clothing T-shirts from the back of a van, Jonny spearheaded the company’s growth.

“I went from selling them from the back of the van to actually investing in a screen printing machine. We were basically just doing graphic tees and what not for awhile. I had a screen printing machine in my room – I had a one bedroom apartment, and so I was screen printing them in my room. I stopped playing music, and then started doing clothing full time, but kept in tune with the music, so I would go on different tours, selling merch instead of playing. That was after I tried to take it a little more seriously.”

Kill Brand Clothing’s growth came at a cost, the cost being Jonny‘s position in Tokyo Rose. Jonny took the decision to leave, wishing to concentrate mainly on Kill Brand’s expansion.

“Basically, I got a little busy with it. I was playing music for a long time, and wanted to be able to have a home, and not a van (laughs), not that I was able to buy a home straight away. But I just wanted to be able to get something more stable.”

Obviously, this prompts Dotted Music to ask Jonny which he would deem more important: music, or designing clothes?

“I’m interested in both” Jonny asserts. “I still play in a band, but just don’t travel. With designing clothes, I’ve just always been coming up with ideas for whatever design – I’ve always drawn as a kid. So basically, it goes hand in hand, and uses my creativity on both ends.”

Jonny’s name is prominent in literature written about Kill Brand, which leads one to wonder the following: exactly how many hands are at work in the clothing label’s engine room?

“As far as owning the company, it’s just me. We do have a bunch of designers that we go to for different ideas. A lot of the time, I just jot down an idea for a shirt, and then think of who can do the best job. Our in-house guy is a kid in high school; he’s young, he’s seventeen, and he comes up with a lot of great ideas. He’s a pretty cool dude.

All Time Low's Zack Merrick

We work as a band as well; we make money, and put it right back into the line. It’s like when a band puts out an album; they have to pay back the label, so they work, they go out and tour, and make the money back. How much we have coming in is how much we put out, so every once in a while, we put out a lot more pieces, and then if it doesn’t do so well, the next one’s not gonna be as big (laughs). It’s always a gamble.”

It’s safe to assume that musical groups approach Kill Brand Clothing with rough design ideas, as Jonny confirms.

“We do a lot of collaborations with bands. They’ll hit me up, even just to do their own merch. They’ll say “We have some music, and we want you to use this idea that we have – it’s cool“. When we do collaborations, it works out that we send them designs using their ideas, and then we work from there.”

Collaborating with musical groups whose forte isn’t clothing design likely has its drawbacks, the drawbacks being that musical groups might suggest weak design ideas. Jonny disagrees, however.

“There haven’t really been any bad at all. It’s very laid back, this whole business. They say “How about this idea?“, so it’s a lot of just bouncing ideas off of each other. Bands are easy to work with because they’re just focused on the music, and they trust us in a way. They say “Whatever. You look like you know what you’re doing“. We gear a design around their style as well, so if it’s a poppier band, we’ll make the design bright and colourful, and if it’s a darker band, we’ll match what they do.”

However, the fact still remains that musical groups might suggest weak design ideas. The possibility of weak design ideas being suggested doesn’t phaze Jonny though, it must be noted.

“Usually, we’re friends, so it’s easy to say “Well, I don’t know“. A lot of the bands that we work with were friends of mine at one point first, so I’m comfortable enough with them to say “I don’t know man. I don’t like that too much“. Also though, if they’re behind it, we’re willing to take a chance on something, even if it’s not going to be profitable. We’re not totally corporate over here.”

As a given item enters the design process, that item undergoes a series of critiques, whereby certain aspects are improved upon. A designer has to know when a given design cuts the mustard, and is ready for distribution.

“A lot of it is just hit and miss” the Kill Brand founder confesses. “We work a lot like a band; when we’re designing and we come out with a line, we’ll say “Ok, we have four that are almost the hit singles“, and then the couple that show that we appreciate art and what not. There’s the eleven minute songs, and the three minute songs, so we incorporate that with releasing a line. We’ll do trend spotting, and we’ll feel what’s going on as far as colours and what not. We’ll go from there for the ones where we think “Ok, this is to help keep us in business“, and “Ok, this is what I think is cool“, or “Ok, this is what we think are cool“.”

Feedback regarding new Kill Brand Clothing designs comes from friends of Jonny, as Jonny amiably reveals.

“I’ll get a design, and I’ll send it to a few of my close friends through instant messenger. I know they’ll tell me if it’s horrible, so I trust my friends a lot. If everyone’s in agreement that something is horrible, or something is great, then we’ll just run with it, and try our best to make it work.”

As curiosity strengthens, it causes one to wonder about Kill Brand Clothing‘s identity.

“The cool thing about us is we’re not really mainstream” Jonny proudly declares. “We have a lot of followers, so I like to think that they back what we’re putting out. We can change our lineup a lot; for example, this season we went really dark. With whatever art we were being submitted, we thought “Ok, this is cool. Let’s just run with this“, and went from there. Hopefully, people still say “Alright. Well, that’s cool“. If they think it’s cool, then it must be cool. There’s some companies that I’ve always looked up to, like our good friends at Rockett Clothing. If they back something, then we think “Alright. Well if they like it, then it must be something cool“. We try it out, and hopefully, it’ll have the same response.”

A tee from Zack Merrick Collection

Kill Brand Clothing designs have been requested by stylists from GQ Magazine, featured in Alternative Press and Wonka Vision Magazine, and worn by celebrities. Seth Green, Pete Wentz, Patrick Stump, Steven of Steven’s Untitled Rock Show, Nicole Richie, Ashlee Simpson, and Jessica Simpson all have worn Kill Brand designs. Groups such as Second Hand Serenade, Fall Out Boy, The Used, My Chemical Romance, Scary Kids Scaring Kids, and countless others all are noted fans of the label itself. Approached on the subject of what bands and celebrities have worn Kill Brand Clothing designs, Jonny talks us through how this celebrity endorsement process works.

“We’re actually putting out a line next week with Zack Merrick from All Time Low, the pop band. They’re gonna be submitting their designs, and we’re gonna be putting them out through our label. We work with bands from that genre, where it’s really poppy, to death metal bands like The Black Dahlia Murder and Unearth. As far as celebrities, we’ve had actors like Seth Green and Ashlee Simpson wearing our designs on TV. That’s been a really big help, since we don’t really have to pay them. It’s usually just favours, where a friend of a friend knows someone, or we know them directly. They say “Yeah, ok. I’ll wear a shirt. I’ll support you guys“, so it’s always been that. Like I said, we don’t really come from corporate money. Everything that we’ve done has been usually a favour, a payback, and we try to do the same thing with other people.”

Which path Kill Brand Clothing will travel in the years to come is anyone’s guess, though steady growth will likely be at the heart of its agenda.

“I’d like to go as big as I can” Jonny confirms. “We are starting another line through Kill Brand called Kids Into Living Life, which is gonna be a little more acceptable (laughs), and not as shock value. As far as Kill Brand goes, I don’t plan on stopping any time soon with it. Hopefully, we’ll make moves where we don’t have people turn on us. We made the decision to keep our supporters, by not really selling out too much, and not really running too many ads, and making it hard to find so people don’t feel silly wearing a shirt at the mall, or to a show where everyone has the same thing on.”

Check out this video about the Zack Merrick Collection of clothing:

Robert Gray is a freelance interviewer, whose interview series “Hit The Lights” can be viewed exclusively at If you wish to contact Robert, you can email him at