Pizzaslime – loved by the Kardashians, and influencers Addison Rae and Emma Chamberlain, the sky’s the limit for streetwear brand
- Co-founder Matthew Hwang said Pizzaslime exploded during the pandemic thanks to the rise of TikTok, where it has one million followers
- Their success has propelled them to new ventures such as their New York Fashion Week debut and an expansion into film and television
Wearing the Bernie Sanders inauguration meme, sleeping on a pillow emblazoned with the Elon Musk tweet “Bitcoin is my safe word,” and donning an “Oprah 2020” hoodie are all possible because of Pizzaslime.
Even the website for the streetwear brand and creative agency, where you’ll see much of the merch mentioned above is sold out, is a play on the gossip website TMZ, filled with satirical articles and ads. “Sometimes we’re not even sure if it’s going to connect with people all the time,” said Nick “Stove” Santiago, one of the brand’s millennial co-founders. “We're trying and having a good time with it. And it works.”
The merchandise line, founded in 2013, has acted as both a sly observer and ironic commenter on political, economic, and cultural moments that have gone viral. By offering an implicit critique of media consumption and internet and celebrity obsession, the merch itself tends to go viral.
In 2020 alone, the clothing side of Pizzaslime raked in US$2 million in sales, peaking in April, according to screen shots verified by Business Insider (they declined to share total business revenue overall). That’s a lot of stonk for a brand with only two employees: the 33-year-old Stove and 34-year-old Hwang.
Pizzaslime’s success has propelled them to new ventures: the launch of a record label with Diplo last spring, their New York Fashion Week debut in February, and an expansion into film and television. At the centre of it all is the internet.
Stove and Hwang met as coworkers, doing marketing and creative direction at a music management company, but not all their merch ideas fitted the artists they were working with. So they decided to make T-shirts for themselves, wearing them backstage at concerts or events, and the entertainment crowd gravitated toward their designs.
As they tell it, the Kardashians were wearing Pizzaslime’s Gucci-Versace-Louis Vuitton mash-up at a Kanye West concert. “Kris Jenner just turns around, and is like, ‘I love that shirt’,” Hwang said. “So I was like, ‘Oh, OK. Let us contact you.’”
These organic moments of “being in the right place at the right time”, as Santiago describes it, put Pizzaslime on track to being the internet-savvy brand it is today. They count the Gucci-Versace shirt as their first big streetwear hit. Since then, their merch has flown off the site, from their Crocs collab that repurposed the shoes into crossbody bags for US$300 to their “Stop looking at my” line, famously worn by Billie Eilish.
Pizzaslime has tapped into the emerging trend of meme fashion before the powerhouses caught on, with major players from Balenciaga to Maison Margiela now in the space, Morgane Le Caer, content lead at global fashion shopping platform Lyst, said.
“Virality has become one of the key factors in determining the success of fashion products,” she said. “What matters to younger consumers is what captures their attention and has the ability to spread like wildfire across social networks – and this is exactly why meme fashion is so popular.”
Santiago was hesitant to use a buzzword like “authenticity” but acknowledged he couldn’t find a better term. “There’s a real rawness and authenticity to what we do,” he said. “We aren’t afraid to make a statement or post something and lose 1,000 followers.” He added that this caught on with Gen Z because it relates to authenticity more than his own generation, which he finds a bit more susceptible to marketing.
“It’s hard to define what Pizzaslime is,” he said. “For some people, it’s sort of like a barrier of entry they find confusing. At the same time, it's given us the ability to build all these verticals and do everything and try everything.”
But that’s not to say Pizzaslime lacks strategy. “We’re not just sort of like throwing darts to the wall,” Santiago said. “The strategy really comes in with like, OK, now, how do we present the idea? How do we get this out there?”
Pizzaslime’s greatest strength is its lack of definition. The verticalisation allows them to move in all sorts of spaces differently. The work, Santiago said, is figuring out how all of these verticals intertwine to fit into the Pizzaslime ecosystem.
“We don’t have to think like a traditional clothing brand because we also act as an agency and we’re developing TV shows,” he said. “It’s just all feeding each other and having a division for that, so what we’re really doing is building our Willy Wonka factory.”
While the internet tells and inspires its creative decisions, it also helps them figure out what sort of strategies and mechanisms they want to try with clients like Crocs or Paramount Pictures for their marketing arm. Santiago likened it to a proof of concept – trying things with their own brand, only to apply those discoveries to the agency side.
Building out these verticals has put Hwang and Santiago at full speed. When asked for some of Pizzaslime’s key turning points over the years, they took pause.
“We’re going like a billion miles per hour because we’re doing so many different things at the same time,” Santiago said. “These are interesting reflection points where like, ‘Oh, right now I feel like I’m slowing down and processing this.’ It’s hard to pinpoint those moments because I’m always onto the next thing right away.'”
That they are. They’re currently working on a TV project that Santiago described as an “internetty” version of American Idol, all while collaborating with Amazon on a new animated TV series called Fairfax. And the first song of their record label, they said, just crossed 75 million streams on Spotify.
They plan to start plugging more into the label, looking at how they can tie music to products and build trends through products and sounds on social media, such as incorporating music from their record label into their TV show or collaborating with artists to put merch on Instagram.
“If we’re working with a client and they want to make a TikTok campaign, we have the record label and the ability to make that TikTok song also a real song released through our record label,” Santiago said.
While they’ve been approached by venture capitalists, they said they’re taking the time to find the right strategic partners that would help scale up Pizzaslime.
“We want to jump into spaces and places that don’t have strong internet voices or tones like we do,” Santiago said, adding that he wouldn't be surprised if you can find Pizzaslime skincare at some point. “We want to do some pretty unexpected stuff.”