(By Brad Wete | Published on May 3, 2017 for Billboard)
Sean Glass’ West Hollywood apartment is a hub for creativity, filled with art, slogans and quotes to steer him toward ideation and execution. Above his kitchen entrance are the words “Ultralight Beam,” the opening track's title on Kanye West’s 2016 album The Life of Pablo. “To me, it means to try to make the best f--king thing in the world,” Glass explains. “Every day.”
Images of Tom Ford, Kobe Bryant and LCD Soundsystem line the walls. “My whole apartment is strategically aligned for me to see things that inspire me and bring my thoughts to the places that I want," Glass says.
The DJ and former Apple Music creative (and son of music mogul and Glassnote Records founder Daniel Glass) has a new endeavor that he’s going full-force with: clothing. Starting with t-shirts, Glass’ Small Difference line is out now online.
His tees, $45, feature custom screen-printed, handwritten statements that range from witty to poignant. The debut tee says, “Bc my life is dope and I do dope s--t,” taken from Dave Chappelle’s story about Kanye West on The Tonight Show.
After spending weekend one in Indio, CA at Coachella, the designer talked to Billboard about how his dad influenced who he is today, the inspiration behind Small Difference, and why he wants to see you in a 5X tee.
What was your style like as a kid?
When I was a kid, I was always shamed for dressing differently. I didn’t want to wear what other people were wearing. I didn’t want to wear things that codified me. Like, “I’ve got Alien Workshop…” I’m not a skater! Me wearing that felt really weird. But all of my friends were skaters. I was a baseball player. But if I didn’t wear it, I was ashamed and singled out. I couldn’t be one of the jocks because I thought they were all crude. And I couldn’t be one of the artsy kids because I thought they were all sad. I loved emo music, but I wasn’t that. I had these identity issues because there was no calling card for me.
To go forward a few years, it took a little bit of my personal success and recognition to dress the way I wanted to dress. And having a really cool girlfriend also. She was really quirky and weird. My ex-girlfriend was a great inspiration. Like, “I can dress weird, too. I don’t have to dress like my friends.” Clothing, more so than music, is the way that I tell people who I am.
You were known as more of a music guy, being the head of Win Music and working at Apple for a bit. What made you jump into fashion?
When I started wearing scrunchies in my hair, it became a thing. I was a totally functional thing; I started growing out my hair and I didn’t know what to do with it. All of these people would reach out to me for styling things and influencer marketing things. I’d say yes. This was when I was at Apple and working with Beats marketing. Then I realized that I knew how to do the s--t better than other people.
I was going to make a scrunchy line. I cared about sending a specific message. It had to be specific and identifiable as Small Difference. And it had to be really special to me, personal. I wanted to have those boxes checked and realized that I could do that with a t-shirt. I’ve worked at other companies before. I’ve started a record label. I’m going to learn this. I’ve always worked on building campaigns with artists and creators. I went on a trip to Cuba and came back January 7, 2016 convinced that I needed to do this.
Did you talk through your ideas with anyone?
Ian Rogers was the first person I had a real conversation about this with. He helped start Apple Music and left shortly after launch to work at LVMH to run Digital. It’s an incredible job. He’s crushed it. I love Ian. When I brought up my idea back when I was still at Apple and people were hitting me up to do influencer s--t and design collabs, I called Ian about the early version of this idea. The huge takeaway that I got from him was that “You’re not creating a scrunchy or a tee or a jacket; you’re inspiring individuality.” And that’s what the product is.
Small Difference sounds like it’s more than just clothing and wearable products.
Small Difference is two things: My creative expression. And it’s a collaborative platform for me. I get to go meet an artist and say, “Let’s do something together.” Maybe it'll be a merch' collection for a tour. Maybe it’ll be a music video or a short film. Maybe it’ll be a pop-up. I get to be creative with them.
And that’s what Apple Connect was about. That was the dream job for me. Larry [Jackson] and I could be like, “What do you want to do, Skrillex?” “What do you want to do, Frank Ocean?” It was and still is amazing. And that’s what I’m doing now--going to artists and asking, “How can we blow your s--t up?” What’s really exciting to me is that I can do that through design and collaboration.
What collaborations can fans look forward to in the near future?
I’m doing something with a feminist organization. I’m doing something with EMO NITE. I’m doing something about heroin overdose prevention. I have a friend who is an addict that I take care of, so it’s a very close thing to me. It’s a campaign for a recovery clinic. This stuff allows me to tap into all of the different things that I care about.
One of my shirts says, “Have more period sex.” That’s with Flex, my friend’s tampon company that allows you to have sex with a Tampon in. I’m building campaigns that are super impactful for everyone associated. This will be a way to market their stuff. This isn’t charity. It’s my lifeblood, too. It feels really good for me to do it. Emo Night, I f--king love those guys. They’re the strongest independent event brand in the country.
You sound pretty amped about this.
The best two times I’ve ever woken up in the morning excited to work is when I started at Apple; I was waking up at 5 a.m. every morning naturally. I couldn’t sleep any longer. I was so excited to wake up and work with Larry, Jimmy Iovine, and Trent Reznor. We were doing such cool s--t.
The other time is now. I got back from Coachella last night and went right to Pomona to see Goldlink and Kaytranada, and then I woke up at 6 a.m. today. I feel sublimely fortunate that this is something that I get to do. I can make money on this and then use it to do more cool s--t. As soon as we have disposable income, we’re making films. Every dollar, I’m not going to keep a penny. I’ll be financing short films. Then I’ll be able to work with even more people.
What’s the concept behind naming the brand Small Difference?
Small Difference comes from a Freudian concept, The Narcissism of Small Differences, that I believe explains my creativity. All I want is to connect with people. The way it happens for me is by sending my signal of expression. Similar signals can be confused with mine, and I might miss my intended audience. I must distinguish myself as a dynamic individual if I hope to connect. Small Difference drives my creativity when there’s any chance that I’ll be confused with some else. It means I have to work harder when there’s a small difference. That concept is really me.
Who are some of the people you look to for inspiration?
The only person I look at as a model is Kanye West. Everyone should do that. He’s a person who spearheads connected creative thought. He goes, “Oh, I have this thing that I love to do. I have this skill set that’s really developed. Wait a second! That could apply to this vertical as well.” That’s what I took from Kanye. Kids don’t buy Kanye clothes because Kanye did them. They’ve buying the clothes because they’re pushing culture forward.
What about brands and designers who are more-so focused in clothing?
Gypsy Sport owner Rio Uribe. His designs are driven by culture. His clothes represent that. Kenzo. I love them because they create the best content. They get the coolest people to work on them. Their short films are amazing. I had no idea that Margaret Qualley could dance like that.
Olivier Rousteing at Balmain. That’s the way I want to cast my models. He does a great job of that and building worlds. He takes a runway presentation and turns it into the “Wolves” video for Kanye. Instead of dropping it in a traditional way, he’s like “This is my new collection—the “Wolves” video. And it’s cast with all of these people who represent my brand.” Bravado’s Mat Vlasic. They’re got an amazing model that allows artists to go be creative. He’s got creatives in-house that can make those decisions, too.
And Tom Ford. He’s a designer who decided he was going to do movies. A Single Man is one of my favorite movies of the last decade. Nocturnal Animals is magnificent. I loved Ford’s brand building at Gucci. Gucci Group became the biggest. Then he built a $1,000,000,000 brand in well under a decade. He’s done three unprecedented things. That’s insane.
You gave Migos tees at Coachella and several other musicians like Goldlink have worn your stuff on stage. How important is it to get your shirts on the right people?
I think who wears my clothes is super important. It’s almost 50-50—design and product, versus who wears it and the casting of it. My first photo shoot was very specifically curated. I had a personal connection to everyone in it. they all do cool things and they’re all individuals.
Goldlink wore my shirt on stage last night. It was awesome. His song “Dance on Me” embodies all of my influences. I’m doing a pop-up collab with Jimi Tents, who’s a rapper from New York. What So Not is an incredible producer who wore my shirt at his concert. It’s really important, who I get to represent my brand. When Migos’ label reached out to us and said, "They want to wear your shirts when they come out at the Sahara tent for Coachella," it was a no-brainer. I want to speak to the audience that this person or act speaks to.
How frequently will you drop new shirts?
I’m going to do new ones every two to four weeks. Each is going to have its own content launch, an editorial campaign. The other one which I made specifically for Coachella, says “I’d rather be at a protest.” It’s meant to be a funny take on our state of affairs. Another one is “I Can’t Love You Like Kanye Loves Kanye Until You Love Yourself Like Kanye Loves Kanye.”
The Emo Nite collab tee says, "In Space, No One Can Hear Screamo." The back says “Thank God We’re at Emo Night.” “Don’t Die” is for heroin recovery tee. And there’s one that says “White People Are Crazy.”
How did your dad Daniel Glass influence your business mindset as an adult?
You can’t come close to telling my story without talking about where I come from. My dad has always been this incredibly sobering influence on me. He’s like, “Go wait tables.” “Go get this experience you need to have.” It’s always been this really crazy contradiction where he’d -- for example - pull me out of school at 7 years old and put me on a plane to go to the Miami set of [1991 sequel] Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 with Vanilla Ice. But then he’d tell me to go study. I’d be like, “But Dad, which is it?”
The coolest thing to note about my dad is that he’s been a legend for many years. When he was younger, he was an executive at Chrysalis Records. Then he ran EMI Records when I was very young. But it’s not until the last 10 years that he’s really come into his own. He started as an indie guy. Rising Tide became Universal Records.
And now Glassnote is the coolest company ever.
He was really good at artist development and A&R. He was the best at it. He and Glassnote are successful because he got Mumford & Sons on the f--king radio. No one wanted a banjo on the radio and he did it. He figured out who his people are and what place he has in their lives. I love the example that my dad sets. And he’s a really good guy. He’s never burned a bridge. He does right by people. You can’t beat my dad’s relationships.
Your Small Difference models wear a 5XL size. Do you prefer the oversized look?
I’m just trying to deconstruct how clothes should be. A medium isn't comfortable for me. Why the f--k should I wear that? The 5XL, I don’t even see it as oversized. I think it’s comfortable. I’m encouraging everyone to wear the 5X. You look better, you feel better. It’s a different way to wear a shirt. I am f--kin’ sticking with it. I’m excited to see how people wear it. I'm going to go with one size that fits all and make it 5XL.
I thought if I were coming out of a cave and handed some garments, a needle and thread, and told to make something that covers my torso, this is what it would look like. A shirt like this feels amazing to dance in, to walk around and go about your day. The space gives you confidence and forms for any body type. There are so many ways to style it. Don't play soccer in this. But definitely DJ in it.
What's really exciting to me is I can launch with my own silhouette. At Coachella this weekend I could tell from a mile away when someone was wearing my shirt. And a lot of people were. Wearing one of my shirts isn't signaling yourself as a member of, for instance, the Rick Owens cult or the Skrillex OWSLA family, which are two of my favorite creatives. Wearing my shirt signals a first-principles approach. You forget what you were told before about clothes and built your identity from scratch in your own personal vision.
This is how I'm creating all of my products and designs. The shirts are the first of many decisions I've made with a first principles approach. I hope to continue to evolve the Small Difference silhouette and aesthetic.