Have you ever been so moved by something cultural–a song, a film, a game, a TV show–that it started to affect your actual life? That could describe how strongly graphic designer Dan Barkle reacted to the series finale of Mr. Robot, when a years-long sequence came together in one exceptional and emotional conclusion.
The Mr. Robot finale is just one example, though. Observing and absorbing culture is a pattern in Dan’s life, as he’s always been someone who’s drawn inspiration from all over—especially from the post-apocalyptic genre—to tell his own unique story.
In taking his obsession one step further, he recently designed a new clothing line, called Postdigital
, that imagines life in the year 2104. He used Foundation to launch his new venture, and our Head of Community, Lindsay Howard, took the opportunity to catch up with Dan about what motivated him to start a fashion line, what it was like watching his market take off, and what we’ll all need to survive 100 years from now.
How are you feeling two weeks after your drop? What was the experience like for you?
The day of the drop was overwhelming because I was still preparing promotional material (while traveling) just before launch. When it hit seven o'clock, I was like, okay, we’re ready. I watched it unfold and within the first 10 minutes, half of everything had already sold. I felt like one of those YouTubers or hype brands that always sells out quickly. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was overwhelmed, and surprised. I'm also really happy, though.
Let's step back for a second. Tell me how you came up with the idea for a clothing line.
I've always been a little bit obsessed with streetwear clothing. When I was a kid, all my friends at school would skate, and I wanted to fit in—so I began skating, too. But I was more interested in the jeans, hoodies, and shoes. I was terrible at skating, actually. One of the worst. My parents hated that I only cared about brands and having cool clothes, and wouldn’t budge on that. Later on, I started a small clothing line during university to keep me afloat financially, and that did really well. It was quite cool to build something from scratch, see people buy it, and then wear it.
Over the last few years, I’ve had so many ideas for different brands I could create. So I thought, why not combine my style, interests, and speculations of the future, and put it into a streetwear brand? Not to be bleak, but I’m pessimistic about the direction we’re heading in, and I think it's going to come crashing down sooner rather than later, so I decided to set the brand in a post-apocalyptic future. I’m slightly obsessed with that genre of media. All of my favourite films, TV shows, and games are post-apocalyptic—so I just mashed all of that inspiration together.
How did you go from having the idea for a clothing line to the drop on Foundation? What happened in between?
I was inspired by the opportunity to drop the line with Foundation. Before that, I was put off by the idea of doing everything all by myself. But I liked the idea of running the store through a completely new and different type of retail experience. Using Foundation felt like an extension of the actual concept. I think that banks will eventually die out, and then everything will be based in cryptocurrency, so this was a perfect partnership.
I bought the trademark for Postdigital in the fashion sector and then went from there, planning it out across product, digital design, and promotion. I researched my favorite brands and thought about how I could market streetwear differently. I’d already been working in the merch industry for three years, so I had a lot of experience dealing with different manufacturers and shipment companies. There were also people who helped me source materials to achieve what I wanted to make. I wanted all of the garments to be distressed and feel like they’re lived-in, but new.
There was a lot of thought and care that you put into each individual piece. Can you tell us about your approach, and describe any details that might be easily missed?
I wanted to make this first collection based in the year 2104, at which point services like Amazon—which get products to your door instantaneously—don’t exist anymore. You can’t easily get supplies. The idea is that Postdigital is the first brand that emerges, where people will start to ask: “Where did you get that generator? Where did you get that hoodie?” and someone will respond: “Postdigital.”
There are simple graphics that people easily recognize, disguised with everyday items. I wanted to make sure that the graphics felt embedded in that world, hence all of the codes and stuff on some of the pieces. For example, Unit-002 is a shirt with lots of codes on it. You won’t understand what they mean until later drops when the hidden messages are revealed.
Beyond the print, in terms of the actual garments, I sourced cotton that feels aged, almost vintage. I wanted the fabric to feel like it had been through a hundred washes and was really durable. Personally, I don’t like soft t-shirts. I like them to feel a bit like you're wearing cardboard, but a nice cardboard, y’know? With the black t-shirts, I had to research how to actually do that organically without ruining the products or spending shitloads of money. So, yeah, I've managed to actually fade the garments in the areas that I want to, rather than being an all-over wash, and distress them so that they have slightly ripped edges which feel organic.
How has your community responded to this drop? What have they been saying about it?
There have been some really nice comments from people I massively respect in the design space, saying that they can see the passion and dedication in my line. That’s really humbling. People really understand what I’m aiming for and respond to the concept, rather than just being like, “Oh, Dan made a streetwear line,” and that’s it. It was also really nice to look through the orders and see familiar names supporting my first venture. That means a lot.
You said that you felt overwhelmed and surprised the day of the drop on Foundation. What surprised you about the experience?
I was surprised by how many people got in on the drop within the first 30 minutes. I was watching everything happen on my Terminal page, and saw the numbers going up every five minutes. It went from $1,000 to $3,500 in literally five minutes. It’s wild to think about how many interactions took place so quickly. My phone was vibrating so much, I thought it was going to set fire, because people were sharing their experience buying the pieces on their IG stories. They all wanted to share their purchase, and how they got it with cryptocurrency. I loved seeing people actually adopt crypto so quickly, because I wasn’t sure that people would. I thought people might not want to deal with the trading, but everyone got really into it.
How would you describe the world that your clothing line inhabits?
Imagine civilization existing within a world where electricity is gone. The internet doesn't really exist, and there's no government. Everything is overgrown. There's no order, no rules. People are fending for themselves and doing whatever they want—and that leads to destruction. What would living in that kind of civilization actually be like? That's what I'm trying to get people to think about.
What are three things that every person should have in this post-apocalyptic reality?
Number one, a weapon. Secondly, some kind of digital device so you can get onto the dark web. And definitely a gas mask or something to cover your nose and mouth because—I've yet to reveal this—but it's a world where we're not alone. There’s going to be lots of bad things out there, which I've got ideas for in future drops. So that's quite exciting to reveal. I'm not going to say enemies, but threats.
I have so many questions about that, but I guess we'll have to wait and see! You’re so prolific—are you constantly designing? Have you been able to keep the momentum going during quarantine, or has that been a challenge?
It was challenging at the beginning because I actually had COVID-19. Right as it happened and everyone went into lockdown, I got it. I had it really bad and there were a few days when I thought I might actually die. It was horrible, but I came out on the other side of it.
During everything, I saw other people creating and sharing things on Instagram, amidst all of the chaos, and that motivated me, once I started feeling better, to do more. I’ve been keeping up that momentum since then to make sure that I’m on top of stuff.
The development of Postdigital has moved at 200 miles per hour. I’ve been working long days and barely getting any sleep. But it hasn’t been too much, actually, because I’ve been energized by the work. I was tired after the drop but now that I’ve seen the reaction and things are in motion with the printing and manufacturing of the shirts, I have a new surge of energy.
You mentioned that you're really into post-apocalyptic storylines. When was the last time that you were emotionally moved by something cultural, whether that's a game or a show or a film?
There are two pieces that really stand out to me. The first is the game The Last of Us 2, which really moved me for so many reasons. Right off the bat, the narrative makes you hate one of the characters but later on, you play the story from their perspective which makes you realize there are no “good” or “bad” people—everyone has a streak of evil and a streak of good. Also, it's the first game I’ve played that feels truly inclusive with gender representation. Games are almost always male-oriented, with the male heroes as meatheads that have to save the overly-sexualised “damsel in distress.” This game completely flips those stereotypes and is so refreshing to play.
The second is the series finale of Mr. Robot, which was such an incredible climax to the story. I won’t spoil it, but in the finale all of the loose ends get tied up, and you finally understand on a much deeper level how the protagonist, Elliot, feels. You genuinely feel his emotions at the end. I remember being so transfixed, I couldn’t look away and was bawling my eyes out. I wasn't sad, but overwhelmed with emotion, and so absorbed in the evolution of the storyline and how everything came together. It was like witnessing the most beautiful program ever made, and then it was over. It inspired so many emotions at once.
You mentioned that this was your first time producing 3D objects. What was that process like for you, and what advice would you give someone who’s just starting out?
I've always said that one day I'm definitely going to learn to do 3D, but it never happened because the software always felt so daunting to get into. I usually work in print-based media or try to imitate print-based materials, but the financial strain of working that way is what forced me to go the more technical route, so I could make the materials myself for Postdigital.
A good lesson from this is: when you have a short timeline and limited resources, you have to make it work with whatever you have. Within a couple of weeks, I made six 3D pieces, even though before that, I’d never touched 3D software in my life. I spent hours researching it on YouTube, figured it out, and then people responded with how sharp they looked.
If you're feeling daunted by a new software or new technology to incorporate into your work, just give yourself a deadline and do it. I feel like now if someone came to me and asked me to do a 3D project, I would be comfortable saying yes whereas three weeks ago, I would’ve said, “No way, hire someone else.” I think figuring everything out, and doing it on my own, has been the most rewarding part of this whole experience.