When we’re kids, we’d watch our favorite TV shows and movies, excitedly acting out the action scenes later on the playground with our friends, often arguing over whom gets to play the good guy. Even today, most of us always pull for the hero; for the good guy to rescue the hostages, get the girl and save the world. Corey Tulaba, however, has always been one to cheer for the villains.
“I always root for the bad guy,” Tulaba said with a laugh.
Officially forming in 2009 in Long Island, NY, Tulaba began designing merch for bands, and after some mild encouragement from friends, decided to start selling clothes under his own company. Traveling and selling his designs with fellow Long Islanders, Patent Pending on their tours, Tulaba was able spread the word about his 90s inspired line and become acquainted with what kids were looking for in new clothes.
“I’ve gotten to see both sides of it,” said Tulaba. “When touring with a band, kids will buy merch because they love the band, but when you’re touring with your brand, there’s no attachment kids have to it. You have to have awesome stuff that stands out and kids can nip on. My experience as a merch guy helped me as a brand designer because I understand what kids like and what you have to do to get their attention.”
Growing up, Tulaba was always into fashion, drawn to the bright colors and sometimes misguided trends of the 90s. A skateboarder and fan of Saved By The Bell, he was surrounded by end of the century, vibrant inspiration. This was also the heyday of Long Island alt-rock, with bands like Taking Back Sunday, Brand New and Glassjaw starting to carve their names into the music industry. New York hip-hop was also taking off with names like Jay Z, Biggie and Nas, leading the way.
“As a teenager on Long Island, I got to grow up in the best time ever, back when those bands were playing small venues. I think the 90s itself was a big influence on what we do because that’s when my childhood was. All the stuff I wore back then, I want to wear again. I try to recreate what I was doing and what I loved back then.”
Originally enrolling in Adelphi University to be a high school gym teacher, Tulaba got his hands on Photoshop during his collegiate years and started teaching himself how to use the graphic design software.
“I just started playing around with it and taught myself everything,” he admitted. “I read some tutorials, messed around and experimented with it. It’s just been me doing things my way, even if it may take a little longer because I taught myself.”
With bright colors and chunky fonts that blend an era of hip-hop and punk, the clothing line is reminiscent of everything we loved back in the day. It seems as if you were to put on one of his old-school crew sweatshirts, you’d be transported back to the time where you were glued to your walkman, wrapped in a slew of Nickelodeon cartoons and tangled in your N64 cord playing NBA Jams ’99. Tulaba’s admitted favorite personal design is his Blink-182, Enema of the State inspired t-shirt, an homage to his favorite band and one of the undisputed top albums of the 90s.
Villains is enjoying some of their hard-earned success as of late, branching out into other New York clothing stores like Long Island City Kleaners and collaborating with artist Matt Skiff on many designs. Tulaba has even started working on a comic book he created with Skiff, and has a comic book-inspired design on one of his latest shirts. He also plans on developing his girls line, called Punk, a play on Victoria’s Secret’s Pink.
But recently, trendy clothing lines having been popping up and disappearing like crazy, usually in sync with the music industry fashions and what seems to be popular at that moment in time. Tulaba likes to think that his decision to buck trends is what’s kept Villains going.
“A lot of brands cater to trends, and when you cater to specific things like that, you don’t stick around,” said Tulaba. “Nowadays, any kids can download Photoshop, print up a shirt and call themselves a clothing line. But these brands don’t stay because they’re for trends that are going to turn another way. That’s why we’ve lasted because we do our own thing and whatever influences us, we put on shirts. When you do that, it’s real and people get behind it.”
Villains is Tulaba’s recollection of all the best parts of his childhood and recommends other designers do what he did and create things that mean something to them, not what’s trending on Tumblr that day.
“Have a good solid theme and aesthetic of what you are picturing, because you won’t last otherwise,” he advises. “You have to really go for it and be prepared to have a lot of terrible times where you’re not selling anything, but still willing to work hard and not just push it to the side. There’s going to be a lot of bad times to get to the good times, but eventually you’ll get there and it will be an awesome feeling when it all pays off.”
Tulaba and his designs are proof that trends come and go, but the things we love most always hold true. By recreating pieces of our childhood, he’s reminding a generation of 90s babies why we grew up in one of the best time’s to be a kid. So yeah, rooting for the hero may be cool, but being the Villain is way more fun.
Visit villainsltd.bigcartel.com/ for more information on Corey’s designs and to purchase Villains.
Interview by Stephanie Roe