Corteiz Don’t Play By The Rules

Words: Ezra Olaoya

If you haven’t heard about Corteiz by now, where have you been? The London-based streetwear brand’s now-iconic Alcatraz logo is ubiquitous amongst young people across the UK, and now globally. Your favourite artist has probably been spotted in it too, from Stormzy wearing the K9 Tee while performing at Reading & Leeds Festival to it almost being Central Cee’s daily uniform.

With a co-sign from the late, great Virgil Abloh—who rocked the label’s socks at the Met Gala, and gifted founder Clint a one-of-one Louis Vuitton jacket before his untimely passing—it’s clear Corteiz’s reach is far beyond just teenage hypebeasts in the suburbs, as some have suggested. But it’s not these co-signs that make Corteiz special: it’s the brand’s unique approach to marketing and community-building that has set it apart from the rest.

Corteiz has been a topic of discussion in the streetwear world for a while now, even more so following their recent campaign, Da Great BOLO Exchange. To promote their new BOLO puffer jacket, CRTZ dropped a location on Instagram last month for people to trade-in jackets from established brands, such as Supreme and Moncler, to get their hands on one of 50 Bolo jackets. Videos and pictures from the exchange sent social media into a frenzy, with many questioning why anyone would want to exchange jackets with a higher perceived value for a Corteiz piece. Despite the online disapproval, people flocked to the event in the hundreds.

I took a trip down from my Coventry university dorm-room to the BOLO Exchange, which was in a car park near West London’s White City, and got to talking with one of the customers. “A North Face puffer, a designer jacket, in return for an unreleased BOLO seems absolutely absurd for the majority,” he said. “However, this can simply be pinned to the tight-knit community within which the brand operates—nobody wants to miss out!” What was interesting about this campaign was that no Black-owned UK brands, such as Benjart or Trapstar, were part of the BOLO Exchange, which showed solidarity with other Black-owned businesses on the grind. Furthermore, jackets from the exchange were given to the homeless, which no doubt confused the naysayers.

While a lot of the recent discourse surrounding the brand has been focused on the exchange in isolation, it’s important to note how this event fits into the brand’s overall growth and strategy. So, what exactly is Corteiz? Why do people run around London for their garms and trade-in jackets worth over £700 to get their hands on a BOLO? How have they got to the point where their “Rules The World” slogan is holding more truth by the day?

Corteiz was founded by the enigmatic Clint, who started the brand in 2017 from his bedroom in West London. While many think Corteiz was an overnight success, Clint founded his first brand—Cade On The Map—in 2015, which managed to do pretty well before it was discontinued. Initially, Corteiz only released sweaters and tees in baby blue and green, featuring the Alcatraz logo, before expanding into a range of products including cargo pants and joggers to balaclavas and even socks (boxers are currently in the works). I first felt the hype surrounding CRTZ while in school in Edinburgh some years back. One of the boys in my year had seen that I’d liked one of their posts on Instagram, and told me that he had a dream where he was being chased by a group of people wearing Corteiz ballies. While this may seem like a strange example to bring up, I think it shows the imprint’s ability to capture one’s imagination.

CRTZ generates “hype” with limited stock and drives demand for exclusive pieces and, with their increasing popularity, the task of getting what you want from the drops is becoming more and more difficult. Aside from the pop-ups that have taken place in London, Paris and Lagos, the brand operates solely online. In order to get your hands on a piece, you have to be active on Twitter to get the password as soon as it’s released. And these password drops are an event in and of themselves, as customers anxiously waiting for the drop will camp out on the Corteiz page for hours.

For a clothing brand to do well these days, it’s not enough for the designs to be good. While Corteiz products are unique, with innovative designs, this alone is not enough to get to where they are today. Trends come and go but a strong brand can weather most storms when it’s anchored by its community. And community is key to Corteiz’s work. When people are buying a product, they’re not merely buying the physical item—they’re also buying into the ideas behind it. When you buy a football jersey, you’re not just buying the garment—you’re also buying into the team and signifying that you’re part of something bigger.

Corteiz encourages this sense of community by commenting and sharing posts from people who buy their products, and this online community has translated into a physical one. People have seen kids running through Soho since 2019, but, as previously mentioned, they’ve also had pop-ups in Lagos and Paris—a testament to the fact that the brand goes wherever the love is, never seeking approval from those who might not understand the message. Aside from pop-ups, CRTZ also managed to secure billboards with the Alcatraz logo in three London locations, leaving a physical mark on the city.

I attended Clint’s “Big Fuck Off Party” in the summer of last year and saw, first-hand, how Corteiz was able to bring hundreds of people together. With live performances from the likes of Unknown T, exclusive tees that were given away for free, and a free bar—all with no entry cost—it showed a clear commitment to giving back to those who support the brand. Even at events like the BOLO Exchange, CRTZ showed love to those who turned up by giving away free T-shirts.

So, what does the future hold for Corteiz? I envision the brand growing beyond clothes and creating an ecosystem that is somewhat self-sustainable. They already have links with musicians and have a record label—what’s to say they can’t have a festival down the line, too? PLACES+FACES have shown that it’s possible, having also ventured into alcohol, film clubs, and books. Whatever the next steps are for Corteiz, it’s clear that they have changed the game. Forever.

Posted on February 09, 2022