Identity

Meet the Girl Behind the Hip-Hop Pirate Shirts Popping Up All Over LA

Los Angeles’ hottest new streetwear brand is the work of a crew of Californian rappers—and a girl called Byrd.
August 7, 2016, 7:55am
Byrd, the co-founder of Pirate Gvng. Photo by Alexis Gross

Angelenos are used to seeing guys in shirts and beanies that say "Pirate" around Los Angeles. The Instagram account @_pirategvng sells the shirts. They grew in popularity several months ago when Instagram model Heather Sanders wore their shirt in a picture. A rapper, Johnboy, appears in photos, and he also sells Mermaid shirts for girls. Customers might recognize him, but they are less familiar with Byrd, the girl who is the co-brains behind the Pirate Gvng.

They create the clothes with another friend, JR, but have known each other since childhood. While Byrd attended college, Johnboy started making the clothes. He asked her to help when she returned, and she has since started designing the clothes and helps manage the business. Over sushi in downtown Los Angeles, they told us about the clothes, their day-to-day life, and why Byrd wears both pirate and mermaid shirts.

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BROADLY: Who takes care of all the sales and inventory?
Byrd: Me and then us as a team.

How did the Pirate shirts start?
Johnboy: We all grew up together. Basically starting [off] Joey and me used to [be] signed to an old label. That's how we met, when we were at the label together. But then we were like, "We got these cool friends already like why [don't we do stuff together]? We just came up with our own shit, the pirate shit. When Byrd was going away to college, when she came back, we were just working on music and slowly started running with a title and we started the [Pirates].

Who designs the shirts?
Byrd: The mermaid one they had already came up with. I've been working on some different pieces that I make for myself, and then see what type of feedback I get. A lot of people [have] been liking the jerseys, and then I got these baseball jerseys I [have] been working on: shorts, hats. You [got to] have it all.

Mostly, girls wear the mermaid shirts, and guys wear the pirate shirts. Why do you wear both?
*Byrd:* I'm a mermaid because I'm a lady at the end of the day. But all my friends, these guys, they're the ones who I grew up with. So it's one of them. I'm a pirate too.

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How do you balance doing that with your day job?
*Byrd:* Oh man. Work is work. That never gets in the way, surprisingly. I think it's since I have been in college, I have been staying up all night, so now it's just a daily routine. It doesn't bother me, but we manage it. This is fun so I look forward to doing this.

How do you collaborate?
*Byrd:* We share ideas. Since I'm a girl, it's my job to press him and make sure he stay on his shit, taking care of business, but we work together as a team. I always see him, so we are constantly asking, and putting together ideas, and trying to figure out what we are gonna do.

What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding about you?
*Byrd:* There are times when I'm trying to get my point across and be serious, but my [personality] comes off as, 'Oh, OK she really doesn't mean it." But it's nah, put some respect on my name. I feel like as far as the type of personality, I have everybody takes it as there for the taking. I'm not flirting with you.

You promote your products on a local radio show. Where is the studio?
*Byrd:* The location's actually right across from El Camino in Gardena. It's called the Social Lounge. There's a guy named Social there. It's his station, but everybody has different segments on different days or different times. We have it on Tuesday nights, and we basically [go] on there talking about whatever, talking shit. We have hosts come on there, upcoming writers or ones that are already kinda on right now getting started. They come on there and talk about their business. We don't really be talking about politics. Ain't nobody in that station just up to par.
Johnboy: We talk about sex politics.
*Byrd:* That's it.

What's an average weekday like for you?
Johnboy: Monday is like studios, Tuesday do the radio, and Wednesday back in the studio or probably at a strip club. We go to the strip club Mondays and Wednesdays.
Byrd: Him and I had a Monday night vibin' out.

What Los Angeles clubs do you like?
Byrd: The strip club is the club now. It be poppin' up there too. That's why we go. It's the smell, the wings.

You often throw parties at an apartment downtown when you announce a new shirt or beanie. What's the worst thing that has happened?
Johnboy: We had a party last year—I hate talking about this shit while I'm eating-—somebody shitted, and I guess the toilet flooded, so they shitted in the toilet, and wiped their ass, and put all the toilet paper around the toilet in a fucking perfect circle like a joke. Then we had another party where somebody shitted in the bathtub and put paper [on it] to hide it. Nobody saw it till the next day.
Byrd: No more parties in LA!