Words by Lou Pardi
Rafael Rashid, aka Raph runs Melbourne’s own BKTM, the current incarnation of BlankTM. Lou Pardi talks T-shirts, family, rap and recipes with the man behind the brand.
The conception of Blank (BKTM) happened through a chance meeting of a couple of youths at a train station in Australia in the mid-90’s. “I bumped into Danny [Young, previous Blank partner] one day at Frankston Station. We knew each other a bit through graffiti. He had just had a knee operation and was unable to work at the time. He was telling me about some outlines that he had done with some T-shirts in mind. I said ‘Damn, I just got a T-shirt carousel for my 17th birthday’. Over the next few months we just started making T-shirts under the name Blank. We seemed to connect really quickly with a market. Danny and I were both involved in different music scenes, we had a great social networks and without knowing it this really helped spread the word.” says Raph.
Blank’s fledgling success turned out to be a blessing and a curse, Raph shares, “By the late 90′s we were selling a bunch of stuff and the popularity of the label was really encouraging. This also brought a real unfortunate thing. We were heavily bootlegged at all the markets around Melbourne. This really hurt us financially and also the way some people viewed the label.”
Some stores began to dismiss the label as a flash-in-the-pan success. Having turned it around, Raph’s approach to stores for Blank remains well-considered. “I will only step to a store if I really believe that Blank can work in there. I think it is disrespectful to the store if you haven’t done your homework. It’s not all about the hustle, when I open a new account I want to think about longevity.” he says.
The longevity of the label itself is a credit to Raph’s philosophy. An avid chef (the current BKTM zine cover portraits him with decks to one side and a barbie to the other), Raph shares this recipe for cookin’ up a tasty T-shirt. “All my tees got their own flavour, but all share a similar recipe. 1 cup originality and 1 cup of love.”
Originality has long been a part of BKTM. The label itself was christened in dedication to standing alone uniquely. “We named the label Blank as we wanted an essence and brand that was not biased to any particular culture or movement.” says Raph. As for maintaining original design over the years, Raph’s had some of the best training you could ask for. “It’s what I have done my whole life, graffiti taught me not to bite other people’s styles, rapping has taught me to rap in my own accent, photography has taught me to capture things how I want to see them.” he says.
As for love, Raph points to his nearest and dearest as his greatest inspirations. “Subliminally, I know that watching my Father teach high school graphic arts during the day, then drive straight to our family restaurant and cook every night, definitely has something to do with my work ethic. My wife, Beci is super-inspiring, my kids too… and also my kids got to get fed so that is motivation to work.”
And work he will, with a jam-packed schedule of BKTM, music and literary action ahead. “I have just finished my own cotton fleecy, it’s heavy weight and made in Australia. My new record comes out in March and hopefully a new book in 09/10.” As for the big picture, it seems it really is a blank canvas, “I don’t really think about a big picture or a grand scheme, as long as I am doing what I want, that’s the big picture!”
[Break out box]
FILL IN THE BLANKS
1. My favourite BKTM tee is…right now it’s the Brendan Huntley.
2. I choose artists for T-shirt colabs based on…style and if we can chill together.
3. My relationship with my wife Beci has taught me…to use organic produce wherever possible.
4. I own…too many T-shirts that I only wear to bed.
5. The Australian T-shirt market is…too small.