BY : HOPE DEALER
“Fashion is the armor to survive the realities of everyday life.” – (Bill Cuningham, Fashion Photographer for The New York Times.)
Creative Designer Nathan Ball , 23 , smiles to a standing ovation of over 300 attendees during the end of his runway showcase in Downtown San Diego, this fall. ( Anderson Walker / The LA Tribune).
Fashion is one of the most powerful mediums that connect people across various cultures and international borders. In this era of social media, talented designers are a dime a dozen. Still, it takes exceptional vision & different skill sets to truly thrive as an entrepreneur in your creative field of expertise. Many talented upstarts are waiting to be discovered throughout our world today. Still, more is needed to equip their brands with concepts and showcases to deal with our ever-changing societal landscape while addressing prevalent issues that affect the current lifestyles of the generations of prominence.
Nathan Ball, founder and creative director of Unshook, exemplifies this current entrepreneurial change of pace. For Ball, the niche of fashion design may have begun as a creative whim during his senior year of high school. Still, the last five years of consistency have proved that creative risks into uncharted territory related to one’s passions are always worth exploring for him. Since founding his brand, Nate has continued to express his ethos and diverse perspective on how designers relate their social and economic realities to their brand language and showcases.
He defines Unshook, as an independent fashion house designing elevated streetwear for those who embrace the storm within their own lives. But his true genius in using fashion as a medium to address the mental health and wellness that many creatives combat in their day-to-day lives experience is where his creativity continues to magnify itself. In terms of value and importance towards an uncertain future, his label and its ever-expanding Unshook community have created a solid foundation within San Diego. To become an organized noise that can challenge the harmful frequencies that plague people from all cultures to see the beauty in their struggles and unite as one collective to combat and challenge the issues they face with the world today.
I had the privilege of meeting Nate Ball during the fall of 2021 at Hendo Studios in San Diego during one of his events, where I watched a childhood friend perform music as a headliner. The quality of the experience he curated and the conviction he spoke with during our first interaction were impactful. His outlook and intentions to pursue creativity and fashion full-time inspired me.
During our afternoon in Santee, at a coffee shop across the street from Santana High School, I spoke candidly with his brother and business partner, Ryan Joesph. It became clear during our impact conversation that the wealth of shared experiences he draws from and is inspired by is much greater than that of his own. The source of his convictions is rooted in the things he values the most; family, the creativity of those who have faith in him, and resilience of character I like to refer to as; Disaster Tested.
Whether he’s seeking insight about a creative concept from his brother or drawing from the depths of the family that seems safely kept with his mother, I’ve grown to understand the dynamic visionary of the machine that is Nathan Ball. Every collection he makes is taken to his inner circles for opinion and approval, bridging the gap between ethnicities, social classes, and emotional intelligence.
Cassidy Everage, strides down the catwalk in Unshook’s KZA Mastermind denim jeans during the Inferno showcase for Unshook, this fall. ( Erick Martinez / The LA Tribune).
Hope Dealer: What moment during your youth do you believe genuinely led you both down the paths you’re now on?
Nate & Ryan: The start of the whole thing is the same story every time I tell. But our dad was not a creative mind by most people’s definitions. Blue collar worker, he worked his ass off, like that’s what he loves to do, and he’s happy with that. But he’s not creative like Nate and me. So this is incredibly lucky because of how this impacted me, but I’ll never forget that he had an old Canon cam quarter. He put the cam quarter on the table, on a tripod, but on the table. So it sat there, and he pressed record and would have me, my brother, and our sister sit on the couch in front of it. Then, he would have us change spots, run around the room, move around on & off the couch, and whatnot.
What he was doing, unbeknown to us, was that he was hitting Pause and hitting the record again while keeping the camera in the same spot: Pause and record, Pause and record. So then, when we were done with that – he was messing around with the cam quarter; I don’t even know what he was trying to do. But he showed us the video on the playback. And we were “teleporting” in the video. Essentially jump-cuts & stop motion. I’m 10 to 12 years old, and going like, “what the? This is crazy! How are we teleporting?”. Somehow, we were popping around the room in my brain, which was extremely cool. Over time, we started doing short films in our backyard, me and Nate, which was just us, pointing the camera, filming each other getting beat up, and just calling it a movie. And over time, I learned that I could place the camera here, we could get this shot planned out a bit more, we could write scripts, and we could plan things. Over time, the quality kept going up & up. But yeah, that taught me so much about the fundamentals of editing. You fast forward – ten, fifteen years later, and I can’t get away from it.
Nate & Ryan: We were homeschooled, first of all. We were around each other a lot. As soon as school was over, it was time to have fun. We would go and make a movie in the backyard, and it was a hit record, and do whatever we felt type of filming. It was ad-libbing, and then we realized, probably Ryan realized – we could plan what the movie is before we could shoot it. And we’re still like in our early teens, and we start to script things out—brief concepts, with a similar story every time.
Meanwhile, I was just an athlete. All I loved and cared about was sports. I was very passionate about baseball and basketball. I would do these things with Ryan since he was my older brother, and I enjoyed that. But it wasn’t ever “on” my mind. I would wake up early morning before school started. I’d get a basketball workout, and then I’d go to school. I’d have practice after school, and then I’d get my weightlifting in after practice. I was obsessed, loved it, and was purely an athlete. I wasn’t the kid drawing in the back of the class; I wasn’t artistic in that sense. I’ve always loved storytelling. Whenever we got the opportunity to write anything, English was always my favorite subject.
Now when I look at Unshook, storytelling is a key component of it which is very cool to look back on. But what transitioned me out of sports and into the world of art, being creative, started during my senior year when I got injured. So I just played basketball, dropped all other sports, and was focused on getting a scholarship. I got injured during the summer; I fractured one of my feet. I had a boot on my leg for around eight weeks and was bored. Around this time, I began to care more about how I dressed. I saw some youtube videos on how to taper your jeans at the bottom to make them stack and look skinnier. So I went to my grandma’s house because she was a very active sower like many people grandmothers are. So I ask her, “Hey, can you sow these pants for me & taper them? So I went over to her house, and I am trying to remember if she offered me to do the next one, but I haven’t put down the sewing machine ever since. Shortly after that, she told me that there was a sewing machine that she gave my mom for my sister. She never used it, so I made it mine, and that’s how I began my career in fashion.
I started tapering jeans on my own and going to thrift stores in my area. I search the racks and buy the baggy jeans, and then I taper them to look cool and modern, and it’s affordable. I wondered if anybody wanted to purchase these, so that senior year I was grinding my ass off to see if anyone wanted a pair of “8 Ball customs,” as I called them. Some people told me they wanted a pair, and I began to sell them for $20 and $25 if you wanted them to have custom distressing. There would be consistent weeks where I would get three to four orders, and I’d go to the thrift stores, and I’d, locate their size, and begin to work on their order. During the next week of school, I’d meet up with them at lunch and then give them the pants for the prices I’d set. Over time, that interaction and transaction were like a drug. I couldn’t get enough of it.
Model Troy Jackson, steps down the runway wearing Unshook’s Reconstruced Bomber Jack during the Inferno Showcase, this fall. ( Anderson Walker / The LA Tribune).
Hope Dealer: Doing a showcase like Inferno, and bringing an energy like that to San Diego that is usually seen in Los Angeles, what were you ultimately thinking by doing that?
Nate & Ryan: I was solely concerned with impacting people. Like I’ve said, at times, clothing can feel gross when you sell as many T-shirts as possible and make your margins as small as possible. Unshook started with such a core message at hand that I wanted to share. The ability to impact people is way more vital in person than over a video online. And so I fell in love with event planning because I’ve seen how powerful it is to get many people together to experience a body of work. It’s more impactful than just one person experiencing it through a screen. So that’s what that’s why fashion shows are so vital to me. It’s all about the audience experience.
I have undivided attention, and the energy of everybody is combined; it’s impactful for me as a designer. Clothing has a reputation for being superficial, and I do my best to be as impactful on a human level as possible. Sometimes it might be to the detriment of the financial books, but like how a painter wants to make something that makes their audience feel something, that’s always my goal. I’m just better at making clothes than painting canvases.
Nate & Ryan : I also want to jump in; something that you’ve said multiple times throughout the process was audience experience. I didn’t plan shit besides lighting the space and managing some of the special effects with the smoke and the setups of the cameras as the photography director. But the audience experienced something that Nate kept saying. The immersion of the experience for the audience. What will they see when they first step into the building? And what are they going to see when they leave? Is their entertainment or content? Is something impactful every five minutes for these guests and the target audience throughout the show? And that’s something about what they do more in Los Angeles. They’re doing less of that down here in San Diego. And so, being aware of what the audience is thinking and being a storyteller, knowing that they are probably feeling this emotion right now because I did these specific things. Now I need to give them this, so they can handle these emotions and put them on this journey.
Nate & Ryan : For example, we blocked off all the chairs before opening the venue – we let people in the doors, but all the seating was caution taped off so nobody could sit down right away. I didn’t want anyone sitting on their phones, waiting for the show to start. So we have over 300 people in this building, and the majority of the surface area of this space is blocked off. So people are shoulder to shoulder and uncomfortable for around five minutes. And then the tape goes off, and they’re allowed to sit down. Those little things are fantastic, creating communal tension, discomfort, and release. Because the word “boring” can’t be used to describe the Inferno experience, and it fits with the brand ethos. Unshook is about staying strong through life’s struggles. And often, people think I’m being edgy just because I can be or that I’m potentially corrupt. If we’re going to embrace the darkness of the world and say that we can overcome it, then when I’m doing these shows, we need to get people uneasy, so when there is a release, it feels like a reward. It feels deserved, and that’s how real life is.
Creative Designer Nathan Ball , 23 , stands in the event space, addressing the attendees during the end of his runway showcase, Inferno, in Downtown San Diego this fall. ( Anderson Walker / The LA Tribune).
Hope Dealer: Describe some of the special effects used to elevate the experience. What were you attempting to invoke by doing so?
Nate & Ryan: So the beginning of the show, I tried to make it haunting and dreadful with the initial music and soundtrack. The siren horns went off; the initial looks worn by the models were very dark, bespoke, bold pieces from a fashion standpoint. But by the show’s end, the sounds and music were exquisite, and the clothing became less black and red. There was more fashion from the collection shown in earth tones of green and brown. There was a metamorphosis that took place, and along with that sense of accomplishment, that became a collective experience. That, again, goes back to my critical focus on storytelling within my showcases and seasonal collections.
Whenever I’m making a showcase, I want to create something that feels real. Not escapism, not what I often see from other peers. There is nothing wrong with that, but many artists make something to escape the world. And I’m much more fascinated by how I can capture the real world with what I’m creating. I still need to work on exactly who I’m making clothing for because the message is so broad it’s hard for me to exclude certain groups of people who might be interested in certain things because I’d like to share the message with them. The constant common denominator is always, how can I create something that looks like a struggle or scene of distraught or anguish when wearing the garment, and you embrace it. You are putting the weight of the storm on your shoulders. It could be compelling as a reminder that I’m going to wear something like this, that if I can walk into the world with something like this when the world gives me something unexpected, I’ll know how to deal with it and handle it.
Hope Dealer: For both of you guys, you didn’t have someone in your immediate circle or family tree to look at regarding entrepreneurship. How has the support and upbringing you had aided your creative ventures?
Nate & Ryan: Our parents never made us feel like we were doing something wrong. They wanted to see where we would take it, supported us through that, and held our hands as much as possible. And that’s always been a big thing for us because we’ve never felt like this was a big waste of our time; they’ve never looked at our creative interests and pursuits like that.
Our mom had the idea of homeschooling us. She wanted to raise us as much as she could. She didn’t want a daycare or babysitter to raise us, so we did the homeschooling thing. And she found a job where she could work from home, proofreading documents regarding litigation and jurisdiction. So she made her day-to-day life centered around the three of us. I, Ryan, and my sister, a theatre student right now, are the three siblings. We’re all very close and supportive of one another, and I’m incredibly thankful that our mom did that for us. It’s a big part of why we’re so okay with being occupied and staying focused on what we’re interested in.
Hope Dealer : For you, Nate, What do you see happening within your respective creative field of fashion and within the future?
Nate: From what I’ve been exposed to in my fashion program in school, the fashion industry is moving closer to custom-made, bespoke garments designed specifically for people. It’s interesting because when clothing as an industry started, we didn’t have these industrial machines where people made massive quantities of stuff. People were making their offerings by hand, and things cost more. They were designed in what was referred to as couture houses. The effluent would go into these couture houses and request pieces for these lifestyle events specifically for that individual. And that’s how the industry functioned.
Fashion shows were all about showcasing the various offerings and styles of requests given to the different companies to court other patrons to do business with these specific houses. Ives Saint Laurent was one of the first houses to really pioneer ready-to-wear garments in various sizes. And that’s what we’re so used to now. People of today are heading back in the original direction of being the only person wearing a specific garment, and there is so much more technology now to support the in-demand custom fashion market. Especially with the environmental concerns, most people are grossed out by the thought of making one thousand units of something. Consumers and designers alike don’t want to support that. So it’s becoming more customized, and fewer offerings are being created for purchase. More focus is being put on the individual and the cultures they ingrained into through the benefit of the internet, and that’s a positive element of where the world of fashion is headed.
Model Jadah Waiters, poses for a photo in the Inferno Cardigan and Quilted Pant, from the recent Inferno collection by Unshook, this fall. ( Ryan Joesph / The LA Tribune).