Clothing brands can sometimes be the thing we look for to set our styles apart from each other. But, for some, a brand and the clothes we wear can be what brings us together. Particularly wolves.
Photos by Jordan Randall
Drew Willz lives by this motto: “Community involvement can catapult you.”
Born and raised in New York, Willz came to Florida at a young age. Growing to love his community, he attended college and started a clothing line here in Lakeland. What was once a groupchat idea quickly became an up-and-coming brand widely known to the community.
With a degree in graphic design from Keiser University, Willz had a passion for fashion design. “It’s another form of art and expression,” he says. With this dream in mind, he reached out to three friends to join in on this goal to create a new brand and fresh style. Husband and wife duo, Nicoli and Mela Luther, along with his friend CJ all quickly jumped on the brand idea for a future company.
The team was eager to combine their creative strengths to create a forward-thinking streetwear brand that felt rooted in local culture. With such a small team, there were many roles to share. As the process began, each member developed the part of the business that best suited them. With Nicoli and Mela moving to Miami, it expanded the brand’s market. Nicoli became the project manager, dealing with day-to-day operations and each new design that they produce. Mela brought a fresh female perspective to the brand, as well as well as innovative marketing ideas. CJ takes care of all the finances, and works with Drew as they launch new projects and designs.
LAUNCHING THE BRAND
After six months of planning and brainstorming, the brand made its debut in May of 2017. Wolves Never Ask Permission (WNAP) aspires to represent family and unity, at the same time inspiring people to take what they want — don’t ask, but take your dream into your hands. “[Wolves] live and hunt in packs. That’s what we do. We are a pack, and we wanted to spread that message with a brand people could relate to,” says Willz.
Starting with a hoodie, WNAP began selling at a rapid rate on their website. With the first product gaining traction and popularity with their community, the team thought why not create more? They started branching into different types of clothing including hats, T-shirts, and denim jackets. “We may not get what we want until 10 years from now, but we have to be willing to stick it out,” says Willz.
A COMMON MESSAGE
Because the team originated in Lakeland, Willz wanted to make sure that the local community had the opportunity to experience the brand and its message before they attempted to expand its customer base. This strategy, in addition to his New York sensibility, gives the clothing line a young, fresh, but functional personality while remaining accessible to his Lakeland audience. When talking about the brand’s influence, Willz shared that high school students often respond to the brand. As they frequently get emails asking about modeling opportunities, one student said, “What you guys are representing is something that I stand for. I have people who pick on me at school, and this [company] is empowering.” For the team, it’s all about sharing a common message: “Wolves hunt and live in packs. That is the point; we stick together.”
WNAP is taking big leaps. As of October, 5th and Hall, a local boutique that caters to young, fashionable Lakelanders, welcomed the brand to showcase some of their products. But it doesn’t stop there. Being a part of the Saturday morning Lakeland Downtown Farmers Curb Market and going to different showcases around the state, WNAP’s goal is to build a following and highlight Lakeland in the process.
They built a shirt campaign around this idea. The shirt states, “Thou Shalt Not Buy Fake Followers,” and it started as WNAP was doing research on other brands. Many of the large following companies had “fake followers,” per se. These followers were empty accounts, or barely active accounts, but WNAP wanted to step out with a bit more depth as a brand. “We want every follower to be a real person that we can connect with. We want a pack of wolves.” Thus, they launched their now ever-growing fan base, where they use popular Instagram models to help promote the new clothes. Their main promotion outlet is word-of-mouth. They want genuine hype from the community in helping spread the word about the company.
Using Instagram models and having ambassadors for the company are the main focus as far as media. When speaking on marketing, Willz states, “We are not going to put all of our money into one person, because what happens when that person fades out? The brand fades too. So, if it is just everyday people, it will last the test of time.”
The focus is brand identity versus brand exposure. It all comes back to the community. Willz says, “I want to see us in a Vogue magazine, and in the corner it says, Made in Lakeland. It’s all about bringing it back home … our friends, family, and community.”
GAINING THEIR WOLF PACK
As the company continues to grow and the brand gains momentum, the team is planning on showcasing their products in a design show in Long Beach, California, at the beginning of 2018. “I want to show California what these Lakeland boys are made of,” says Willz.
The key to this brand is the mash-up between being influential clothing and streetwear with high-end design. They focus on bringing a diverse culture to the clothing in a way everyone can relate to the brand. Looking to other companies for inspiration, WNAP is watching how other local businesses, such as Born and Bread, and 5th and Hall, market themselves and collect their audience, and then playing off what they learn.
Building off the present momentum, WNAP is launching a Season 2 collection which will feature your already favorite T-shirts in new colors, three new washes of denim jackets, and a new collaboration with an artist in London. This collaboration involves an illustration of a wolf in a samurai pose as a graphic shirt, as well as a WNAP vertical graphic in Chinese writing. To keep some of the surprises intact for the Season 2 launch, you’ll have to check out their website.
The overall heart behind the brand is to influence. Willz, who has a two-year-old son, wants this brand to be a way that his son can see that you can have a career in design. With Willz’s grandfather also being in the graphic design field, Willz wants his son to be inspired to be creative in whatever way possible. His goal is to have WNAP have an essential item in a GQ shoot, or be seen in New York on a celebrity. “I want the message of what we’re doing to get out,” he says.
Any way to reach the community and tie Lakeland together is a win for WNAP. As of now, they are working on expanding, doing pop-up shops in the downtown area, and gaining their wolf pack. “[Being in Lakeland and seeing all the businesses] really makes it seem like it’s possible, if you just stay committed to your community and put out great product,” says Willz.
“We at least have to accomplish this before we get there,” says Willz, with the mindset that they are tackling Lakeland and then branching out to other markets. What better way to represent the 863 than with a clothing brand that highlights the character of Lakeland, community, and unity.