This article first appeared in The Alt on May 3, 2018.
The Schenectady-based apparel line Love Yourself First, or LYF Supply, was born out of a need for affirmation–a definitive statement of solidarity, strength, and self-love shouting from carefully embroidered hats, smack dab in the middle of your forehead for all to see.
“It’s a life-supply of something good,” designer David Reali says. “We’re in the age of self-love, self-care. It’s also that fight against traditional, past generation thinking that you should sacrifice your joy or well-being for safety, security or love. In personal growth, I’ve found that self-love and putting yourself before everything else will always get you [to] the goals you’re trying to obtain.”
In addition to adding effects such as distressing to his pieces by hand, Reali does all of the embroidery himself—self-taught via “YouTube University and a lot of trial and error”—right in his living room on a Brother PE770 machine.
“I’m surprised with how much I get done with that little thing,” he laughs.
Not that this is his first rodeo. Reali has been sewing for years. Growing up, he says, “My mom was like, ‘I’m not buying you any summer clothes,’ and I was like, ‘Well, I gotta be fresh!’ As I got older, I wanted to minimize my wardrobe, so I learned how to tailor my own pants.”
And he knows how to make a clean and classic statement.
“Growing up I was an athlete and a musician but I’ve always had a thing for clothing and aesthetics,” he adds. “I have older sisters and older cousins who would always put that on me, ‘Oh, that’s tacky don’t wear that.’ I’ve always had an ear and an eye to the culture.”
Aside from working full-time at the Center for Community Justice, Reali will spend his free time sitting for hours and churning out hats. Give him an uninterrupted day and he’ll work up as many as 40 hats in one sitting.
While Reali works on several custom orders for local musicians and artists, such as Clear Mind and Ozymandias–as well as customers who contact him via social media requests–most LYF Supply designs come from his own creative inspirations.
“Whenever I’m not working—which is rarely ever—I just sit with my imagination, create something, convert it to a stitch and see what it looks like. I’ve been using my own quotes or quotes I’ve been moved by that are by other people,” he says.
When one day he felt particularly moved by the Michael Jackson’s music, he worked up a headshot graphic and sent it off to fiverr.com, an online source for freelance and small business projects. There, he is able to get an image converted to a vector that fits his embroidery machine. In addition to the pop icon, Reali has made hats depicting prominent leaders and artists of color such as Malcolm X, Tupac, Jay-Z, Lauryn Hill and Basquiat, whose image was used in a secondary collaborative project between LYF Supply and Schenectady artist Rae’ Frasier to fundraise for Miracle on Craig St. through the Paint for A Purpose program.
“It’s expression, it’s art, like painting a picture. It gives me that sense of therapy,” Reali says of the designs. “When you see it all coming out in the machine and it’s looking like you wanted it to, you’re like, ‘I’m wearing this right now.’”
The other half of his work comes in the form of sharp statements and phrases or text designs.
One minimalist design depicting a single rose in front, features an elegant scrawl of arabic text along the back, reading “Love Yourself First.”
“I love the way it looks,” Reali said. “It’s kind of like me fighting back the stigma against people who are Islamic as well. The font is beautiful and it’s always going to trigger that ‘What does that mean?’”
Another is a graphic hoodie reading, “Fuck Fake Friends And White Supremacy” — a quote of his own from his lyric writing days, that has in turn been frequently showcased on stage by artists like Clear Mind.
The iconic “With All Disrespect, Fuck Donald Trump” hat was taken in part from a Jay-Z interview last September when the hip-hop artist was asked about the president. “With all — I can’t even say with all due respect — with all disrespect,” he said on BBC Radio. It sparked Reali to design.
“I said, ‘That’s gotta be in your face.’ Fuck Donald Trump. I got a lot of backlash for that on Facebook, it was great, I loved it,” he laughs.
“There are people who I won’t even sell it to because if you don’t stand by it, you don’t need it–nor do I want you to put yourself in a position where you might get in a confrontation,” he adds, clarifying, “Not that you have to think exactly what I think but I need to know that, in this fight against the shit that is occurring—and has always occurred—you’re here with me, no matter what. Don’t support me on the low, really be there for me.”
For Reali, it’s about being just as comfortable wearing the statement piece to the local Price Chopper as you are to the Women’s March, something he has felt empowered by doing himself.
“My mom told me, ‘You should be more professional.’ I was like, ‘This is art…nobody tells me what to do with this. This is something that I stand for. Be happy you have children who are OK with making these statements. You should be proud that I’ll walk in the market with this, it’s my art.’
For the designer, at the end of the day it’s more about the expression than the profit. “If you don’t respect it, I don’t need the money,” he says. “I do need the money for the business to grow but I stand so firmly on the inspiration and the belief behind it.”
For now, his focus is on creating new, collaborative designs and building a fan base who will support upcoming work, even if current designs aren’t quite their style.
“I’m good at establishing rapport. Eventually it may lead to something but to me, more important than the sales is the relationship, you have something that will serve you far more than any dollar amount.”
You can find LYF Supply designs at www.lyf.supply and on Instagram at @david.lyf