Over the past ten years, Benny Gold has established himself and his brand as San Francisco streetwear staples. In the process, Benny’s sense of design and brand image has garnered him praise and a legion of supporters that proudly display their screenprinted gliders.
On a warm Tuesday afternoon in August I find myself in a light speed walk down 6th Street in San Francisco in search of a pawn shop storefront with absolutely nothing related to pawn within. I am running thirty minutes late for a sit down with Benny Gold at his distribution location and I fear the rate of pace I am walking at may lead me to overlooking the storefront. After passing a seedy hotel and an even seedier adult video store, I arrive at a location with large pane glass windows that look like they might have once showcased an array of pawned, possibly stolen goods. The words ‘Paid in Full’ cover one of the window panes in blood red paint and I therefore draw the conclusion that I have arrived at my destination. Instead of the paint stained windows housing an array of items available for sale, they house an array of air plane toy gliders, along with other mementos that tell a story about the business within. That business within is the product of graphic designer Benny Gold, and that product has roots and history in San Francisco that make this downtown location a perfect fit. I walk through the doors to find a few employees hovered over delivered boxes and rummaging through the contents. I garner a few concerned stares from the employees before asking for Benny. One of the employees lets out a yell for him and a few seconds later he is walking towards the front of the store flanked on both sides by two fully stocked, ceiling high warehouse shelves.
We exchange greetings, I apologize for my tardiness and he takes me on a tour of the space that doubles as a distribution center as well as an office space. Towards the back of the building begins a creative space that looks like it belongs to a designer of Benny’s caliber. Six Mac desktop monitors sit on collaborative desk space and clothing mockups litter the walls. “Here is where we craft our cut and sew collections,” Benny says as he points to a table with covered with garments and even more printed mock-ups. I can barely hear what he says over the glaring rock music that has been flooding the building since I walked in the door. I think Benny senses it is a bit too loud to conduct an interview so he leads me down a set of cement stairs that lead into the basement of the former pawn shop. After showing me around the basement that also houses a product photography studio and additional storage space, we settle onto two chairs to begin our talk.
I begin with the generic question of how he got his start designing, and his answer leads to a two foot tall crafted wooden logo leaning against the wall that he created for the clothing brand HUF, who Benny started designing for before he founded his own brand. The logo is strikingly geometric and consists of linework that spells out ‘HUF.’ I would have never guessed he designed this logo due to the fact it is so geometric, and if you are familiar with the Benny Gold brand, you know geometric line work is not commonly present. It seems that every piece of clothing Benny has designed up to this point has a signature, hand crafted design aesthetic that has put him in a lane of his own. A lane that does not conform to current trends or to the norms of streetwear. Benny’s design work has always contained an attention to detail and craftsmanship that can only be attributed to a graphic designer. With the background of a formally educated designer mixed with a kid who grew up in the skateboard scene, Benny Gold has crafted his brand that displays the influence of both. High quality illustrated graphics combined with the skateboarder mentality has culminated into a clothing brand that emphasizes the importance of staying true to your self, growing up without growing old, and a DIY work ethic. Benny stays true to this mantra, as he has lived it, and strives to keep it alive through his releases.
You can find his clothing on the back of the hardcore streetwear junkie yet also on the 30 something year old who will always have a love of graphic tee’s and cut and sew garments. The Benny Gold brand offers them both, with exceptional quality and attention to detail. You can buy a t-shirt with ‘Works for Jerks’ written across accompanied by an illustration of a loafing construction worker, or you can buy a button up for your next job interview. The catering to both young streetwear heads as well as the ‘grown up’ has helped give the brand longevity and a huge following since Benny started the brand in 2006.
What started as toy airplane glider stickers stamped onto public amenities has since turned into a clothing brand with hundreds of accounts worldwide and a legion of dedicated followers. Benny Gold the brand has transcended the streetwear box and crossed over into the mass public eye. After releasing a clothing collection, Benny has the ability and connections to then drop collaborative projects with world renowned brands like Miller High Life, Jansport, and even the National Football League.
The path to the Benny Gold of today has not been an easy one, and even as I sat with Benny, he was at a major crossroad in his career. A crossroad that has the ability to strengthen his brand or effectively end it. As we sat in the basement of his downtown location, we were literally in the epicenter of the booming Bay Area economy and the sometime ugly realities it brings with it. While we sat in one Benny Gold building, there was another Benny Gold location 10 blocks away that was nearing towards the end of life as a result of the bloating and swelling of the Bay Area economy. That location is the retail store for Benny Gold, a store that has opened it doors to everybody and anybody in the scene for a little over six years. Six years of clothing releases, six years of building a foundation for the Benny Gold brand to lay upon. The looming thought of the financially forced and premature end of the brick and mortar location became a reality when the landlord let it be known that he would be increasing the rent cost multiple times over. Being a loyal tenant for six years in a place that not too long ago was an affordable location for the misfits, Benny hoped that his loyalty to the neighborhood over the years may have garnered him some leniency. He was wrong. Just like many other retail locations and families that have called the Mission District home, he was subjected to the inflating prices of rent as a result of the San Francisco gentrification that many have become all too familiar with. With soaring rent costs coupled with the sharp nationwide increase in online shopping, Benny had a tough business decision to make. “All of my friends told me to close the physical shop and to start selling solely online, but I could not bring myself to do it. I always wanted Benny Gold to be an experience, and the store presence is a big part of that,” he tells me in a laid back, calculated tone. Benny did not take anybody’s advice, in fact he did the complete opposite of what many had advised him to do. When his old location fell victim to soaring rent prices, Benny set his sights on the next phase of his career. A phase that involved the closing of one store, and the opening up of another. The Benny Gold store will be continuing business at a new location that will include not only a retail experience, but a cafe and workspace area as well. All of this is a testament to Benny and his goal of creating a space that is a a welcoming and nurturing environment for the creative. It wont be an easy task, but Benny has his work cut out for him.
As he informed me of his plans, it was clear to me that Benny was confident in his ability to spin this negative situation into a positive one. While many other San Francisco businesses were forced into closing shop for good, Benny refused to fall victim, and it is that exact mindset that has enabled him to last six years in an environment that is all but forgiving. It is that same environment that he has called home, and an environment that him and his loyal following have helped revitalize.
While the Benny Gold brand is ending one journey and starting another, the creative at the helm has his end destination in sight, and if any other obstacles present themselves, he will be ready to take them head on. Throughout all of the challenges that have presented themselves to Benny in the past years, he keeps his mentality all the same. The same mentality that he has been embedding into the very fabric his clothing for the past ten years; the mentality of growing into new experiences, doing it yourself, and ultimately staying gold.