CMO Jason Brown Talks NTWRK's Spotlight on Black Creators, Virgil Abloh, & Elevating Diverse Voices
NTWRK, the premier live stream shopping platform, is doing more than merely providing a stage for established and burgeoning creators during Black History Month. Though the emphasis this month is centered on their Black History Makers initiative, they’ve been home to world-class minority creative producers around the globe since their launch in 2018. Furthermore, NTWRK strives to educate and back the next generation of Black creative leaders by donating to the Virgil Abloh “Post Modern'' Scholarship Fund, created in 2020 to promote equity and inclusion within the fashion industry by providing scholarships to students of Black, African-American, or African descent.
We sat down with NTWRK’s CMO Jason Brown to discuss the unique platform the company provides to multi-diverse creators, the personal encouragement he received from the late Virgil Abloh, and the importance of elevating underrepresented creative communities.
For those that may not be familiar with NTWRK, how would you describe it? I know it's a live stream shopping platform.
So, you are correct. We definitely are a live stream shopping platform that blends commerce and entertainment via the live stream that we have on a daily basis. But I think what separates us from the other live stream platforms – because there are other handfuls that exist – we constitute ourselves as the most curated as we work with world-class creators across the globe.
So, on some of the other live stream platforms, anyone can literally go on and just start selling whatever they want. Whereas we're working with the best creators in the world. So, that's everyone from Takashi Murakami, Sean Wotherspoon, Ben Baller, Sheron Barber, Shantell Martin, Roger Gastman, and literally people that are curating art shows like Basel or the Hamptons. I don't know if you saw what we did with Interscope and their 30th anniversary. So, I think that's a perfect example. With Interscope, we're celebrating their 30th anniversary and reinterpreting some of their most impactful albums. So, how dope is that to have KAWS reimagine what a Snoop Dogg album can look like, having Damien Hirst reimagining an Eminem album, and Kehinde Wiley reimagining a Dr. Dre album, a limited vinyl set in a Gucci box exclusively only available on NTWRK? So, I think that caliber of creator, product, exclusivity, and that experience is what really sets NTWRK apart from not only just other e-commerce platforms but the other live stream platforms as well.
That's very cool. How do you all determine which creators to approach?
I'd say that it's very similar to the exercises that a curator at a museum would go through. There's a combination of an amazing merchandise team, our marketing team, even down to our executives who just have a long history within the art space, within the streetwear space, and within music. There is sort of this synonymous alignment as it relates to who we collectively think makes sense and also taking into consideration feedback that we get from consumers and just paying attention to the landscape of culture. I think you, out of all people know. You've had your finger on the pulse of culture for a very long time. And when you hear Kehinde Wiley, it just makes sense. If you know, you know.
Absolutely. For the Black History Month initiative, I noticed there are pillows by Wale and boots by Rico Nasty. So how did that all come about?
So, these are also just relationships that we have. One of the things that I'm really big on is partnership. I want the relationships that we have – whether it's an individual person or a brand – at NTWRK, we refer to them as creators because they're creating something. Wale is the perfect example of a partnership where he had a new song coming out, and we wanted to be integrated into the video. So, it was the video for “Tiffany Nikes.” So, we're integrated into that video. So, then we said, ‘Hey, Wale, it would be great if we could actually give NTWRK consumers a chance to win a pair of Tiffany Nikes that you're talking about in the video; and make it even better than that, we'd love to have you on NTWRK as well to sell an exclusive product.’ So, when he does his episode on NTWRK, not only is he going to sell an exclusive pillow that he made with Diamond Supply Company, they'll also announce the winner of the Tiffany Nike giveaway that we're doing as well. So, it's a great example of partnership and as being able to deliver an experience to our consumers where they're going to be live with Wale, getting to chat and ask a question, somebody who's going to win a really cool pair of shoes, and you have the opportunity to purchase this limited-edition product.
That’s amazing and exciting! This gives an opportunity not just for the artists but also for their fans to connect with them. So, it's a meaningful partnership.
Absolutely. That’s the thing we really try to deliver, and a word that I'd hone in on is ‘experience’ because anyone can go on and double click someone's picture. But it's totally different when you get to be in a live episode and ask a creator what their inspiration was when are they coming into their town, but then you can also purchase something and actually leave that experience with a tangible physical product that is not necessarily mass-produced and has that level of exclusivity.
Got it. I also noticed you’re slated to donate to the Virgil Abloh “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund. How did you all determine that you wanted to partner with this initiative?
So, in all honesty, I think it's two things. One is personal. I got a chance to get to know Virgil, and he was just someone that I personally really, really admired. He also just inspired me. He’s one that talked me off the ledge before and also pushed me to keep going. I feel like I have that same responsibility for not only my nieces and my nephews but also young people of color, who are aspiring to be a designer, a creator, an architect, whatever it is that they want to do.
So, there was the personal part of it, but then, also, you just think about the legacy that he left. When you think about how he was trying to make sure that once he was gone that he was continuing to inspire a generation through this specific program. So, the thought just popped in my head, ‘If we're celebrating the current generation of Black history makers right now, how do we also put ourselves in a position where we can put some money where our mouth is to continue a legacy and align ourselves with the person who has already done just that?
That's amazing. I didn't know you had ties with Virgil. So, what's a piece of invaluable advice that you received from him?
It wasn't so much of something enlightening that he said. When I felt that I wasn't living up to the expectations that I have for myself and him reminding me of the impact that I'm making, how many people I'm inspiring, and how we're going to try to do things together. So, it was really just the same sort of advice that you'd get from your neighborhood friend, just that really simple reassurance that you're doing the right thing. You just need to keep on doing it. So, it was really more so about reassurance via the validation of the conversation.
That's encouraging. We all have been there in a certain mindset and someone helping us off the ledge. Lastly, how do you use your platform to elevate diverse voices even outside of Black History Month?
It's a combination of two things. One, I mentioned who we constituted as those world-class creators, right. But in the same token, we assume the responsibility for making sure that we're looking for – whether it's a woman of color, whether it's a young male of color, whether they're in Louisiana, whether they're in California – who's next. I think we can argue that the four people that we're featuring for Black History Month on NTWRK, they’re the pillars of the program and aren't huge names. But we do feel like in a year, two years, whatever, they could be the next Kehinde, or they could be the next whomever you want to call it. I think it's really more so about us making sure that we're not only focused on the people that have already made it, but we're paying attention to the artists that are on the cusp and just continuously keeping our eyes and ears out in terms of who we feel like could be next—and then using NTWRK as a platform, whether it be on an everyday basis or via a specific program like Black History Month, AAPI, or Pride.