UW-Madison sophomore Matt McManus founded Check Your Six, a clothing company specializing in streetwear. The Daily Cardinal interviewed McManus about his company, the inspiration for his clothing and keeping up with his studies.
The Daily Cardinal: Where did the name Check Your Six come from?
Matt McManus: My brother actually thought of it. My brother is my business partner ... [He] told me this name and he said, ""What do you think about
‘Check Your Six'?"" I was like, ""Oh, that's cool, but I have no idea what that means."" He explained it and what it is is a term that was used in WWII. Pilots would say, ""check your six"" to their buddy pilots and it means ""watch your back."" So I really liked it; it has an edginess to it in a way, and our brand is a little bit edgy. Some of the pieces we bring out are a little controversial, but that's streetwear and we're a streetwear brand technically.
DC: How would you describe streetwear?
MM: Streetwear really crosses over with skate, with snowboards, hip-hop and it all kind of mashes together in the counter-culture … It's an industry that isn't sold in big malls; it's an industry that's sold in small boutiques.
DC: Where would students look for your products?
MM: Online through our shop you can buy all of our stuff … Other than that our brick and mortar locations are on our site, so if you happen to live in one of those cities, you can go to one of those stores.
DC: When did you start designing clothes?
MM: I was 15 and my brother was 20 and honestly it was like a we-should-do-something-this-summer kind of thing. We didn't start Check Your Six at that time, we started a brand called Sanktuari and absolutely knew nothing … The only thing we got out of Sanktuari was experience … Check Your Six was born in '08 and we've been bringing out releases twice a year. What we're really trying to do right now is get people to hear about Check Your Six and follow Check Your Six.
DC: What is your marketing strategy?
MM: Marketing costs a lot of money. We give out stickers a lot; people see it, they put it on their laptops. We have release parties. We go to an annual hip-hop festival every year in Minneapolis called SoundSet … We contact online blogs and magazines.
DC: What inspires your designs?
MM: Music, lifestyle, I don't know, it just kind of comes. Just to give you an idea of what might inspire something, [Wu-Tang Clan] are a really popular hip hop group from the ‘90s … We had this shirt … referencing [Wu-Tang Clan rapper] Method Man. He says, ""Roll that shit, light that shit, smoke it."" My brother and I thought we should illustrate that line but we should do it in almost like a 1940s instruction manual.
DC: Who does the designs?
MM: I did all the designs for the most recent [release], but my brother also collaborates.
DC: How did you maintain the stamina to keep going with this project?
MM: We understand that nothing happens over night, you have to build relationships. But then also, we do have an ultimate hope, and that's way bigger than where we're at, so we're not going to settle for anything.
DC: How do you balance Check Your Six with other commitments?
MM: You have [to have] the mindset that it will get done no matter what. If that means I can't go out this weekend, then so be it, I'm not going to go out. But I'm going to get this done on time, on schedule, I'm going to maintain good grades, and you just make it happen. There are tradeoffs.
DC: What has been the biggest obstacle?
MM: Staying committed and keeping that belief that you're going to get those breakthroughs … Constantly, you have to remain in good spirits and hope that things turn out well.
DC: What has been the greatest reward?
MM: Support and getting emails from people who thank us on a personal level, seeing the amount of orders come. To me, that hits home in a way and also it's cool to see celebrities wearing it.
DC: What draws people do your products?
MM: I think the element of us not being another Los Angeles streetwear brand. That draws people around the Midwest … I've had people say they see my brand next to other brands, New York and LA-based, and then they say, ""I didn't really think much of it, but then I saw your phone number was 612."" But I think maybe our coastal support and international support … just enjoy the shirts, maybe they enjoy the story, maybe they just like the brand as a whole.
Matt McManus is a student in the business school. Check out his website at checkyoursixclothing.com.