Culture Forward: Joe Kuma is making Sport and Fashion Collide

Joe Kuma is an up and coming personal stylist out of Vancouver. He currently collaborates with BC’s own Chase Claypool, wide receiver of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
April 15, 2021

Vancouver, British Columbia - Joe Kuma is an up and coming personal stylist out of Vancouver. He currently collaborates with BC’s own Chase Claypool, wide receiver of the Pittsburgh Steelers. As Chase’s stock and notoriety was rising over his first NFL season, it was imperative the style fit his game on Sundays - that’s where Joe comes in. 

Joe has always taken an interest in style, rooted from his mother who would always encourage him to be himself in all aspects of life, including how he looked. He then would find inspiration in some of his favorite artists, athletes and through his own revolution. Joe was born in New Westminster, BC but moved around a lot when he was a kid. He lived in New Jersey, Maryland, Floria, and Texas, which contributes to why he’s had an eye for style, but will always consider Vancouver to be home. 

His work ethic is ignited by how hard he saw his mother work his entire life. He’s grown to be super appreciative of her, his three brothers and his friends who all help keep him balanced. 

As much as he loves being a stylist, he also has big ambitions in becoming an actor and has hope of taking each venture on as far as he can. 

We spent some time with Joe to touch on his journey so far.

What drew you into fashion to begin with, was there something specific that sparked that passion?

My mother, Jacinta, is who sparked my interest in fashion. I still remember when I was six years old, I got my first pair of Air Jordan’s. They were the Jordan 13’s Flint Colorway, and I would wear them all the time, especially with my retro Orlando Magic Shaquille O'Neal jersey. 

Anybody who has experienced receiving or purchasing a brand new pair of Jordan's knows the feeling, when you open the box to when you slip them on your feet, it’s all kind of a majestic sensation. I feel like she was the person that implanted Fashion and Style into my DNA. She always pushed me to look good and present myself well cause you never know who you are going to meet and from all my baby pictures until now, I have always been drippy, so I got it from my momma.

 Who or what are some of your biggest inspirations when it comes to fashion?

Pharrell Williams was a very big inspiration for me, he really helped me to be ok with being different and unique. Growing up I was kinda of a so called geek or nerd cause I was into anime and cartoons but I always had a love for sports and entertainment as well. Pharrell was one of the first people I saw in the hip hop community who didn’t really act or dress like he was from the bad side of the neighbourhood. Billionaire Boys Club and Ice Cream are still one of my favourite brands to this day because of their big inspiration, art and luxury. Growing up I got to see and live on both sides of the tracks so it was interesting to see somebody who inspired me to be myself no matter what. Pharrell really helped me be comfortable in my own skin. 

My biggest inspiration when it comes to anything artistic is Kanye West. He has been one of my idols ever since I was 14 years old. From the pink polo shirts until the Yeezy brand, he has shown me that he fears nothing and no one. Kanye has made numerous household brands popular today, even if they weren't in the past. He reinvented the so-called dad shoe and made it cool for both men and women to wear. Mr. West is an innovator, and I believe we all should try to be one. Create your vision in a way that your audience will love and respect. 

There are two other individuals who motivate me when it comes to fashion, that's Jerry Lorenzo and Virgil Abloh. Jerry and Virgil both have gotten inspiration from Kanye West and it shows in their work. ‘Fear of God’ and ‘Off-White’ over the past number of years has elevated into two of the premier high fashion brands in the world. Alboh has created and inspired the fine arts with his work on every garment designed with Off-White. Whether it's the paint splatter, zip tie or paper clips, you can see the innovation with each created piece. Lorenzo has taken a futuristic outlook on simplicity. Fear of God utilizes an oversize look with pastel colours to generate a garment that is pleasing to the eye and comfortable to wear.

 Why do you feel that sports and fashion fuse together with such harmony?

Because if you look good, you play good, as the infamous Deion Sanders would say. As shallow or materialistic as it may sound, I believe if you present yourself well, you will feel better and more confident.

I do think it’s a competition thing too, growing up I always wanted to look good before and during my games or races. Felt like it gave me a competitive edge and if you ever played sports that all you need to get the win over your opponent.

Also, I think that it gives these athletes an outlet to actually be themselves. Whichever sport you may follow, basketball or football, these players mean so much to the game, but they mean so much more to the world and are so much more than just athletes. Some can be models, actors, artists or politicians. Fashion gives them a way to show the world the person they truly are. 

How do you know Chase? How did this relationship come about? 

Chase Claypool is the brother of one of my best friends Jacob Carvery. So basically, he’s my younger brother as our friend group is very closely knit. I first met Chase at one of his football games in his Senior Year of High School as Abbotsford Senior Secondary was playing Holy Cross. Jacob kept telling me his brother was killing it in football and was receiving some interest from schools down south. To be honest. I don’t pay it any mind because I hear about BC’s talent getting some attention from Division 1 schools all the time, but it never pans out. Then he mentioned some of the schools he was getting interest from but was leaning towards Notre Dame. Being a college football fanatic, I was surprised and kind of in disbelief, so I decided to check him out for myself. Chase played half the game due to being ejected for a questionable call by the ref, but that’s all I needed to see. The kid was far better than everybody on the field and it was apparent. The speed, the power and the athleticism was something you couldn’t teach, it was god given. After being ejected I went to the sidelines in the middle of the game and asked him what happened? Mind you, I have never met him before, he didn’t even know who I was but he told me he got ejected and I told him to keep his head up and the future looks bright for you. Our relationship grew stronger in his Junior Year at Notre Dame. Jacob’s family and I travelled to South Bend to watch the Irish take on Stanford. Getting to see the campus and him teaching us the tradition of this historic school was something I will never forget. Just taking in the environment was monumental for me because as an athlete we all dreamed about what he was accomplishing. After scoring a touchdown during the game and the Irish getting the win I was beyond ecstatic to witness somebody from my hood and that I knew personally, producing on the national stage.

I also remember a trip to Chicago to visit The Bean, Soldier Field to watch the Bears play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers after his game versus Stanford. Chase would comment on my clothes, so I knew he was a pretty fashionable guy and our conversations about style and fashion just grew deeper from there.

I knew our relationship was pretty special when he asked me to be present at his home during the 2020 NFL Draft. With only close family present it was pretty special for me to be there for him during his once in a lifetime moment. I felt so proud like my own brother was getting drafted. It was an honor to be a part of that and now blood couldn’t make us any closer. 

Can you walk us through your process for styling him?

We made it work through FaceTime, text messages and email mainly. I would call him on Monday or Tuesday after he had practice and settled in at home. I would first ask what type of fit he would like to do this week - Casual, Business Casual or Business. Then we will go through the closet to see the pieces he would like to wear for the week. I usually start with the shoes and base the outfit on that. Especially in sports the shoes you wear pre or during the game means a lot and being a sneakerhead myself it’s easier for me to see the outfit after I can see what he’s gonna wear on his feet.   

There is 100% collaboration whenever I style anybody because we are a team working together to make sure you look your best. I believe honesty means everything in this business. There may be garments or silhouettes that I believe will look good on him that he doesn’t like, which is totally fine as long as we are working together for a common goal, that’s all that matters to me. I think because we are close friends it does make it easier for us to be honest with each other. Which builds on our relationship and creates strong outfits during the season.

 How has it been managing through this opportunity amidst the pandemic? 

As we all know Covid-19 affected us all in every way possible so it was difficult to get him clothes and style him due to him being in Pittsburgh and me being stuck in Vancouver. It was very difficult because I couldn’t be there with him for sizing and such especially. With him being 6’4, 230 pounds and a size 15 shoe, a lot of things in regular stores don’t fit him, so I had to do a lot of digging online, vintage shopping, going into the retail stores with my iPhone and AirPods on FaceTime with him to get the best results when we first started. Then when the football world started finally taking notice that he really is a unique talent some really great opportunities came his way. I am forever grateful for the brands and people we got to work with this season like StockX, Sevin Karsan and obviously the Jordan Brand. Our group of friends would always talk and chat about what if Chase was endorsed by Jordan, and when it actually happened we were so hyped. I can’t wait for you to see what he has got in store for next season on and off the gridiron.   

 What goals do you have set in place for yourself?

 I had the goal this season for Chase to be the best dressed NFL rookie this season according to ‘BlitzFits’, he didn’t get that but he made the all rookie team which was pretty dope. For this season I want him to be one if not the best dressed NFL player this season. That’s obviously a tough task with numerous players in the league taking fashion very seriously but I believe that we have to inherit that mindset going forward because it will hold me accountable to ensure I’m doing everything possible for him to make sure he looks good pre and post game.I just know how hard Chase works on and off the field to ensure he is always ahead of the competition. I just want to be able to match that intensity when it comes to this styling thing cause I know I don’t expect less from him and vice versa. I would also like to style more professional athletes that are from Canada especially to show everybody around the world that we definitely got some swagger too. 

 What would you consider Vancouver’s style to be? 

Vancouver style is very broad as we have many ethnic backgrounds who reside here which make it one of the best places to live in the world. Many people from Vancouver are super athletic and outdoorsy so for the most part I would say athletic, leisure wear. However when the sun sets into the nightlife, you definitely see younger people in the brand names and high fashion outfits which is dope. A lot of people from Vancouver have great style and I am very proud to be from here.

 Can you share any lasting advice/tips you have for anyone when it comes to their personal style?  

 Whatever you do, be true to yourself, wearing a bunch of high fashion or hype items doesn’t technically mean you have style, it’s about how you layer it and how each piece looks with one another. Don’t be afraid to take risks. If that's truly what you would wear in that moment then it doesn’t matter what anybody thinks about it. Having personal style is a great way to find out who you truly are and that something you can’t put a price tag on.