We were recently able to catch up with Jeffrey Zeppieri, founder and designer of the Boston-based clothing and apparel brand, Farewell. Jeff formalizes his ideas, experiences, and influences by using clothing as a direct extension of his mind. Jeff discusses with us his past, inspirations, process and more.
Tell us about the background of Farewell?
The whole thing started about three years ago, but it wasn’t very serious. It was just a word that rang out to me. I started drawing a bit because I was doing tattoos at that point. I began doing some traditional design tattoos and I was putting the word Farewell next to it. I made one series of tees and then it just died out.
To get dark quick, my best homie that I grew up with killed himself last December. From that point forward the word farewell and the existence of it just felt like so much more. It was like a parting gift to him. After that, I had much more emotion to pour into it.
That summer I printed the first Jack Nicholson tee in exchange for manual labor. A friend of mine was opening a print shop in Connecticut in this rundown building, and the parking lot was all fucked up. He told me if I came and cleaned out five parking spots, he’d print a series of tees for me. He ended up only printing me 16 XL Overlook tees. That was before I understood things like juxtaposition and really what I was trying to do. I had found that image a year prior and thought it was just really dope, gritty and spooky.
I then released the tan tee that following December and reached out to a few people from Bodega; Mikey, Nae Santana, as well my boy Sarek. Then I put them online and a bunch of them sold so I started to really take it serious.
A lot of your work seems to have a strong influence from music.
A lot of the music that influences me, is music that is currently influencing a lot of people. For instance, I grew up listening to The Cure, Black Sabbath, and a bunch of new wave of British rock because my Dad was obsessed with it. Now all these brands are blasting Robert Smith and Morrissey. It’s obvious why they’re doing it, these people are the greatest. But I have so many designs I want to do but, other people are starting to do it so I’m a bit hesitant.
Like the Morrissey/Hennessy shirt that I released. I was sitting at Charlie's Kitchen drinking a beer and there was a Hennessy mat at the front of the bar and I realized I could flip that into Morrissey. I’m always looking for logo flips. That’s what Sam Straws put in my mind. I made that shirt but didn’t have enough money to get it printed so after awhile I finally had enough bread to get it done. A week later Supreme announced that they were going to release the Morrissey photo tee. That’s when I realized there’s a lot of music I want to incorporate in my clothing, but maybe there’s some stuff I just can’t.
Music, photography, video, writing, people like Charles Bukowski and Hemingway inspire me too. On the same breath as Gil-Scott Heron, saying things raw and the way it is, is what I enjoy in art. So naturally I congregate to the, “darker” stuff if you want to call it that. Some people deem it as “darkness” even though it’s really just people telling the truth.
In many of your pieces there is a pattern of cultural icon portraits such as Jack Nicholson, Gil-Scott Heron, Oliver Bernard, etc. Can you touch upon these ideas a little bit.
That Oliver Bernard image was taken by John Deakin. I just fell in love with that image, it’s an amazing portrait.
Everyone, I hope, has seen The Shining. If you haven’t, you’re fucking up. Everyone has seen that image of him through the door, but in this one he’s just looking at you all googley eyed and shit. It just looks purely evil.
In regards to Gil-Scott Heron, that’s just another whole sub-genre of music that I love that’s different from that gloom and doom rock I’m always listening to. In the rawest, most un-cut form, Gil-Scott kinged that section of soul music. Pieces of a Man is one of my favorite albums. I was listening to a show he did in ‘78 and hearing to him talk to the crowd the way he did was one of the craziest things to me at such an early time, he pioneered the egotistical “Kanye West” arrogance so beautifully.
Does your upbringing in Connecticut bring anything to the table?
Connecticut is a weird fucking place. If my family didn’t live there, I don’t know if I would go back. I have a handful of close homies that are still there doing their shit, and have found their niche and ran with it; and that makes me so happy. But for the most part, when I go back it’s like people are zombies now. It’s seems like everyone has some type of addiction to something, and it sucks to see. Going back there after I lost my close friend, is really weird. I lost touch with a lot of other people so when I go there it’s really just to see family.
Not even a month ago, a homie of mine overdosed on heroin. That was like the sixth or seventh person I know in the past year that has overdosed on something. The opioid crisis down there is so fucking bad and it’s just disgusting.
That’s why I made that ‘Hometown Heartbreak’ shirt. The front says “Hero In Disguise”, and it’s a play on words with “Heroin Disguise.” It’s like this mask that people are putting over themselves.
And in their own right, I don’t know if there is enough help for people that are addicted. It’s a bit hard for me to go back and see people and things deteriorating.
You mentioned you’ve done work that’s tattoo-inspired, but how did you get into art and designing in general?
I came into all of this through graffiti. I had a homie from Hawaii that put me on to graffiti in high school. We became close friends and then two weeks later he got bagged and ended up owing the state like $6,000 and having all this crazy probation over his head.
From there I started painting on canvases. I was doing a lot of unrealistic, heavy line-weight based paintings.
My first year of college I went to school for Illustration and I just did not fuck with it. So I ended up switching after my second year into Art Therapy and Teaching. I started working with kids and low-income children in the South End and that was awesome. Unfortunately, there is no money in that. No one wants to pay you for working with these kids but if I stand behind a bar I can make $25 an hour; it’s ass-backwards.
How did you get acquainted with the creative scene in Boston?
I met my boy Spire who is a nasty graff writer, and he took me around to places to paint and introduced me to people. My second year living here I used to see Sam Straws in passing at his apartment, one day we chopped it up and from there Sam became a really close friend of mine. Meeting him opened my world up to the shit in Boston I wanted to be in.
If you look at Straws as a brand, you realize that his mind does not work like anyone else’s on this planet. He is a brilliant creature and is now like a brother to me. So much love for that dude.
Much of the work is cut and sewn, hand dyed, etc. How involved are you in the process of making?
My girlfriend was going to school for photography and she was taking an alternative process course and she was learning how to do cyanotype prints. She was learning it in class and then coming home and showing me; and then we realized that we can do it on clothes.
Over the summer her and I just started messing around with finding exposure times and seeing how long it took to make the image clear. After a ton of trial and error, her and I found a bunch of images, such as the Jack Nicholson, Gil-Scott Heron, Francis Bacon, and Oliver Bernard, then started seriously printing them for a series.
As far as the cut and sew stuff, I fucking love collage. I took a collage class in my last year of school and thought I’d try it on clothes. What’s a better canvas than a nice vintage flannel? This whole summer I set aside money and I’d go to thrift stores and I’d buy nice, thick Pendelton and L.L. Bean flannels, de-tag them and prep them for printing.
I found this great tailor on my block. She’s this 60 year old Chinese woman and I’ll just go into the shop and sit down with her after I’ve cut and pinned everything. Then she goes in and sews. She kills it, she’s so good and she’s been doing it forever.
What kinds of projects do you want to work on in the future for Farewell?
I want to release a whole collection of things at once. Self funding this between my homie and I really limits me to only be able to release a tee or maybe two at once. That’s cool, but I’d like to drop a tee, hat, jeans, and a jacket all at once. I have a bunch of ideas on my computer right now that I dream of making. It will come, it’s just a matter of finances and getting everything to be cohesive.
You also said photography is really inspiring to you.
Yeah, my girlfriend really made me conscious about photos and understanding what a good photo is. It’s made me more aware, especially as to what good photos can really do for product. A crucial aspect to this is good photography. My Girlfriend Danielle, Mikey, JMP, and Goodwin, those are the people that are really making shit look next level.
Let’s talk about your relationship to S/zerun Supply.
Another pivotal point for my clothing was when S/zerun Supply opened. I went in there the first day they opened and Rod showed genuine interest in what we were doing and he didn’t even know us. He has this shop that he’s busted his ass for and he just took me in and actually hit me up and told me to bring some stuff through. His shop has so much high-end stuff like Gosha and Supreme, etc so figured people would just breeze by my stuff and pick up what’s already on. But my stuff actually moves there. And it’s created this culture of kids that go there and want our stuff. It’s been the truest alley-oop that I could ever get. Shout out Rod, Super 88 for life.