• For The Record: Protect Ya Neck

    Introducing the UO Music Newsletter, For The Record. Our first issue is dedicated to the art of collecting and the collectors who put in the work. Read more below. For a full look at everything the newsletter has to offer, click here

    Wu Wear, the clothing brand founded and championed by Wu-Tang Clan, was first and foremost for the fans. The line, which featured T-shirts, hoodies, hats, sneakers and more, was released in 1995, an idea formed by Wu-Tang Clan leader, RZA and the group’s executive producer Oliver “Power” Grant. Developed to contest the stock of bootleg Wu-Tang merch and out of the need for clothing that represented the wider Wu-Tang audience — and the members themselves — Wu Wear established itself as another facet of the group’s brand. At its peak, customers could purchase items from stores in New York, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Virginia and Los Angeles — eventually, department stores would go on to carry the line.

    We spoke to RZA about how he built Wu Wear into a clothing empire from the ground up — one that lives on today as one of music’s most collectable, most sought after lines.  
    Words by John Morrison, photos by Kelly Smith, grooming by Jessica Saint

    Could you tell us a little about how you came up with the concept for Wu Wear?
The original concept came from my boy Oliver Grant and myself. We always wore Polo and Tommy Hilfiger but we couldn’t really find any of that stuff in our sizes. We wanted to make something that reflected our community and our size choices. We also had military influenced stuff. We were just trying to express ourselves through our style and our clothing. 

    After Public Enemy’s “Black Man/Target” logo, the Wu-Tang “W” is probably the hip-hop logo that has had the deepest resonance outside of hip-hop culture. Who drew the logo and how did it come about?
Having a logo was part of the business. I had my DJ Allah Mathematics and another graffiti artist come up with a logo for me as a solo artist. When I formed Wu-Tang, I went back to those guys and asked them to make another logo. Mathematics had a rendition with Wu-Tang with a big cloud and a sword and it had some break dancers on it, but I looked at it and what I liked most about it was the “W.” I told him to make one with the “W” on a book with a sword, and if you look at our first single, “Protect Ya Neck,” that was the label. As I kept looking at it, I thought it’s all about that wisdom — all about that “W.” 

    And the “W” is also supposed to be a bird?
    Yeah, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. 

    We’ve noticed that the influence of the design style that Wu-Tang pioneered with Wu Wear can be seen in today’s contemporary street wear culture. Did you imagine that this hip-hop clothing like you helped create would still be influential nearly two decades later?

    Not saying this egotistically, but most things that we did we did because we felt that we were best qualified. We made a few mistakes, but we thought that Wu Wear would be the most popular urban clothing line in the world, and for awhile it was, as far as popularity and swag. Wu Wear was authentic. We took our swag and found a way to express it through our clothing.