We Minnesotans embrace our unofficial state slogan, “Minnesota Nice.” In fact, we wear it on our sleeves–literally. Minnesota-branded t-shirts, hoodies, mugs, posters and prints are unironically beloved by the young and old–and the cool kids and regular folks–alike. We even have entire stores (Love from Minnesota, Minnesot-Ah! and Minnesota Bound all at the Mall of America) dedicated to Minnesota-themed merchandise. Long story short: We love our home state, and aren’t afraid to let it be known.
Designer Alex Smith has been at it since 2007 with his independent streetwear brand Minnesota Nice Clothing, though on a decidedly more underground bent than what you’d find at a Megamall kiosk. Over the years, the brand has been sold primarily at hip hop record store Fifth Element, at music festivals and block parties, online and through word-of-mouth. The 26-year-old St. Paul native recently relaunched the brand a couple of years after launching offshoot brand Minnesota Vice, which Smith has described as “born as the bad older brother” of Minnesota Nice and took on a more dystopian, less Minnesotan-oriented bent.
The revamped Minnesota Nice collection has been quietly rolling out exclusively at MinnesotaNiceClothing.com over the past month, its signature Minnesota state silhouette underscored by the word “NICE” reimagined in a series of eye-popping colors and patterns. The relaunch also includes the return of a few old favorites, like the “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City”-inspired “Mpls-St. Paul: Nice City” design, a redux of the Minnesota Twins shaking-hands logo, and the “Purple Stain” tank top with a silhouette of Prince and “Minnesota Vice” in Purple Rain font.
I stopped by Smith’s studio housed in a secluded Northeast Minneapolis warehouse to talk more about what Smith has in store for Minnesota Nice Clothing.
“Minnesota Nice” Yellow Tee, $19.99 at MinnesotaNiceClothing.com
Q: What was the inspiration behind Minnesota Vice?
A: In 2010, ’11, ’12, I just think there was a shift going on–everything was shutting down, and everybody thought it was the apocalypse, and there was Occupy Wall Street and all that stuff. “We Don’t C.A.R.E.”–that’s what that stuff was about. But I think the next thing is going to be taking aim at the people who are manufacturing our culture and selling it back to us. All of a sudden, you have to pay to be a rebel, or to be a counter-culture person. You pay more to be considered different. That’s what streetwear is basically geared toward selling–charging kids money to think that they’re rebelling. Kids are walking around with shirts that say “kilos and machine guns”–they’re selling us crime.
Q: Why did you decide to refocus back to the original Minnesota Nice concept?
A: It was actually Stef (Alexander, a.k.a. rapper P.O.S.) that reminded me–“Why are you not working on the Minnesota Nice stuff? People love it, and you could be making a living off that for the rest of your life if you wanted to.” And I was like, “That’s a good point.” I wasn’t motivated to do it for a while because there aren’t many cool, edgy ways to play around with the idea of Minnesota that isn’t already super obvious. Like, there’s already every sports team, every Prince reference, everything. It was getting lame and hard to do, because like, what is cool that isn’t corny about Minnesota, and how do you say that without sounding corny? The idea to relaunch Minnesota Nice came partly with that, and partly with seeing tons of people out there stealing the idea, which is fine, because it’s not really an idea that’s anybody’s–it’s a phrase and a state, it’s not even copyrightable. It was just about bringing that back, and finally coming back around to respecting how much people love this place, and how much I love this place, too, and all the other weird people out there who also love this place.
Minnesota Nice Clothing studio photo by Jahna Peloquin
Q: How do you plan on expanding the Minnesota Nice brand?
A: I’m not really a fashion guy (laughs). I mean if you see me right now you might say I’m styling, but I’d like to do something on nicer gear. I’d like to move into using fabrics that have utility, like making stuff out of 100% wind and rainproof fabric. But I want to keep it reasonable. Supreme and other companies can charge a lot of money for a t-shirt, but I’m trying not to be a bourgie streetwear brand because I think that whole genre is super lame. It’s like, there’s hipster GQ stuff, and then there’s streetwear–all of that puts you in some sort of category.
Q: What’s different about the new Minnesota Nice designs?
A: What I’ve been doing is taking the Minnesota Nice design and filling it with different patterns. I always wanted to do a recurring series of fills in the state that are somehow state associated–like for instance, Native American patterns and quilt art, and Hmong people, and Somali people–and just do a whole series of Minnesota Nice designs that are centered around groups that are not considered traditionally Minnesotan, and just really expand on that. Because that design is so simple, you can put anything on it, sort of collaborating with everybody, giving everyone their own little thing somehow–celebrating all the things that’s Minnesotan and not traditionally Minnesotan.
Inside the Minnesota Nice Clothing studio. Photos by Jahna Peloquin