We met six Los Angeles-based creatives, part of a new wave that is shaking up the fashion and entertainment industries.
It all started around a North Hollywood skatepark, with DIY videos and printed tees. Through Illegal Civilization, the creative collective he founded when he was still a kid, Mikey Alfred achieves and exceeds all his ambitions. From touring with Tyler, the Creator to directing his own movies, by way of co-producing Jonah Hill’s "Mid 90s", acting in HBO series "Ballers" or recording rap songs. Above all, Mikey tries, falls down, gets up and keeps going relentlessly.
You are a real hustler. You started Illegal Civ at 12 years old, out of your bedroom, filming skate videos and designing t-shirts, that you would pass out in the street. Later, you went on tour with Tyler, the Creator, Frank Ocean, Kendrick Lamar, Mac Miller… and you would pass out t-shirts and DVDs in every city. And then, you raised the $1.8 million budget for "North Hollywood", your first movie, by yourself, while no distributor wanted it. Where does this grinding mind, this fighting spirit, come from?
Thank you, first of all. I like working hard. I played a lot of sports growing up, so I was always having my time filled. And I feel like I have a lot of creative ideas, so I just push it to make them happen.
Is rejection actually a motivation for you?
Rejection, normally, is just misunderstanding.
What do you mean?
For "North Hollywood" for example, when they rejected the movie, there was one company that said "We looked it up, we punched all the numbers, and we just don't think it's gonna have an audience." And a second later in the conversation, the person said "I like your shirt. What is Illegal Civ?" And I was like "Wait, but you did all the market research, right? You looked everything up. And you don't know what Illegal Civ is?" "No, what is that?" Then, when my movie did finally come out on Amazon and all that, that company had a film coming out with one of my cast members at the same time. So in reality they just had a film with someone in it from my film and they didn't want to compete. It's all good, I'd rather people just say that because that's honestly more palatable. But when they tell you stuff like this, that's a lie. You can use it as a motivation because you know the truth. And you know how to use the truth to get advantages. That's what I do.
Do you ever lose faith?
Yes, it gets hard sometimes. But then you have to remember your instincts and all that. It's there for a reason. So I try to just follow on. And I feel like that's why I'm in a good spot.
You claim very proudly that Illegal Civ is "the first teen movie studio" and I find it super interesting because teen film is a genre that is often despised…
I don’t know if I agree with that but I do feel like a lot of popular teen content doesn't necessarily speak to teens. I remember I would always watch stuff and be like "That's not me and my friends". So I want to make pieces where the audience can see themselves in it. I feel like I'm making movies for a different type of teen that hasn't really been serviced as much.
How did you come with the name Illegal Civilization? What's the story behind it?
The name came from the title of a video. It was going to be our first skate video, "Illegal Civilization".
What did skating teach you, humanly speaking?
Skating taught me about freedom. It also taught me a lot about the power of persistence. You constantly fall and have to get back up when you’re skateboarding. Lastly skateboarding taught me about the power of activity. Shared love for activities breaks down all walls of race and other things that divide us.
One of your greatest assets is your network, from Robert Evans to Pharrell Williams. How did you manage to build that network?
I built my network by meeting people, working hard, and traveling.
You are often described as the epitome of coolness in the media. What’s coolness to you?
To me, coolness is being who you are.
Authentic. Exactly. If you're just being you, that's cool. I think when you're trying to pretend, that's not cool.
Your style is very preppy-inspired, with polo shirts, cardigans, pleated pants… How did you find your fashion signature?
I went to private schools growing up, and I wore a uniform every day. Then, when I got to high school, we didn't have to wear a uniform, but we basically had to wear a certain type of pants with a collared shirt and tuck it in. Some kids didn't like it and they would fight against it, but I’ve always thought it looked clean.
I read an interview one day of someone saying that the wearing of uniform is very interesting in England because students find way to appropriate the uniform to express their personality. By shortening the length of their skirt or adding some badges, safety pins, patches… Did you also personalize your uniform?
Yeah I used to take them to a place that does custom embroidery in L.A. I would get my name on it, or sometimes a little "IC" (Illegal Civilization). I would get that on my school pants, embroidered in the same color so they couldn't tell.
What over creative fields would you like to explore?
I've done music, movies, music, clothing, hard goods, events… The kind of last thing I think I need to experience to sync it all together is how to run a 24/7 365 event. Like an amusement park, with multiple whole nights. That's the only thing I haven't done. I also want to build a big film catalog with soundtracks that match all the films. And later, give access to the amusement park any day, anytime. Whereas before it would be only once a year.
And what's next for you in the near future?
I'm working on a new film. The deadline is end of this year, but I don't rush it. I like to just let it flow natural and come out the second it's supposed to. I just make sure I'm always filming and always working on stuff. That's it.