Adam Ariagga founded the non-traditional clothing brand Foulplay in his hometown of Phoenix, Arizona back in 2012.
If you look up Adam Ariagga on Twitter, @adamariagga, you don’t learn much right away. The profile picture is a blurred face wearing a black beanie and a nondescript black shirt, drowned out by a dark, ominous background. His cryptic bio raises more questions than it answers. It reads: “Sold My Soul For Creative Control,” which sits right above a link for the Foulplay online shop, the brand he created to exert that creative control. Over email, Adam tells me his bio is his personal mantra, meaning that he is willing to give up anything to create his own reality, and he’s done just that with Foulplay.
The brand operates on its own set of rules and refuses to follow along with industry norms for the evolution of a clothing brand. Foulplay started in 2012, in Adam’s hometown of Phoenix, where he started periodically dropping items for the first two years. The name Foulplay came from mob movies and crime shows that he watched as a kid with his dad, which in that context, would mean illegal or criminal activity that causes serious damage or injury. The only damage that Adam is causing though, is to the traditional idea of how to build a brand and market it. In that regard, he’s tearing down the constructs of industry norms and paving his own path that has built him a diverse and loyal following.
Foulplay began in Phoenix, where the market for an upstart brand is small enough to squeeze the life out of it, leaving creators with two options: either give up, or relocate to a creative hub like L.A. that offers more resources and opportunities for exposure. Adam’s stubborn insistence to remain in his hometown made the path to success much harder, but also proved that his brand wasn’t just some side hustle to make a few bucks, this was his life and he devoted himself to the cause.
“Being from Phoenix and starting a brand is challenging,” Adam explained, “lead times are longer and prices for production are higher.” As opposed to starting in LA, Adam had to work exponentially harder to get Foulplay off the ground, printing almost all of Foulplay’s early pieces himself in friends’ garages to save money and time. His counterparts in LA had a much easier time, easily being able to go down to Pico and Main to buy cheap shirts, then crossing the street to have their designs quickly printed at a screen-printing shop. Adam’s appreciative of his early struggles though, and they set the tone for the brand’s growth into a Phoenix staple.
“Phoenix backs it tough, it’s amazing to see the amount of people that come out for the concept stores.. Every single time there’s more and more kids,” Adam told me. “I love my hometown and I hope that I’m someone that kids from Phoenix can look up to.” Since 2014, Adam really decided to put his head down and focus on developing Foulplay into the multifaceted brand it is now, occupying an intriguing middle-ground in the industry along with brands like FTP. He ended up making the move to L.A. and with the help of his friend Zac who runs FTP, Foulplay continued to evolve in California. After meeting Zac in 2012, their brands have both flourished, resulting in multiple collaborations and pop-up shops. Zac and Adam have a lot in common, and their creations embody the way they feel about the industry they operate in, which has essentially been boiled down to regurgitated designs and resellers turning shopping into their day jobs. The industry is an inside joke between them and they aim to prove that they can achieve success their own way.
Last year, as his brand was continuing to grow and develop a name for itself outside of Phoenix, Adam was living in a two-bedroom apartment with four other people in L.A. He was packing Foulplay orders in his kitchen and dropping hundreds of orders off at the local post office routinely. With its continuing success, the brand soon outgrew his kitchen and Foulplay returned to where it began, now being operated in a warehouse space in Phoenix. Avenues for brand exposure in Phoenix are rare, and because of the lack of space in Phoenix for a traditional, brick-and-mortar pop up shop, Adam had to get creative. Building off ideas from past mobile pop-ups put on by brands like FTP and Dertbag, Adam took it one step further and created a mobile concept store. He essentially took a 16-foot box truck and created a retail space out of it, complete with wood flooring, racks and shelving, and custom lighting that’s reminiscent of any store you’d see on Fairfax. The Phoenix community appreciated his creativity and despite grueling 110-degree heat, kids lined up for hours for the chance to take a step inside the portable retail space that’s sure to be a staple in the industry in the future.
With the help of intern Manny Cannez, Foulplay has developed an identity unique to the industry and its influence continues to spread as the clothes and designs get more elaborate. The mystery behind Foulplay and its creator is intended, so you can focus on the clothes and what they stand for, rather than who’s wearing them. Creators like Adam are pushing the envelope, testing the limits of an industry that’s been heavily-diluted by individuals starting brands for a quick cash grab. Foulplay’s beginning was far from easy, and while many doubted it would ever reach the surface, Adam proved them wrong. Now, he’s able to reap the benefits of having a brand that’s well-supported by people who understand the vision of Foulplay and respect Adam’s devotion to the brand’s identity. People all over the world are wearing his designs, from L.A to Japan, and while many would get complacent after watching their brand grow to this level, Adam’s not stopping now.
Setting his sights on helping other young Phoenix creatives, Adam has helped coordinate a photo show tour called “Fistful of Dollars,” along with Foulplay photographer Noah Gracia. Starting in December, the tour is making stops in New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, with Foulplay gear being sold at each stop. This tour marks another step in the progression of Adam’s brand, with a photo studio set to open in Phoenix early 2017. Set against so many trials and tribulations, Foulplay refused to die and is now an outlier in the industry where newcomers strive to be exactly like those at the top, who often compromise their integrity in the process. The hard work Adam had to put in early on proved that Foulplay wasn’t just another gimmick of a brand looking for a few minutes in the spotlight. It’s a labor of love that people all over the world can empathize with, and inspires other creatives to pursue their craft no matter where they come from or what stands in the way. Adam’s persistence now has his brand poised for success and the genuine passion he has for his craft has paid off, creating the reality he’s worked so hard for.