Get Familiar: Off The Hook
As a small, independent brand, almost all our business is based on personal relationships. One new friend of the brand Angelo from Canada’s Off The Hook. They will now be carrying Patta in their OTH Old Montreal location, located within the Hotel William Grey alongside Cafe Olimpico as well as online. The brand started in 1998 and has gone on to open 3 other locations around Montreal. We caught up over a video call to tune in, catch up and get familiar with what their tastes are like in their love Hip-Hop, Arts, Music and Fashion.
Where are you from Angelo?
I’m Greek. Actually second generation Greek - born in Montreal. I actually spoke Greek as my first language until I was like 5 years old. My parents were working in restaurants so I was raised by my grandmother. Montreal is quite a Greek place, we have a big community here.
How did you discover fashion?
Streetwear was present in the 90s when I was in high school. What was really cool is that my high school was quite diverse. There were a lot of Haitians in my school who would travel to New York to see their families and go shopping. Then they would come back with Wu-Tang mixtapes. It was really like street level my exposure to fashion. I would see Starter Jackets and Starter Caps - people would get beat up for them, thank god it not like that anymore. But also the Jordans were big obviously and Phat Farm, not sure if you remember that one. But also military fatigues as well as layering with Tommy Hilfiger and Karl Kani. East Coast Hip Hop was a big influence on us. Harry, my cousin, he was my source you know, he was into cars, music, he also always had magazines. He was a music head bumping to House and dance stuff too. It's funny, we would go to raves and house parties and really just be teenagers. Felix Da Housecat came by to do some shopping last week and that was really full circle for us.
What subcultures were around when you were growing up in Montreal?
I was exposed, I tried to do graffiti but I was really bad, like really bad! Skateboarders are really important for pushin the culture forward, but what is cool about Montreal, especially back then, is the skater kids and hip hop crowd were really intertwined. It was around the same time as Cypress Hill being kinda big and everyone was bumping Snoop Dogg and there was quite a bit of weed movement so going to house parties it was one and the same. The barriers were broken down and so were the subcultures.
My only other job in Montreal, in fact one of the only jobs that I had that wasn’t Off The Hook, was doing flyers for hip hop parties. Like a promoter. Street team type work. I remember promoting for Raekwon da Chef and GZA. working on the street and then going to the show, seeing what everyone was wearing. It's like 1999 at the time.
Coming from promoting a street team, what was the transition like into running a store?
Me and my cousin Harry worked in a restaurant together, he was a waiter and I was a busboy and at the time this restaurant changed hands. The new owner was a Hip Hop promoter. Even though from seeing him you would never guess it. This guy would turn up with CDs everyday, he would give me Eminem, Cash Money Records and Hot Boys CDs to listen to, and he’d ask me what I thought. It was perplexing, like how he had so much access and knowledge of this stuff, it turned out that he was one of the oldest hip-hop heads in Montreal. He didn’t look like he was from the streets but it turned out he was managing a rap group in the 80s called MRF. So the roots were deep and Perry and his partner Rickey D at that point was putting on a lot of hip hop shows. Perry and Rickey D would bring a lot of shows to Canada and they even brought LL Cool J & Public Enemy to our high school.
Which is funny because now, 30 years later we sponsor that high school’s basketball team. Back then the hip hop stores would put their banners on stage at the shows. But the hip hop stores were kinda greedy. Like for example, Perry and Rickey D would bring A Tribe Called Quest, 2000 people at the show you know, he's done all the work then the record stores are putting their banner on stage and he would sell tickets in their stores but then every time he would go to collect the money, they would be like “Oh we don't have it”, “Come back next week”. And at one point he was like “fuck all those guys I’m gonna open my own store” so thats kinda how it happened and they brought Harry and myself me into it. It was like a bunch of promoters who were sick of the way things were going, so they went and did their own thing and I was happy to be a part of it. But after about a year they amicably parted ways, while my cousin and I continued the store. So really how we got in was because of the music and the shows that were happening. Being a part of that and then also bringing in brands into Canada like LRG and Zoo York. We were the first store in Canada to have Akademiks and Rocawear. So for me, I was like 18 when all of that was happening. I even think we went to New York and had a meeting with Raekwon’s brother to bring in Wu-wear. But really our way in was smooching with a bunch of promoters and doing things our own way.
It all sounds familiar because this is similar to how Patta started. With our roots deep in hip hop and our founders meeting through the hip hop scene. There is a lot of correlation between streetwear and sneaker culture. It always finds it links to the music industry and people who listen to specific kinds of music will find each other through the way they identify themselves.
I was always a big fan of Patta because I remember following Team Patta members on their socials and there were a lot of times when you would promote local rappers and local talent from the Netherlands. And I always thought that was very humbling and that is something we do here, we try to support rappers and DJs from our local scene. I was always a bit of I guess what you would call backpacker back then. The larger rappers were cool but I was seeking out something a bit more obscure, a bit more left field and just a bit more unique.
The local scene really kept us alive. The community that Edson and Gee built really held it down because it was all word of mouth. We didn’t run any adverts. The original idea with the store was the ground floor was a gallery, first floor would be the sneaker store and above that we had an office where Piet Parra worked.
It's funny to hear you say that because I remember this, I never came but I remember this, everything looked so big from the other side of the world.
So how many stores do you have now because Off The Hook has been going on for quite a while.
We have three stores and then another one in collaboration with Vans. All our stores are in contrasting neighbourhoods and they all carry different energies. The Vans store is 10 years old now. They approached us 10 years ago to have a space where they could specialise on Vault by Vans stuff as well as their lifestyle stuff. We had many Vans collabs too such as OTH x Vans x Chuck Hughes Black Crabs, OTH x Vans x Raised by Wolves, OTH x Vans Deli Edition which were really well received by the public.
What is the difference in the vibes in the stores?
We curate all the space differently. I'm quite strategic so each store is aimed at a different type of person. Patta is going to launch at our OTH Old Montreal location, right by a very famous cafe as well. We want the brand to live in this location. One of our other stores in the Plateau area which is more running focused and our Downtown location is all about high energy and that really for the kids. We try to tailor the experience quite well without micromanaging things. So when we hire staff we look at their charisma and their style, we also really look into what kinda music we have and the artwork and layouts we set up in store, we want it to make you want to come to the shop because of the vibe not just the product.
And you guys do your own apparel?
We do our own line of Off Hook Apparel and we also do a project called Ringleaders, which is a soccer team that I run. We make T-shirts, Shorts and socks, the team is mainly made up from local industry people, DJs and artists and it's really pure. I think it could survive as its own brand. We are lucky enough to be able to manufacture domestically because Canada is a great place to manufacture and a lot of industry leaders are here. I feel like the two can coexist.