Tucked away between a tobacco store and a tattoo parlor on University Avenue in St. Paul, Common Apparel is a modern streetwear brand in the truest sense. Street-style murals adorn the walls, a mounted TV plays the hottest rap videos and a few small racks display the brand’s latest offerings.
What started as a high school market research project for founder and CEO Nate Blomquist has now developed into a global streetwear brand, sold in stores across the U.S., as well as select locations in Canada, Japan and South Korea.
While Common got its start back in 2010, the brand took off in 2014. After returning from Oregon, where he worked as a skateboard videographer at Windells Ski Camp on Mt. Hood, Blomquist set up his base of operations in a warehouse in Duluth.
Nicknamed “The Carter,” a reference to the apartment complex in the 1991 film “New Jack City,” the warehouse operated as the brand’s original headquarters in Duluth.
According to Blomquist, “The Carter” served as a sort of incubator for the art and skate scene in Duluth. It was home to a photography business, a printing company and Common Apparel.
The building also housed a skate bowl, which Blomquist and Common’s CFO Colton Allen used to cover rent, charging skaters $50 a month for their own key for unlimited access to the skate the bowl.
It’s stories like this that display Common’s credibility as a rider-operated brand. The people behind the clothes are the same ones in the skate parks and on the slopes.
After being kicked out of the warehouse by the Duluth fire marshal — who was unaware anyone was using the warehouse, much less operating three businesses and a small skatepark out of it — Common moved down the road to Superior Street, where it set up its first storefront.
However, it wasn’t long before the storefront was converted into stock space due to the growing demand of business.
After deciding there was more opportunity for Common in a bigger city, it made the move to its current location in St. Paul this year.
Rather than move to a streetwear mecca like Los Angeles or New York City, Blomquist and Allen said they want to stay in Minnesota to give back to the community that fostered them.
“We’re trying to give back to our roots [and] hook up our homies who helped us out since day one. The brand is the people behind it and all the people that represent it,” Blomquist said.
With their fall/winter line already on the shelves and their spring/summer collection slated to drop in the late spring of 2020, Blomquist and Allen are working on Common’s next big milestone: its ten year anniversary collection.
With plans to revive some original designs for a “reflection line,” the anniversary collection, which they’ve named “Common X,” will be its 2020 fall/winter line.
Blomquist and Allen hope to go all out for their brand’s “tin” anniversary, with plans in the works for a huge party and a unique runway show.
Even almost ten years later, it’s still surreal for the guys behind Common to be where they are.
“It’s crazy to see a sketch in a notebook, and then it’s on a store, and then in the mall,” Allen said. “It’s pretty cool to drive down the street and see a hoodie you designed on a random person you don’t know.”