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“I Call Myself KidSuper. I Had to Be Amazing”

Colm Dillane, founder and artist, KidSuper

Colm Dillane left NYU several years ago with a math degree. But what he really learned at college can’t be summed up on a piece of paper.

By the time he enrolled to start his degree, Colm had already been printing T-shirts in his parents’ basement, selling them mostly to his high school friends. But that “business” would be the catalyst for a brand that would later catch fire with the cool kids—and become an extension of his identity. It would also take Colm and his friends on a calamitous cross-U.S. road trip to ComplexCon, an annual event attended by some of the world’s biggest names in popculture and streetwear. For more on those misadventures, check this out:

But let’s start at the beginning.

Born to a Spanish artist and an Irish fisherman, Colm moved a lot as a child, spending a few years in Wisconsin, where, he says, “you buy your clothes and your bicycle and your food in the same Walmart.” He passed his days like many other Midwestern kids, playing soccer and romping through the trees. He was creative, too, encouraged by his mother to paint.

At 12, Colm relocated to New York, where he noticed that his peers were hung up on clothes, coveting and buying brands like Bape and Supreme. “I was never, like, into clothing,” he says. “I didn’t understand how people were spending all that money.” And while he was accepted into Brooklyn Tech, a high school for students gifted in the sciences, Colm was still pursuing his childhood interest in painting and the arts. At the time, New York was an incubator for hip T-shirt design companies, and Colm grew intrigued.

But rather than blow money on high-end brands, Colm decided he’d make his own. So, at 15, he and his buddies started a company, printing pizza-themed designs on T-shirts and gifting them to friends. Colm tried getting local shops to carry the tees, but, he says, store owners and buyers were brand-obsessed. This was back when social media was in its infancy and certainly not the springboard for indie brands it is today.

But Colm and his friends had a falling out. They split the business’s meagre earnings and, during their high school graduation, parted ways. “We were, like, all gonna walk away with like $30, but we were still bickering and fighting,” he says. “We needed that one leader.”

I’m like, ‘Mom! We’re on iTunes!’

Colm Dillane

Colm enrolled in NYU where he met his best friend’s roommate, Danny—a current fixture in Colm’s entourage who killed it making video game fan sites as a teenager. Danny helped Colm launch his next venture online—simply a hat, T-shirt, and long-sleeve branded with the moniker KidSuper.

“I was this little kid that thought I could do anything,” he explains of the name. “Like no one’s gonna teach us how, and we’re gonna just work 10 times harder than everyone.” And they did. In his sophomore year, Colm spray-painted his dorm room and converted it into a shop, selling his branded clothing to fellow undergrads. “I was getting a little bit of buzz,” says Colm, who was nearly booted from his dorm for the stunt. “And I just kept meeting more people, more people, more people.”

KidSuper designer Colm Dillane greeting a fan in his booth at Complexcon.
Colm (left) says that developing personal relationships has been the key to great collaboration. Shopify Studios

One of those people was the late rapper Mac Miller. Colm convinced Mac’s friend to let him deliver some of his clothing in person, rather than send a package. “Meeting me is so important,” he says. “Like, if we’re friends, then it’s bigger. We can collaborate on more.” A month later, Mac released his second album, and the cover art featured a portrait of the artist—wearing a KidSuper hat. “I’m like, ‘Mom! We’re on iTunes!’”

KidSuper resonated with artist duo Upper West too. The NYC-based outfit featured Colm’s design’s in their 2011 music video “I Won’t Grow Up”—and the video drew more than 400,000 views. Suddenly, KidSuper had clout outside of NYU’s residence halls. “People start ordering the brand that weren’t my friends,” he says. “I was getting orders from, like, New Mexico and California, and all these places.”

Colm Dillane, aka KidSuper, painting with his shirt off, biting a paintbrush.
Colm's mom was an artist who encouraged him to paint. Shopify Studios

After graduation, KidSuper became Colm’s full-time gig—his operations moved out of the dorm and into a shop. His math degree was little more than a souvenir. But he doesn’t regret going to college, and he credits his time at NYU with introducing him to people, ideas, and himself. “You find yourself, who you really are,” he says.

Today, when you say KidSuper, you mean the brand, but also the guy: Colm Dillane. The business has morphed, though, into the kind of company Colm first started in high school—a collective of people and ideas and mediums—but this time with one clear leader.

Feature image by Michael Reyes