WORDS: Stu Gomez // Photo: Messex
Seven years ago, Jermaine Edwards was flipping through the dictionary, looking for a perfect word that encapsulates his streetwear/skate brand. When he landed on “utmost,” he knew he had a winner; it essentially means “the greatest.” How could you lose?
Edwards started UTMOST Co. in 2011 with his friend, Tom Hart, showcasing their apparel designs that stay true to the skate aesthetic. Three years later, the duo opened a store in downtown Richmond, Virginia (this month marks the Richmond store’s third anniversary), on ultra-cool Broad Street.
Having a background in design and retail, it didn’t take Edwards long to find the ideal location for UTMOST’s brick-and-mortar outlet. “I was working at this store called Round Two and I would always see this store across the street,” he remembers. “I was like, that’s going to be my store.” During this period, both Edwards and Hart were working for HUF in Los Angeles and bounced back to Virginia to make the store happen.
With the success of UTMOST’s flagship store, Hart and Edwards eventually made plans for their next potential location, in the vast skate metropolis of Los Angeles, but the process was a little more complex the second time around. They dipped their toes in the water on Melrose Avenue for some pop-up stores, with promising results, but their landlord ended up being the standard LA opportunist—“We were trying to renew our lease and he was like, ‘Nah, Im’a keep it’,” Edwards says—and eventually the guys had to set up stakes somewhere else. They landed on a neighborhood with way more flavor and authentically weird scenarios than they could’ve found at a million Melroses: Downtown Los Angeles, land of the freak and home of the craze.
“It’s perfect, for real,” Edwards says. “I like walking out the door and seeing the city. This kind of reminds me of a smaller New York.” UTMOST’s permanent LA location, at Seventh and Main Streets, is across the street from the city’s sketchiest Chinese food and the local “goth” ice cream spot (think black cones), and a half-block away from the former Hotel Cecil, famously the scene of a grisly unsolved murder a few years ago (the body was found in one of the building’s water towers, immortalized in a recent season of FX’s “American Horror Story”). So, yeah, this neighborhood is already the utmost of weirdness.
Like UTMOST’s Richmond store, the LA location also offers specially designed collab products, skate gear, and items from their homies’ brands. And in keeping with the history of shops as hubs for skaters to hang out pre-, mid-, and post-sesh, UTMOST has a cavernous basement where locals watch videos, and even skate, among the Uline boxes, bubble wrap, and other e-commerce ephemera (UTMOST operates a thriving subterranean online sales division).
As UTMOST dives further into the LA skate scene, Hart and Edwards already have plans to put together a new video and continue working on establishing a solid presence, putting together a team and maybe someday sponsoring contests. Judging from the impact the store has had on Downtown Los Angeles, UTMOST is already living up to its name since the crew first opened the doors in March. But that doesn’t mean that the brand has reached its peak. Contemplating the long road ahead, Edwards recognizes that there’s still work to be done.
“Man, the way I feel about this shit is that there’s always room for improvement,” he says. “Business is crazy, but this is sick. I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”
UTMOST Co. is located at 111 W. Seventh St., Ste. R1, Los Angeles, CA. 90014
Visit UTMOSTCo.com for more info.