“Unemployed” became a common word in 2020, with millions looking to the government for financial support during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, a lot of artists weren’t able to get any assistance, either. The government deemed many of their careers in self-expression as unworthy of aid in time of crisis. It was either sink or swim for your survival.
The team at Unemployed had found themselves in the same boat as a lot of other artists. Together, they chose to swim into new waters, making waves with their Unemployed clothing line.
Leading up to their launch day, I sat down with a majority of the team responsible for Unemployed. I wanted to figure out exactly what they meant when they said they were starting a cult. We gathered at the leader’s home, and sat around a fireplace which was adjacent to a stripper pole. As I was getting set up, a tattoo artist, Angelic Rodriguez, walked in to begin her setup. She was preparing to help initiate the entire crew with a tattoo of the word “UNEMPLOYED” above the left knee. A joint or two later and we were ready to begin.
A Conversation With The Unemployed Cult
feat. Jordan Ghioni, Sam Shoemaker, James Gerde, and Jimmy Bako
Taylor: Well, hello there.
Sam: Welcome to the cult.
Tay: Will you explain this cult dynamic to me? Is the whole goal with this to be able to get as many people as possible to follow your every word and move?
Sam: I think the goal of all of this is multi-tier. Okay, so we threw ‘UNEMPLOYED’ on a shirt in burgundy because we like the way it looked. We started sending it to all of our friends, various artists, and people that are kind of counter-culture. They all really liked the way that it looked too. We were like, “Cool, we have a thing here.” But, I think more than that, what it really is, is it’s absurd. I think we live in incredibly absurd times. This taps into a certain level of nihilistic absurdity. A level that is fun and yet still subversive enough that it does make a statement.
The word “unemployed” is a kind of a stigmatized word. We live in a culture, a grind culture, where you are equated by the value of your work. I think a lot of us experienced that in the last year and a half; when we found ourselves without work in that space. There were a lot of opportunities to experience and to enjoy life, for those of us who were lucky enough to get some relief. In that, there was a realization. The things we were taught to do, the things that we are told have value, are actually horseshit.
“The things we were taught to do, the things that we are told have value, are actually horseshit.“
I think the power of this brand is that it appeals to punk rockers, it’s rock n’ roll, it’s hip-hop. It appeals to the skaters, it appeals to the artists, and the musicians. It appeals to creatives who’ve had some sense of that their entire lives but were told that that was wrong. Not only is it a cool shirt, not only do we do fun shit, not only do we want to build a big tent and bring in as many people as humanly possible into the fold, but it is something that does make a statement. It will create, I hope, generally fun controversy in various ways.
Matthew Manor for Unemployed | Photo by James Gerde
Jordan: I just don’t want to ever work a job again. I don’t want my friends to have to work jobs again. I think jobs are a scam and Unemployed, to me, is this sense of freedom. We were all kind of left hanging. It was originally funded with unemployment money, which is the general irony of it all.
COVID happened and it really was just this form of survival that we all had to go through. I think it’s something that we can all relate to in the artist community. We all kind of got fucked. No one really took care of that aspect of things. And I get it, but at the same time I think all of us were really unified in being unemployed. I think having that stigma around the word, we are kind of taking the power back from it and that’s really liberating.
Tay: So explain to me what you’re getting when you buy into Unemployed.
Jordan: Like when you buy a shirt? Yeah, so immediately you get a tattoo, a pack of cigarettes –
Sam: Newport menthols. They’re no longer in production.
Joe August for Unemployed | Photo by James Gerde
Jordan: Yeah, you actually have to be 21 in order to buy our clothes. We like to make it as difficult as possible to get our products. No, but really. Whenever you buy one of our shirts it will always come with a ski mask, that is our guarantee. When people ask us why the ski mask? Well why not? It’s fucking cool. It can be a beanie, have fun with it. It could even be a bag, patch up the eyes and the mouth.
Sam: Because ten years from now we really do actually want to have an army of people that have ski masks; and to see if we can get them to do whatever we want.
James Gerde for Unemployed | Photo by Not James Gerde
Conceptualizing The Unemployed Brand
Tay: So how did the concept of the shirt and the roll out plan you guys came up with come together to focus on the artists and creative community around Washington?
James: You guys mind if I take this? These guys called me five minutes after they had printed these shirts and said “Come over, we need to make a logo and we need your help.” So, I came over and said, “Fuck it, we’re doing this together!”
We sat down and started working on stuff. The idea for the rollout came about because we needed people to model it for marketing stuff. Then, we were like, “Well how big can we take this? Let’s get as many artists and creatives and people of every facet!” Because at the same time, Jordan and I had been working on some stuff with a photography collective and trying to build up other visual artists who don’t often get the credit that they deserve.
So, it was kind of a face of that; being how do we push up all of these creative artists that we care about, and also have it under this umbrella of things. It’s not just for people who are gonna purchase the shirts to learn about these new artists through it or the people that are already fans of them to see a cool thing. It’s also for the artists to learn about each other. There’s going to be a lot of collaboration that comes from it. They are all part of this thing that we’re trying to create.
We spent the last four months going around and just having fun. Every day was the best day ever. We would pull up on ten artists that we really really liked and we got to kick it with them, take pictures of them, and have a good time. It was a lot of work. We went to Spokane a few times for it, we’ve done a whole bunch of things with it.
Jango for Unemployed | Photo by James Gerde
“I think a big point of that is through all of this, there are people that still made it work through the void. It’s really interesting because it’s called Unemployed but it really represents all of these people that work so hard to stay relevant during this time.“
Jordan: It was such a blast to go around and see everyone. Shout out to Ryker, by the way, she’s one of our partners in this. We were actually going to launch maybe like two, three weeks ago. Ryker was like, “No, this isn’t really the truth and heart of Spokane. You guys came out here and got your friends, but let me introduce you to the people out here really working.”
I think that’s what a big thing about this was. There are so many artists that I wish we had in this. There’s so many artists that we don’t even know out here. I think a big point of that is through all of this, there are people that still made it work through the void. It’s really interesting because it’s called Unemployed but it really represents all of these people that work so hard to stay relevant during this time.
Tay: A little highlight to the entrepreneurial nature of it all.
Jordan: I don’t even know if it’s that so much as it’s the spirit of just doing your own thing. We wouldn’t chalk it up to entrepreneurship so much as just the spirit of art.
I always hear “community” tossed around a lot. Didn’t really understand what that means or what that is until we went around and we met a fuck ton of strangers who are just down to support, down to be friends, and we really got to connect with these people out here. I feel bad because Sam has been working his ass off behind the scenes to make this a thing –
Sam: I’m on a computer for ten hours a day.
Jordan: While me and James get to go and have the fun parts of it. But really, with this launch, it’s special. We want it to be the biggest collaboration that Washington has seen. It’s really important to me that our first step as a clothing company is to come out and really just show who we are.
I feel really bad that Macntaj isn’t here right now because he’s a part of this. Jimmy, god bless his soul, is the newest member of the Unemployed team, and has added so much to it. It really has been this eye opening experience of what it is to be an artist out here. I know that sounds kind of preachy but that was my experience through it.
Macntaj for Unemployed | Photo by James Gerde
“We’re not necessarily trying to be Gary Vee, just go hustle and grind until your eyes bleed… We want to find the people that are absolutely dedicated to the things that they are doing, but who maybe find that alienating because it doesn’t really speak to the core of what they are.”
Sam: It’s interesting, you said the word entrepreneurial and I think that is probably an accurate word. I think that we are very entrepreneurial. It’s a word that’s so symbolically coded and so packed with this perception of it that we truly work our asses off. We do it because we love it and we do it because we don’t want to have normal jobs anymore.
Simultaneously, we’re not necessarily trying to be Gary Vee, just go hustle and grind until your eyes bleed. It’s kind of the antithesis of that but in the same vein too. It’s like the other side of that same coin. There’s a lot of people that Gary Vee can inspire and that’s great. He can reach a lot of people with his message and if that works for you, then that’s awesome. We want to find the people that are absolutely dedicated to the things that they are doing, but who maybe find that alienating because it doesn’t really speak to the core of what they are.
Tay: Almost like a satirical take on the capitalistic success story that most Americans strive for, but you’re making fun of it in a self-sustaining way for yourselves. Which is quite honestly what most people hope for as well; to be able to take care of themselves while doing what they love, while also helping the community and moving things forward in a positive way.
Sam: 100% and I think the coolest thing about that was it was actually organic and spontaneous. This was something where we started throwing a word on a shirt and showing it to our friends and they were like, yeah, that’s cool, I would buy it.
Tay: Well, that and the whole tone of the environment because of COVID.
Jordan: It’s relatable.
Sam: It’s relatable, and it looks cool. Especially with the face masks and everything. It kind of looks fuckin hard, you know? It looks iconoclastic.
Grynch for Unemployed | Photo by James Gerde
Jimmy: As soon as he got done printing the shirts he sent me the pictures like what do you think of it, and I was just like, “Take my money.” It took four or five months for them to have cultivated and dressed their baby the way they wanted it to be seen, but I’m really excited to be on board.
For me, it was because it embodied non-conformity, it’s very new-age punk rock to me. I think just the creativity, the understanding of the system and the self expression and the combination of the three of them with the statement was just endearing to me as a lifetime hustler. I’m permanently unemployed by choice. I made that choice years ago, before it was cool. When he explained it to me I was like, “Oh I’m all in.” This is like a brand for artists, this is a brand for the culture. To me, I just couldn’t wait to get involved.
Who Are The Founders Of The Unemployed Cult?
Tay: So talk a little bit about what each of you guys bring to the table as far as your perspective mentally, as well as your talents and the things you do physically.
Jordan: It’s funny because I act all meek and shy but it’s my job to talk to people and help with spreading the word. In our bio and everything we like to say that Unemployed is a cult and our demographic that we want to represent is the punk rockers, stoners, musicians, and people up late at night following their dreams.
You know, I have a pretty extensive history in artist management and networking so there’s nothing more that I like than to connect with those people. The thing I’m most excited about isn’t just, “Oh we have a t-shirt,” it’s doing artist collaborations, doing limited runs, sponsoring their shows, having a different vehicle to support the community, not just locally. So I think that’s just really pure where were coming from.
Sam: And doing it in a way that we believe it always should be, a way that we haven’t actually seen executed. That’s the interesting thing. Jordan has been in the scene and has managed a lot of talent and I’ve always known that he had a very important and unique vision of what he thought should be done. I knew that if he ever just got into it himself and was able to execute, it’d be fucking beautiful.
Jordan Ghioni for Unemployed | Photo by Not James Gerde
Jordan: Yeah, so I kind of get to experiment and have fun with Unemployed. I treat it like, “What if this were a song? How would I promote this and how would I connect the people?” With this, in particular because it’s clothing, you just have to attack it from a different angle, you know what I mean? It has a visceral reaction, you either connect with it or you don’t and that’s okay but being able to reach and find those people that you know it does connect with is really what I guess I do.
Sam: He is the spiritual ambassador of Unemployed.
Jimmy: Our cult leader.
Sam: At least the cult face.
Jordan: The face of the cult, for sure. Sam’s the muscle.
Sam: So, he’s spiritual ambassador slash cult leader, and I’m, first of all, I’m going to take credit for it, I did say we should put “UNEMPLOYED” on a shirt.
Jordan: You did.
Sam: Which is hilarious because my fashion sense of what would be cool on clothes is fucking nothing. But, I do some digital marketing and I have some experience with the back end, I have some experience with web development and process and execution and just generally-
Jimmy: Having a big brain.
Sam: I have a big brain.
Taylor: I mean, that’s a very important thing to have.
Sam: So I primarily work with our web developer on the back end on the Unemployed website and making sure that process goes well, but also being in the conversations everyday. I am very willing to be a soldier. Some weeks I’m very willing to be a leader. Some weeks it’s like, “What does it call for?” I’m willing to do it because I want to see this thing work and succeed. So that means picking up a broom sometimes and sometimes it’s figuring some shit out.
Jordan: He keeps the machine working.
Sam Shoemaker for Unemployed | Photo by James Gerde
James: So, I’m the Administer of Propaganda. I take pictures, I make the graphics, and I make shit look cool. These guys rely on me for that, we do cool shit and I need to make sure that it looks cool afterwards. As well, we all have our own connections into the industries and I work with a lot of people so we can tie stuff together that way. It ends up being this great thing where I can push content, Sam can handle so much of the back end stuff and Jordan can just be the billboard poster child of the whole shit and it’s incredible.
We had the dream team and now we have Jimmy on board who’s like an idea, whiteboard kind of guy. We had a conversation the other day that was like, “Shit, if we need to drive out to go get a whole batch of shirts, would any of us be willing to drive multiple hours to do that?” Jimmy would do it, and that’s dedication.
Jimmy: Hey, it’s one thing you will never question. My contribution has really always been a glorified cheerleader to be honest with you. I have been contributing to the scene and on a lot of projects for over a decade.
Really what I want to do is just offer support when I see something great and then do my best to help organize, fill gaps, do the grunt work, you know? Whatever it takes to help bring a vision I believe in into fruition. I’m a bit of a flex player, I can do a little bit of all of it. I can kind of work a camera, I can fill some gaps, I can do some organizational stuff, I can set up some events. I have a little bit of experience in all of it so I can be a good assistant to each of them in their jobs.
Tay: That’s an important role to have for sure.
Jimmy: I enjoy it. It’s my favorite role to play.
Sam: I think dynamically, us two will be working together more as it scales. I’m really excited and happy about that because he has tremendous experience doing entrepreneurial shit.
The Future of the Unemployed Cult
Tay: So, how do you guys see this whole thing expanding?
Sam: Like an actual business plan? You’d have to sign an NDA.
Jimmy: You’re getting a tattoo, right?
Sam: Taylor Hart’s getting an Unemployed tattoo!
Tay: So that’s how it’s gonna go? Everybody gets an Unemployed tattoo and that’s you’re initiation?
Sam: Eventually, yes.
Jordan: It’s actually funny. So, I think the best way is finding like-minded people that rock with us. I’ve already talked to some other artists out of the state that we’re really going to think of some creative content ideas to integrate into the brand that works with what they’re doing already. On a peer to peer artist level, clothing brand level, we just want to collaborate. We love and respect what everyone is doing. The ocean is big enough for all of us. We want to find people with like minds that just want to create something special.
In another sense, I want us to be respectful disruptors. I want people like my dad to see an Unemployed mural and have an emotion or feeling about it then go home and be like, “Why’d they do this?” And I want other people that I don’t know to see it and connect and be like oh yeah, cool. We always talk about what our brand is, and to me it’s always been, and I know Sam doesn’t like this, but to me, it’s like early 2000s MTV where everything was kind of like pure and it was about music and about a bunch of friends going out.
Tay: Pure being a very loose term.
Jimmy: It was pure, but it wasn’t innocent.
Jordan: Yeah, it was about a bunch of friends going out and being able to prank each other and have fun. You know what I mean? It really was like there was this pure, and by pure I don’t mean it wasn’t dirty, but like this pure self-expression.
James: Definitely not like it isn’t dirty. We want it to scare old people.
Jordan: Yeah, we want it to scare old people. A lot.
Sam: His grandma keeps on saying we need to make shirts that say “EMPLOYED” so that we don’t look like bums, which is perfect!
Jordan: We want people to have an opinion on it, because it’s fair to have an opinion on it.
Sam: I would say we want to fuck shit up but also make a lot of friends in the process and people are going to land where they land.
Jordan: And that’s how the cults do it.
An Unemployed Cult Family Portrait | Photo by James Gerde
Sam: I think what’s really cool here is that like we’re all coming from a position where we actually do have value and we do already have something tangible to offer. And so it’s not just us hitting people up like “Hey we need this thing from you.” We can actually bring value to these situations as well.
Tay: That’s commendable because not a lot of people can do that.
Jordan: Also, he’s not here right now, but god does Macntaj have some incredible ideas.
James: Oh, the best.
Jordan: Mac’s working with us right now in brand ambassador and creative capacities and we have so many skit ideas with him that I just would never have thought of in a million years. I really cannot wait to get him more involved. The first thing that I think we’re going to do is figure out a way to have consistent media creation and we want to just bring in people to be part of that.
At its core, for me anyways, I want to bring the ‘rockstar’ back to things. I want everyone to know that it’s okay to be judged. If you’re afraid of judgement, how are you going to make your wave?
Photo by James Gerde
We have a lot of shows that we’re able to set up booths in coming up. Anybody out there who has an event, we can’t do them all, but you know, reach out. We’d love to be a part of it and help support. One thing that I can offer is show promotion. I am really good at selling tickets. You know, just reach out.
Tay: A very inclusive cult.
Jordan: It is, just reach out. If you’re like, “OMG I have this idea but I have no idea how to do it,” we want you to talk to us. I don’t want you to think of us as like a clothing company, think of us as – like I want that Rob Dyrdek dream Fantasy Factory. That’s the goal is for us; to be able to have this space or area, and not the goal in its entirety, but the next step we’re taking is having a space where we can just make fun, cool shit.
Jimmy: I really think that the proof of concept for that is like… a big shout-out to the Marshall Law Band and what they’re doing down there for Fremont Fridays. Because during Unemployed’s time there they were able to have fun. I mean he was making S’mores, he was doing all sorts of wild shit. That was really just a lot of fun. It was a great proof of concept to watch them share their brand with people and watch their reaction to it because so many different people really loved what they were up to and it solidified the direction towards this shit is really going to be a fun brand.
S’mores for Unemployed | Photo by James Gerde
James: And that’s been the biggest mantra all the way through its life. If it’s not fun then why are we doing it? It needs to be fun. Everything that we do has to stay fun. If we’re doing this, then we’re enjoying it.
Tay: Once it gets serious it’s just like having a normal job again, right?
Jordan: If I had to put one thing out there, ’cause I know everyone is coming at their art from a different direction. But we all go through dips and things where we start not liking the thing that we’re trying to achieve through our creativity. I hope, if anything, what we do with everybody at least helps them get out of that place or mindset. It’s the entertainment business, it is supposed to be fun to some degree. Somewhere along the line we decided to take it all too seriously and that’s why I feel like it hit a wall creatively.
Tay: I mean, this past year gave everybody a great perspective to take things a little less serious and be a little bit more lighthearted about life and about the things that we do, and focus more on ourselves and the things that we want to do: our dreams. Because this world is-
James: It’s all finite. It can all be taken away in an instant.
Jimmy: When you get a few billion people to realize how valuable time is all at once and you stop wasting it, it becomes…
Tay: It’s a powerful thing.
Jimmy: Yeah, it’s quite the ripple effect and seeing the different directions that people decided, solidified. Because lots of people quit all of the creative stuff and hunkered down with family and went all these other directions. The people that were really made for it called to it, worked, and grinded out this other direction. Some people weren’t able to do either and they were just like stuck because it was traumatic. It was a hell of an experience, that’s for sure.
Nobi for Unemployed | Photo by James Gerde
Sam: If we’re going to try to hit the ball, we’re going to swing really fucking hard and leave nothing behind. That’s the thing that the last year and a half really did. It actually broke my brain in a way that I had to understand how absurd and senseless so much of this shit is. Whatever I engage in is going to be 100 percent and it’s going to be weird and it’s going to be fun because it’s just not worth it otherwise. So, here we are. Iconoclastic.
Jordan: There you go. We did it!
Everyone: We did it!
Tay: Amazing! Anything else y’all want to touch on?
Jordan: Yeah, I just want to give a huge, and this is so important, thank you to everyone who was involved in helping us do this launch. Every artist, Ryker, Marshall for having us out, just everybody.
James: Just pull out the list and we’ll go through all of them. All 64 artists.
Jordan: The 64, 65+ artists involved. It really has been this beautiful experiment, and we’ve put four or five months into it so far just to have our first steps finally. Rain or shine, I’m just so excited that it’s here.
Also, shout out to all of the local clothing companies that have helped us to figure it out. I love branding but not one of us knows how to run a clothing company so thanks to Sorin, Loud Minds, Mediums, you know. Also shout out to Lucky Dog for feeding the disgusting clothing habit I have. I couldn’t be as drippy as I am all the time without ’em.
Jimmy: And a big thank you to Taylor Hart and Respect My Region!
Taylor Hart for Unemployed | Photo by James Gerde