When Your First Fashion Collection Is Flames – Literally

“We want to be a part of the celebration of Black culture. Everything we are and have created is an ode to our Black heroes,” say emerging New York designers Thermal Taveras and K$ace. “[Our] mantra has always prioritized empowering the journeys of others.”

Taveras and K$ace, who both hail from the Bronx, are the iconoclast brains behind the Whensmokeclears, a line of genderless ready-to-wear, jewelry, accessories, and footwear. Think: elevated streetwear, chunky pearl necklaces, and their signature bold patchwork World Boss leather pants, last spotted on Lil Baby on his tour. Their aim is to “bring people together” through eye-catching fashion pieces.

It didn’t come easy. The label launched in 2016, only for the pair’s first collection to be destroyed in a catastrophic fire at their New York City studio. The two founders incorporate the tragedy into their narrative, re-emerging with designs that incorporated a fire torch and a radiant heart to symbolize their ability to overcome the worst. Last year, the designers made their runway debut by unveiling their Spring/Summer 2023 collection at a New York fashion show during a two-day cultural event by MADE x PayPal.

Man wearing Cuban chain bracelet made of leather

Cuban chains from the latest Whensmokeclears collection.

One of their latest collection releases is one that took time perfecting: leather Cuban chains. “We spent a year perfecting the design, overcoming challenges and receiving multiple rejections until we finally found a way to bring the leather Cuban to life,” they told VICE.

Whensmokeclears has collaborated with a variety of celebrities since the brand’s inception, including rapper Young Thug, who they say was proactively engaged with the brand during their time together, adding that he got to know the two entrepreneurs “beyond just the clothes”.

Whensmokeclears designers in sneakers

Photo: courtesy of Whensmokeclears

“We spent a lot of time together, bowling, playing table tennis, and just hanging out. It felt like a genuine connection, and we appreciate the bond we formed,” the two designers said, adding: “Free him!”

They’ve hosted pop-ups in cities such as Shanghai and London, with future plans to continue building an even stronger international presence. We spoke to the duo about their rise to stardom.

VICE: What kind of impression you want people to get from your pieces? Thermal Taveras and K$ace: To think that we’re fun and are not afraid to wear more than one color…and make a statement with our pieces… We want that to be the start of the conversation.

**What does success feel like for you both?
**Success for Whensmokeclears is being able to create a network of people like us… We want to find other designers and rappers and put them on. We don’t want people to have to go through what we go through. If we can help somebody else out of the mud, that means more than anything.

**What does happiness look like?
**Waking up every day. Trying to figure it out. That’s happiness.

What do you envision for the future of WSC? We're going to grow as a fashion brand…[and] stay committed to celebrating our people. Our ultimate goal is to be real and inspire all kinds of people to embrace their true selves.

This story includes Black-owned businesses selected as part of Black+, an initiative by VICE Media Group and The National Urban League to support Black Entrepreneurs with free marketing and mentorship opportunities.


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