Ask Adam Kirkman when he got into fashion, and he’ll tell you he’s always been “fresh.”
The 24-year-old Baltimorean grew up admiring the skaters who frequented city streets as well as the sneakers at Gentei, a now-defunct streetwear store off Morton Street. Now, he has 300 pairs of sneakers by his mother’s estimation and his own line of skatewear, plus a budding rap career.
“Seventh grade going into eighth grade, the back-to-school clothes … that was the step into the game,” he said. “I remember telling some girl ‘I’m about to wear skinny jeans’ — she was like ‘Ew, don’t wear no skinny jeans’ — now her boyfriend probably wears skinny jeans.”
Kirkman, better known by his stage names A$AP Ant and YG Addie, is the only Baltimore native in the A$AP Mob, a rap collective based in Harlem. Additionally, he’s one of the members breaking into the fashion world via his skatewear brand, Marino Infantry.
Marino Infantry is “bubbling,” said City Of Gods owner Terrance Frazier, who collaborated with Kirkman for a concert at his Hollins Market urbanwear store. “The more popularity he gets as far as his music, his releases and the performances he’s doing, it’s driving the popularity of the clothing. That’s what he has that others don’t have.”
Kirkman grew up in Park Heights and started his clothing line around 2009, when he was a 15-year-old student at Milford Mill Academy.
His partner at the time wanted to do jeans since True Religion was “popping off,” Kirkman said. But he had a different idea.
“I was like, ‘Nah, we shouldn’t do jeans because jeans is too hard to do ... to manufacture,’” Kirkman said. “‘Let’s do T-shirts.’”
A$AP Ant and his partner, Dominic Lord, spent time designing, got a loan of $250 from his mother, Towanda Wilson, and printed a few shirts to launch their brand.
“He even had T-shirt samples coming to the house to test the quality,” Wilson said.
Adam Kirkman became A$AP Ant after meeting the collective’s late founder, A$AP Yams, online in AOL chatrooms. They connected through his brother, who always seemed like he’d be the musical one in the family, Wilson said.
“Adam was always into sports. I thought he would be more like an athlete,” she said.
But in spending time with Yams, Kirkman became more interested in rapping. A$AP Ant has a handful of his own tracks — most notably “Diamond Talk” and “Finances,” both released on SoundCloud — and features prominently on A$AP Mob’s recently released “Cozy Tapes Vol. 2.” He’s toured with the collective and put on shows locally, including at his alma mater and Charmcity Skatepark.
If he’s more known for Marino Infantry, it’s because his two worlds mesh seamlessly. In 2011, the A$AP Mob’s most prominent artist, A$AP Rocky, wore an early Marino shirt in the music video for his song “Peso.”
Kirkman and Lord, who also joined the A$AP Mob but has since left, were inundated with requests for their T-shirts, but after a falling out, the two shut down the brand right as it was gaining steam. Lord confirmed that account to The Baltimore Sun.
“I thank I God did that,” Kirkman said. “I was 18, fresh out of high school. I would’ve ran through that money.”
Kirkman revived Marino in 2015 with an eye toward skate culture. The colorful, graphic T-shirts, sweatpants and hoodies feature crossed skateboards decked in gold and diamonds. Marino Infantry is now primarily a skate brand, and though Kirkman is not a skater, the clothes he grew up wearing and the brands he admired are synonymous with the cultural space he now inhabits.
It’s only fitting, for a hometown so steeped in street culture. Streetwear, skate culture and hip-hop meld together, said Oliver Jones, who owned Gentei, the Mount Vernon shop Kirkman frequented, which closed in 2011. The store played hip-hop music and sold skateboards and streetwear.
“It’s one of those things we all grew up naturally doing — it’s second nature to all of us — hip hop, skateboarding, the streets,” Jones said.
And while skate culture is notoriously insular, the scene in Baltimore has become more accepting of outsiders, said Aaron LaCrate, who owns Bodymore Skateboard Co. and started the company to invite diversity into the city’s skate scene.
“Why can’t he?” LaCrate said of Kirkman starting a skate line. “I’m a big advocate of DIY — it doesn’t matter how you start.”
Marino Infantry is available online and in stores in Japan, and mainly worn by local skaters who have become part of a core Marino crew.
“Really, I like the culture about it,” said Dontae Benjamin, a skater from Baltimore who wears Marino. “It’s a vibe — the music that’s around it, the fashion, the skating. It’s so tied together -- you can’t have one without the other.”
But Kirkman doesn’t want to “rush it,” he said. He’s in no hurry to sell out and give Marino over to the masses. For now, he’d rather go to skateparks, hand shirts out to local skaters for free and learn more about the skate culture in Baltimore. He acknowledges that his city is a “crab in the bucket,” saying that negativity squanders anything positive that tries to break free, but thinks he can be one of the creatives to change all that.
“I want to be the Kanye West of Baltimore,” he said. “I want to let kids know if you’ve got a vision, if you’re a painter, artist, dance, sing, in marching band, whatever — you can do what you want to do, and you can make a career out of it.”