KJ Kearney's Hanahan apartment looks like he just moved in. The walls are bare, the furniture is sparse, and most of his clothes are stored in plastic bins and hampers beside his bed. But that's just the way he likes things. On the home front, he's a bit of a minimalist, but his personal style is a little bit more complex. As founder of the blog H1gher Learning, Kearney writes about streetwear trends and dissects them on an academic level. Though he's pared down his wardrobe in recent years, it still reflects his passion for streetwear.
Sneaker Pimp. Kearney used to be a "sneakerhead," with close to 70 pairs of brightly colored, high-priced sneakers, including a custom-made pair of Nikes with his blog name emblazoned on the heels. But over the last few years, he's sold or given away more than half of his collection. "I used to be addicted," he says. "But now as I'm getting older, my priorities are shifting, and sneakers are cool, but they're not what make me happy anymore. I used to be passionate about sneakers. I couldn't care less about sneakers now, or rather the consumption of sneakers. The problem with being a sneakerhead is that you're never satisfied."
To a Tee. The bulk of Kearney's wardrobe is made up of T-shirts that he's been gifted thanks to his blog. He has one black bin that's completely full of black T-shirts, and several more with shirts from up-and-coming brands like Million Dollar Ballers, iLTHY, and Honor Roll. It's an easy way for him to help promote new companies and the streetwear scene in general.
Higher Calling. Although Kearney still loves a good pair of shoes, his passion now is writing. "My focus has been less on external things and more on the study of external things, hence the name H1gher Learning," he says. "Basically it's the only website in the world, at least to my knowledge, dedicated to the intelligent documentation of streetwear culture. And so what I do is write about clothing, but I write about it from a more academic perspective, like why do you want this shirt, why is this company so hot, what makes them tick?" That perspective has gained him plenty of followers, and he even served as a panelist at a talk about streetwear at Style X, the fashion branch of South by Southwest, last week.
Connoisseur of Cool. "The writing is just a means to what I would ultimately like to become," Kearney says. "There are people that get paid by companies lots of money to tell them, 'This is cool, this is not cool, and this is why it's not cool.' The South doesn't have a spokesman per se for youth culture. We get sold to, but we don't get serviced. What I mean by that is New York gets their own marketing campaign, L.A. gets their own marketing campaign, and with the South it's like, take it or leave it, bitches. I feel like if companies would make a concerted effort to learn the Southern shopper, it would be worth their investment. So I have to build my credibility through my writing and through speaking at these panels. I have to build my credibility with the people who write the big checks so I can be the guy that they call when they're like, 'Hey, we want to try marketing to the South specifically.'" He also plans to open a clothing store in Charleston.
Doing it for the Kids. "There are kids who live downtown who've never been to North Charleston, Summerville, Columbia," he says. "All they know is their block, and if they can't play basketball or football, they feel like they're stuck where they are, and I kind of want to show kids that you can be into a lot of things and see the world, and clothing is something that everybody's into. So I feel like kids can become empowered once they see that T-shirts can take you anywhere."