TROOPBy Billie Stone
When I was around 13, growing up in small town Adelaide, South Australia, the number one, must-have teen fashion essential was a ‘Troop’ hoodie. Troop was a somewhat obscure American ‘hip-hop’ street wear brand, which was also hugely popular in the underground UK Dance music scene, making it a really big hit down under.
Although Troop was known for it’s lavishly embellished high tops and out-there outer wear, these high-end items were extremely rare in Australia. The coveted hoodies in question were pretty basic in comparison, probably bootlegs, now I think about it. Made from cheap, thin jersey, printed with the distinct Troop Crown and logo –and featuring thick, cotton rope hood-ties, that hung down long in the front.
There was only one store in town that carried Troop gear –dance music Mecca, Central Station Records in Gay’s Arcade. Just down from the Mall’s Balls. As a kid -a tomboy with blonde skater bangs no less- it was a pretty daunting place to visit. Climbing the stairs up to THE elite record store, I’d be checking my shoelaces in my sneaks were just so. Those hoodies would sell out so quickly, that I never managed to get one of my own, but the ghost has haunted me forever.
Recently, feeling a little nostalgic, I started to search for vintage Troop gear –with the faint hope that an original hoodie from ’88 is still floating around. What I actually found was a bizarre and complex story of this mysterious street wear brand, full of white supremacy rumors, conspiracy theories and juicy urban legend. Troop’s history is worthy of a ‘Made for TV’ movie.
The brand was created way back in ’86, in the boogie down Bronx, by brothers Teddy and Harvey Held and their business partner William Kim. With either dumb luck, or genius marketing strategy, Troop was quick to establish itself with the burgeoning urban Hip-Hop scene. The brand’s distinct, flashy style -featuring ultra, ultra high tops embellished with big gold medallions, stonewash denim jackets with leather trim and luxurious velour tracksuits- all emblazoned with Troops signature, bold branding was embraced by the growing subculture.
Popular MC’s and Hip Hop acts endorsed the brand, most notably LL Cool J, who rocked custom Troop outfits, but artists like Ultramagnetic MCs, Public Enemy, Stetsasonic and MC Hammer were all fans of the young company. It seemed (as Kurtis Blow would’ve said) the world was theirs.
A few years into Troop’s emergence into the street-wear streets an ugly rumor began to surface. It was said that the Ku Klux Klan owned the company and that ‘Troop’ was actually an acronym for ‘To Rule Over Oppressed People’. It was also said that if you cut open the lining of a jacket, a message read; “Thank you ni**er for making us rich”. Claims were made that coded messages were also integrated into the tread of their sneakers. For a young company whose main market was African American and Latino youth, these accusations were particularly devastating. It didn’t seem to matter that the company’s founders were not White themselves -the Held brothers are Jewish and Kim is Korean.
Once sparked, the rumors spread and mutated like a virus and before long, people were swearing they’d seen LL Cool J had throw off his Troop Jacket in protest on the Oprah Winfrey show. (This is unconfirmed) In an inverted form, it was also suggested that LL was in fact himself a supporter of the KKK. In a desperate ploy to prove the rumors false, Wesley Mallory (the company’s black marketing director) sliced open the linings of five jackets in a live store demonstration. There were no such messages inside.
Despite their efforts, the company never recovered from these blows, and almost five years after their launch, Troop was bankrupt. The owners have always downplayed the effect of the white supremacy rumors, instead stating that bad business decisions and the fad like nature of the street wear industry as the main factors for their untimely demise. Rumors of internal embezzlement are still around also, but have not been confirmed by the company.
Perhaps the most interesting part of this story is the theory that Troops disappearance from the market is really just a small piece of a much larger puzzle. On Internet forums and various blogs, there is whispered talk that a powerful conspiracy exits -one, which ensures that the ‘Un-named’ companies stay on top of the ladder and get the lion’s share of the massively lucrative street wear market.
It has been suggested that these rumors have been intentionally and maliciously started by rival companies to quell the success of small, young start-ups. Back in the day, at the height of an American ‘Blood’ and ‘Crip’ gang epidemic, British Knights (BK’s) was rumored to stand for ‘Blood Killer’, in turn inciting further gang incidents. Reebok was accused of supporting apartheid around the same time. To the sneaker conspiracy theorists, it all seems a little, um, ‘convenient’.
But Troops’ story continues. Dormant since the early 90’s, it’s unexpected comeback was announced in 2007; a whole new collection of apparel and footwear–and even a new school LL; ol’ Band –Aid face, Nelly. First sporting a brand new Troop tracksuit at the 07’ BET awards, it was announced that he would be behind the brands re-launch. The company began a media frenzy, with many Hip-Hop and street wear blogs blowing up with anticipation. Images of the new releases were featured in advertisements and articles. It looked like Troop was about to be back in a big way.
In a ‘tell-all’ article in Sneaker Freaker magazine (’07, Issue 13) Randy Scurlock spoke enthusiastically about the re-launch of the brand. He gushed about the new high quality leather and materials used in the new models and some of the modern design elements. Admittedly, Troops original sneakers were not the best quality, but it was the bold, unique and OTT style of the shoe that made them a hit. It seems that these first releases were pretty tame in comparison with their iconic originals, as if the ‘new’ Troop just missed the point.
And here, the trail goes cold. I’m not sure if the actual release was a huge disaster or what, but after reading all the hype about it’s the brand’s phoenix like re-launch, things just seemed to fizzle out. Again. The official Troop website is dead, Google searches come up cold, and I can’t find any reliable stockists of the re-launch models. Apart from the on-line discussion of obsessive Sneaker Freaks, Troop appears to have vanished and once again, faded into legend.
A couple of days ago a found a lead that the SPX re-issue has finally been released…in Korea. There was no word as to its arrival or existence in the States. And, despite all my Nancy Drew like investigation, that elusive hoodie from my memories is nowhere to be found. Maybe I gotta go down to Chinatown. I’ll keep you posted.
 I can’t find an image of the actual hoodie I’m referring to, but it’s kind of like the dude’s in this video. It’s the black one with all the crowns.