Reppin’ your genteel North Carolina heritage lost its cool factor once Gabriel Eng-Goetz started walking around Durham with his hometown misspelled across his flat-brim hat.
“The motto behind the campaign is, ‘Say it like you’re from here,’” he says, referencing his iconic line of clothing that started a hyperlocal movement with simply four letters.
Eng-Goetz, 28, founded Runaway, a “Southern lifestyle clothing label,” in the summer of 2011, and was shocked by the brand’s instant popularity. What started with a hat that simply read “DURM” in block letters has become a movement of Southern pride steeped in urban flavor.
“It blows me away how much I see it now,” he says.
DURM is also getting its foot in the door outside the realm of fashion. Rappers Toon & The Real Laww feverishly rep Runaway and the DURM campaign in their music. In the song “New Luva,” Laww quips, “The only runaway you’ll see is on my shirt and hat.”
But don’t expect him to branch out to other cities anytime soon. “We’re just trying to show that we have our own scene in Durham,” he says. “Durham definitely has very Southern roots, but at the same time it has progressive mentalities that aren’t necessarily associated with the Deep South.”
It’s not that he has a beef with other cities in the Triangle, says the illustrator and designer. “If anything, we have a bone to pick with Cary,” he jokes, referring to Runaway’s infamous T-shirt that reads, “I’d rather be shot in Durham than die of boredom in Cary.”
Outside the clothing line and DURM, Eng-Goetz’s artt is trademarked by vivid colors and macabre imagery, frequently featuring skeletons and monsters (likely due to his childhood obsession with sharks and dinosaurs.) He draws inspiration from comic books of the ’90s, surrealism and the Dutch vanitas style – still life portraits presenting themes of death and the futility of life.
The two creative outlets definitely melt into one another. Runaway’s edgier, non-DURM gear, all designed by Eng-Goetz, usually includes images of sexy women, animal skeletons and even an afterlife interpretation of “Where the Wild Things Are.”
Despite the morbid quality of his art, “I’m not a dark person,” he says. “I just find dark themes and imagery more interesting.”