Since the mid-1990s, Che Pope has helped create some of the most indelible moments in current culture. From The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, working with Dr. Dre and Eminem on Aftermath records, to GOOD Music and helping Kanye establish his sneaker and clothing lines, Pope has been at the center of it all. And his newest venture, WRKSHP, a music-based lifestyle company based in Detroit to disrupt the music industry through an artist-centric focus, is the next, natural evolution of a career forged in innovation. With WRKSHP, Pope has the opportunity to remake the relationship between the music industry and artists into a more fair, equitable, and, yes, profitable partnership.
Pope learned the ins and out of the music industry alongside legends. He got his start working with Teddy Riley and Diddy, and Russell Simmons was a mentor. From this auspicious beginning, Pope says, “I got to see how to influence and move product.” He witnessed the rise of Russell Simmons’ Phat Farm and Diddy’s Sean John, and had his hand in helping with Dre’s tech interests and Kanye’s rise in the sneaker and fashion game.
Connecting the lines on his CV, Pope explains, “the WRKSHP backstory is just me being in the industry. From working with Dre and then working with Kanye, you see things that work, and then you see the deficiencies in the industry.” WRKSHP was created to solve a specific problem in true startup fashion to disrupt the disconnect between artists and their ability to access and accrue resources.
It’s no secret that the economics of the music industry continues to be exploitative, with major labels and streaming platforms designed to wring out as much profit as possible from an artist without investing much into artist development. As Pope breaks it down, “ [artists earn] 0.004% for every stream, so it takes an astronomical number of streams to make money.”
Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. Superstars and rare talents like Jay-Z and Billie Eilish can combine generational talent with savvy business skills to create advantageous deals for themselves. But there’s still the other 99% of artists to focus on.
This is where WRKSHP comes in. “The thought process behind [WRKSHP] is to help bridge that gap [between artists and resources],” Pope explains. Other companies exist in this space, but WRKSHP takes it a step further, defining itself as a lifestyle company. “As a lifestyle company,” Pope says, “WRKSHP is able to provide the best opportunity for artists to continue to make music by finding opportunities to earn income in other places outside music.”
As a progressive lifestyle company, WRKSHP arrives at the ideal moment to take advantage of the Web 3.0 movement. With the development and growth of concepts, platforms, and digital objects like NFTS and the Metaverse, opportunities to promote an artist and create new revenue streams are significantly expanding. “There’s just a number of ways artists can exploit their IP instead of the simple, traditional way,” Pope explains, “and that alone brings more resources to the table.”
One increasingly popular and profitable area for artists to generate hype, elevate their brand, and create new revenue streams is merchandise. WRKSHP is all over this lane, too. The company’s first collection, the WRKSHP uniform, dropped on April 26th and is available through its website and StockX.
Emma Spencer, WRKSHP’s creative director, describes the collection as a “capsule made to inspire our community to wear while working in their chosen fields.” Citing references to the brand’s evolution, the collection will focus on an unpretentious, yet elevated utilitarian style. “Our approach to fashion is definitely form and function,” Pope continues, “and we want to be a staple in someone’s closet.”
Presenting WRKSHP’s color palette of orange and black, the initial offering consists of hoodies, sweatpants, a crewneck sweatshirt, and a tote bag. Spencer says, “our first drop is very much the uniform, the bare bones of it. As we keep developing and elevating the brand, we always want people to feel like they can mix it back with some of these very essential, basic pieces.” And that’s the power and appeal of something that’s well-crafted; it becomes timeless. This is what WRKSHP stands for.
A focus on craftsmanship in WRKSHP’s apparel and its artists provides the through-line with the company being headquartered in Detroit. “We’re in Detroit, and when you think of Detroit, you think of workshops, craftspersons, people making things,” Pope says. Whether we’re talking about the birth of the auto industry, supporting the Arsenal of Democracy, or Motown’s precision in music-making, Detroit is the place where things are made, and made well.
Pope says, “Detroit still influences the entire music industry.” With so much homogeneity and conformity permeating the music industry, WRKSHP is rooted in Detroit because the city is “one of the places where they still don’t really care about what’s going on other places because they’re too busy creating something original.” LA and New York may get most of the shine, but Detroit deserves recognition for its continued influence on current culture. WRKSHP aims to be a part of the broader creative community showing the world that Detroit is the place to be, even if it’s not the place you are from.
WRKSHP’s debut collection is available now on StockX.