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Omaha Magazine

Work•Shop: where vintage and underground meet the streets

Feb 24, 2023 10:12AM ● By Julius Fredrick
work shop co-owners Stefan Drincic (left) and Trey Mathews (right)

Photo by Bill Sitzmann.

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On the fringes of the Old Market, in an alley that cuts from red-bricked 12th street to the metered pavement of 11th, a steel door leads underground. In thick, curling print, a single word overlooks the entrance: Work•Shop.

Our name, ‘work•shop,’ came from going to a hands-on creative class, a literal artistic workshop,” said store owner Trey Mathews. “We don’t want work•shop to [only] be a buy-sell-trade sneaker store in five years, we want it to be a creative hub. Think of the ‘Do Space’ for clothing. We want to inspire people to start their own brands, learn how to screen print, learn how to photograph, how to market…”

“Since its inception, [work•shop] was always about more than buy-sell-trade,” added co-owner Stefan Drincic, eyes glinting behind clear-rimmed frames. “That’s what set the ship sailing, and we really want the ship to sail to all kinds of creative waters.”

Those sails officially unfurled with work•shop’s grand opening in October 2020—a brick-and-mortar aftermarket retailer centered around rarified sneakers such as Nike SB Dunks, Air Jordans, and Yeezy’s. However, the winds and currents that brought the then 23-year-olds to that point stretch much further back, the course anything but clear.

“I’ve seen "Space Jam” probably 300 times, maybe more,” Mathews confessed. “I would watch it every night when I was like, 6 or 7. I was Michael Jordan for Halloween for three years in a row. And it’s funny, I can hoop, but I don’t watch the NBA, I don’t follow statistics […] I like it for the stylistic freedom of expression and fun. So I guess my introduction to style really started with basketball, but skateboarding is equally important as influence.”

As legend would have it, Michael Jordan was fined $5,000 by the NBA every time he wore the Air Jordan 1’s—the first celebrity-endorsed sneaker of its kind—on court. While Nike is suspected of embellishing the tale for marketing purposes, this defiant image aligned traditional sports with urban wear’s other great influences: skate culture and hip-hop.

“I was really introduced to [fashion] through skating, and the clothes associated with skateboarders. It was a natural progression, and I eventually developed my own tastes,” Drincic recalled. “And then the way men comfortably expressed what they were into [with fashion], and being open about liking how they dressed, that was uniquely brought about by hip-hop […] and that really influenced my whole perspective [on fashion].” 

Though their passions aligned from a young age, the duo wouldn’t formally connect until introduced by a mutual friend in 2018. Their chemistry was immediate, setting off a chain reaction of events that neither could’ve envisioned without the other.

“It’s almost like we’re married, like the joke is, we’re ‘partners,’” Mathews laughed. “We’ve got a lot of differences, we’ve got a lot of similarities. Our biggest benefit to how the business is run is our working relationship—because nothing is off the table.”

“Feelings are never kept inside,” Drincic affirmed. “Uber transparency has helped our relationship in every aspect.”

Their relationship was first tested with an urban wear pop-up, stocked by a merger of their personal fashion collections. Nine pop-ups later, the pair were convinced they’d found a winning formula. The trick was convincing everyone else.

“I told my mom I was signing the lease with Stefan…and she said something like, ‘that’s the dumbest thing you could do. You could go to college for less than that,” Mathews remembered. “And I said, ‘yeah, but trust me, trust me…’”

“I thought I was going to go into research and medicine after college,” Drincic said. “And then I dropped out of college and was selling clothing out [of] the trunk of my car.”

As it turned out, Mathews and Drincic were onto something. They’ve since opened a second storefront focused on vintage clothing; the space swarms with color, reminiscent of London’s Leake Street tunnel thanks to local artist Tyler Emery.

“He does pop art and murals, and he collabs with the city of Omaha,” Mathews said of Emery. “He did one of their electrical boxes; the Millworks [Commons] had him do a mural over at their new spot. He did something for the Churro Truck. He does a bunch of small businesses.

“We wanted [the second shop] to look like a tunnel a bunch of different people had hit. It turned out so crazy.”

Between their success—surpassing $2.5 million in sales to date—and Mathew’s prior experience in photography and art, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity arrived: designing a shoe for Nike.

“As the executive assistant to Severino Alvarez, the creative director of the soda company Jarritos, I was involved in the design process of the sneakers from the start,” Mathews said of the Nike x Jarritos collaboration, slated for release later this year. “Severino, or Sev, made the connection with Nike SB in 2020. I was able to bring his creative vision to life through digital conceptualization—he would share his ideas with me verbally and I would put them on a screen using Adobe Illustrator.

“This process resulted in over 10 graphic renditions with unique color-ways, material choices, and logo placements that merged the iconic elements of both brands.”

The collaboration is already generating considerable buzz after images of the kicks leaked last fall, with global media site Complex including the Jarritos x Nike SB Dunks among their “most anticipated sneakers of 2023.” 

When asked how the pair would design a hypothetical SB Dunk for work•shop, Drincic said,
“The DIY aesthetic is a part of our blood and brand…so we’d try to tell that story.”

“If we were to design a shoe to tell a story, it would have a lot of do-it-yourself elements…woodgrain, metal—the whole store Stefan and I built with our own hands,” Mathews added.
While Mathews and Drincic have certainly enjoyed the fruits of their labor—and have plans for continued expansion in the work—their success has earned them more than financial gains and big-time brand deals. It’s also provided a newfound appreciation for their home city.

“I wouldn’t know the quality and number of Omaha’s up-and-coming underground scenes, or niche, small, creative communities—I wouldn’t be aware that […] they were so prolific here,” Drincic said. “You look around and realize the spirit of entrepreneurship is all over Omaha.”

Though Omaha appears small when compared to coastal fashion meccas like New York City and Los Angeles, Mathews and Drincic are living proof that youth culture and urban wear has a found a foothold in Nebraska—and that with some dedicated workshopping, has the capacity to reach untold heights.

“I’ve always been a subscriber of the ‘dress for success’ mentality. But my definition of success is very fluid, and my daily success can be different day by day,” Drincic explained. “If I wake up one day and my definition of success is comfortability, then I’m going to wear sick-ass vintage Nike sweatpants, a sick-ass Nike vintage hoodie, and some comfortable ass clothing and that’s me dressing for success that day. I like that versatility.”

“While we [were first] talking about work•shop, I said ‘things I look for in a career,’ and it was just a little note in my notepad: ‘enjoy my work,’ ‘enough money to travel,’ and ‘no dress code,’ Mathews said.

“The ability to wear what you want, when you want—that’s freedom to me.” 

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This article originally appeared in the March/April 2023 issue of Omaha Magazine. To subscribe, click here. 
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