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Kansas City streetwear brand Wasteland Society celebrates 'existentialism with inclusion'

Sarah Dye-Nonprasit and Peter Nonprasit, Wasteland Society, at the 2023 Lunar New Year celebration at MADE MOBB.
Channa Steinmetz
Startland News
Sarah Dye-Nonprasit and Peter Nonprasit, Wasteland Society, at the 2023 Lunar New Year celebration at MADE MOBB.

Self-taught apparel designers Peter Nonprasit and Sarah Dye-Nonprasit created Wasteland Society in 2017, combining punk and grunge aesthetics with an emphasis on togetherness in the face of despair. It's a world view that Nonprasit embraced after getting a diagnosis of bone cancer when he was a teenager.

Wasteland Society is for the strange; those who believe that there’s no such thing as “normal”; people who recognize the reality that sadness is part of life, and that’s OK, the duo behind the irreverent apparel company detailed.

“Whenever people ask us what we stand for, I always say existentialism with inclusion,” said Peter Nonprasit, who founded the Kansas City-based streetwear brand with his wife, Sarah Dye-Nonprasit, in 2017.

“Because at some point we’re all going to die, so we need to stop being really terrible people and just try to help each other out.”

Wasteland Society combines the ideologies from punk, post punk, grunge and counter culture aesthetics — with an emphasis on inclusion, existential angst and despair.

“We recently had an archive sale that featured our previous collections, and we were pulling clothes from five years ago,” said Dye-Nonprasit. “It was cool to see how Wasteland Society’s style has evolved, but our messaging stays the same.”

For Nonprasit, his view on life has been greatly impacted by trauma he faced as a teenager, he shared. Doctors discovered he had osteosarcoma — a type of bone cancer — below his knee when he was 19.

“It’s something I’m still trying to deal with to this day,” Nonprasit said, noting that creating designs for Wasteland Society is a way for him to express thoughts on personal hardships.

Wasteland Society hats at the 2023 Lunar New Year celebration at MADE MOBB.
Channa Steinmetz
Startland News
Wasteland Society hats at the 2023 Lunar New Year celebration at MADE MOBB.

All of Wasteland Society’s apparel is screen printed in-house using water-based inks on ethically-sourced garments, the couple said — noting that they are committed to going against the grain and creating on their own terms.

“It’s definitely a labor of love,” Dye-Nonprasit said. “We print out of our garage, so whatever temperature it is outside is the temperature that we’re working in. We’re trying to figure out a better balance this year. We’ll still be printing our own stuff, but we’re going to incorporate more embroidery and patches and possibly partnering with other local businesses.”

Bad days turn into business plans

A couple months after tying the knot in 2017, Dye-Nonprasit recalled a particularly bad day of work at her previous corporate job.

“I knew I couldn’t work for someone else forever, and Peter is a graphic designer by trade,” she said. “We sat down and figured out what we wanted the future to hold for us.”

Wasteland Society’s “Generic Kansas City Sweatshirt” on sale at Shop Local KC in Midtown.
Channa Steinmetz
Startland News
Wasteland Society’s “Generic Kansas City Sweatshirt” on sale at Shop Local KC in Midtown.

“I’ve always been into clothes and design,” Nonprasit shared, explaining how his passion for apparel grew in the early 2000s as he closely followed sneaker brands and Japanese streetwear.… It went from this idea to ‘Let’s do this. Let’s invest in a business and get our hands dirty.’”

The duo taught themselves to screen print through YouTube videos, which came with successes and failures, they candidly shared.

“The first screen printing press we bought was a nightmare because it was wooden,” Nonprasit said. “There was sawdust everywhere, and this fear of getting cut on the wood.”

“We quickly sent that one back,” Dye-Nonprasit said, laughing.

Since the conception of Wasteland Society, Nonprasit knew he wanted his designs to be inspired by mental health, music and pop culture — rather than making Kansas City-specific apparel.

Despite that intention, Nonprasit’s few tongue-in-cheek Kansas City designs have been some of the brand’s most popular, he shared. A few of these designs include: a shirt that read “Bandwagoner” in the Kansas City Chiefs iconic gold and red colors, and a T-shirt and sweatshirt collection that simply reads “Generic Kansas City Shirt” and “Generic Kansas City Sweatshirt.”

“I call [the Generic Kansas City Collection] our crowned jewels; I usually hide them in the back of our racks at pop-ups because I don’t want them to be at the forefront,” Nonprasit said. “I never want to be pigeonholed, but those designs also really paid the bills and kept us going in the beginning.”

Building a community

Wasteland Society steadily grew its presence on social media in its first few years, but the couple had difficulty in finding their target audience in Kansas City, Dye-Nonprasit said.

“There was a very real moment during the pandemic when Wasteland was almost not a thing anymore,” Dye-Nonprasit admitted, noting that they opened a small storefront in North Kansas City in 2019 but had a falling out with the building owners in 2020.

“2021 came around, and we were like ‘What are we going to do?’” Dye-Nonprasit continued. “That was when Jackie [Nguyen] from Cafe Cà Phê reached out and asked us if we wanted to pop-up with her. She had no idea the impact she had on our business and how she truly changed the trajectory of where we were going.”

It all started with Cafe Cà Phê’s “Christmas in July” event in 2021, with various vendors popping up in the parking lot of Sequence climbing in the Crossroads Arts District.

“I didn’t realize that the demographic I was looking for was the demographic that supported [Cafe Cà Phê] — you know, very diverse people all of all races, orientations, ages,” Nonprasit said. “Just people who are trying to figure out who they are and being able to freely express themselves in a safe place. That is what Wasteland is all about.”

The pop-ups and partnerships continued with Wasteland Society designing merchandise for Cafe Cà Phê and other vendors — such as Devoured Pizza — they met through pop-up events.

“We truly have a great community of other small business owners, and that’s been huge,” Dye-Nonprasit said. “They have our backs and invite us to events, and I think that’s been one of the biggest parts of our success.”

‘Life shouldn’t be this hard, but it is’

The duo is looking forward to continuing to experiment and express themselves through Wasteland Society in 2023, Nonprasit shared. In early February, Wasteland Society plans to release its first collection of the new year: “A Pain That I’m Used To.”

“[It is] a collection about the acceptance of coexisting with our current existence,” Nonprasit explained. “We are forced to numb ourselves to the pain and struggles of an uncertain future. Life shouldn’t be this hard, but it is, and we have to be prepared for imminent doom sooner than later.”

Wasteland Society is also set to expand beyond T-shirts in order to offer customers a variety of products, while giving Nonprasit more creative freedom.

“We have baseball jerseys and water bottles coming out because I have clever things I want to put on there,” he said. “We made fanny packs and bags this past summer, which sold like crazy.”

“We’re going to be looking into products along the lines of lighters and ashtrays,” added Dye-Nonprasit, noting the new business opportunities created by the legalization of recreational marijuana in Missouri. “Because it’s something that we definitely support.”

The Wasteland Society duo also hopes to travel outside of Kansas City in 2023 to connect with strangers across the country, Dye-Nonprasit said.

“We’re looking at doing this really big maker [festival] called Renegade in Chicago,” Dye-Nonprasit said. “It is important for us to continue to get our name out there and continue to spread our message.”

For those who run into Wasteland Society at pop-up events, the couple encourage them to stop by for a conversation about music, movies or the meaning of life, they said.

“We are the people who were sitting on the couch playing video games 20 minutes before,” Nonprasit said, laughing. “We just want to make genuine connections with the people who want to talk to us.”

This story was originally published on Startland News, a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.

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