In 1989, Camella Ehlke was a 19-year-old art school dropout with a passion for sewing who launched her pioneering streetwear label, Triple 5 Soul, out of a storefront apartment on Ludlow Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Triple 5 Soul’s tie hats and piecework hoodies quickly garnered the attention of rappers like Pos of De La Soul, appeared in trendy magazines like Paper, and had fashion-forward customers from Japan filling their suitcases with the brand’s wares. Ehlke’s store became a hub for Downtown New York’s creatives in the ’90s and Triple 5 Soul represented the energy emanating from the Downtown New York club scene. By 1996, Triple 5 Soul grew to become one of New York City’s first major streetwear powerhouses, opening stores in Los Angeles, London, and Japan.
“Honestly, I don’t know how I did it. But I definitely winged it and it was a hustle,” Ehlke tells Complex from her studio in Brooklyn. “I honestly got lucky by partnering with someone, even if he did eventually turn out to be a toxic human being. We make these deals with the devil and it became 80% business and 20% creativity.”
After entering into a partnership that compromised Triple 5 Soul’s creativity in favor of commercial profits, Ehlke decided to leave the brand in 2004. Like many other streetwear brands of the ’90s, Triple 5 Soul eventually died out. But in January, the brand’s Instagram made a surprising post revealing that Ehlke would make her return to streetwear as Triple 5 Soul’s creative director again.
“My main purpose to come back with the brand really sparked during COVID when I was sewing and making a lot of stuff,” says Ehlke. “I was talking a bunch to Virgil Abloh about it and he just said, ‘You gotta get on your sewing machine again. You gotta start telling these stories and let the youth know about the legacy and history of this brand, because it’s really important.’”
Complex had the privilege and pleasure to speak with Ehlke about what Triple 5 Soul’s upcoming relaunch will look like, stories about New York City in the early ’90s, her thoughts on streetwear today, and more.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.