Eighteen-year-old Nicole Cotto of Lindenwood likes to draw. One day she took out her pencil and a pad and sketched a cartoon — a profile of a boy, hat backwards, tongue out, X’s as eyes. She named the character “Ruthless Kidz.”
To help promote Ron Teri, an aspiring hip-hop artist from Howard Beach and Cotto’s boyfriend, she and her friend Amanda Pereira thought of putting the drawing on T-shirts and selling them at his concerts. With the help of Ron’s manager and brother-in-law James Kilkenny, she bought the equipment she needed to make the shirts and produced them to sell at the concerts.
They turned out to be a hit.
They decided to make more in various colors and sizes.and with that, Kilzone Apparel was born, joining a hip-hop clothing industry that is known for its long history of fashion staples, from tracksuits in the 1980s to large gold chains in the 1990s and brands like FUBU and Rocawear.
The name of the clothing line comes from Kilkenny’s entertainment company, Kilzone Entertainment, which manages Teri and two other local hip-hop artists, Joe D and Mason. The rappers have performed a number of concerts around the metropolitan area.
Cotto, a native of Ozone Park and a graduate of PS 232 and Robert H. Goddard High School of Communication Arts and Technology, described the goal of Kilzone Apparel to be “an urban clothing line originated from the minds of a younger generation with an old-school vibe.”
She said the T-shirt business is starting locally, with friends, family and Kilzone’s fan base as their main customers.
Recently, Cotto’s artwork received some local attention when she and Pereira manned a vending both at the Our Lady of Grace feast in Howard Beach to sell their shirts. They also gave out window decals featuring the drawing to promote it.
Now, Cotto said Kilzone Apparel is working on trademarking her drawing and creating a website to sell the shirts publicly, and eventually they hope to sell them in stores as well.
For the upcoming winter months, Cotto said they are planning on selling crew-neck sweaters, hoodies and beanies, all popular articles of clothing in the hip-hop community.