At a glance, it looks as if Nick Santiago and Matthew Hwang, founders of the creative agency and streetwear brand Pizzaslime, are hanging out with famous friends in a private jet.

Instead of piling the plush airplane seats with designer luggage, the cabin is filled with Pizzaslime pillows printed with absurd celebrity tweets from Kris Jenner (“I feel like there’s a giant meatloaf inside of me”) and Kanye West (“Naps are awesome”). The pillows areavailable for purchase on the Pizzaslime website, which is modeled after celebrity gossip site TMZ, for a mere $45 — that is, when they’re not sold out.

In reality, though, Santiago and Hwang are in a bare-bones Boyle Heights photo studio, which has been made to look like the interior of a private plane. And the celebrities? They’re cardboard cutouts. The space is rented for cheap by social media influencers and wannabes who want to appear to be living the jet-set lifestyle of the rich and semi-famous, and the whole setup is an example of the internet-infused irreverence that has made Santiago and Hwang and their brand popular.

The two started Pizzaslime in 2013 and have since become buzzed-about hired guns in the world of online marketing. In recent years, they’ve made inroads into the fashion world, almost by accident, releasing cheeky printed sweatshirts and tees that have caused a stir online. Take, for example, a pair of Champion sweatpants they dropped two years ago featuring the line, “Stop looking at my …,” printed in capital letters across the crotch. The sweats have since gone viral on TikTok and been worn by singer Billie Eilish. (For sale on Pizzaslime’s website are an $80 rhinestone version of the popular sweats as well as other “Stop looking …” apparel.)

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The Crocs and Pizzaslime sling bag collaboration.

(Pizzaslime)

Molly Wilhelm, director of product line management at Crocs, says, “They understand culture and the millennial, Gen-Z consumer so well.”

After the Crocs-as-cross-body-bag was released last year, Crocs has continued to work with Pizzaslime on strategy and product, a relationship that appears to be working.

In October, GQ ran a story headlined “Crocs Are Cool Now.” “What we love about [Pizzaslime] is that they have a knack for the virality of things,” Wilhelm said. “They’re authentic fans, so they understand our brand and why consumers are having a heyday with it. The ideas they come up with? We’re like, ‘What? Where did you pull this from?’”

Pizzaslime founders Matthew Hwang, left, and Nick Santiago hang out at a product photo shoot.

(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

While the pandemic has led to business woes for many, Hwang and Santiago have been expanding the scope of what Pizzaslime could be. In March, they announced they were starting an imprint with Diplo’s music label, Mad Decent. “Pizzaslime is a movement — they are ruthless, cutting-edge and crazy on top of culture,” Diplo said in a press release. And an Amazon Prime animated series, “Fairfax,” has been given the go-ahead for two seasons.

However, it’s the latest product they’re working on that hints at bigger and more visible ambitions. It’s a hoodie with the brand’s logo across the chest. Does this mean no more memes? Turns out there was a hunger from fans, and who are Santiago and Hwang not to answer?

“We’re extremely behind-the-scenes,” Santiago said. “We don’t want to have our faces on it. We’re trying to do more branded stuff because people are asking for it. There’s actually a real home for it.”

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