Every other Thursday, The FADER asks employees and employers at our favorite shops around the world what their most cherished in-store item is for our column Staff Affections. This week, Elizabeth Raiss caught up with Oliver Mak of Bodega, the Boston footwear mecca with the speakeasy entrance, to chat about breaking the Boston sneaker scene wide open and a former employee's bold new line, Bandalu.
Where did the idea to start a streetwear shop in Boston come from? It came about from us doing a bit of weird life travels and seeing this global thing that was going on with streetwear at the time, these pockets of people you could meet around the world that are all into in the same interesting stuff. We wanted to create a clubhouse for us, to really be able to reference that culture through product and a specific environment. It was also the turn of the century and we saw sneakers as encapsulating all those elements of youth culture, a lens to see our whole world through. It was interesting because Boston’s an international city but it didn’t really have any developed indie fuss. Like there was one really great record store in Boston proper and all the stuff that was in the boroughs, but Bodega was really well received. The name "sneaker head" can be almost like a stigma, a juvenile negative term, so for us to do both sneaker stuff and high fashion and get respect and recognition on such a high level was nice.
What about the concept behind the store’s design? We wanted to physically represent that experience of hunting for really great product. So within that scene there was like only these mom and pop shops, only a small selected few that know about and would have these sets of drops. The bodega itself referenced where sneaker culture comes from, New York in the 80’s and basketball culture. We used the bodega as a front and as a metaphor for our point of view and heritage. It also actually worked as a really great analogy for what we were doing. Bodegas are the cornerstone of the community, usually minority owned, carrying highly perishable goods. It's a good metaphor for fashion.
Can you talk a little bit about Bandulu? Pat Peltier is the designer behind Bandulu, and he actually started as someone who was just hanging out at the shop. He had a solo art show in our pop up gallery and that was the first time we hung out. He ended up working at the shop and then it just turned into a cross-pollination where he was applying his fine art to fashion and it kind of just came off real hot. We’re psyched for him. He just showed up one day with these work pants that had this wild multicolored embroidery. People were just like feeling his thighs up just to get close, you know, to try to get a taste. He makes everything by hand. It’s not about moving a ton of volume; it’s just from the heart. It’s so important for us to have something like this to balance out the Nikes and mass market bangers we carry.
What are you seeing blowing up for summer? There’s still a lot of crazy print stuff going on, everyone’s killin’ that to death. Power slides are now accepted. There’s a bucket hat for every US citizen now. They’re basically handed to you at the border and Ellis Island. I like that there’s more diversity now within menswear and fashion in general. Like, there is that wild crazy shit of explosive prints, there’s the high fashion collaborations with rappers, there’s the whole black goth movement where there’s leather inexplicably on anything. Diversity is happening more whereas men’s fashion used to be a bit more uptight, you know. When I was growing up there were more defined subcultures. Punks would be hanging out on the ferry and then you’d have mods and you’d see a couple rockabilly cats and b-boys and stuff like that. I like to see that diversity between crews, whether it’s based on music stuff or fashion. I’d like to see that again.