The city of Boston is tinted grey. Cold and faded, the crimson bricks of 6 Clearway Street are caught in the struggle between a short winter and a premature spring. A quiet street, Clearway is home to several nondescript establishments – a brownstone apartment building, a Christian Science Reading Room, and an unassuming convenience store. In the windows of this store sit shelves of laundry detergent and toilet paper. No sign hangs outside, no welcome mat rests at the foot of the door. But every once in a while, someone walks out of the store, tightly gripping a purple plastic bag. Hanging low, the bag gently reflects the sunlight, warming the street with a soft purple glow. If you were to guess what is in the bag, you might assume Advil, Trident, maybe some Old Spice. Wrong. You would be closer guessing Nike, Barbour and Mark McNairy.
Bodega, stocked with all of your favorite rat poisons and rice cookers, is known for housing a sneaker utopia hidden behind its broken Snapple vending machine. While stocking an impressive array of limited edition feet ornaments, Bodega also carries exclusive selections from menswear brands around the world, including its own in-store line, also named Bodega. Though the line over the years has primarily consisted of small pieces, hats and t-shirt mostly, this spring presented an opportunity for the crew to share its identity with the rest of the fashion industry. Presenting the SS12 collection – a Bodega family production.
It would be foolish to think that the SS12 collection appeared overnight or even within the span of a few months. The idea of creating a complete and cohesive line has had its roots for almost as long as Bodega has been in business. “It’s been three years since we got away from just doing hats with New Era and T-shirts with local guys,” recollects co-owner Jay Gordon, who along with Dan Natola and Oliver Mak make up the triumvirate that launched Bodega in 2006. Though cut-and-sew pieces have been in their thoughts for a long time, the concept of a Spring/Summer line wasn’t fully put into motion until late last year. “There are so many people out there that want to do a line. Everybody talks about cut-and-sew and this and that, but it definitely is a process. It’s a long and difficult road. Because we didn’t come from that sort of background, the learning curve has been really sharp,” admits Dan. And for its first foray in creating a full collection, the process undoubtedly had its challenges. “We started, maybe… around last summer,” says Marvin Bynoe, one of the two Bodega designers, “We started late, [and] before you knew it we had this big responsibility to put this line out.”
Fortunately for Marvin, or Marv as he’s called around the shop, he doesn’t have to carry the responsibility of designing the upcoming line on his own. Randy Price, aka Pen Griffey Jr., posts up in the front of the store with Marv to collaborate on the creative direction of the collection. Friends since their high school days attending Boston Arts Academy, Marv and Randy share a clear rapport. For example, on one slow afternoon while a track from some wannabe Boston rapper blares from the speakers, Marv and Randy quietly vibe to the music as they work. And every once in a while, a simultaneous chuckle would escape from the two acknowledging the artist’s lyrical failures. No conversation was necessary; they were both thinking the same thing. In producing the Spring/Summer line, Marv and Randy built off of this rapport to produce something that would challenge their creative minds. “[For] the spring/summer line, we’re really trying to go for taking existing pieces that we like and mix them together with other things,” says Marv, scratching his shaved head as he thought of an example. “For instance, the bomber jacket – we wanted to mix it with a varsity jacket. Just trying to do something new.”
To Randy, the stigma between fashion and function presented a unique opportunity to challenge the status quo. “We’ve been throwing on little suede hype patches… We’ve been trying to erase that [idea] that fashion has to be useful for it to be perfect. We throw that tag on the back of a jersey because it adds a good look to it, but it doesn’t add any functionality to it,” says Randy. In addition to hype patches, buttoned pockets and African prints appear throughout the collection as pieces of flair that are more hood than Chotchkie’s.
Looking at the SS12 collection, it is apparent that despite the current trend of clothes becoming increasingly slimmer, Bodega has chosen to take an alternative route. While not ridiculously baggy, the line gives a nod to ‘90s-era stylings, featuring several items that have a much looser fit than today’s “I-wear-my-sister’s-jeans” swag. When asked to describe the line, Leo Pagkaliwangan, the store’s head buyer and store manager, says, “Baggy everything. If you see pictures [of ‘90s era bands and artists], it’s just really baggy hoodies, camo shorts, runners. It’s just a certain aesthetic that’s very unique from everything else that’s come out recently.” For Jay, it is as important to stay relevant to the current status of the industry as it is being ahead of it. “The way our line has been in the past: we’ve been about a year ahead of where everyone else is, which is really frustrating, because it sells horribly at first. And then a year later it just blows out… But once we realized that was happening, we realized it’s not a bad place to be – ahead of the curve,” he said.
While the SS12 collection keeps its color palette simple, no pattern is used more in the entire line than camouflage. Jackets, shorts, hoodies, shirts, and even tanks all feature a semblance of camo. When I asked about the ubiquitous presence of the pattern, I received embarrassed chuckles of acknowledgement from each member of the team. “We all love camo,” says Leo, himself at the time wearing a pair of camo cargo pants. “I’ve always loved camo, so has Dan. Those guys (Marv and Randy) too have always liked camo. I’ve always been obsessed with camo and military spec fabrics and products.” Even within the world of the camouflage print, the obsession doesn’t stop at a simple green and brown motif. “We’re always trying to do whatever camo we can,” says Marv, “Tiger stripe. We like it because its really intricate and the colors are really deep. We use a lot of duck camo; we created our own duck camo pattern.” To the Bodega team, the camouflage pattern is able to push the boundaries of a piece without compromising the integrity of the overall look. “Going through this whole ‘90s thing and seeing it being referenced in our pieces, like the camo guts on our stadium jacket, that whole eclectic but clean look, is what I really appreciate,” says Dan.
From the tiger stripe camo shorts to the summertime Bodega tanks, the entire SS12 collection contrasts against the streetwear shops that simply stamp their logos on a white tee. For the Bodega family, the objective is to create a piece that not only intrigues the consumer but also intrigues themselves. When I asked Marv to speak about the growing number of streetwear brands that exist in today’s market, he was quick to answer without pulling any punches. “When I look at those types of brands, I think they’re trying to feed an audience, more so. They’re targeting a certain audience. I think with us, we’re just really making things we love, things we really want to wear,” he says. In such a small market, with the inevitable overlap of ideas between brands, Bodega recognizes the importance of maintaining a unique identity and voice. Though he acknowledged the success that brands like Supreme and Undefeated have had in past years, Dan admits that Bodega can only grow by keeping its in-house, family feel alive. “You aspire to be like these companies. But the thing that we’ve always done is we just focus on us. You run into problems when you start to look at other people’s stuff. We always try to focus on us, do us, do things we like, and focus on our own aesthetic and our own style,” says Dan. To Oliver, who adds many of the graphics used for the store’s stickers and tees, this ideology spreads not only from SS12 line, but also into everything that Bodega does. “One of the earliest texts that we put out was ‘Support Your Local Bodega,’” he says, “I like the idea of that encapsulating pretty much every aspect of the line.”
With most brands located in New York or in Los Angeles, Bodega is careful in how it curates its Boston image. “Being from Boston… you’ve got this sort of, low-life Polo influence from the early ‘90s that definitely has made it’s way through our little world,” says Jay. “It’s not like out in California where everyone was a bit kitted out. In the ‘90s, everyone just sort of wore camo cargo pants and a Polo rugby,” agrees Dan, “It wasn’t like Cali surf or skate style – it was our own Northeast style.” Bold stripes on the long-sleeved shirts and the jersey patterns of the spring/summer tanks and sweaters accentuate this throwback feel. With members of the team coming from diverse backgrounds – from the hardcore punk days of Bane and Converge (Leo) to the world of hood sensibilities (Randy) – the Bodega fam brings these experiences to give an earnest and genuine feel to its product. “We want to make it a natural, organic process,” says Dan.
When the SS12 collection does drop, don’t expect to see it in any and every local retailer. For Bodega, keeping things limited is the key for a growing brand such as theirs. They are not interested in opening up branches in other cities. Nor are they interested in mass-producing their line and tagging every single stock tee and flat hat with a Bodega logo. “People get into stuff and get out of stuff much faster than they used to. But I think that’s just the nature of the beast,” says Jay, leaning on the counter that serves as the cash register in the front of the store, “I don’t think it’s a bad thing. We’re just going to have to stay above it, and we’re going to have to stay limited and have stuff that does sell out quickly. We don’t try to mass-market it. It’s not for everybody. It’s just for us.” To Jay, the decision to remain small is a logical gamble that the group is more than willing to make. “I think there’s going to be a huge backlash [against retails chains] coming up where a lot of people are going to be looking for independent lines and want stuff that not everybody has,” he says.
As the day has worn on, an early summer sun has risen to heat the chilly March morning. Typically closed shut, the door to Clearway Street’s rundown convenience store is left propped open by a green, second hand patio chair. In the front of the store, Marv sits at his customary position at the cashier working on the upcoming Fall/Winter 2012 line, while Randy is hunkered down at the small table in the front doing the same. Fresh from a cigarette break, Leo comes in, stopping to grab a drink from the refrigerator that, like any corner store, lines a wall of the shop. After taking a quick sip, he walks through the Snapple machine to head back down to work. Inside, Jay stands behind the raised cashier platform ringing out a pair of sneakers. Dan is downstairs sending out emails to potential collaborators while Oliver is in the back updating the website. Walking by any of these individuals, customers probably wouldn’t be able to recognize the designer of the fitted BDGA hat he is wearing, or even the owners of the shop of the store he is standing in. But that’s just how Bodega likes it: quietly building a brand that warms the streets of Boston, one purple bag at a time.
Words: William Yu
Images: Fiona Boyd
The line is available in-store and online.