I recently sat down with long time friend, Leo (Lance, to some) Pagkaliwangan. For those of you who don’t know Lance, besides being one of the most effortlessly stylish human beings I know, he is also the manager and buyer for Boston’s Bodega. For those of you who don’t know Bodega, it’s absolutely (in my opinion) one of the premier boutiques going right now. I talked with Lance about Bodega, the industry and life. Enjoy.
Photo: Caitlin Stapleton
How did you get involved with Bodega?
My first encounter with Bodega was in early ‘06. February of that year, I was told by Kerry over at Proletariat (Harvard Square) about a store opening up here in Boston that supposedly was “to cater to the whole Bape and Japanese crowd.” I instantly became interested since there were pretty much only a couple shops in the city at that time. Kerry gave me the address, then a friend of mine and I just headed down to 6 Clearway hoping for a new spot to pretty much give our money to. I remember coming up to what appeared to be an abandoned space, so we thought we just got pranked. After banging on the windows for a couple minutes, a tall guy — who introduced himself as Jay — came out of the door asking what we’re doing there and how the hell we heard about it. Turns out the shop was still being set up, so I’m told they won’t be open for another couple weeks — which, in turn, was a lie ‘cause I kept coming back every other week for about a couple months, and Bodega didn’t actually open until May of that year. I remember coming in after a few weeks and Dan was still hammering down the parquet floor, all the while freaking out about the stockpiles of Mishka and whether or not it was going to sell. Haha, if only things were as simple then.
I guess I didn’t officially become part of Bodega until fall of that year when I finished my job at John Hancock and needed a new place to waste my time at. Jay hired me part-time ‘cause I was still in classes at Northeastern, but I became full-time for my last co-op in early ‘07, which would eventually lead to a full-time gig when I finished school in spring ‘08.
Bodega is, without a doubt, one of the premier and most recognized shops around. Why do you think you guys have become as popular as you are?
Ridiculous ideas, luck, and timing. But, seriously, thank you. I think our ability to reach the level of recognition we’ve attained in this tight-knit industry can be attributed to the notion that we have molded ourselves to become a destination store. Jay, Dan, and Oliver created an extremely unique concept in a city that was, at the time, lacking creativity — not only in retail — and just begging for something refreshing. They tapped into a very niche-specific market in a city that is consistently seeing new faces with every school year. So, although Bodega has developed a loyal customer base within this small market, we are constantly attracting potential new customers every September and with that comes the word-of-mouth marketing that we have thrived on in the past two plus years we’ve been around.
In addition to that, the concept. The idea of creating a retail location that requires the shopper to search and seek out inevitably makes us a destination. It brings us back to the days when shopping was hunting for that grail, whether it be a pair of shoes or a piece of clothing. A perfect example of this is the Japanese market. If you go to Shibuya in Tokyo, you’ll find a million little shops and boutiques within a maze of winding streets and alleyways. Half the thrill of shopping in Japan is looking for the spot. I think this hunt is what keeps people curious and interested, and essentially, coming back.
What is the creative process of the product made at Bodega? Your fall line especially is diverse, what is your role in that? Is it a collaborative effort? What influences the creative process?
We usually have a meeting two seasons in advance from when we begin production where we brainstorm and discuss ideas that could potentially work for that particular season. Since Bodega is still a young company and a small one at that, the creative process is a collaborative effort from the three owners, two designers, a couple employees, and myself. We go over a number of possible themes that can be cohesive throughout the collection. After that, the design process kicks in, shopping for materials and fabrics, samples are made, and the process thus far is repeated if we’re not satisfied with the product. Once we’re happy with a particular sample, final production takes place.
I typically play a bigger role in the design process when we create cut-and-sew pieces, as opposed to strictly graphic t-shirts and hats, as most have seen so far with the Bodega-branded goods. We were actually on the verge of starting a ghost label for this past fall, but certain things didn’t work out which prevented the project from happening. However, we are (hopefully — you never know with us —) producing some pieces for both spring and fall ‘09 that are slight off-shoots and remnants from the abandoned ghost label. We’ll see what happens…
Is there a fine line between brand/shop integrity and financial stability? In other words, you are a buyer for Bodega, is it more important to get the product you know will sell, or the product you like/admire/respect?
Ah, the dilemma of the buyer: buying for themselves versus for the integrity of the shop. From my experience, one goes hand in hand. An individual is hired as a buyer due to their knowledge in fashion, as well as their sense of style and the overall direction of the shop; they are entrusted by the owner(s) to utilize their tastes when picking what to carry in the store. What it comes down to is the survival of the shop through the strength of the products it carries. It becomes the responsibility of the buyer to tastefully choose the aesthetic the shop wishes to portray via those particular products, all the while maintaining a consistent business.
Dealing in high end fashion and the economy being the way it is now, do you feel the need to adapt or change the model somehow? Or Is it a niche market that will thrive either way?
At this point, it is a challenging time for both shops and brands. Nothing thrives by staying constant. “Idle will kill.” Change is inevitable yet essential, and this recession — or whatever you want to call it — is calling for the strongest of changes. I’m not only talking about fashion, but our way of living. But since this whole interview primarily revolves around the topic of fashion, I’ll try to stick to that and not digress. Adapting to the market is necessary when you notice a change in consumer behavior due to the current economic state. Sure, people are still buying, but comparing this year’s numbers to last year’s, you’ll notice differences in sales between certain departments. So, the question is how do we offer exclusive products and get people to buy them, and essentially stay ahead of the curve — or at least afloat? I feel that, being a small business, we are in a more secure place in comparison to others in the retail industry. You see the department stores taking the bigger hits from the recession, as exemplified by Saks and Nieman. We have the ability to make swift decisions and follow through on necessary changes in order to quickly adapt to the fluctuating market. This becomes a major advantage, especially during times like these.
Photo: Carrie Keefe
You guys have done collaborations with Saucony, Adidas and Puma, just to name a few. Is there a company you guys would really like to work with as a whole or someone you’d personally like to work with? Be it a person or a brand.
The obvious choice would be Nike since we are primarily considered a sneaker shop and Nike captures a major chunk of our target market. We’re all huge fans of at least a handful of shoes Nike has ever released, from the Woven to the Air Max 1, from the Trainer SC II to the Footscape, etc. Collaborating with Jordan Brand would be another dream for us. Saying you have your own version of the III or IV would be amazing, but I think we’d all be a little hesitant on fucking around with the original colorways and ruining some of our own grails.
What’s the future looking like for Bodega? Plans?
We actually just recently opened a couple of spaces for gallery installations, so, the three owners have pretty much had their focus on getting those two spots opened up, which are both in the Fenway area. We’ve already had a few incredibly successful opening events at both spaces within the past month and are now in the works of consistently showcasing various installations in the upcoming future.
Dan and I also just started talking about opening a Viking themed family restaurant, somewhat along the lines of Medieval Manor — but more badass, with lepers running around. We were inspired by the name of a lobster buffet restaurant in Rhode Island and were confused as to why such a name would be used on something that didn’t involve any Nordic folklore whatsoever. We will, however, be making a trip down to said restaurant after drinking water nonstop for a week prior to the trip in order to stretch our stomachs for the obscene number of lobsters, crab cakes, and calimari, as well as the ridiculous amounts of clam chowder to be consumed. We’ll most likely need a ride back because neither of us will be able to drive after such a feast. Let me know if you know anyone willing to make the trip.
How do you feel about the streetwear boom and its popularity in the last couple years? Just another culture exploited?
Like any subculture, it was bound to happen, especially in this generation of technology where information has become so easily accessible. And with the major sneaker companies recently producing everything in packs and in “limited quantities,” the legitimate heads who were into this years ago have begun to pretty much step back and watch the newcomers get sucked in by the hype that these companies are putting out. The recent rise of the whole sneaker industry and street culture have definitely brought about some unneeded attention from those who are simply going through the trends. But, like everything else, it’s all cyclical. I think the amount of popularity our little market has received went perfectly with the economic situation. Everything sort of “boomed” or, as Gladwell would say, reached the tipping point at a proper time when the economy started to show evidence of a crisis, thus weeding out the uninspiring and unimaginative.
Are there any trends or themes that you’d like to see disappear?
This trend of Sailor Jerry tattoo-inspired clothing companies that sprung from Christian Audigier’s warped mind. I honestly don’t understand how people can think that shit actually looks good — but then again, I never really understood the whole Von Dutch phenomenon that came from Audigier, as well. God, that shit is just awful.
What are your thoughts on the current state of creativity? Be it fashion, music, movies, etc? Are there still people that inspire you?
I still find inspiration wherever I look. The day I lose inspiration will be when I realize that what I’m doing is no longer worthwhile. In regards to creativity in current fashion, I think that we are at a standstill. I was talking to an old co-worker recently about this, and we both agreed that something needs to happen. I’m not talking about the next big thing that will disappear after a year or so; I’m saying we’re at an idle state that is begging for something to shift or alter the face of fashion. There are definitely still some interesting things being produced right now, but nothing has been powerful enough to make people think and create. This is the perfect time for creativity to emerge. With the economy at a downturn and everyone being confused or indecisive about what the next step is, it’s pretty much like starting over at zero.
Do you feel like people a lot of brands are churning about the same stuff? Are there people/brands that you admire that are still pushing creativity to the next level?
Definitely. Looking at a lot of fall and winter collections for 2009, just about everyone is on the whole Americana-inspired workwear tip, looking like you just got done chopping wood somewhere in the woods of central Maine or deep sea fishing off the north shore coast somewhere in Gloucester. It gets to the point where you ask yourself — how many flannels, mountain jackets, field coats, duck boots, or whatever do I really need? Don’t get me wrong. I’m from New England, so I love this shit. But it’s gotten to the point where it proves difficult to differentiate the brands that are simply following the trends from those that are truly authentic in what they do.
You are 1/3 of a brand called Damaged. When/Where/Why did Damaged come about? Still active? Future plans?
Haha wow, I didn’t think people actually cared about Damaged. Well, Damaged started back in the summer of 2006 out of boredom. It was comprised of myself, Jason Barrow, and Michael Niwagaba (aka TX Mike;) Barrow’s roommate, Daryl Fuller, would later join the crew. At the time, nothing was coming out of Boston that represented it well, in terms of graphic t-shirt designs. That was the main focus of Damaged: we wanted to create something that would put recognition on this city. It was a fairly quick thing: we had a handful of meetings, put together four designs, printed them on a small run of t-shirts, and sold them out of Bodega. The shirts, to our surprise, sold out shortly after printing them. I’m completely against doing re-prints of designs, so we never did another run of those designs after that initial release. After that, Damaged died for a little bit. We were in the process of doing another season, but things just didn’t work out. We never technically ended, so I guess we’ve been on an indefinite hiatus for the past two years. We did, however, recently release a collaboration shirt with Bodega for the 2008 NBA Finals. Other than that, nothing’s in the works as of now…
What are some of your favorite brands/shops?
I tend to be a shut-in since I work six days days out of the week, so I don’t really get a chance to shop around anymore. When I do find the motivation to hit up shops, the mainstays — in terms of clothing — have always been Alan Bilzerian and Stel’s on Newbury Street. Whenever a trip to NYC is called for, I always try to make it to Union, 45rpm, and Odin. My favorite brands have always been fairly consistent; Visvim and 45rpm are still killing it for me. And to this day, I still have a lot of respect for Supreme and what James Jebbia is doing with that brand. The amount of influence Supreme has had on street culture for the past ten plus years it’s been around, all the while doing it in their own rules and not giving a fuck, and to this day, still have people lining up for days on Lafayette just to buy their shit — that is truly amazing.
Photo: Caitlin Stapleton
What is style to you? How would you describe your style?
Japanese street meets New England meets hardcore kid: I think that would pretty much sum up my “style,” or whatever you want to call it. I just wear whatever I find comfortable and what I think looks good. But to put it in the bluntest way possible, style is confidence. Without confidence, a person can never have style. A person has to be comfortable in what they’re wearing, and style is being able to exhibit that effortlessness and confidence through the clothes they wear without the individual pieces being the centerpieces.
What pushes you creatively? What influences (or inspires) you to create?
The people who I surround myself with and the reactional emotions that emerge from my experiences with them. I’m also a very attentive person, so I like to just people-watch from time to time and observe their interactions with others and their surroundings.
What are your hobbies/passions/interests?
Other than fashion, I’m always immersed in film and music. But I think those three passions tend to intertwine with each other. I’ve also been reading a lot again since I finished school last May and have had shit to do outside of work. I’ve been reading a lot of Hemingway recently, and I’ve had the strongest impulse to just pack up and leave for Paris. So, if you don’t hear from me for awhile, you’ll know where I’m at.
Future plans for self? Where do you want to see yourself in five years?
Not necessarily five years (well, maybe — who knows?) but sometime in the future: my girl; the ocean; a few books, records, and films; and a slight breeze. That sounds like a commercial for retirement, but fuck it. That’s all I want.