Born and bred in NYC, Lucho Bolivar is steadily building a solid knitwear-based brand that’s likely to stand the test of time. His brand BOLIVARES is designed in Long Island City, Queens and is handcrafted in Peru from the finest yarns. In the mind of this designer, the functionality and design of the garment is just as important as catering to the lifestyle of the clientele he designs for. This remarkable attention to detail shines through in every product he creates. We reached out to him to discuss the technique, vision and philosophy behind his well-focused brand.
How long has your brand been in existence and what are the main design influences of BOLIVARES?
I’ve been working at this for quite some time actually. The idea of developing the line came into existence about 10 years ago. From that point up until launch which was about three years ago, it was pretty much self-education and learning all aspects of design, developing a brand, production and finding my niche in the market. Since the launch, the focus has been on learning the business and the marketing side of things, while simultaneously growing the business. While sometime strenuous, I truly enjoy the process of growing and executing things the way I envision them.
What are your main design influences?
Since the beginning, there have been several things that have influenced BOLIVARES, many of which have helped not only define the brand but truly clarify what I hold dear. At first, my Latin influence played a huge role in its initial inception. I also felt there was a huge void of visible leaders in the Latin American arena, so I made it a point to contribute to that vacuum. Hip-Hop culture and fashion were also big influences in regards to quality design, attitude and that competitive spirit mixed with bravado. Then there is what I call home, the big NY. I can’t deny the huge influence NY has on me because it is such a huge melting pot of cultures and such a massive monster economically. New York itself provides an amazing schooling. Lastly, I’m very influenced by the type of man that I design for, and this is where I focus on value and integrity, which I find lacking nowadays. I feel like I design for REAL men – men going at life head-on, living to the fullest and giving life their all on a day-to-day basis. These men need and want great quality, great design, comfort, function, versatility and class all rolled into one. That’s what I aim for with everything I do at BOLIVARES.
You use words like “Bold” and phrases like “Not For Everyone” to define your brand – what exactly do you mean by this?
I say and use BOLD in the sense of being unafraid. I also use this in every sense of the word, not solely in how or what a man wears, but in how he lives in these clothes as well. “Not for everyone” is something I had to come to terms with as a brand that is focused on making product of high integrity and quality. The price points aren’t H&M or GAP. and I really never cared for making a product for the masses. I’ve always been inspired to work for things that weren’t necessarily attainable for me and I’ve always achieved what I put my mind to. I’ve also always wanted those things that not everyone can have, so I applied that concept to the brand. We don’t develop many units of any one style, and we also don’t care for only making the standard colors every brand makes (black, navy, greys and browns). I feel that right now in the market, less is more and I want to focus on finding and retaining the attention of those with similar likes and interests as the brand, and create the best product possible. We truly aim to create something that stands the test of time, design-wise and quality-wise.
Who do you envision in your mind when you picture the ultimate Bolivares customer?
Men making moves. Whether on a date, whether travelling for work or pleasure, whether hopping in and out of meetings at lunch, coffee shops or dinners, whether he’s going for a few drinks or hitting a club up for some much-needed entertainment. These clothes were made to live comfortably in, while still having the elegance and class to transition from one environment to another. In my mind, this is the new uniform of bosses. You don’t see the new billionaires coming out of Silicon Valley in suits – you’re seeing them in comfortable clothes. A sense of leisure and comfort is very much in demand for people who refuse to be confined to a dress code. These men make the rules, they don’t follow them. So for me it’s always been about “quality attire for quality men.”
Your brand focuses mainly on knitwear – why did you choose this lane of menswear to master?
For me there has always been something about a sweater that I’ve been drawn to. Since I was 12-13 years old, I’ve learned that anyone can buy a cool tee or sweatshirt but the coolest cats always had the outerwear and knitwear on smash. And even though knitwear is as comfortable as sweats, it always maintained a certain element of class to it. I also found it to be more intriguing in regards to design due to the intricate elements of engineering certain stitches and understanding the behavior between yarns and weight of the sweater. So for me it was about creating a product that maintained its integrity and value, and getting involved in a process that I can continuously learn and master more as time went on. Also, since I still haven’t gotten to the level of wearing suits for leisure, this was my way of creating the most elegant, fly shit possible.
When you design your garments – what are the most important factors you consider- design, fit, comfort etc?
Everything is important. There isn’t a detail in a garment that I believe should be overlooked. Fit, comfort, function, color, internal/external labels, buttons, zippers, stitch, everything is important. If someone tells you this doesn’t really matter in a garment, they should quit designing. I’m not saying that as a designer, one doesn’t sometimes have to compromise, because it’s inevitable to do so. We cannot produce something to the point where it’s so costly that its unsellable – that also makes no sense. But one must not purposely overlook any one thing, because if you do, that habit will trickle down and penetrate the culture and integrity of your whole brand. So to answer the question, I consider and ponder all factors when designing.
In all your years of designing/producing your brand, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned to date?
The truth, learn MARKETING before you learn to design or make product. Marketing is everything. I mean your product and its quality is extremely important but you can have the best product and if no one knows it, you won’t go too far. I wouldn’t change my process at all but I wish I would’ve began my schooling in marketing a while back while doing and learning other things.
In your experience, what is the most important thing fashion designers have to do to ensure the success and longevity of their brands?
Learn to be self-sustainable. Learn through and with others who know more than you. Be an avid student of the game. Most creative people put so much energy into their craft and I completely respect that. But you can’t neglect the art of making money with your craft. It is also a process and it is also a very creative aspect in its own right. To make money at something is an art, it takes time to develop just like your creative craft and it’s all needed and a part of the process to success. I’m fortunate to have learned that and I continue to study and learn as much as I can.
Your business model is mostly based on e-commerce, how do you succeed in engaging with consumers in the online realm?
Wholesale has never really intrigued me. I’m not saying that I will never entertain wholesale. I just wanted to focus and learn how to build up my brand’s leverage and understand my customer by communicating and selling to them first. I’ve learned that succeeding in e-commerce is about being authentic and not trying to be like everyone else. It’s about having a strong point of view and perspective in what you do. It’s about consistently engaging with your clientele to the point that they become your “word of mouth” and “true customers.” I’m working on actually putting something together on Bolivares.com soon that will give a more in-depth approach of how to succeed in this business without everyone being in your pocket making money from you. Look out for that coming soon.
Lastly, what major moves can we expect from Bolivares in 2014?
Designing our first brick and mortar, flagship store. My focus is on expanding my points of sale and having fun while doing it. For me it’s about life design. You have to define what success is before you are actually able to attain it. I have a very clear and focused plan and look forward to next year and seeing the plan through.
To see more BOLIVARES garments – see the slideshow above.
To order your own BOLIVARES knitwear, visit www.BOLIVARES.com