An Interview with Oliver Mak from Bodega

April 15, 2015 | By Eric Doroski

Artistry magazine had the pleasure of sitting down with Oliver Mak, one of the founding partners of Bodega, a local shoe store known for its street fashion. Bodega sells upmarket sneakers and menswear, many of which are designed in-house. Their designs have been showcased in Paris and New York Fashion Weeks and across mainstream media. Even though the bulk of their revenue stems from online purchases, they have previously opened a successful pop-up shop in Shibuya Tokyo, and plan on opening a second location in Los Angeles this summer.

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Photo Courtesy of Marisa Benjamin

In 2006, Mak founded Bodega with Jay Gordon, a recent college graduate, and Dan Natola, a well-known street artist. Mak has a background in graphic design, and was working as a bouncer at The Middle East, a punk rock club, when he came up with the idea. He then started getting involved in projects related to local fashion, art and music. There, Mak met Jay and Dan, and has been involved in the fashion and art community since. As a team, they have created an award-winning art gallery, as well as pop up stores around the city for product launches.


Just entering Bodega, the experience is different from that of a traditional shoe store. The outside resembles an actual bodega, a small corner store. Behind the façade of fake cans and fridges filled with soda is a large room lined with rare sneakers and in-house designed clothing. Bodega’s inventory differs from that of a traditional store, focusing instead on specific brands and style designs. Mak says, “We try to focus because we can’t go into a price war with everyone else like So, what separates us is we curated a higher tier of products from brands.”


Inspiration for Bodega’s products comes primarily from Japan, a country the founders view  as leaders in street fashion. Additionally, their products typically have a keen attention to detail and are made from more advanced materials than most American fashion labels. When designing printables, large logos on clothes, they focus on legacy brands like Stussy or cult of personality brands like Pelvis. Cult of personality brands are blown to huge popularity on social media, using unique but instantly recognizable designs.


When asked about whether he sees a cyclical pattern in fashion, Mak believes there is a defined pattern with noticeable causes. “I definitely see a cycle, and it's usually fifteen or twenty years,” Mak said. “When you think about that, it’s all the nostalgia of people my age designing stuff that they had when they were college age, or a little bit young.” 


This means 2018 is headed back towards the style of the early 90’s, with Nirvana, ripped jeans, and plaid. Similarly, the fashion from the late 60’s and early 70’s is headed for its third reemergence. Psychedelic influences, along with embroidered or appliqué patterns are back, as seen by Gucci’s Pre-Fall collection.


Meanwhile, Mak sees brand, logo and graphic heavy designs as remaining trendy, and delights in recontextualizing classic design and patterns in new ways. He personally enjoys the novelty of designing apparel with this signature style. 


Even though it is easy to appear fashionable wearing current trends, Mak believes that fashion and curating a wardrobe should be drawn from individual tastes. The products that are worth more money secondhand often become popular because of the exposure, but that is only a small part of the market. Mak recommends, “If there's something that really resonates with you, you should think about getting that.” He also recommends Vans, who have many artist and musician editions, but typically aren’t ever resold.


Additionally, for someone who doesn’t know where to look for inspiration, the internet and social media are very valuable resources. Mak notices that there is much more interest in fashion in general, partially because the amount of fashion imagery one sees daily is magnitudes higher than that of any previous generation. This can be attributed to the rise of social media and mass-market fast fashion.


While it is easy to find mainstream fashion from a well-known influence like Kendall Jenner, it takes skill to trace her stylists’ influences to try to find up-and-coming trends. Thanks to social media, those down-the-road influencers who are not yet mainstream, have had much more exposure than they have in generations past. With the advent of modern technology, it is also easy to find what people are wearing in more fashion-forward cities such as Tokyo, Stockholm, and London. Those cities signal what is coming and going to be picked up by the mass markets elsewhere in the world. Mak thinks, “when it gets filtered down to [the mainstream social media] level, on more mass consumers, it’s already been out in Japan for three years.” Yet, at that point the style will become mainstream, and be ready to be bought and worn by the masses.


For any last advice for a fashion savvy college student, Mak recommends investing in great quality classic wardrobe essentials. Those will be key staples to any outfit, and can stay with one through every trend. While it certainly may be tempting to opt for mass produced disposable fashion from brands like H&M, in the long run, quality products will pay off.