For this next interview we did in Boston, we couldn’t help but talk about one of the most famous sneaker stores there – Bodega.
The main goal of our trip was to bring conversations and the stories of designers behind the sneakers we love and wear so much; and also important people who move the local sneaker culture in their cities. Drew fits into these two categories. Today he is a footwear and apparel designer for Bodega – one of Boston’s most famous sneaker and streetwear stores – and is one of the people behind the store’s famous collaborations with the brands.
Drew started working for the store 11 years ago as a marketing intern, and because of his dedication, talent and willingness to learn, he hustled his way up and built his career: “in a way it happened organically, but I had also prepared for the opportunity when she presented herself. It was being in the right place at the right time”. In a super mature and fun conversation about sneakers, Drew spoke very objectively and honestly about his work, his references and inspirations.
Despite having been a part of several important collaborations with Bodega, he chose the shoes that marked that moment in time, when he started with the brand – the Bodega x Nike Footscape Woven Chukka. The shoe was created and designed by the store’s original designers, who he mentioned were like big brothers and mentors to him: “they were the people who really inspired me to become a designer.”
“My name is Drew, I’m from Rhode Island and currently I’m a footwear and apparel designer for Bodega. I’ve been at Bodega for 11 years now, and yet, so much of my work and life has been spent between Providence and Boston, so those are the cities that I really identify with.”
How did you get into design?
drew I’ve only started to think about this recently. But for a start, my mom was always creative in her own way. Back in the day she used to clean houses and a lot of her clients would be in fine arts, architects, where they would have studios and workspaces in their homes. My mom would be cleaning their offices and I would be helping her. And so I would be in these very creative spaces at a young age and I think that just opened my eyes to different career paths in a way.
When it came to college, my focus was to graduate and not have to wear a suit, you know? I wanted to be comfortable in what I enjoy wearing every day. I went to a business school in Boston, studied marketing, and I did that because it was flexible as a business, so I could figure out where I would lend. So while in school, I was pursuing an internship for class credits. I applied for Bodega, Concepts and Karmaloop. Bodega was the only one that replied and so I started working there at the end of 2010 as a marketing intern.
And from there, I was placed in a very creative, young, energetic environment and that’s when I really opened my eyes to design, and how it could be a realistic career path. I never had a role model that was successful creatively, it wasn’t really a thing where I was from, but when I came to Bodega, seeing the designers that were only five years older than me doing what they did, really inspired me. It just gave me the drive to pursue that career.
“I was placed in a very creative, young, energetic environment and that’s when I really opened my eyes to design, and how it could be a realistic career path. I never had a role model that was successful creatively, it wasn’t really a thing where I was from, but when I came to Bodega, seeing the designers that were only five years older than me doing what they did, really inspired me. It just gave me the drive to pursue that career.”
Were you already into footwear before applying for an internship at these shops? When did your relationship with sneakers begin?
drew Yes. I was always really interested in sneakers. From a young age, there’s pictures of me as a baby wearing Jordans. My aunt was always big into sneakers, family members would always make sure I had certain sneakers. As I grew up and went to school, it was like a status thing to have the new sneakers, so it was always something I paid attention to. And then in high school, I was collecting sneakers – I remember skipping high school as soon as I got my car to drive to Boston to go to Bodega, and that was my first experience going there.
It went from me collecting them, being a fan and then it just progressed. It was a heavy part of your identity being young and having that something in common with other young people, and for me, it ended up being sneakers. They were always an identifier of interests; before the internet, if someone had a certain pair of sneakers, you could tell like “oh, we’re kind of into the same thing”.
“And then in high school, I was collecting sneakers – I remember skipping high school as soon as I got my car to drive to Boston to go to Bodega, and that was my first experience going there.”
You've been working at Bodega for 11 years now. How did your position in the shop evolve over the years?
drew It morphed over time. I started as a marketing intern and at that time, they didn’t have social media and didn’t start their e-commerce yet. The website existed, but nothing was being sold there. So I identified that as something they needed and how I was going to make myself valuable, because I understood social media, and I understood the internet. So I took that opportunity and to stick around I became the e-commerce and social media manager. Then, that went into a PR project management role. After a while, that started overlapping with design, having more to say on that set, and then eventually, I fell into the design role, full on.
And when was the first time you had the opportunity to fully dedicate your work to the creative process?
drew It was interesting because years before I had that opportunity at Bodega, I identified that that was what I wanted to pursue. I had these two great designers to look up to in Bodega, Marvin and Randy, the original designers at the shop, I was able to soak up a lot of things from them. I was also watching tutorials to learn Photoshop, Illustrator, all that sort of stuff on YouTube.
At the same time, back in Providence, my friends were throwing these big parties and events, and I was offering to make the posters for these events. I wouldn’t really know what I was doing, but I was just taking on the work and figuring it out. That’s how it started.
And then, you know, I started my own streetwear brand that was carried at Bodega, and it sold really well. So that kind of was a proof of concept and ability. Once the design role opened, and there was no one next up, they were like “why don’t you take over? You already showed you could do it with your own brand”. It happened organically in a way, but I had also made myself ready for the opportunity when it presented itself. It was the perfect timing and being in the right place.
“It happened organically in a way, but I had also made myself ready for the opportunity when it presented itself. It was the perfect timing and being in the right place.”
What was the first project you worked on as a designer at Bodega?
drew First I started contributing to graphics for Instagram, or graphic designs that would be a part of a project. But my first project was the Bodega Spring/Summer 2018 private label clothing collection. That was the first time I was doing it all, coordinating it and getting it produced. For footwear, the first project I worked on was the Bodega x New Balance 997S ‘No Days Off’. That was definitely a huge moment for me, and for the brand as well because it was the first New Balance that Bodega had done. And so I was able to say “I design footwear now.”
We always say that you don't need to necessarily go to design school, to work with design. Nowadays you can learn so much online, you just have to go after what you want to know.
drew I think that’s a big part of what I stand for and communicate in my work. For me, it’s not that deep. I don’t have highly conceptual stories all the time, you know? Sometimes it’s just because it looks good and I know it looks good. I think people shy away from being that honest with their work, they want to make it sound so grand, and I’m not like that. Also, I think that’s why people gravitate and relate to it a lot, especially in footwear, because there’s this sense of familiarity with it, but with little details that make it different. And they can say things like “I think I know this from somewhere, maybe the color palette is familiar, but then there’s this other color that throws it off”.
What I do is just an extension of my preferences, my tastes, and what I view Bodega has, and whatever our partner brand is, I just referenced their heritage. All my favorite New Balances have hints of 3M, and that’s kind of consistent on all their heritage models – so that’s something that no matter what we do, when we do a New Balance, that’s going to show through somewhere on it. It’s funny because even when we think about the narrative on projects, it’ll come after the design – we’ll lead with just making it look dope. I’ve never bought something just because of the story, if it didn’t look good, I’m not buying it. It sounds very superficial, but that’s how I view it and I think the honesty is something a lot of other people aren’t willing to be straightforward about.
“It’s funny because even when we think about the narrative on projects, it’ll come after the design – we’ll lead with just making it look dope. I’ve never bought something just because of the story, if it didn’t look good, I’m not buying it.”
We can see that Bodega has this very strong visual identity throughout their brand communication and products. When we see all the sneakers together, the colorways have these neutral and earth tones. What's the thought process that goes into picking out these colors?
drew The main thing I always strive for is for the end product to be very wearable and to fit a range of lifestyles. You can see us chillin right here and I’m wearing the shoes, but then you can see an old dude walking to the gym also wearing it, and he doesn’t look too crazy.
Most shoes I’ve designed use over 12 colors but they’re all very similar. Like, the shoe will be mostly gray at first glance but it’s four or five different grays. I’m also looking at the sections like, I look at the heel and I want all the colors to be present in this snapshot of the shoe, whether it’s through a stitch, a branding or a panel. The wearability thing is what drives the use of neutral colors because people feel more comfortable, versus making like, an all-vibrant tonal shoe.
My mom has every shoe I’ve designed and she wears them all the time. She’s a stylish woman, she got a little funk to her style, but she’s not super out there. And you know, we could be standing in the same room wearing the same shoes, with two different energies. But when you see us, it doesn’t look out of place on either one, our styles are very different. So that’s always the goal, making things that could be worn every day and suit a range of lifestyles.
“Most shoes I’ve designed use over 12 colors but they’re all very similar. Like, the shoe will be mostly gray at first glance but it’s four or five different grays. I’m also looking at the sections like, I look at the heel and I want all the colors to be present in this snapshot of the shoe, whether it’s through a stitch, a branding or a panel.”
Being here in Boston and having walked around the city, you can see how much the colors and the whole aesthetic of the shoes has a certain Boston vibe to it. Is that intentional or just a happy coincidence?
drew I take that as a very high compliment because my personal goal is to carve out that creative identity – I want people to look at the shoes, and relate them to Boston, but without being too literal. That’s the other thing I have trouble with working with certain brands and trying to convey a thought. For me, a big part of designing a shoe is leaving room for the consumer to interpret it in their own way – it’s an energy and I could give you a glance into this energy, but then it’s up to you to take it and run with it.
A lot of brands out there may have stronger relationships with some of the footwear companies than Bodega, so they get offered the classic models that everyone wants to work on – but then they’ll do it all one color. And I’m just like “they didn’t need you to do that”. Or doing another ‘beef and broccoli’ colorway – New Balance, especially, they were doing ‘beef and broccoli’ colorway way back, they didn’t need you to do that. I just want to keep going and pushing it forward. For example with our Hoka shoe, it was a huge compliment when people commented like “this is my first Hoka ever”, or “I don’t fuck with these, but I’m gonna get these ones”, that’s what I pay attention to. We put a lot of effort and thought into making it distinguished and distinct.
I think if you look at all the projects that I’ve done, over the past three years, you can feel that they sort of come from the same place. And I think that’s an important element from a brand perspective. And luckily, I think people want that from us now, where they expect it to be like that.
“For me, a big part of designing a shoe is leaving room for the consumer to interpret it in their own way – it’s an energy and I could give you a glance into this energy, but then it’s up to you to take it and run with it.”
And why, out of all the projects you worked on, and sneakers you own, did you choose to talk about the Nike x Bodega Footscape Woven Chukka for your Kickistory interview?
drew The shoe was a celebration for the five year anniversary of Bodega, and that’s how they were able to get the collaboration. It was their first collaboration with Nike, it was on a model that was untouched, Bodega debuted the chukka version of the Footscape.
I chose those for so many reasons. First of all, they came out the year that I started at Bodega, so it’s a reminiscence of that period of time for me. Second, growing up I’ve always been into like Air Maxes, Air Forces, Jordans; and that shoe was a different taste and flavor that I felt it brought me to a much more mature space in terms of footwear, it opened my mind to what I could wear, you know, I could dress these up and be more casual. It definitely wasn’t a shoe that before I was super into or on my radar. Part of being at Bodega I learned a lot and was exposed to new things, and that shoe was definitely one of the first things that I was “wow, this is crazy”. I didn’t know how I felt about it at first, but over time I loved it. This Footscape is so timeless and it’s never gonna go out of style, there’s so much like a moccasin – it’s primitive, almost.
Another reason I’m into this shoe is that the original designers at the shop, Marvin Byone and Randy Price, who I view as big brothers and mentors, were the ones that designed it – and those are the people that really inspired me to become a designer myself. Also, when the shoe was released, there were events happening at the Fourth Wall gallery space that Bodega used to own, and at that moment, I felt I was officially a part of the Bodega team. So for all those reasons, that is the most significant shoe for me personally, for sure.
“Another reason I’m into this shoe is that the original designers at the shop, Marvin Byone and Randy Price, who I view as big brothers and mentors, were the ones that designed it – and those are the people that really inspired me to become a designer myself.”
Even working at Bodega, why did you feel the need to have your own side projects?
And what have you been working on lately?
drew I try to pretty much support the creative community in Boston and Providence as much as possible through design, so I just offer my services to all different types of local artists – from musicians, DJs, event planners and local brands. I’ve been working with different artists from the regions like Cousin Stizz, Hil Holla, and Avenue. I’ve done a lot of their album artwork, promotional posters, and such.
Beyond that, the biggest project as of late has been a book – ‘Feels Like Home.’ We started doing it three or four years ago now. At first, it was just a couple of friends that came together to create a book of our creative output – so it was a mix of photography, writing, graphic design, and all this stuff, it started out really small. The idea was to be a snapshot of our interpretation of what feels like home to us, because being in the industry, there’s certain events happening where you would travel, and you’d see the same people all the time, so it was a level of comfort in being elsewhere. Like, I’d be in LA for the first time but there’s a bunch of people from the East Coast that I’ve met before. So we wanted to create something that documented those moments, but also, gave a platform to people where we’re from, mostly in the northeast – between New York, Boston, and Providence.
It just keeps growing, where it’s a very contributor base. We released two books and the last one we had forty something contributors. For the next one, which will be out by the end of this year, it’s a deeper exploration of the same idea. This last one was centered on what is home and what is familiar, and the next one is more exploratory about travel and how travel informs. Like when you guys go back to Brazil, you’re gonna bring something, either stories or you’ll be like “people in Boston, do this, that’s weird, or that thing was cool”, you know? For people that don’t experience it firsthand, you’re able to give them an impression and an idea of what it’s like. It’s all in effort to have a platform and an output that allows space for people that might not ever otherwise be in print. It’s just grown, it’s been organic and people are super receptive to it. So we’re gonna keep trying to push it out in different ways over the years and see where it takes us.
So how is 'Feels Like Home' structured and what's your goal with this project?
drew Yeah, so it’s like, myself, my friend Mike Janey – who used to work at Bodega – we do all of the art direction on the book. Then my friends Abhi, and Sam, they’re the pragmatic thinkers and are able to scout the artists, they’re more like the organizational structure of the plan. Mikey and I handle most of the art direction but there’s a lot of contributors. You have a collection of photographers where they’re sending us photography, we might lay it out for them, certain other photographers will layout their own spreads; or graphic designers will do their own full spreads and we don’t touch anything on it. But we try to create things in between that are original artwork, original advertisements and stuff that go back to the old ‘Feels Like Home’ identity and idea.
We’re trying to explore different avenues of product and activation. Ultimately, It’s supposed to have this educational element to it – it feels like a new age textbook that’s not so boring. It’s happy, it’s something you could actually have interest in and put yourself into. So that’s the thought behind it. Hopefully, one day it’ll translate into us building stuff for kids, like playgrounds and stuff.
Lately I’ve been trying to stay active at Bodega but also outside, you know? There was a moment where I was so focused because I finally got the design opportunity, that I was like “I need to maximize this and put everything else to the side”. And I did that for a couple of years. But now I’m just getting the itch to be a little more independent and active outside of my work.
Nike x Bodega Footscape Woven Chukka
Owner: Drew White