Boston's Bodega is now nearly a decade deep in the sneaker game and is showing no intention of pulling the cord out of the console. Sneaker Freaker caught up with two members of the holy founding trinity, Oliver Mak and Dan Natola, to talk about how they approach sneaker collaborations, and why their new Reebok Ventilator was poked with plenty of polka dots.
SF: When Bodega works on a shoe, how do you approach it? I mean, storytelling could be one approach, or just focusing on complementary colours, or just vibing on a certain kind of thing? What do you guys have to accomplish by creating a shoe with your name on it?
Dan: Well, we usually approach it with concept first and then colour blocking, and then materials. And sometimes a concept overlaps with material, if it's a material story. For this project, we actually had one of our interns, Terry Blay, take the lead concept and run wild with it. We like to throw around a bunch of ideas over a couple of beers and figure out something that makes sense from that. Usually that is derived from the basic form of whatever the shoe that we're dealing with and the heritage behind it, and how it relates to our past experiences as degenerates in Boston.
Do you think there's a sort of common style thread throughout your colabs?
Oliver: Yeah, we’re always trying to reinterpret the past with whatever is in front of us. And aesthetically, it's always about updating classic heritage pieces with contemporary sports flare.
Was it always your dream to open a sneaker spot? How do you go from having an idea to actually opening a store?
Oliver: When I was younger, I was drunk most days, so I don't really remember much. But I do remember traveling after school, backpacking, like many of us do, and seeing the different fashion around the world and realising that there were different markets, especially within sneakers. I was trying to figure out a way to create a spot that was able to bring in things from around the world that I thought were special. This job is a difficult thing to do every day, but it’s definitely a dream come true, yeah.
Can you maintain your love for a good pair of sneakers even when you're in the business?
Dan: You know what? Passion first, money second. I still get excited bringing in the boxes off the UPS truck, and when I open them up I still love seeing a great pair of sneakers and how well designed it is. I still love it and it’s been 10 years now and the excitement hasn't left. I could probably do this until I die, and retail's a tough game. Tomorrow's not promised in retail and, yeah, I feel super lucky to have made it this far.
Oliver: Yup, it’s a lot of ups and downs like any other marriage but it’s definitely the life we were meant for. Some people are drawn to playing guitar no matter what they do and we somehow found the culture behind and around sneakers as our calling.
Do you have any personal memories of the ventilator in general? Things that you still remember from when you were young?
Oliver: Yeah, I used to run cross-country in Salem, New Hampshire. That's actually how I got from a chubby kid to a semi-chubby adult. Yeah, that was one of my training models that I had, that I would do three to four miles in them. I think in sophomore year I was running in these.
Dan: Yeah, I've always loved the Ventilator. It’s just like a super nice trainer to wear. You can wear it with anything and it’s still one of my favourite Reeboks silhouettes that are out there. So it's really awesome to be in this program, sort of celebrating the Ventilator, which I think is just a solid looking shoe.
So, talk us through your Reebok Ventilator colab...
Oliver: Well, we've used a gum sole on the last couple of Reeboks that we've done. We've got a speckled midsole and then we've got all sorts of stuff going on up the top. That was just kind of an experiment of us going crazy design-wise. You’ve got tumbled leather on the branding, you've got this polka dot on Heather Gray fleece. And then, that's contrasted by these suede panels that are colour-popped. We kind of just wanted to flex as many different ideas as possible but still have it be considered wearable.
What have you guys got for polka dots? It seems to be a recurring motif in the last few projects you guys have done…
Oliver: Oh, well, we used it a lot in our last couple of lines. And it's an interesting alternative to perforation. So, we wanted to fill that negative space with that reoccurring pattern and tie everything back together. So, I guess when you asked about some of the tenets of what Bodega's aesthetic is, I'd say that was one of the key patterns in our evolution over the last couple of years of the brand. I think we're just really influenced by that Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.
Oliver mentioned before the idea of doing something wearable. There have been so many shoes released, even in the last 10 year, how hard is it to use colour now in an interesting way where you can truly say, 'Oh that's never been done before?' Do you guys feel the pressure of the scrutiny that comes with putting your name on a shoe?
Dan: Yeah. I mean, patterns and colours are definitely trendy every 20 years. All the colours that we saw in the '90s, all the burgundy and earth tones, are popular now; and same with the dots and the hard-factored graphics from the '90s. You're starting to see all these show up again in fashion. So, I think having the polka dots is sort of what's relevant now, and and that's key; making sure that the product is wearable and relevant, but also design-driven and evolving at the same time.
When it comes to the decision making at Bodega – you’ve got three partners and you have a whole massive crew – is there a benevolent dictatorship? Like, who decides whether you go blue or red at that micro level, like whether the shoe needs to be changed?
Dan: That is a work in progress. We each have different aesthetics and it's sort of hard coming to a compromise sometimes. But at the end of the day, I think we're able to give our two cents and try to arrive at something.
Oliver: I think the design is a process. It really does benefit from consensus building. If you have other people who have the same goal on your same team and you've had history with, if you can't convince them that it's a great design, then it's probably not a great design.
Preach! Finally, when it's all done and dusted. How do you assess the success of a Bodega colab?
Dan: Aside from the shoe doing well at retail, having it be memorable means a lot to me, and especially when we have customers and past clients reach out to us and say, ‘Oh, you know, I bought this shoe five years ago and I still love it.’ I get really hyped about it because that was sort of the whole thing we opened up Bodega for; to have a memorable retail experience as well as making memorable products. These days, there are so many collaborations that come out, it's sort of easy to get lost in the shuffle. So, yeah, making it memorable and keeping it moving.
The Bodega x Reebok Ventilator will be in stores from the 22nd of August, head into Bodega or your local Reebok Certified Network store to pick 'em up!