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A Needle in a Haystack :: A Chat w/ Jay of Bodega

A Needle in a Haystack :: A Chat w/ Jay of Bodega

By John Pangilinan

Located in Boston’s Back Bay is the unadvertised and incognito Bodega. The retail shop - whose name is derived from Hispanic convenience stores - has been around since 2006, and the storefront resembles the type of place that Jay-Z raps about in “Renegade.” Yet, the unassuming bodega-like facade houses one of the nation’s top clothing and sneaker boutiques. Co-founded by Jay Gordon, Bodega has served as a cultural hub for the Northeast, introducing brands to the area such as Acronym, Original Fake, and their own Bodega apparel line.

Soft-spoken and humble, Jay is type of person that you just want to grab a drink with and shoot the shit. This time around I was only able to spend a few minutes (literally before jumping on a flight) to catch up with him and talk about the beginnings and the future of the brand.

JOHN: When was the first moment (i.e. first purchase, first style moment) that you discovered an interest in your particular aesthetic style?
JAY: I have always been a fan of vintage clothing, and that is where I started. I have a collection of ’70s and ’80s Nike, Puma Adidas clothing that definitely piqued my interest in those brands and then started becoming obsessed with older shoe models and the progression of technology and design. I definitely have my favorite shoe models(Nike Air Max and Adidas ZX lead the charge) but I appreciate when designers try something completely different (Footscape wovens, Innevas, etc.)

You went from a fine art degree, to working in plastics, to working at a hedge fund - and ended up working in apparel. How has this diverse work experience affected your approach now?
I think it is good to see the world from a bunch of different perspectives to get your feel of the whole.

We read in an interview with Oliver for Breaks that you were the “smooth OG dude” in the office where you met, and that you’re the guy in the crew that can talk to the cops. Is this true?
For the most part, yes. Dan, Oliver and I all have very different skill sets that complement each other very well. What binds us is our sense of humor and the want to provide interesting items to our very loyal and diverse customers. That being said, if the cops do show up, I will definitely be in front doing the talking.

How have you been able to develop and maintain such a great relationship with your retailers?
We are retailers at heart and have a great network of other retailers around the world that we respect and collaborate with. We try to offer product that we like (whether it is on trend or not) and other retailers have come to appreciate that.

Bodega started out for about 3 years without e-commerce, then after a push from you began selling on the web. What would you say are the pros and cons of having the e-commerce leg to the brand, especially when dealing with streetwear?
I really was the one pushing against selling online at all. I wanted the unique store experience to be the primary thing to introduce the customer to the store and brand. Once we started expanding the Bodega clothing line, it made sense to open it up more.

Why do the social links on the bdgastore.com site read “Wanna see a dead body?”
Because at the heart of it all, we want to have a sense of humor about what we do. This industry is young people making product for other young people. If you can’t have fun with it, you might as well be working for a big boring company somewhere.

Why is having a sense of humor so important, especially in this industry?
We are first and foremost, an industry for young and creative people. We cater to people who like being a little different and enjoy their own style. If we can’t have a sense of humor in everything we do, who can? It’s my favorite part of my job when one of our designers (or any employee) comes up with a crazy idea, and I can say that we should absolutely do it, and then make it happen.

What is the strangest experience that you’ve had happen in this store, because of the incognito storefront?
I once had to chase a woman down the street that thought we were trying to kidnap her. It took me about 15 minutes, but I got her to come back and check out the store.

The best experience?
There are too many to list. I still am very happy when we get newcomers in the store and they have a look of true child-like surprise and delight on their faces. It is not very often that you see that in today’s predictable and cynical world.

Why is that 'unique store experience’ so important to Bodega?
I feel that the retail market is as competitive as it’s ever been, and it has never been easier for the consumer to compare pricing and models instantly across a global market. If you don’t have a retail experience that is engaging and unique, you are making it too easy for your customers to shop online or elsewhere. We want to make the Bodega experience something that is constantly evolving and engaging.

What are some new collections and offerings you’re excited about this season?
We have a busy end of the year. We have projects with Vans, Saucony, Reebok and Asics coming out by the end of the year. I’m most excited about the Gore-tex Asics we have coming out for Holiday. This is the first time we have done a project with Asics, and it turned out amazingly well. We are going to pull out all of the stops for that one.

Advice for young’ns starting their own business?
Be prepared to work, and don’t listen to the people who tell you no. If you have passion and drive, and a good team, anything is possible.

What’s the future for Bodega?
After the Tokyo store (which opened in March), I am excited to try to bring Bodega to other places in the near future. Maybe Europe next…

Five favorite pit-stops/places to go in Boston?
Retail: Bobby from Boston
Food: Island Creek/ Beehive/ Myers and Chang
Drinks: Delux
More drinks: Island Creek
Museum: Gardner

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