Interview by Austin NeelyPhotography: David Muniz
Boxed Water was created with the goal of introducing a more sustainable packaged water product to the market in an aesthetically pleasing way. Since it's launch, the label has quickly gained a following from the environmentally conscious to the art devotees. Sustainably speaking, it’s obvious why a boxed beverage has an advantageous appeal over bottled: boxed beverages provide an alternative to the poster-child of un-ecological consumption, otherwise known as plastic bottles. Visit the Boxed Water webpage and you can readily find the basics on this emerging brand but we wanted more. Benjamin Edgar, a co-founder and owner at Boxed Water gives us the inside scoop.
RSVP Gallery: How did the idea to incorporate art, philanthropy and sustainability originate? And from where?
Benjamin Edgar: For quite a few years bottled water had become really fashionable in many ways - almost an accessory for people. It's a massive industry-- something like $15B-16B annually. And while those numbers continue to hold fairly steady, about four or five years ago, it really became a target for an eco-conscious stand-point. The market's behavior wasn't really changing even with the portable, refillable water bottles [available]; people were still consuming lots of bottled water. We think it’s the job of creative people, designers, and entrepreneurs to take challenges and issues like this and come up with creative steps in the right direction. That was really the genesis of boxed water. We thought [the bottled water industry] could be done a bit better.
RSVP: In an effort to make the bottled water industry a bit better, you had to refine your method of creation. What about your process helps reduce your carbon footprint?
BE: [Boxed Water] has a pretty simple approach: use a more sustainable package, ours being 76% composed of paper from trees harvested from FSC certified forests, and ship out containers in a flat to our filler so we can fit more on a single shipment than if we were using empty plastic or glass bottles.
RSVP: So basically, you reduce empty space during shipping by incorporating 90 degree angles into your product design. You are currently Grand Rapids, Michigan based. Any plans to expand to other cities to continue to minimize your carbon footprint?
BE: While our small office is based in Grand Rapids, our filling has always been in different locations. East Coast, Northern Midwest, and we're still exploring West Coast options. It's our dream to have filling locations no further than 200 miles from any of the markets we serve, but this has proved to be challenging for a small start-up like ours, especially with the consolidation that has happened in the dairy industry, which is what we rely on for contract filling. Core to running a beverage is finding really efficient shipping which we've found [only] comes with growth. It’s a bit of a chicken before the egg type of an issue.
RSVP: To how many locations are you currently shipping your product?
BE: We're hovering around 350-400 stores between Michigan, Southern California, the Chicago area, Atlanta, and NYC. Almost all locations are small independent stores, but we haven't focused any real attention on chains yet.
RSVP: What’s the best or most interesting reaction you've gotten from first time customers or observers of the product?
BE: I don't know if there is really one in particular. I used to sit at the first store [in which] we ever sold them for really long lunches and kind of secretly watch people buy it, react to it, talk about it, etc. It's so simple, but watching people take picture with it [and] posing is a really amazing feeling from a small brand owner’s stand-point.
RSVP: Has anyone ever thought you're drinking quarts of milk?
BE: We do hear that. Though, our packaging is so stark, in a way, with the black and white design, people typically gravitate to asking about [the design] rather than thinking it’s milk. I don't think our new size will get confused anymore - we'll see.
RSVP: Sometimes customers in RSVP Gallery don’t think there's actually water in the boxes. Anyone ever think you're trying to pull a fast one with your product?
BE: I think it happens at RSVP Gallery more frequently because your store is so well curated with art objects that perhaps people see it as some sort of art installation. To be honest, that’s not a bad thing to us at all.
RSVP: It’s always kind of funny when people ask. What's the funniest moment that you've had while running the business?
BE: I'll never forget a phone call I had totally out of the blue with a rather famous musician I really, really admire. He really liked the product, and we ended up discussing/arguing about our font and its proportion to the packaging size for like 20 minutes during the conversation. It was awesome and kind of funny to think back on. Getting a text from Kevin that he just delivered water to Will Smith's house was pretty wild, too. Honestly, the most fun thing ever is seeing someone randomly walking down the street with a Boxed Water. Absolutely never gets old. I've been caught staring at people with our product, which can be pretty funny.
RSVP: Any exciting plans in the works for the future?
BE: We're really excited about a new size we have coming out in early 2012. Really, for us, it’s exciting pretty much every day to watch what we've created grow little by little as new people discover what we're up to. We'd love to spend a ton of time on ideas for new packaging solutions that don't exist in the market yet.
Created as a reaction to the throw-away mentality of our society evolved into consumer art, Boxed Water, simply put, is better.
When we set out to chronicle the most elaborate and rare collections around, we knew just the man to kick off the series. The once DJ (having travelled the world on a handful of tours from Limp Bizkit to Redman), once record executive (with over twenty platinum records to his credit), now jeweler (producing pieces for big names including Tom Cruise, Kanye West and the late Michael Jackson), collector-extraordinaire, Ben Baller. Baller is widely known for his jewelry label and blog, IF & Co. Los Angeles born and raised, lived in New York City and San Francisco and has been endorsed by brands from Diamond Supply Co. to Supra footwear.
Shoes from his collection have set records, including highest group auction ever sold on eBay, going for $339,000, and highest single pair of sneakers sold, priced at $33,100. Ben Baller has been known to go to great lengths to procure the most exclusive and limited-edition items in the world. We recently caught up with him to discuss one of his most extensive collections – his BE@RBRICKs.
BE@RBRICKs, an overly simplified anthropomorphized bear, originating from the design of the Kubrick toy from Medicom Toy Inc. Each BE@RBRICK is part of an eighteen figure series under different themes, including Basic, Jellybean, Pattern, Flag, Horror, Science Fiction, Cute, Animal, Hero and Artist. The Artist theme boasts collaborations with designers from Karl Lagerfeld and Vivienne Westwood to Nike and BAPE, and graffiti artists, Stash and KAWS. Currently at twenty-three series, the collectables have continued to gain an impressive following since their development in 2001. Just one year after their initial release, Ben Baller became interested in the designer toys thanks to Eddie Cruz, founder and owner of Undefeated. Cruz introduced Baller to the famous 1000% KAWS BE@RBRICK. In the words of Ben, [he] was sprung like [he] had just seen a stack of cash. Since then, Baller’s collection has grown to house the most sought-after collaborations from Medicom, including Karl Lagerfeld and Chanel, Comme des Garçons and Colette, and KAWS and Mickey Mouse.
With BE@RBRICKs of such high caliber, you can be sure Baller’s collection is both insured and armed with an alarm system. This should come as no surprise after his first Chanel BE@RBRICK (frequently considered the "Holy Grail" to collectors). This should come as no surprise, bearing in mind (no pun intended) the collaboration never went on sale to the public. Baller goes to great lengths to grow his collection, recalling haggling with a man in Hong Kong to sell him his Pirates of the Caribbean x BE@RBRICK 1000% from his personal collection. The enthusiast attests that the most taxing part of the Hong Kong purchase was shipping the original Pirates of the Caribbean BE@RBRICK packaging—intact and unaltered—back to his LA home. On another occasion, Baller offered “stupid money” to the manager of the Rodeo Drive Fendi boutique to acquire the 100000% Fendi x BE@RBRICK, he jokes of his other wish list BE@RBRICKS, even contemplating having it robbed with four men and a van. Though the Fendi BE@RBRICK still isn’t part of Baller’s personal collection, there’s no doubt it’s on the list, alongside the Hermès, Cartier and Pepsi Edison Chen edition BE@RBRICKS.
If the willingness to drop "car money," as Baller puts it, isn’t enough to convince you of his fervor, Baller is presently in the midst of designing a BEN BALLER/IF & CO. x BE@RBRICK. And if his current collection is any indication of what’s in store, the release will be highly anticipated amongst collectors and aficionados, alike.
Head to toe Givenchy, Versace and Balenciaga… draped in all black… crowned with a Treated hat… their presence as a force is so astounding to the point of intimidation. It's not until they open their mouths that one fully understands the extent of their collective creation as something more than a group of friends claiming to treat those who incur obnoxious and undesirable behavior upon others. Treated, loosely defined, is to handle in a certain way as a result of an action, essentially meaning that if one were to conduct him/herself in a foolish way, he/she would be regarded as nothing more. To treat is to disrespect, and as an organization, they're globally treating what they call head-asses and other weak, aspiring artists. By joining their assets to create one super hip-hop aggregate, they're capable of fashioning not only an album but a lifestyle, something that has become a bit of a theme in the "New Chicago" scene. Part of the group's lasting effects can be credited to their understanding that fashion, art and music can no longer be identified as mutually exclusive, but rather building blocks to curate a habitual
routine or a way of life. The music cult is oozing identification, something on which they hone in as artists and friends. "Identifying with, as opposed to idolizing 'the greats'", as ring leader Million $ Mano states is one of the most important driving forces behind the group. "At one point, 'the greats' were our age, and we were aspiring to be like them." Now, the group has their spot in the limelight. Treated Crew is currently finishing up their album, a friendly showcase of the many talents within their team. The album is set to be released this Spring, but the crew is dropping tracks as part of Treated Tuesday, an ode to G.O.O.D Fridays, and a perfect example of group identification with a 'great.' "We don't know, [yet], if Treated Tuesdays will be weekly or spontaneous," but one thing is for sure, the group's hype will continue to build in anticipation of their album.
Individually, the members are paving their way to become the next "greats." Million $ Mano widely known as the DJ to hip-hop diva M.I.A., recently finished touring with Watch The Throne, amongst his various accomplishments as a
rapper and producer. Other members include 2009 MTVU Freshman Video winner, DJ and rapper Hollywood Holt. One of the youngest and only females in the group, Swopes is a Columbia College Chicago graphic design student has gained fame through Instagram. Mic Terror, the rapper name behind the song Hiooo, and rising DJ, rappers and producers Gzus Piece, Jon James, Nez & Rio, Sulaiman and Lee Majorz, round out the Chicago clan. Already industry tested, the individual members compliment one another, and "work well because [they] care about [their] friendship, too," which goes back almost ten years.
Individual successes aside, finding information on the group as a whole is unbelievably difficult. "It's supposed to be that way; it's a cult," vaunts Holt. The group keeps a low profile as part of their own creative control. As long time friends, joining together has been commonplace for years, and it was just recently that they have gained excessive hype due to the addition of the "Treated Crew" label. It doesn't hurt that they've collaborated with Chicago boutique, Jugrnaut (couldn't be more fitting), to release black "Treated" Starter snapbacks, and were recently named in Complex magazine's list of "Ten New Chicago Rappers to Watch Out for in 2012."
It's their name, though, that is new in 2012 and has garnered attention from many onlookers, which came about as an almost accident. Mano and Holt were hanging out, listening to some of Holt's music, and one of his lines was "treating [people] is what I do/ treating [people] with my treated crew." Upon hearing the phrase, Mano suggested adding a beat, and the two repetitiously reviewed the lyrics, which eventually evolved into their crew's name. The slang term fits seamlessly with the personalities amongst the Chicago hip-hop dignitaries. Laughing, the two continued "it's funny though, treated dates back as a staple Chicago slang term" that the pair already discussed restoring within their circle of pop culture. The mere fact that the two had previous notions of resurfacing the word for today's usage is only an indication that the group identifies with past and present to evoke their current build up to a pivotal future in the hip-hop world.
Words by Mack NielsonPhotography: Adam Ross
From a Wordpress blog to full blown hip-hop webpage introducing original video content, interviews and now a clothing line, Illroots has come a long way in the last five years. Mike Waxx first founded the site at age fifteen as a devout hip-hop fan, constantly reading message boards and blogs, and was inspired to start a site of his own. As a Connecticut native, New York City was only a train ride away, opening tremendous accessibility doors for Waxx. He began interviewing artists and attending shows with friends, dabbling in design and music reviews, and posting his observations on his webpage. It wasn’t until Mike moved to Chicago, though, that his blog developed into something more than a web based hip-hop review.
Upon moving to The Windy City for school in 2010, Waxx met Mike Carson, another Columbia College Chicago student and Illinois native. The two connected and blended their talents and interests to transform Illroots into, what they call, a “super rap blog hybrid with original content.” Waxx recalls one of their defining moments: hopping on the Megabus to Ohio to see Big Sean with hopes of connecting with him. Call it luck or the drive of passion, but Waxx and Carson did meet Sean, and did connect with him. The rapper liked what they were doing, and his manager reached out a bit later. Waxx and Carson ended up filming a video for a song with Chiddy Bang off of Sean's mix tape, the first blossoming moment between the duo and the artist. Since, the pair have become closer with the Michigan rapper, and always keep him a focus of their blog and their videography. It should come as no surprise that Waxx and Carson soon directed and held the creative vision behind the ode to derrieres, Big Sean's Dance (A$$) featuring the queen of behinds herself, Nicki Minaj. Garnering over 40 million views to date, the video functions as proof of the pair's appeal.
It's this aptitude they harnessed through Illroots, hosting unique video content from some of the most renowned artists and tours, creating their own music videos, and now their lifestyle brand, IllAmerica. IllAmerica consists of clothing, accessories and lifestyle merchandise. Waxx and the rest of the Illroots team has experimented in merchandise sales in the past with a Sir Michael Rocks
collaboration, but IllAmerica is the first major step towards expanding the musicwebpage into a lifestyle. In attempts at expansions, Darnell Williams and David Muniz, current Illroots team members, took on greater responsibilities within IllAmerica to aid in shipping and packaging in addition to video shoots and edits.Currently, the IllAmerica product is being handled and sold out of Muniz's studio space in Chicago, but can be purchased online through their webpage. With their Illroots blog and recording studio functioning within the confines of Waxx and Carson's Brooklyn apartment, they’re busting at the seams, rendering merchandise sales out of their home nearly impossible.
While undoubtedly excited about the introduction of IllAmerica, Waxx doesn’t downplay the tedious and difficult process of designing and creating an extensive merchandise line. IllAmerica was in the works around the time of SXSW last spring, over a year ago to date. Since the initial idea, he has been working with printers and manufacturers to ensure the garments are produced at the highest caliber, and held to a standard of excellence. Small details and quality control were under the strict scrutiny of team members for months leading up to the initial release. While there are no plans to release the line within brick and mortar retail locations, Waxx mentions that some retailers have expressed interest.
Waxx alongside the rest of the Illroots team, have goals to further develop the web page, and they're hoping for a Illroots3 launch in the future. Their idea is to stretch past the niche of hip-hop music and incorporate more lifestyle components to the webpage. Tumblr has proved to be an important learning tool for the pair in terms of understanding their audiences and providing content. "Through [Tumblr], we really got to know our audience, and are now working on growing to be more of an integral part in these kids' day to day lives." The kids to whom they are referring are the ones who "get it" in terms of a lifestyle. Tumblr has allowed for massive advertisement of the IllAmerica sub-brand, pushing what the entrepreneurial duo call and "IllAmerican Revolution." IllAmerican Revolution underway, we can't wait to see how the brand expands from here.
I was about ten minutes into my research regarding neoprene in the fashion industry, and I was already regretting my pitch for this piece. With a Biology and Chemistry background and a love of fashion , one would think I’d be beyond excited to dive right in, but let’s be honest, who wants to read about an inert, highly durable polymerized chloroprene? But, just when I thought this ship was about to sink, it hit me like a wave: Neoprene is so much more than a polymer used in the construction of wet suits; neoprene is the fabric of our future, and dare I say, the future fabric of our lives. Watch out cotton, as divers and designers, alike, will agree, neoprene is mighty useful.
Looking back to 2009, the neoprene trend was just gaining its footing in a leather dominated accessories industry. Manifesting itself on the runway and in editorials under the big-time names of Jil Sander and Vera Wang (neoprene miniskirts, anyone?), the luxe, tech fabric took a minor setback. Fast forward to Autumn/Winter of 2011 and recall my mentioning “leather dominated.” Gareth Pugh generated a bonded leather vest complimented through the juxtaposition of neoprene detailing. We’re talking next level nautical nonsense. Moving forward, Phillip Lim took on the colossal task of making useful the thick, flat “fabric”, thus, docks the ship known as the Nashiki zip clutch. Not just any old clutch, though, this petite handbag is made using, you guessed it, leather and neoprene.
Believe me not? While we’re time traveling, let’s globe hop, as well. Follow me to a small factory in Italy, manufacturing an ocean of neoprene bags in a sea of styles and sizes. If the range doesn’t pique your interest, perhaps the ability to machine wash them will. The little Italian company, Leghila, is the only brand producing the neoprene B-bag. Refrain from calling the fashion police; this isn’t a Birkin knock-off, but rather a reinvention. What is fashion if not a recreation of what once existed? The reinvention doesn’t stop with the B-Bag. The ladies behind Leghila have modernized a classic tote silhouette through the application of neoprene. They’ve additionally transformed a Celine and a Bottega Veneta style bag for the Spring/Sumer 2012 season. The original bag debuted in 2010 during White Fashion Week, though the newest totes have since garnered attention for their durability, wash ability and versatility.
Cue the sirens and throw overboard the anchor; this is innovation, people! Don’t let this ship sail! To dismiss neoprene as a strong emerging trend in fashion’s future would be of poor sartorial taste. So, then, dear reader, have I convinced you to mimic Halle Barry circa Cat Woman via wetsuit attire? Are you growing weary of my witty banter and poor attempts at oceanic puns? And, lastly, will you, too ride the waves of this polymerized carbon trend?
Words by Mack NielsonPhotography: RSVP Gallery
His garments are described as elegant, bold and brave. His aesthetic caters to the predisposed fashionistas and street wear enthusiasts. They evoke fetish scenes, gothic architecture and his deeply rooted religious background for inspiration. Holding the claim to fame behind Madonna's Sweet & Sticky tour costuming, Kanye West and Jay-Z's Watch The Throne album art and tour graphics and the lavish and adorned designs behind some of today's most prominent celebrities' red carpet looks, the thirty-eight years young designer, Riccardo Tisci, is pioneering today's fashion world, and he shows no signs of slowing down. His work within the Givenchy house has led to the acceptance and incorporation of high-fashion into the street wear scene, labeling Tisci as a design genius and curator of a lifestyle, blending the lines between art, music and fashion.
The Givenchy house was established in 1952 by Hubert de Givenchy with the idea of refined elegance. Though his initial collection was successful, the brand didn't gain a strong footing until Givenchy met Audrey Hepburn and Cristobal Balenciaga. Balenciaga was essential in his growth as a designer, and his influence is seen in his later collections. It was Hepburn, though, who became essential to the brand's image. In Givenchy's eyes, Hepburn was the incarnation of ideal femininity. He did the costuming for Breakfast at Tiffany's, Funny Face and Sabrina, provided the groundwork from which today's designs are shaped. While constantly maintaining the original appeal of the brand, the years gone by and change of hands have initiated changes to Givenchy's aesthetic, and allowed for changes in the demographic to which the apparel and accessories are marketed. Original designs were carefully created with a particular customer in mind. Today, designs cater to a wider variety of clientele.
Since Riccardo's induction into the Givenchy house in 2005, Tisci has managed to not only reinvent and modernize the brand, but increase sales exponentially. His fresh new face and young approach mixed with his attention to detail proved to be one of the best steps the House has made in recent years. When Riccardo entered as creative director, following Ozwald Boateng, the house had five main accounts. Today, the brand boasts over twenty-nine primary accounts, and holds the interest and loyalty of department stores, boutiques and online retailers
globally. The revamping of the Givenchy house has been a work in progress since Tisci's inauguration, and as he learns and improves upon its works, growth and prosperity.
When he was crowned creative director for Haute Couture and Ready-to-Wear, he attempted to swindle in through the backdoor as a no-name. Dressed down in a t-shirt and trainers, Tisci wasn't expecting the exuberant welcoming which he received, exposing his modesty. He was naturally skilled in design and illustration, and had little formal training until he attended Central Saint Martins and the London College of Fashion. Prior to his training in London, however, Tisci had little interest in fashion, and was mostly focused on art and music, which can be seen through his muses (Kanye West, Florence Welch, Liv Tyler and Joan Smalls), and performance artist (Marina Abramovic). Tisci utilized these friendships, and the knowledge he has gained, to aid in the transformation of Givenchy into a lifestyle brand.
Most prominent in his designs are the reinventions of classic street wear elements. Applying a fantastical or melancholic screen print to silk was virtually unheard of in the world of couture. Tisci implemented new features with a thoughtful approach, rendering his works conceptualized compositions as opposed to mere seasonal garments. Simplicity is often key in his street style garments. Oversized fit and classic silhouettes are modernized through fabrication and styling. Spring/Summer 2010 featured tees and sweatshirts with "Jesus Is Lord" lettering and gold plated thorn crowns. While daydreams from his childhood remerge for Autumn/Winter 2012 with screen printed Minotaurs, sequin-scaled sweaters and gem saturated blouses. His induction of art, music, religion and his childhood add a fresh point of view to fashion. It's the juxtaposition, though, that is most enthralling characteristic in his designs-- leather, hand-beading and opulent gowns in luxe fabrications such as silks and chiffons are mixed with knits, sweatshirts and tees, graphic printed bombers and embroidered polos. The mix of high an low, posh and street, allows for the label to be embraced by a multitude of ages, style connoisseurs and fashionably engaged.