|Bobi Designer Kara Lusardi|
Could you tell us about your background and how you got started with Bobi?
I’m from New York and I’ve been in the industry almost 20 years. I went to FIT in Manhattan for illustration, not design. I was doing freelance illustration. My friend was working at Cynthia Rowley, and there was a part time production job. So I decided to get that job, and also freelance. I wound up working at Cynthia Rowley for 3 years doing that production job, and it turned into a career.
I’m a designer, but production is 90% of the job now, so my background in production really helped me. I moved to LA in 1996. I was interviewing for Rampage for a production job. The interviewer looked at my artwork and put me right in the design department at Rampage. I worked at Rampage, XOXO as a designer in LA. I took a break for 2 years because I was very interested in retail. I wanted to design my own t shirts and put them in my own store along with other merchandise. I was a manager at Nicole Miller on Sunset in California. I went back to NY and worked in childrenswear for 7 years, I was the head designer for a major childrenswear company. I designed for labels like Mudd and OshKosh. Then I moved back in 2005, because of the contemporary tee shirt industry here. I consulted with owners, designers and sales teams of many companies like BCBG, to get lines back on track. I was doing that for 2 years and got a reputation for flipping contemporary companies.
Then company I work with now, Genexus, called me, and said they wanted to start a contemporary T Shirt company. They said: “Would you come and start it for us and then you could leave.” I was originally planning to move back to LA to start my own store. But this company just worked out so well for me. It’s so great, there’s no way I was leaving. At our first trade show, Intermezzo, we blew up. I started it and it just took off. It’s basically my own line except for the financing and it’s a big company. They own a garment factory in China, so I go to China constantly. I love this company. It was exactly the kind of line that I wanted to do. So I stayed on. It’s been five and a half years and now I run the whole position. I’m Bobi, people called me Bobi.
Did you come up with the name Bobi?
The name is one of the only things I didn’t do. The VP was trying to come up with a name and we discussed it. I wanted a neutral girl name. He thought of Bobbi because it sounded kind of tomboyish. We took one of the b’s out and came up with the name. It’s catchy and it works. It’s for everybody, every girl.
Could you describe your line?
We started off very basic. Very long tanks, long tees, to cover your back side, to cover your fat. Layering pieces. We got a great response to that. Five and a half years later, now we have so many fashion tees. We also do bathing suit cover ups, sweaters, cool jumpsuits. All the dresses are made from t shirt material – 100% cotton. We have tons of tons of tee shirt dresses. Our competition includes James Perse. However, we do so many more dresses. Dresses are 50% of our line. We do everything with a twist.
For the spring and summer, what trends do you think would be popular?
What’s ready to wear now and for summer this year – is military, dressy grunge look. It’s about white tees with little military jackets. Leggings and Minnetonkas. All understated. At night, it’s not so cool to wear a dress anymore. It’s cooler to wear a long tee shirt.with a long black maxi skirts for a dressy feel. Maxi skirts are a huge trend right now. Brigitte Bardot. Military is in right now.
For next year, people will be getting sick of army colors and the basics. You’re going to see a lot of bright colors. West Palm Beach 1981. Next spring our theme will be Cuba. Instead of pastels, you’ll see nice bright dresses in bold colors. Electric blues, reds. People want to have fun again. People want that excitement back. Think Gloria Estefan, Miami style machine, ruffle off the shoulder, the bombshell.
What’s your inspiration for Fall?
Fall is more NY based trends. In the spring, the line is always more bohemian. It’s about getting back to basics. There’s also an industrial theme happening because of Lady Gaga. For fall, we infused industrial Lady Gaga with the industrial old time so there are a lot strong style lines, in military colors. We have two weird trends but they somehow work together. We usually have 3 stories happening at once. Last season, we had Black swan theme. Every season, we offer so many colors, 20 colors. We have a lot of fun with color in our line. Bobi is all about color.
Since you’re bicoastal, do you see any similarities between NY and California fashion?
One trend that I see, looking at tabloids and magazines and on the street, are different stories going on top and bottom, e.g. military upper part, and flowy black skirt. They’re contradictory stories, which create really interesting, individual looks. Lots of layering, sheer material. People are going back into their closets and reworking the things they have. I see women spend money on white long layering pieces that you could infuse into your wardrobe or on flower prints to update things that you have. It’s all about flowers. Flowers mixed with military to make it girly.
What Trends are you not a fan of?
Those new shoes, platform sandal/flip flops, that tie around your ankles. Michael Kors makes them. I understand them. But it’s just really unfeminine. I dress for women, but you don’t totally want to scare guys away and to me, this shoe does the job.
Where do you see your line going in five year?
I see Bobi becoming much more of a collection and one stop shopping, like BCBG. We are trying to expand our dress division. More dressy dresses. Nothing promish or satin. Higher end fabric and fancier dresses in the range of $225 for a cool wedding. We’re also building an outerwear category. We’re in every country and opening up stores. We just opened a store in Rome. We’re continuing to do department stores.
We haven’t started flagship store yet because we just don’t have the manpower right now. But that will happen. That is something that we do want to do. We’re building a company. We keep bringing in higher level people constantly as we grow. We’ll always have the great price points and higher end fabrics.
Speaking of price points, Bobi has great pricepoints!
We sit in high end stores, that sell Stella McCartney shirts for $200+. And then you’ll see our long white tee for $40. At those prices, we can sell 3 pieces to every 1 of the pricier items. People can’t necessarily afford the $250 shirt. I used to buy those $200 shirts, but I don’t buy them anymore. It’s not that I can’t afford them. I’d rather spend by money on shoes, bags or denim. When it comes to shirts, I wear my shirts twice- because I’m a girl. That’s what girls do! That’s why F21 is doing well. They have great cuts, women are buying shirts there and wearing their expensive denim and shoes. They don’t want to spend 89 dollars on white tee shirt. We’re hitting price points that people think are affordable.
Who are your favorite designers?
I’m friend of Rebecca Taylor. Regardless of the friendship, Rebecca Taylor is one of my favorite lines. The prints are so classy, attractive, girly and bohemian. It’s the perfect clothing for me. If I were to spend money it would be on Rebecca Taylor or Diane Von Furstenberg. I also love Free People. One of the reasons why I love FP is because none of it is like my line. Half of my closet is Free People It’s so cool, unique. It’s great to throw a Free People vest over one of my tee shirts! I love Calvin Klein basics. J. Mendel is probably my favorite high end designers, so classic and clean. The cuts get you noticed. You can’t go wrong with J. Mendel. I love Michael Kors. All my shoes are Michael Kors – I buy 2 new pairs every season from MK! I love Paper Denim. I’m very dedicated to certain labels. It’s so hard to find things that works for you. So when you see something, you will stick to it. That’s the same thing with our business. 90% of our business is return customers buying more and more, because it works for them.
If you were to do a collaboration, who would you do it with?
If I were to do a collaboration with anyone, I’d love it to be Target! A designer is an artist and it’s like sharing a painting with somebody. It’s so difficult to collaborate. But it’s easier to do it with a store. That’s the kind of partnership I’m looking for! I definitely appreciate other artists and designers. I never thought about collaborating with anyone.
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Honestly, it gets more difficult everyday. Literally I worked until 1 or 2 in the morning everyday. It’s not about having enough people. I’m running the label, so there are some things that only I can do. When you start, there are production issues, kinks to work out, gaining the trust of your retailers. Building those relationships and keeping people happy is the hardest part of business. There are so many details. T shirts are always about the fit. So the factory will ask me why I need a change of a 1/4 inch. There’s lots of back and forth. But it’s all rewarding! Everything that I do, even when I’m frustrated on the phone with the factory in China at 1 in the morning, I love my job!