By GREGORY ZELLER //
“Streetwear” may be rooted in the California surf culture, but the hoodies and hats in the Boyz From New York catalogue represent a decidedly different state of mind.
Popularized first by Left Coast surfers and skaters, streetwear encompasses many elements of so-called “hip-hop fashion” (the clotheshorses over at GQ can tell you more). All of those elements – comfort, functionality, attitude – are front-and-center at circa-2018 startup Boyz From New York Streetwear, though they’re served with a specifically New York flavor.
That’s the focus of ambitious entrepreneurs Christopher Vicari and Joseph Bolson, the native New Yorkers (and cousins) who launched their e-retail clothing company earlier this year. Vicari, a Manhattanite and the startup’s CEO, and Bolson, who hails from Deer Park and serves as CFO, knew exactly the kind of clothing they wanted to peddle – and precisely the hook on which they’d hang their fledgling line.
“What makes our brand unique is it has a personality in and of itself,” Vicari told Innovate LI. “When someone makes a reference to the Boyz From New York, you instantly get an understanding of what they’re talking about.
“Being from New York carries a reputation that’s known around the world,” he added.
That mindset flavors the “BZNY” collection, which includes T-shirts, short- and long-sleeved hooded sweatshirts and more, all carrying the startup’s various logos and insignia. Vicari, who studied fashion management at Pace University, and Bolson, who studied pre-law at Farmingdale State College and now studies law at Cornell University, ponied up most of the young company’s war chest – about $15,000 between them, bolstered by another $5,000 in private investments – but they recruited a family friend for help with the myriad designs.
The “inspiration,” according to Bolson, actually came from that friend – a now semi-retired freelance artist who made a name decorating National Hot Rod Association dragsters.
“He thought of some cool, unique ways to promote New York,” the CFO noted. “We wanted to make our own fashion line and clothing company, and he pitched us some great ideas on how to do it.
“He really helped Christopher and me with designing the products and logos, how they should look, the color schemes,” Bolson added. “It’s always important to get an artist’s opinion on how things should look.”
With the styles set – urban skylines, bold acronyms, lots of blacks and grays – the entrepreneurs turned to manufacturing. Many fashion-focused startups will look to overseas production to keep initial overhead low, but for these boys from New York, “Made in China” just wouldn’t do.
Instead, they cut a deal with a NYC-based manufacturer, allowing them to make weekly visits to the production floor – “We want to make sure our clothes are being made the right way,” Bolson noted – and infusing the threads with true Big Apple flavor.
“Our brand is centered around New York,” Bolson said. “We felt it was important to have everything made here.
“Yes, it’s more expensive to make it here, as compared to overseas,” he added. “But making the clothing authentic to New York was important to us.”
That authenticity not only gives BZNY an edge against all other streetwear manufacturers, but specifically against competitors brandishing similar names. Boyz From New York is not to be confused with the short-lived Chinese brand BoyZ New York or the New York-based menswear label boys of new york – both of which predate BZNY, Bolson noted, but can’t match the startup’s street cred.
“We were aware of all the other companies (when we launched),” Bolson said. “They’re amateur, tourist-based deals – for people coming to New York who want a piece of memorabilia and stuff like that.
“Our brand isn’t about ‘hey, you’re in New York,’” he added. “It’s about everyone around the world who feels like they’re a part of this New York attitude.
“You don’t see that in the competition.”
The message appears to be resonating with BZNY’s target audience. The startup already moves “hundreds of products” weekly, according to Bolson, relying solely on what Vicari called “the most important form of marketing that a new business can take advantage of” – social media.
“Maintaining weekly postings is important to stay in the mind of your consumer,” the CEO said, noting busy BZNY Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts. “It’s also very important to make sure your brand message is consistent through all the platforms. It ensures instant brand recognition.”
With word spreading and sales rising, the cousins will focus next on growing their audience. For now, the only place to score BZNY gear is through the company’s online store, but “one of our biggest goals is to get our clothing into retail stores that fit with our brand,” according to Vicari, who counted brick-and-mortar retailers including Tillys and Urban Outfitters among their primary targets.
Boyz From New York also wants to “reach a bigger audience on the Internet,” according to Bolson, who noted the importance of wooing social media influencers who can promote the BZNY brand.
For a neophyte business in a particularly crowded field, that can be tough. But tough doesn’t scare these partners, who are, after all, New Yorkers.
“We took a lot of pride in doing the best we could with the limited resources we have,” Bolson noted. “Twenty-thousand dollars is not a lot of money to some people, but we’re no billionaires.
“We put a lot into the quality of what we sell,” he added. “We’ve put in our money and a lot of work. And I would say we’re more than pleased with where we are right now.”
Boyz From New York
What’s It? Streetwear, with a New York state of mind
Brought To You By: Cousins Christopher Vicari and Joseph Bolson
All In: About $20,000, mostly self-invested, covering design, manufacturing and related startup expenses
Status: Most on fleek