There’s so much sun in Pat Peltier’s studio that you almost forget you’re in New York. The curtains, (de)constructed from black Levis, weren’t doing much, giving us full view of the warehouse that houses Bandulu Street Couture, a streetwear brand which walks the singular line of being both popular but exclusive.
Named after the Caribbean word for counterfeit, Bandulu has made a name for itself by re-purposing and re-imagining the clothes of corporate giants like Champion and Nike. But Peltier, who started the brand over six years ago, doesn’t rely on the universality of the labels we all grew up with. He builds on these recognizable symbols with such detail that the end product feels practically new.
“You know it’s real if it’s fake,” he jokes. But these days, it’s not just a punchline.
Last summer, Nike officially invited Bandulu to collab on their “Kyrie 5” sneaker. Clearly imitation is not the highest form of flattery, reinvention is.
The following is an edited transcript of our chat.
ULTRA: Can you put your brand’s ethos in your own words?
Peltier: Renegade, timeless art clothes.
What did you do before Bandulu started?
Bandulu came out of a hundred side hustles. I would be designing, doing illustrations, whatever for my friends. Then, eventually for brands. I worked at Bodega in Boston and that, out of all the hustles, gave me a bit of insight [into] the industry while I continued to grow Bandulu and freelance.
Side hustles make you realize the possibilities for a creative endeavor – I worked as an arborist [which is] a tree surgeon and as a petty-cab driver. Those just make you realize how much you want to do your own shit.
“Clout is strange, but it makes the industry revolve.”
So you started making the stuff you wanted for yourself and it turned into something bigger?
I started Bandulu [by] making embroidered pants for myself because I would ruin my pants – it wasn’t like, I gotta make this thing for the world.
I was making them out of necessity, and people would stop me and touch my crotch and be like, “Oh, my god what is that?” That’s when I decided that I wanted to take it further.
Out of all my endeavors, [Bandulu’s] what I felt could make me money. I studied animation at art school, but clothing is – culturally, everybody gets it. Not everyone has a painting but everyone owns clothes.
It’s utilitarian, in a way.
You want yourself to be a piece of art more so than your house – at least for young people. I saw that people would spend $600 on kicks before they would spend $300 on a painting. You know, it’s just a realistic kind of in [to the art world].
Where did your love for Nike come from and what was the first Nike product you ever owned?
I actually do remember the first pair of Nike basketball shoes [I owned]. I got them in third grade. It was a random basketball sports model from the 90s, but I remember what it looks like exactly – it was a black and white shoe that I’m pretty sure I got at Sports Authority. When I walked in to play basketball the next day, this kid Julian – one of the best basketball players [I knew] – stepped on them and was like, “Nice new kicks!” And I was like damn, that’s how it is?
So this is like a sad story, almost.
I guess… I made Bandulu out of getting my clothes fucked up, and I’ve just been always getting my clothes fucked up. It’s funny to me – I don’t care if I creased my shoes ’cause they walked all over Tokyo and Paris, ya know? Some people don’t take the walk. And just the [Nike] swoosh is so cool.
You like the brand itself or do you just like the symbol?
I like the brand itself. I’m not the biggest fan of corporations but [Nike is a] culture driver, too. I feel like you can make good products with a lot of people, but they make it feel important. And that’s definitely a reason why I always wanted to work with them and I kind of say no to a bunch of [other] projects knowing that I wanted my stuff to have this weight to it, like Nike’s.
“There’s enough brands that look simple and clean. I want this brand to be fine art.”
Where did you learn how to embroider?
I learned how to embroider from a friend in school. As soon as I learned it I was like, Oh, this is just like drawing with thread. From that very instant, I liked it. I wanted to do it on clothes [specifically] because I always thought that embroidery just on fabric was very Etsy-like – where[as] I wanted to do more like Ralph Lauren stuff.
So I would do it on clothes, and then I learned to do it on machines from friends and YouTube and just fucking up all the time.
[The fucking up] was very deliberate?
Got it. What does sustainability in fashion mean to you?
Um, right now it’s definitely a trend – but at the same time, fashion nowadays isn’t anything if it’s not sustainable. I make so few pieces and I’m so satisfied with making fewer, because I really want to ask myself before any item goes into the world: should this exist? Is this going to be loved to death? Is it going to be worth the excursion?
I’ve seen a lot of brands come and go and grow. I almost immediately start disliking something that just grows too much. I think sustainability isn’t just using recycled stuff but making sense of what you’re doing. Do you really need to expand for your own brand name or should you cap it at this because you don’t need to be cutting down anymore trees?
I think in the future, if you’re not sustainable in some way or [at least] lying about it – which some brands are now – you’re worthless. But everybody’s got a gimmick: everyone’s recycling the label material and they’re saying their material is “recycled’ when just the label [is]. The shirts are not.
It’s not regulated enough so people are able to use it as a marketing tool. It’s called “greenwashing”, when you’re basically putting on an air of morality that you’re not really standing for.
Totally. Lots of brands are greenwashing right now, especially the bigger ones.
So would you rather work on something that already exists than do cut-and-sew?
Not necessarily, but if I were to do cut-and-sew I would probably pull from history and classic cuts. In general, I’d say I like embellishing on things more than I like having things simple. I can’t picture my brand releasing something just ’cause it’s a smart, simple piece. It would need to have some quirk that makes somebody think.
There’s enough brands that look simple and clean. I want this brand to be fine art, so nothing should just come as is. [My work] is utilitarian because you can wear it – but you don’t need to have anything I’m offering. You want it because it looks ridiculous and fly. I think when most brands do cut-and-sew, [they] pale in comparison to what they used to be.
You want people to interact with the stuff you make and have an experience.
How do you feel about social media and clout shaping streetwear and brands?
I don’t know… clout is strange but it makes the industry revolve, you know? It’s always been there. Clout is nothing new but with the ability to put numbers on it, it’s sky-rocketed. It used to be who you knew and who you heard about and now it’s like, “Oh, you haven’t heard about this person? This person’s had a blue check for so long.” It’s like a game.
But you know at the same time, I’ve also realized – I’ve had this brand for 6 years now – and the clout stuff really does come and go. Even if a brand sticks around, [sometimes] they’ll redo their entire ethos just to stay with the trend, whereas good brands don’t really follow it.
We’re all living in it, regardless of what we think about it. Do you have any advice for people who are trying to start their own business?
If you want to start your own brand, just do it. If you don’t see what you want to make in the market, it’s almost your responsibility to make it – if it’s good. There’s no time like the present.