Street Style: Four Pittsburgh designers make their mark


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Got swagger? Apparently Pittsburgh does.

A handful of 'Burgh-based designers has cropped up with sneakers, graphic tees, hats, shades and more worthy of a hip-hop star.

And in some cases, chart toppers -- such as the city's own Mac Miller and Wiz Khalifa -- have donned their duds in music videos or on tour. Others look to these rappers, as well as art, politics and inner-city culture, as their muse. Here are a few men behind the city's street style surge:

Bill Niels, Daily Bread Pa

Mac Miller doesn't just owe some of what he rhymes about to Pittsburgh people and places but also some of his wardrobe. Bill Niels, 23, of Point Breeze, is the founder and creative director of street wear line Daily Bread Pa and a friend of the rapper from the East End.

"Most of his videos up to 'Don't Mind If I Do' a year or two ago, I dressed him in most of them," Mr. Niels said.

As Mac's YouTube hits and concert sales have swelled, so has the exposure Daily Bread tees, ball caps and hoodies have received.

"He always took me with him whenever he went on tour, and I've started to meet a lot bigger artists outside of Pittsburgh because of Mac," he said.

With Daily Bread Pa set to unveil this week its third season of apparel, Mr. Niels has traded in frequent trips on the road with Mac to focus on cultivating the collection.

"We like to carefully craft everything and have the best quality of everything," he said.

Mr. Niels likes to incorporate vintage fabrics into some designs and strives to come up with pieces beyond the usual black-and-gold styles common to Pittsburgh street fashion. Prices are mixed, with many selections less than $100.

"My vision in the beginning ... was it would be so cool to create a street wear line that would be eligible to be in New York."

His eye for design stems from his passion for photography. Before starting the clothing line, he documented the day-to-day happenings of Mac and other rapper friends in an online photo journal he dubbed the same name as the collection.

Now he's eager to continue learning and growing the line and its reach.

"It's not about the money," Mr. Niels said. "To me, I just love what I do."

Information: The online shop will relaunch Wednesday at dailybreadpa.com. Clothes also are available at One Up Skate Shop, 1409 E. Carson St., South Side, and Timebomb Shop, 200 S. Highland Ave., Shadyside.

Ben Smith, Brush Footwear

Ben Smith has been turning heads with his colorful, artsy footwear since he was a kid.

"I was just sitting in class one day in grade school and started drawing on my shoes and did that all the way up into high school," he said.

Back then, his clients were primarily friends who wanted one-of-a-kind shoes, but he was often encouraged to turn his Sharpie-doodled kicks into a line of designer sneakers.

"I just decided to go with it."

Today, Mr. Smith is the artist and CEO behind Brush Footwear, which the 22-year-old Natrona Heights resident founded in November 2010. In its short lifespan, it has enjoyed participating in top shoe shows, such as Sneaker Con and Sneaker Pimps, and has attracted fans from across the world, including Pittsburgh Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury and his former teammate Max Talbot. He also has created a couple of pairs for auction and sale at the Mattress Factory, inspired by exhibits at the museum on the North Side.

Craftsmanship is key to the collection, Mr. Smith said. He uses a special acrylic paint that does not peel or crack and seals shoes with a clear weatherproof coating to help ensure the art will last. All shoes are hand-painted.

His inspirations are as varied as the range of hues, skulls, lettering, polka dots and other patterns that splash his shoes. Sometimes, people come to him with suggestions. Other times, he draws ideas from nature, art and pop culture.

"I listen to every type of music, from Johnny Cash to Wiz Khalifa to Mac Miller," he said. "It all just plays into my work, and I just go out to the studio and let it flow out."

Prices vary based on the design commissioned, but shoes from preexisting collections usually start at a couple of hundred dollars.

Information: www.brushfootwear.com.

Jumbe Phiri, PhiriVon

Jumbe Phiri has a knack for good fashion. He likes to read about it in magazines like GQ and sport it whenever he can. He even has some experience making T-shirts for school and sports teams while attending Central Catholic High School in Oakland.

"But sometimes I don't like what other brands put out," said Mr. Phiri, 20, who moved in sixth grade to the United States from Africa.

The solution: "Wouldn't it be much easier if I made my own clothes?"

The Saint Vincent College student divvies his time between studying accounting and marketing and designing PhiriVon, a clothing line he started about two years ago with Tonie Vaughn of New Kensington.

The collection of hoodies, T-shirts, sweats and tanks for men and women boasts a street-meets-skateboarder vibe and playful graphics, such as one with three white gloved Hamburger Helper hands gesturing "4 -1- 2."

"That's our bread and butter. We'll never stop selling that shirt," Mr. Phiri said.

Other tops feature fresh takes on Pittsburgh sports teams' logos or uplifting phrases, such as "I don't have fans. I have believers." Clothes typically are in the $20 to $40 price range.

Producing wear that sends a positive message is a must for Mr. Phiri.

"As far as kids, I want them to know there's more to life than just being out in the streets," he said. "You can be creative in your own way ... and enjoy what you do."

He also hopes the collection will motivate other locals with an interest in fashion to explore their talents.

"My whole purpose of the whole fashion thing and the whole clothing thing is to be what Wiz Khalifa has been [for Pittsburgh's hip-hop scene] for the fashion scene here," he said. "We're trying to open doors for a lot of new up-and-coming lines."

Information: www.phirivonclothing.bigcartel.com. PhiriVon also can be found at Social Status, 717 Liberty Ave., Downtown, and Flawless Fashions, 4370 Murray Ave., Squirrel Hill.

David Bartek, Blasfome

Video producer, body piercer, mechanic -- David Bartek has dabbled in them all.

And each seemingly unrelated stint has served as a mile marker on the path to his latest role, founding owner of clothing line Blasfome.

"Cars are just big canvases like anything else," said Mr. Bartek, 32, of Mount Washington. He also furthered his feel for visual arts by taking video courses at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and talking to tattoo artists about designs during his piercing days.

Since 2007, he's applied this mix of school-learned and self-taught skills to churning out stickers, sunglasses and menswear with a no-nonsense punk philosophy.

"It's got a really kind of a death metal kind of aesthetic to it," he said. Clothing can go from about $25 into the $300 range for some coats.

Blasfome has recently reopened its wholesale division and hopes to increase distribution out West and in parts of the South, all while staying in-tune with Pittsburgh patrons.

Its flagship store at 1923 E. Carson St. on the South Side regularly sponsors music events and supports local artists, such as Beebie and the 58s. Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller also have worn pieces from the collection, Mr. Bartek said.

"It's amazing what an endorsement like that can do for a brand. The Pittsburgh hip-hop movement, honestly, it's really impressive just to be a part of that and watch it grow from its infancy."

Information: www.blasfome.com.

fashion

Sara Bauknecht: sbauknecht@post-gazette.com. First Published April 24, 2012 9:45 PM


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