If you’re obsessed with fashion, gear and the culture surrounding it, you’ve probably established that group chat of like-minded friends that is constantly discussing all the latest fashion news and topics. Lately a hot topic for us has been the idea of not needing more products, but better products. Every day there are new brands and new releases popping up. Some of them are great but most are indistinguishable from the other five hundred “Gildan brands” or cheap ‘made in China’ accessory labels. It’s easier than ever to start a brand right now but does that necessarily mean you should jump right into it?
We think maybe not and Jay Yoo, founder of functional small carry bag brand Bolstr, thinks the same. For over 20 years, Jay has been honing his craft carefully to blend function and style into products that don’t just look good, but solve a problem — a feat that is not done overnight. In the early 2000’s, Jay was frequently travelling for work and noticed a gap in apparel and gear for men in this niche. Since then, he has been on a spree of developing products that improve the day-to-day activity of style-conscious men. Jay first launched a techwear jacket line that was carried in Japanese retailers like BEAMS & Nepenthes and proved to be a pioneer in the space. Now we see players like Errolson Hugh’s Acronym whom Jay reveres as one of the “best makers of techwear and functional garments”. Jay later went on to be one of the first to create the ‘slim wallet’ for men, saving pocket space with the “less is more” mantra. In 2014 Jay launched Bolstr, a small, highly functional men’s bag that could be used as an intermediary between a backpack and an overstuffed pocket. In 2015, Art of Manliness wrote “We’re in a cultural place where men carry a medium to large bag, or whatever fits in their pockets, but nothing in between.” and GQ released a story called "Dude: Bulging Pockets Make Your Pants Look Terrible", confirming the need for a brand like Bolstr.
While the Bolstr bag looks great, Jay doesn’t consider Bolstr a fashion brand. “I’ve seen so many people stuff their pockets to the max because backpacks aren’t cool anymore and there’s still a stigma around men carrying small bags and I want to change that.” Jay says. “It’s not about being another fashion bag brand. Those already exist but they focus on looks and not function” he continues. Jay also received some valuable advice from his friend and founder of Xhibition, Cleveland’s premier streetwear boutique, Robert Rosenthal. “Robert told me to stay away from the fashion angle with Bolstr because there are a million fashion bag brands out there and that’s not what Bolstr was made for. This bag is made to solve a problem and that’s what is important to show people.” Jay says. Nowadays, if you’re going to start a brand for the sake of making “cool clothes”, you’re going to have a hard time gaining the market share that you’ll need to be successful. We’re not here to stop anyone from getting out the sewing machine but it’s important to think about what else your brand can do for your customers and how your products stand apart from all the others.
Jay spent over two years developing the first Bolstr small carry bag with this thinking. From the pockets to the closures and strap placements, Jay never rushed development, ensuring that the Bolstr outperformed all other small carry bags from a performance standpoint while also looking good. “I didn’t fuss too much about the design when I was developing the bag.” Jay told us. “First, I need to make the perfect bag from a functional use standpoint and then I can start coming in with fancy colours and materials.” Jay referenced the Nike Air Force 1 as an inspiration for him. Once you create the perfect silhouette, then you can start to mess around with different colourways and collaborations but not the other way around.
Having a solution-oriented mindset will also help if you’re thinking about fundraising, something that many new designers require to get started. Jay saw early success through crowdsourcing platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo which describes as difficult but a great exercise to go through as you develop your brand. “Crowdsourcing is brutally honest. If your product isn’t unique or doesn’t solve a problem, you’ll find out very quickly and have a very hard time raising money.” Jay says. If you’re really good, there are even major companies that can help boost your campaigns and make you millions of dollars but they are very specific when it comes to choosing who they work with so your positioning statement and solution better be airtight.
At Pier Five, we aim to inspire. If you want to create then, by all means, you should create but we also want you to succeed if your goal is to build a business. Think very hard about what gap your products can fill for others and if that gap is already filled, iterate until there is no better substitute and you’ll be set for life. Lastly, be passionate about what you’re trying to solve. For Jay, he hopes to put an end to what he refers to as the “overstuffed George Costanza pocket”. “You can’t easily access your things when you have them all shoved into your front pockets. I want to make it cool to carry those things in a nice bag because it’s so much more comfortable and will truly make your daily activities so much easier.” Jay is absolutely right!
To learn more about Bolstr and back the newest campaign, head to their website and keep it locked to Pier Five for more stories and interviews with the best in fashion, art, business, sports, food & more.