We’ve been long time fans of Bandulu, the NYC-based label founded by Pat Peltier, known for transforming vintage clothing and sportswear into unique, one of a kind garments with hand-sewn paint splatters – a trademark of his style. The name Bandulu borrows from Jamaican slang for “bootleg”, a concept that founder Peltier describes as a ‘more-than-meets-the-eye’ aesthetic thats goes into every aspect of the brand. Emerging out of the Tumblr generation in 2012 but not becoming a fully fledged brand until 2013, Peltier’s original embroidered jeans, sweats and sneakers became a viral sensation thanks to the trompe l’oeil effects that used painstakingly intricate hand embroideries to imitate Jackson Pollock style paint splatters. For Peltier, this meticulous process was about adding a touch of conspicuous luxury, without vanity. Conscious of the fashion industries impact on the planet, Peltier was one of handful of artists at the time, alongside creators likes of Dr Romanelli, who were truly embracing the concept of upcycling and craftsmanship as a way to rejuvenate life back into quality vintage garments. While this may have become a standard in today’s climate conscious world, Bandulu’s American “street couture” was ahead of its time and provided a blueprint for the crossover between artistic vision and responsible design. For Peltier this approach to quality has always been less about reputation, and more about integrity.

With a fast growing fanbase online, and items selling out immediately, its not surprising that Bandulu’s caught the attention of celebrities and athletes alike, with clients including Drake, Serena Williams, 2 Chainz and more. Bandulu’s bootleg takes on brands like Nike, Converse and Champion have done little to deter these labels and so far there’s been no cease and desists. Rather in a climate where brands borrow other companies’ motifs, riff on forgotten band merch and create pop culture tributes, Bandulu’s designs were riding high on the zeitgeist of knock-off style that came about in 2016. With social media acting as a driving force, Peltier conscious designs earned him collaborations with a growing number of labels who were looking to play with their own self image and the perceptions of consumers. So far Bandulu has worked on sneaker collaborations with Converse and the Boston Celtics, but in 2019 Bandulu received his biggest collaboration to date – creating a sneaker with Nike and NBA player Kyrie Irving for his 5 series shoe.

While we have been following Bandulu since we first spotted them on Tumblr, we hadn’t had the chance to connect with Pat in person until late last year when we were in NYC for Kingpins fabric fair. We stopped by his studio in Brownsville, Brooklyn to hear how it all started, where Bandulu is at now and to get a live demonstration of how a Bandulu product is brought to life.

Denim Dudes: Hey Pat, great to finally meet you after all these years following you on Instagram and even Tumblr! Can you tell us how you first got into doing these embroideries?

Bandulu: The real bandulu concept and the process behind it and how it happened first was literally because I was ruining the clothes I liked or I would thrift and I would see something really nice but it had a stain on it. It was this constant problem I was running into with my messy creative lifestyle. I was living in Boston where I was at art school studying animation and I’d started to learn embroidery with some friends who I was studying with and I was like, oh, I can like fix my own clothes with these hand embroideries. One day I just thought, what if I embroider over and covered this stain exactly with an embroidery. Originally I was experimenting with details like a polo pony, but it was more like graffiti, and then I started exploring the paint splatter technique on items like Champion sweats, Nike shorts and Levi’s jeans. It became a very natural process.

DD: and did you designs quickly pick up interest amongst other art school students?

B: So around the same time I also worked at a Boston streetwear store called Bodega. I was really into sneakers, basketball and streetwear and the store mostly hired artists so I got an in there. For the first couple of times I worked there, I didn’t even wear my designs because I thought they would think I was kind of corny. Art school stuff. But then I wore it once and everybody was like, ‘yeah, we could sell this here’. And they had amazing stuff. I was like, ‘whoa’. I was kind of surprised. And then I traveled a little bit, across Europe and while I was there a lot of people would see my pants and be like ‘whoa what is that?’ and wanted to touch it.

DD: So you were doing everything by hand originally, no machines?

B: Yeah it can be pretty tough on heavy fabrics like denim, double layered canvas or on shoes. But t-shirts I do all the time. It does take time though and even though I’ve been doing it for so long, the reason I haven’t been able to grow is because I’ve always wanted to keep it a very bespoke, and customised. I don’t want it to necessarily be like this big thing where I turn to automation and just churn it out. There’s been a couple opportunities to just make it a bigger streetwear brand but I love the quality, the concept and I love the process.

DD: How long roughly would it take you to do a pair of jeans?

B: A pair of my paint splatter jeans would probably take around seven hours, but a shirt is relatively quick and I can do in about 20 minutes

DD: Have you always consciously made upcycling vintage part of the process or was it just what you could get your hands on at the time?

B: It was both. Using vintage was natural and what I started with because I was thrifting and I would like that stuff. So I would get it and wear it and embroider it myself. And since it was vintage, I could still wear it and sell it as I was kind of advertising it. I know a lot of people who produce clothing and it’s tough to produce high quality clothing without major funding. Whereas like you could find Old Champion, Ralph, Nike and Levi’s and the colors are perfectly faded which would even be hard to achieve from producing new. You also hear about the wicked ways of the fashion industry, so I was hesitant to just make a bunch of stuff. So keeping it intimate and using vintage just made so much sense.

DD: What are you major inspirations when you’re designing?

B: It’s mostly inspired by my childhood subconscious of the 90s. I had older brothers and a sister who would wear baggy Levi’s silver tab, skate gear and champion sweats. It was so basic. With my designs, I’m not trying to add another sleeve or be too crazy with it. It’s like couture to street in the same way Supreme does. They don’t mess with the technicalities too much. Its classic, but extra.

DD: has embroidery always been your niche or have you explored any other craft techniques?

B: Embroidery is certainly the bread and butter. But I do beading applications on the dog jeans and a few other embellished pieces as well as screen printing too. Patchwork is something else we’re exploring too with cordoroy on cargos. Everything is heavily made with love.

DD: When did you move to New York City?

B: So I started in Boston, but since I was younger I would have friends in NYC so I would be coming here almost every month to come to stores, boutiques, art shows and being a delinquent and going to parties. Boston was great and had a really strong artistic community but it’s just a little more of a college town. So there’s not so much going on. So I’d come to New York and get pumped with the energy and Boston was so low key where I’d work and be embroidering for weeks on end. I kept saying I’d move to New York and eventually I moved here two years ago.

DD: How did the Nike project come about?

B: Nike approached me about doing a shoe for Kyrie Irving which he ended up wearing in a game. So that was pretty big. I’d previously collaborated on some stuff with Converse, but it wasn’t really in the same way as Nike. With Converse it was more like Converse working with me with my embroideries where they gave me 50 blank Chucks, which was super cool. But with Nike it went up a level where we actually made cads and produced the sneakers in a factory. So it felt like an official collaboration. With this style we obviously moved the application to automative and this is something I really didn’t want to do until I got a major stamp of approval. Now I feel like if I were to work on something with Levi’s or Carhartt we could do machine. I’d really like to start to work with bigger brands like them and bring the embroidery into more of a commercial language.

DD: Is most of your product bespoke orders or do you do drops too?

B: It’s probably 75% batches and drops and 25% where people order custom. Since the Nike collab Im trying to make my own product even more intimate and hard-to-find. Expanding isn’t like the goal. It’s more about becoming more special and rare.

DD: Have you noticed that people are looking for rarer pieces like this where it’s harder to get hold of?

B: Totally. I think I make amazing clothes, but I’m surprised that so many people are into expensive ‘one of one’s’ Sometimes it’s like what’s the validation? Take for example a Gucci piece. It looks good and like feels good and it’s Gucci, you know. There’s a lot of stuff like me, Warren Lotus and Come Tees that are offering product that’s more intimate. It’s like the modern day couturiers and the modern day people making it. And then it’s just there’s so much shit being made in these cycles of what to cop that it’s nice to have a one of one because you might go out and see just five other people in a Schott jacket or this or that. It’s crazy how tapped in everyone is now. But even if you’re tapped in, the one of one stuff is something that not everyone can get.

DD: Where did the name Bandulu come from?

B: It’s a Jamaican word for bootleg. Back in Boston my friends and I had started a business where we were making web sites and t-shirts for reggae bands. I always loved the concept of it being bootleg. I liked Bandulu as it was a name like Versace, where people don’t necessarily know how to say I say it. So I just kept it with that and it worked out. I’ve been transparent about using the word, as it is a little cultural appropriation for sure. Even if you know what it means, its not like Im selling Bob Marley merch, it’s just this painter world. It’s almost become a verb now for paint-splatter and embroidery. People will ask now ‘yo, can you Bandulu this?’

DD: How do you feel the definition of bootleg has evolved over the past few years with the likes of Dapper Dan working with Gucci or Imran Potato doing LV homages?

B: It’s a double edged sword but I can’t blame any designer for using the iconography of fashion to use in their fashion. Louis Vuitton’s Monogram means so much as does Burberry’s check or Champion’s C. But it’s really about how do you tastefully take these icons and make them better. It’s it’s almost like seeing a hole and thinking Louis would never make this, but its fly. This generation of bootlegging is kind of fascinating in how it’s bordering into art.

DD: Have you ever got into trouble with any brands for using their logos?

B: Everyone like Nike, Champion, BBC have reached out positively. I’ve never been issued any illegal letters and I think it’s because people at those companies appreciate the art of what I do. If anything they believe that Im making their product look good. It’s a fine line because a lot of people could make Nike drip, but Nike has done that in the past. The trick of what I do is in the mind fuckery, and taking it to the next level. That’s what I appreciate about Warren Lotas and what he does with the skulls. When I first started, I thought doing the embroidery next to logo was important, but ultimately it’s a detriment. I think people want the art more but they also love that logo and association with that cult icon.

DD: What do you would you say the next steps are for the brand then going forward?

B: I have a couple of pop-ups and I have a pop-up world tour this year because I feel there’s a couple of places I’ve wanted to go and spaces I’ve wanted to build out. But I am also going to try to go into the fine art world a little bit more. It will look like Bandulu, but it’s almost like Bandulu is an art project under the Pat LTA umbrella. I feel like it’s a very interesting, exciting time for DIY designers that are bordered on art. I still think of the clothes as art but its for a new generation who want to wear it rather than hanging it on the wall at home.