Written Exclusively For and Published By WEAVE Magazine – Volume 2, May 2014.
by Sarra Scherb
A dramatic metal staircase sweeps down through the center of the Bombshelter, mirrored in the high gloss of the dark concrete floors. A parade of ankle-breaking high heels and spiked wedges marches down the steps, glittering wickedly in the overhead lights. Down one side of the ground floor space are spartan standing desks studded with shiny swivel monitors, all powered down for the moment, but brimming with potential energy. Sharp corners, hard surfaces, high shine, and that waterfall of killer neon shoes: it looks like the lair of a chic and deadly supervillainess.
I’m met by Pablos Holman, CEO of Bombsheller, who—despite his glasses that look cobbled together from chrome robot bones—is no villain. But he’s certainly as diabolically clever and ambitious as one. His plan? To get you, and everyone you know, in a pair of custom-fit, artist-designed, one-of-a-kind, sustainably and locally produced leggings. All while changing the way that clothing is conceived, ordered and produced.
“Bombsheller is renegade fashion. We’re going to get in, throw our bombs into the industry, and it won’t be long before everyone gets to wear whatever they really, truly want.” -Holman
The fashion industry won’t know what hit it.
This pop-punk edgy fashion company is headed up by co-founders Holman, Marissa Monteiro and Nick Vu. It moved into its lair in January of 2014, and turns a year old this summer. Bombsheller’s ethic revolves around collaboration and customization. Artists from around the world are encouraged to virtually submit designs to be made into leggings, and they set their own royalties to receive for each online sale. Customers order their favorite shells (the preferred term for leggings), and their choice is printed, cut, sewn, and shipped from the Seattle headquarters within 24 hours. The print-on-demand model saves the company the cost and waste of making five hundred pairs of S, M and L of each design, keeping them in inventory, and then dumping them in a landfill when they don’t sell. This streamlined approach means Bombsheller can accept hundreds—even thousands—of designs to add to their catalogue, which grows every day.
Bombsheller prides itself on being a fully Seattle-based company. That means that its marketing, production, printing, and shipping all happen under the same roof, with employees paid in USD. The only part of creating their shells that’s outsourced is the design itself: the patterns are submitted by artists using Bombsheller’s tech specs on their website. Traditional media artists, graphic designers, or photographers can save their images in Illustrator, upload their designs to a template, and Bombsheller staff either approve the design or work with them to improve it.
As Bombsheller began to prototype their shells, they reached out to Boom aka taskboom, an arts director with ties to the local artistic community. She contacted Seattle artist John Osgood, muralist Jonathan Wakuda Fischer, and the female graffiti collective Few&Far to be early contributors.
Would it have been quicker and easier to hire an in-house team to design the shells? Sure. But Bombsheller isn’t interested in easy; they’re committed to involving people who wouldn’t normally be able to bring their work to the fashion world. They’re also artist advocates: along with being able to set their own royalties for shells sold, the artists retain all rights to their images.
“As an artist, being able to say that your art was used for fashion is huge. normally, they’d need to devote themselves 1000% to make a line happen.” – Holman
“We intentionally engaged with a variety of artists with varying skill sets,’ says Boom. “Some had fashion experience, and they were familiar with designing for the body and vector design. Others were stepping into the fashion industry for the first time. We want artists from all levels to feel empowered to invent their own fashion.”
Though the learning curve was steep for some, the outcome was knock-out: the scanning and printing are of such high quality that every crackle of paint and whisper of charcoal comes through. Even the texture of the canvas or panel can be seen.
Boom also spearheaded inaugural public art events geared to showcase Bombsheller to the wider community, including curating the Bombsheller Art Labs, a temporary maker gallery that hosts performances, exhibits and installations right in the Bombshelter itself.
“Pablos is a hacker-inventor-futurist, always asking the question, what can I make this do?’ says Boom. “I stem from the arts and non-profit sector, so the question on my mind when Bombsheller moved into the headquarters on Queen Anne was, what can we make this space do?”
The hacks come in the form of community-focused projects, roping in local talent and sponsors. Eleven local businesses sponsored graffiti artists Osgood, Wakuda Fischer and Few&Far members to paint the mural Piece of the Sky (below) during the Uptown ArtWalk, while non-profit The Vera Project presented art activities, and Skate Like A Girl! did a skate demo-clinic.
An exhibit of Few&Far’s work also debuted at the UptownArtwalk, with an art review party featuring hip-hop vocalist MADLines. The next hack is a glam “rockway” with School of Rock’s “Best of Bowie” tribute concert at Hale’s Palladium (September 27th), and an intergalactic exhibit Alliance = Rebellion takes off October 15th.
Holman is a veteran of 2000s era Silicon Valley and the modern tech sector, where flexibility, feedback and DIY is the order of the day. Inventor, hacker, TED Talker, and omni-curious problem-solver, he’s used to looking at clunky systems and making them beautiful. The fashion industry should quake: it’s square in his sights.
“We’re not going to be welcome in the fashion world. The industry as it is now is not for common people, it’s for designers to push their own agendas and visions on you. We’re flipping that. You’re making the decisions.”
He sees the current mode as wasteful, inaccessible and rigid.
“I’m used to dreaming up an app, writing the code over breakfast, launching version 1.0 by lunch, receiving bug reports before dinner, and releasing 2.0 at midnight.”
By that standard, every industry is rigid. But modern computing and networking have begun to level the playing field, allowing newcomers and the rise of rapid iteration, customization and personal choice. Holman sees other industries where it’s already under way.
“Want to be a musician? Get a Mac with GarageBand—you’re a musician. You don’t have to have six years of training, or a recording contract. This kind of revolution has yet to happen in the realm of physical objects, but it’s going to. We’re going to be there first.”
Holman’s original idea for the shells was that each pattern would be completely unique, and only printed once. One concept was to have customers send in their Pinterest boards, which would be fed into an algorithm that would produce a one-of-a-kind design based on its shapes and colors. A crowd-source of one.
We’re standing by a rack of shells in bewildering patterns and colors: there are mermaid-tail fish scales, harlequin primary colors, unicorn princess pastels, old maps of Brooklyn and Chicago, spinning fractals, and photographs of crystalline structures. I leaf through them, the sleek—yet thick—material sliding through my fingers. Each is printed on Fabric Fatale, a close-woven stretch polyester/spandex blend. On the waistbands are the titles of the artwork, the artist’s name, and the name of the designer. I ask Holman who their fashion expert on staff is. How do they know what colors are in this year? Which designs make the cut, and which ones are just too weird or ugly?
“We try to get out of the way and let the artists decide what they think is cool. We’re not fashion designers: I wouldn’t hire anyone from the fashion world. They’d have a list of a million things we’re not supposed to do, or shouldn’t be able to do.”
“Doesn’t that lack quality control?” I wonder. Holman seems unconcerned; unless it’s blatantly offensive, or a copyright infringement, someone will like it and decide to print themselves a pair. And if it doesn’t look quite right, a staff-member can point out ways to better flatter the body and make seams match up.
That part is harder than you might think. Holman shows me a few images and asks how I think they’ll look wrapped around butt, thighs and hips—then he displays the results. It’s
not easy: a texture of rough wooden slats looks elegant when printed horizontally, but flip it vertically and it’s nearly pornographic. A photo of the interior of a tiled mosque (left) looks gorgeous when rendered up the side of the legs, but somehow connives to create a granny-panty white void right across the butt.
And then there are the crotch explosions. (Don’t ask.)
I select a shell that looks like an ice cream cone exploded across it, and check the waistband for the artist name. Artwork by NASA, #OrionGalaxy. I shimmy into them. They fit so tightly and constrictively to my skin that I immediately want to peel them off — but, I take them for a spin out in the offices.
“Awesome, I’ve never seen those before,’ says Holman. “There are so many designs coming in that I can’t even keep track.”
“NASA?” I ask.
“Public domain. We can use anything on their website.”
Friends in very high places.
If you visit Bombsheller’s website you’ll be confronted by a veritable wall of butts. Their primary models (one of whom is company co-founder Marissa Monteiro) assume yoga poses, Rockette high-kicks, fighting stances, and come-hither looks to demonstrate the variety and adaptability of the shells. But though the models on the site don’t conform to the outlandish standards of the fashion industry, they are nonetheless homogeneously slender and toned as they preen on sky-high wedges. Are their shells only for certain bodies?
“It’s Bombsheller’s intention to represent a diversity of body types,’ says Boom, “so everyone knows they can design and wear shells.” She stresses that they want to show a range of body types in addition to the ones in their online catalog, and that other venues–such as a spread in ShockValue magazine and their Facebook albums–feature the shells on men, transgender models, and larger bodies.
Holman replies that because the company has only been up and running formally since January 2014 they are focusing on perfecting their mid-range sizing before expanding to larger sizes. But they’ve recently held their first round of fitting parties for people in the XXL range, so it’s on the radar.
Holman wraps up the tour of the Bombshelter, and I begin to gather my things. I’m heading for the door when I realize: I’m still wearing the Orion shell from the dressing room. That sensation of the material being too tight and too close to my body has transformed into some serious comfort, a feeling of having a durable second skin. Unlike the other leggings in my closet, the waistband hasn’t moved a millimeter in all the walking around, and the ankles haven’t ridden up. I want to wear them to the rock climbing gym, a cocktail party, and to bed, simultaneously. I give my galactic gams a last longing look in the mirror, which Holman catches.
Now, twenty four hours later, I’m wearing them in a cafe as I write this article. A man at the next table has just leaned over:
“My daughters would love your tights. Where did you get them?”
Local. Sustainable. Unique. Artist-supportive. Ground-breaking. Bombsheller.
I give him the scoop, and another shell has just been fired at the fashion industry.
All photography courtesy and copyright of Bombsheller.