Darrell Alston is Changing the Narrative By Way of His Bungee Obleceni Brand
Darrell Alston is making his dreams a reality, recently launching his own luxury sneaker and clothing business, Bungee Obleceni, in December 2020. However, this success did not come without many life ups and downs, which influenced not only the name of his business but his ability to get it off the ground in the first place. His story is a testament to what redemption, vision and determination can do and he openly spoke with us about it.
Can you tell the readers a little bit about your background?
I am from the outskirts of Philadelphia, a suburban town but not what most people would think of as suburban. Growing up I was a football player in school but also a rap artist. When I graduated I decided to focus on my rap career instead of pursuing football. It was through my music career that I first started to pay attention to fashion, mainly through how I dressed myself.
How did you first develop an interest in fashion?
Working in the music industry I became more aware about dressing and my manager would tell me that a person's outfit and sneakers should 'control the room,' basically meaning that all eyes should be on you without you saying a word. When you are a rapper you should always aim to look different, which is the reason I like rappers like Andre 3000 - having your own look can help you blow up. I remember when Air Force's were really big and to stand out I would paint my white-on-white pairs so they would be one of a kind; it was really my first experience customizing shoes.
From my research, I read that you spent some time in prison. What was that experience like and how did it influence your life path?
Well, I was coming home from a tour with Nelly and ended up getting locked up soon after. When I went to jail and walked into the cell the only thing there was a Bible, a pad and a pencil. I didn’t really have anything else to do but sketch, so when I ended sketching a pair of shoes I remembered seeing before, it actually turned out to look just like the real thing. Because of this, I figured I would try to sketch my own shoe idea.
One day I was talking to my mother and she was telling me how difficult it is for ex-felons to get jobs so I realized that I needed to figure out what I was going to do when I was released. I ended up getting my barbers license, but still had the idea of designing sneakers in my head. To be honest, I knew it would be hard to start the business, or to even get a loan coming out of prison, so I did not think having my own company would be a real option.
What was it like translating those sketches into an actual business once you were released?
I wrote out a business plan, but also ended up working at two barbershops. I saved some money to have a prototype of a sneaker made. Once I received it back I put it in one of the barbershop windows. Customers would come in and ask about it and that's when I realized I had something.
About four and a half years ago a specific customer came in and asked if I had a pair in his size and I had to explain to him that it was a prototype. He asked me if I had a business plan, which I did, and we ended up sitting down, going through it and he gave me a loan to start my business. I was so excited about this, but quickly realized I didn’t know about things like taxes and customs, so I ended up losing a lot of money. Also, the Chinese factory I was using to make the sneakers sent back a bad batch of shoes, so I was stuck in a sticky situation and had to figure out how to get out of it.
One day we all were watching TV in the barbershop and there was an Eagles parade on the news. One of the guys in the shop suggested creating an Eagles sneaker for fans. I thought this was a great idea so I came up with one, sent it to be made, and they ended up coming back about two days before the season opener. I filled my car with as many as I could and went down to one of the local TV stations that was covering the opener and I started selling the shoes outside of the network. I ended up getting a lot of press from this and felt my business coming back.
Shortly after, however, business started to slow down again. For a while, I was trying to figure out how to bounce back and I ended up getting connected to an investor through someone who happened to come into the barbershop. After meeting the investor, he learned about my story and looked at my website and then offered to introduce me to someone that had been in my shoes. This meeting, which I expected to just have one or two people, ended up having 13 other people including other investors and lawyers; I ended up having the opportunity to show all of them my product. After this meeting, they teamed up to figure out how to back my business.
Unfortunately, COVID took over and my investors were nervous because they were unsure about what was happening in the financial world and their ability to get through the pandemic. I became discouraged but did not stop working. In fact, I locked myself in my office that doubled as a showroom and started creating as many designs as possible. In October 2020, one of the investors that originally wanted to back me came to look at what I had been working and he ended up being so impressed that he immediately wanted to help me get the products out in the market.
What encouraged the name of your brand?
I wanted to think of a name that meant something to me, but that could also represent everyone. All people have problems, even if it's not prison, so I tried to think of a name that expressed what the ups and downs of people's lives can mean. From this, the word "Bungee" came to mind and I felt like it explained my life perfectly."
What would you say is your brand aesthetic and how would you describe your design process?
Bungee is a lifestyle brand, more on the high-end side because of the materials I use. For example, I don't make sneakers for people to run in, to me they are more like pieces of art to wear. Ideas usually come to me in a dream or at random during the day and I immediately sketch them out.
How would you describe the Bungee customer?
When I design pieces I honestly don’t design with the customer in mind, I design with me in mind and go from there. Then I will put my ideas on social media and people often let me know what they like and don't like about them. The interesting thing is that when I first started my line I was told I needed to have a specific demographic in mind, and the [age] windows were always very small to me. I wanted to appeal to a broader range of customers. However, one thing I can say about my customer is that they probably like to dress differently than most people.
Do you have any new projects in the works and how do you see Bungee growing in the future?
There are a few projects coming up, but I can't speak about some of them. However, we are aiming to produce an increased number of sneaker and clothing styles by the end of the year. Outside of clothes and shoes, my goal is also to be able to provide people with jobs, particularly those who have served time. I want people to see that I was in their same situation and still was able to create this business from nothing. There are so many people out there that deserve a chance and my plan moving forward is more than about the apparel business, but also focused on bringing awareness to criminal justice reform issues.
To learn more about Bungee Obleceni click HERE to view the website or you can visit the social media pages below:
Facebook: Bungee Raiment
Facebook business: Bungee Brand
Photos: Bungee Obleceni