Chris Echevarria is a trend spotter, trained menswear designer, and cultural savant well-equipped to outfit a new generation of men.
“Whenever I acted out in school—and this goes back to when I was very little, like three or four—my mom would tell me, Chris, if you don’t behave, I’m going to take you shopping at Walmart. I would scream and cry: No, not Walmart!” Chris laughed a little telling that story.
This is a man who learned to read in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. As he said, shaking his head, “Fashion is a huge part of who I am, and my mother is pretty much the reason.” Chris has always known what he liked, and possessed a distinct level of taste. He’s a graduate of the prestigious menswear design program at the Fashion Institute of Technology. In some ways, his journey to founding Blackstock & Weber, a company that designs premium, handcrafted footwear for the modern man, looks like a straight line.
Except that Chris is a person of color, and percentage-wise, there are not a lot of entrepreneurs who look like him—especially in fashion and tech.
“We Don’t Need a Bone, We Just Need Real Opportunity”
Chris is no stranger to the struggles of being a black male within corporate America. He sees a trend toward inclusion and diversity in tech right now, and he sees both good and bad in it. “The good is that people are aware of the lack of color in the room. The bad is that individuals on both sides of the fence perceive this as throwing people of color the proverbial ‘bone’.”
“We don’t need a ‘bone,’ we just need real opportunity.”
Chris has advice for both other aspiring entrepreneurs of color and for companies who want to be more inclusive. For the POC who dreams of starting their own company, his main advice is to keep showing up, and to own the fact that you’re unapologetically you.
As for how entrepreneurship and tech can be more inclusive, Chris’s solution requires digging deeper. “Foster the talent where the reserves haven’t been tapped,” Chris says. “If you keep looking in the same places, the faces and types of people you attract will naturally repeat themselves.”
A Lifelong Entrepreneur
Chris has been an entrepreneur, or at least had a side hustle going, all his life. In college, he and his roommate ran a substantial sneaker resale business in their dorm room prior to the existence of marketplaces like GOAT or StockX.
He can tell you the exact day he quit his day job: December 28, 2017. “I went full on doing this, and I haven’t looked back.” But still, that momentum doesn’t mean that he hasn’t had his doubts. “I always, in the back of my head, feared taking that leap. Can I do it on my own? Am I good enough? Entrepreneurship is hard, especially starting out as a solo founder.”
Yes, it is.
For Chris, Techstars was a huge help in making something hard just a bit easier. Before Techstars, he’d met many entrepreneurs, but met very few that exhibited the same level of passion he did for his fledgling idea. He went through the Techstars LA program in 2018, and for him, it was all about the people. “Techstars has a rigorous process of finding founders that are of a certain caliber. Everybody is very serious about what they’re doing and seeing their dreams through to completion. It’s great to have a network of people around you that are just as driven as you are.”
The Next Generation-Defining Menswear Brand
Blackstock and Weber has been selling beautiful, well designed, handmade shoes for a year and a half now, and Chris is excited to build on that success by growing into a full scale lifestyle brand. “We want to be the next generation-defining menswear brand,” Chris said. “This is how I envisioned the brand evolving from the beginning.”
What does that look like? To Chris, “A tee shirt and jeans can be just as classic as a tuxedo. It’s about creating the scene. Our ideology is rooted in and influenced by film. We want to give guys the tools to create their own scenes in their lives via staple pieces that every man needs in his wardrobe and an assortment of other curated goods from around the world.”
Chris isn’t one to dream small: “We want to put our spin on how men present themselves. We believe it’s deeper than just shoes and clothes. Our goal is to be a source of inspiration and a trusted voice. We need our place. We believe this is something men across the globe are searching for.”
Then again, if he did dream small, Chris never would have gotten this far. He’s a long way from sounding out the words in Vogue, and he’s been driven by his passion, tenacity, and discerning taste every step of the way.
Dublin was home for 3 days to all that love technology, innovation, and belong to the diversity and inclusion school of thought. As a community leader I had the opportunity to secure tickets to the #InspireFest2015 and after all said and done I am most excited to have had the chance to sit in that audience and engage with other participants and speakers.
Although my total time spent at the Bord Gais Theatre, venue for this year’s Inspire Fest, was 10 hours it was a really packed conference and here are 5 main takeaways:
1. We’ve got a hopeful future in the next generation
With people like Lauren Boyle, Emer Hickey, Ciara Judge, and Laura Browne with initiatives like Cool Steam Kids, Germinaid Innovations, and PowerScout, one can confidently hope for a better future. These young people are not build apps to become the next Facebook but are looking to solve big problems from education (STE[A]M orientation), to ending world hunger, and energy management.
It was also great to see today’s people providing the environment for these young chaps to thrive. From university programs in DCU and Trinity to Anne-Marie Imafidon’s Stemettes, we can begin to hope again because we’re in good hands.
2. There are business gains for a diverse inclusion agenda
Perhaps the most profound quote from #InspireFest2015 for me was one from Steve Neff, CTO Fidelity when he said:
— Nubi Kay (@NubiKay) June 18, 2015
Steve showed how inclusion and diversity brings about knowledge and value that a business may have never bargained for. Age, wealth distribution, customers, competitors are also some changes driving need for diversity-driven innovation, not to mention opportunities for entrepreneurs when trying to solve the issue of inclusion e.g. Child carers on demand for working women.
3. Fashion and Technology loving up in today’s world
As you’d see in the very short clip below, fashion and technology seem to have a thing going. Intel labs showcased one of its work with duo Turkish designers at the #InspireFest. I got discussing this with a friend after the conference when I said – wouldn’t it be cool for your dress to link up with your watch or phone and tell you as you’re about to leave the house whether your clothes go with the weather.
4. The future of work is an interesting one
This is a statement DAQRI‘s co-founder Gaia proved with the showcase of the smart uber-cool helmet known as the 4D. She touched on the current outlook of work today – repetitive, laborious and monotonous. With technology such as 4D, work becomes purposeful, connected, and empowering. DAQRI just opened its European HQ in Dublin with a first hackathon to get the developer community in on the future of work. No doubt things are about to get interesting in this space one can agree things are about to get interesting.
Discussions on the future workplace also took place on the first day at #InspireFest2015. While it’s easy to sense some form of consensus among the panelist that work is to be flexible and virtual, that’s a very interesting debate as Yahoo’s Marisser Mayer is currently pushing the agenda to get everyone back to the office building.
5. You should be at #InspireFest2016 because Cindy Gallop said so
— Cindy Gallop (@cindygallop) June 21, 2015
After a frantic 54 hours (one weekend) marathon, 20 teams prepared pitches in hopes of being chosen as the best Big Idea in fashion tech. Each had five minutes to deliver a deck to a panel of five judges. Winning this round advances the team to the Startup Weekend Fashion & Tech finals in Poland. The pressure at LIM College was real as organizers Pavan Bahl of OS Fashion and Andrew Young of Startup Weekend wrapped up last minute details to prepare for the moment we’d all been waiting for. Read on for the recap of the pitches, the judges’ feedback, and to see who took home First Prize.
Judges (from left to right)
David Freschman, CEO – FashInvest
Deanna Clark-Esposito, Partner – Fashion Compliance Law
Liz Bacelar Founder, President – Decoded Fashion
Kay Koplovitz, Founder – Springboard Enterprises
Jessica Mercedes Kirschner, Fashion Blogger
Christina Lila Wilson, Coordinator – New York Fashion Tech Lab (not pictured)
Privileged: Seeing an ever-rising need for on demand service and house calls, Privileged brings vetted beauty experts to your home to offer you beauty services. The app will match customers with stylists, based on the customers needs and availability.
Judges Feedback: “If you’re gonna do that, you better understand what you’re up against,” Liz Bacelar warned, referencing GlamSquad.
Pitches get shot down all the time – that is the nature of the process. For the NYC round, Privileged won the day. Which doesn’t mean that, no matter how hard one works and no matter how well-deserved the prize, when that Big Moment does come, the winner isn’t completely taken by surprise.
Privileged’s creator confessed to “pacing the street back and forth” nervously awaiting the results, only to walk back in after his team had been announced as the winner:
“This means so much,” he said, overwhelmed by the emotions of the moment. “I’ve been working jobs since I was 14 or 15 and have figured a lot of this out on my own…my business school was the streets.”
See the rest of the pitches + judges feedback in the gallery below.
This article was written by Sew Heidi, a fashion designer & educator and founder of Illustrator Stuff, an online marketplace for vector fashion downloads and originally appeared on AlleyWatch, a media property focused on entrepreneurship and startups.
Image credits: Spencer Kohn
Sue Randhawa is the owner and one of the main creative forces of The Optical Boutique, Vancouver’s foremost luxury eyewear destination. An all-around powerful woman, Sue shamelessly wears herself on her sleeves. She is bold, brave, and unafraid to make a strong fashion statement. We talked to Sue about her origins and inspirations in the eyewear business, the fashion seen in Vancouver, and the importance of expressing yourself through style without worrying about what others think.
Moda & Estilo: Tell us a bit about how you became an optician? Why did you get into eyewear?
Sue Randhawa: I have been an optician for 25 years, starting out when I was in my early twenties. I got into this field initially because science was at the heart of it. I was wanting to get into a health based profession where I could be part of a solution to someone’s problems. I know that it sounds very cliché, but I wanted to help people.
M&E: Are you from Vancouver originally? Where did you grow up? Tell me a bit about your personal history.
SR: I was born in India and came to Canada at a very young age, my family settled on the East side of Vancouver. I remember as a young child being in the hub of a cultural melting pot, I was intrigued by everything going on around me at the time: the Habitat Movement of 1976, the BeeGees, bell bottoms, and platforms. I was only about 10 so I wasn’t quite old enough to be part of anything, but the fashion captivated me.
M&E: How important is style to you?
SR: Style continues to be important to me because it’s an extension of who I am. I’m very fortunate because I’ve been able to incorporate my two passions, science and fashion, into what I do every day.
M&E: How would you describe your personal style?
SR: My personal style would be described as bold or strong by some people. I have a very definitive way of dressing, I can go from one extreme to another. I don’t follow any set trends, I tend to wear what makes me feel good. I like to express who I am through my clothes.
M&E: Your style is very bold. Why is that more interesting to you than something more subdued?
SR: Why do I tend to be more bold than subdued? I think that comes from wanting to express my strength. I want people, women in particular, to know that they too can be strong enough and brave enough to wear whatever they like. They don’t need to follow any fashion rules. It’s about learning to express who you are at your core, you can be soft spoken or loud, shy or assertive. You don’t need to fit any fashion mold. Be strong enough to create your own mold. Use fashion as a way to express your mood, your taste, and your creativity. Just because you get to a certain age doesn’t mean it’s time for you to start fading away!
M&E: You have a very interesting way of mixing traditional Indian clothing with Western designers? What compels you to do that? Is it important to represent your heritage?
SR: Fashion has no rules for me. It’s as simple as that. I mix polka dots with stripes with squares with flowers. I mix up Indian jewelry with Western pieces all the time. I’m not afraid of the Fashion Police coming after me. People get very hung up on what other people think. I say, “Don’t over think fashion.” Just do what pleases you. I’m Indian and very proud of my heritage. I hope I represent that every day, but I don’t make a conscious decision to incorporate it into my look for the day.
M&E: What’s the key to finding eyewear that’s fits an individual?
SR: It’s not so simple. When somebody comes in to see me I like to make my recommendations based on their features. I look at their skin tone, bone structure and face shape. I ask questions about their lifestyle. I want to know a little bit about their personal sense of style. I listen to their wants and needs. The chosen frames have to work with all of this and most importantly the Rx and of course the budget.
M&E: You’re always wearing glasses of some sort. What does eyewear add to a person’s overall style? Aside from functional benefits, what does it add stylistically?
SR: The right pair of eyeglasses can change your look so dramatically. Never before have eyeglasses been as popular as they are now. I’m having a lot of fun right now doing what I’m doing because people are realizing the impact and power of having the right pair. This is where the fashion component comes into it. I have women coming in to see me that are wanting to change their look stylistically. They know that glasses are the first thing that anybody is going to see or notice on them. They know that it makes sense to have more than one pair of glasses now. This is where I often give my clients fashion advice ranging from a recommendation on a haircut to putting an outfit together.
M&E: Do you see Vancouver as a stylish place? What sets it apart from the rest of the world?
SR: I would say that Vancouver as a city is too laid back to be stylish. Our climate and location puts us in a position where most of us would rather hit the mountains to ski or the ocean to sail. Saying that though, I see the fashion front changing and Vancouver developing as a place where fashion is definitely setting a tone. The development of eco friendly designers in the city is amazing. We’re seeing great talent coming from the fashion schools.
M&E: What are your favorite haunts in the city?
SR: My store is in Kerrisdale and I love that area because it’s old and quaint. It dates back over 100 years and for Vancouver that’s historical! I also love Gastown for its great restaurants like L’Abattoirand Chambar. Reflections rooftop patio at the Hotel Georgia is another great place.
M&E: Who are some of your favorite designers internationally and locally?
SR: My favorite international designers would be I think Dries van Noten, Comme des Garçons. I like Céline and Marni as well. Locally in Vancouver, I would say that the genius of Evan Clayton is pretty amazing. Evan Ducharme is another favorite.
M&E: What’s your favorite part about attending fashion shows?
SR: My favorite part about attending the fashion shows in Vancouver is that I love to show my support for the young emerging designers like Evan [Clayton] and Evan [Ducharme]. Connally McDougall is another amazingly talented designer that I met at VFW in March. The caliber of designers that showcased their designs this year set the bar very high. I draw inspiration from speaking to them and finding out about their goals and ambitions, and I want to see them succeed.
We’ve had a bit of time since last month’s Startup Weekend Fashion Edition to catch our breath, ponder and percolate. For the short attention spanned (aren’t we all) here are the quick stats:
- 176 attendees to the day warm up and weekend events
- 88 entrepreneurs
- 77 pizzas scarfed
- 52 ideas pitched
- 12 teams formed
- 3 great prizes from our sponsors (Lyst, General Assembly, and Front Row)
- 2 first place teams
- 1 runner up
Photos pulled from #SWFASHION via Twitter
The atmosphere on the Friday night for this edition, according to our veteran Facilitator was “mature and relaxed”. In short, people meant business. A great play-by-play showing the energy of the weekend, and a tale of friendly competition from one team that went on to win (the clothes swapping App – Swappi) can be read here.
Reflecting back now over that high-octane weekend in December here’s what stuck out in my mind:
Styles of Working
Spending a good deal of my time with a GoPro camera in hand, I noticed that one team found that standing around their table (oblivious to the fact that they were about to miss the scrumptious lunch being served) really helped increase productivity – perhaps it was all the blood pulsating down their bodies. Many teams were big fans of Osterwalder’s Business Model Canvas getting stuck into it early, and working through various versions. Yet others retreated from Campus all together, assembling elsewhere for their sessions (either spent thinking, doing, or most likely sipping superior coffee). For me however, a real testament to the dominance of Superteams, was that the most output, and associated success, came from those teams that broke out into smaller sub teams (between 3 and 5 folks) – enabling them to effectively:
Photo courtesy of Startupvitamins
Power of Coaches
We had a stellar line-up of coaches spanning business, technology, and fashion. It was next to impossible to A) take a prêt coffee order for the coaches; and b) deliver said coffee to them – simply because both the coaches and teams were so immersed in all of the action. The energy in the room on the first Saturday coaching sessions was nothing short of structured pandemonium.
After the first coaching sessions it was great to see such flexibility, as some of the coaches were so provocative, that 2 completely new teams formed. There were now 12 teams in total, and thus more competition on the block. The remainder of Saturday and into Sunday was chock-full of customer development, business modelling, serious coaching, user testing, and some healthy grub provided by Savage Salads and Cookisto. Oh ya, and some pretty dodgy coffee to boot.
Several team members approached me at various points during the weekend overflowing with anxiety. No, this was not the brand of anxiety that can be interchanged with the excitement one might feel towards the final pitches, or Ben and Jerry’s chocolate chip cookie dough – it was over intellectual property. Said entrepreneurs were convinced their Startup was going to go public by that Sunday evening and were worried over who would own what. Thankfully myself and the other organisers were able to calm these eager beavers down explaining the 7-year history and spirit of SW weekend, and in particular that after their presentations if they still felt the same way (which they wouldn’t and of course didn’t) they could come visit us for another chat. ‘Nuff said.
Dedication (Italian Style)
It is implied that spending 54 hours at a Startup Weekend requires dedication as opposed to that reserved for some serious afternoon napping or binge watching of your favourite TV show. It’s also not uncommon for many teams to pull all-nighters as was certainly the case that weekend. One diehard Startup Weekender went above and beyond the call of duty. Federico Vitiello is his name. On the Friday night, we knew he was having major trouble getting on a flight from Venice with the storm at bay, but on the Saturday we received the beginning of what would be one hell of a saga:
“The situation here is going from bad to worse”
You’d have to be there to believe it. When others who might find themselves stranded at various remote Italian airports for well over 24 hours, could be forgiven for re-examining the purpose of life, Federico turned it into his personal Startup Disneyland. Befriending Startup folks from China, video taping his pitch for us, making a satire of Ryanair, meditating in toilets, sipping champagne, and always smiling – is Federico’s style. You can view his video pitch complete with a crazy magic t-shirt trick and read more of his malarkey here and here. Now that is dedication. Big shout out to Federico!
After 50 or so hours, we finally got down to the final pitches to our stellar line up of judges who had a tough time selecting the winners from some seriously compelling presentations. Again for those short attention spanned (and if you’ve read this far – well done!) here are the Twit Pitches.
In 2nd place:
Photo courtesy of Aram Ostadian-Binai
WARDO #Pandora for Men’s Fashion. Personalised style recommendations sourced from a learning algorithm.
And the judges called it a TIE with the following Startups taking 1st place:
Photo courtesy of Aram Ostadian-Binai
FASHION BRIEF #Fashion project-planning software focused on shoots and shows
Photo courtesy of Aram Ostadian-Binai
SWAPPI #Super simple group fashion swaps, impress your friends with unique fashion items
And so on that note, it’s a wrap. Keep your eyes out for these trailblazing Startups. A special thanks goes to Google Campus for hosting the weekend, to all of the coaches, judges, volunteers, and the UP global team for their hard work and dedication, and of course to all of the entrepreneurs for making the magic happen.