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Hispanic Heritage Month: How Rob Garcia Is Using His Heritage and Personal Interests to Inform His Professional Pursuits

Rob Garcia is an endless source of energy.

Someone finding his Instagram account for the first time may think he’s either a tennis player or a trail runner, having to scroll through endless photos of sport and adventure before finding his professional pursuits.

Garcia is one of the most accomplished figures in streetwear today and wears many hats — mostly creative director and designer — at different prominent labels.

He is arguably most well known for En Noir, a company with a darker aesthetic and higher-end pricing that produces in small batches, which launched in 2012.

Garcia is also involved with Black Scale, a company he called a true streetwear brand. It was founded in 2007 by Garcia’s friend Michael “Mega” Yabut and his partner Alfred De Tagle, out of the iconic Huf boutique in San Francisco, and Garcia joined early on. Today, you can only buy Black Scale online and at the company’s monobranded stores, which Garcia said will reopen in the next six to nine months, starting with its San Francisco door.

He is also involved with a store called Bazar, a venture spearheaded by friend and streetwear legend Greg Lucci. Garcia described Bazar as a retail platform that will have elements of Black Scale and En Noir, as well as “quickstrike brands” that will only be sold in the store and online.

But this wasn’t a lifelong pursuit for Garcia. In fact, it took him meeting West Coast streetwear standouts such as Nick Diamond of Diamond Supply Co. and Crooks & Castles co-founders Dennis Calvero and Rob Panlilio to realize fashion was a possibility. He also was taught how to design by Mega when he moved to L.A. from San Francisco.

“It’s not like New York, where you maybe are around people who went to Parsons and then apprenticed somewhere. Here in L.A., it was very DIY and people were creating brands and they were getting ideas out,” Garcia said. “I was like, ‘Wow, this is dope. I like this, I could kind of see myself doing this.'”

Without a history in fashion but a passion to create, Garcia often relied on his heritage to inform his designs. He is Mexican and Native American, which he said is very culturally relevant to L.A. Both of his parents have Mexican and Native American roots; his mother is from a tribe called Chumash, and his dad is Cherokee.

“It definitely helped mold my design aesthetic. I naturally involve that within what I’m designing, whether it’s consciously or subconsciously,” Garcia said. “I have benefited from certain iconography and things I saw growing up that I was attracted to. And because I have brands, I’ve been able to implement them, whether it’s super direct or it’s undertones that people could pick up on. It’s nice to design with layers underneath for people to do their homework and figure out what the reference is.”

What’s most prevalent from his background, Garcia said, is inspiration from going to church with his family as a kid.

“Within Hispanic culture, you go to church, and when you’re younger, you go because you kind of have to. But I was fascinated with the stained glass and the art you see in there, and I naturally am always implementing that within my designs,” Garcia said. “That’s just something that has always remained consistent with me, going to Catholic church when I was a kid and being able to implement the aesthetic and the vibe without it being too in your face or religious. The vibe and aesthetic in my designs, I guess you would say subconsciously there are undertones of it.”

Garcia said there aren’t many designers who create the way that he does. He said he admires the efforts of Chris Printup, aka Spanto, of Born X Raised, who is Native American and grew up in Venice. He also mentioned 424 co-founder Guillermo Andrade as a designer whose work he appreciates.

“It’s not easy to intertwine those things without it looking too contrived and like you’re really trying to involve it. It’s much harder to do something where it organically comes about,” Garcia said.

Nevertheless, Garcia believes there is a lane for authentic storytelling in fashion.

“It starts with Hispanics working with each other on projects. You see it with other cultures that might not have been highlighted as much, but they got somewhere pretty fast once they started coming together and highlighting each other,” Garcia said. “After you have that brewing among the people, then you’ll have brands who authentically want to come to you with projects to highlight your heritage.”

Although Garcia is well known for his apparel, he does have a history in footwear, which includes collaborations with brands including Puma in 2017 and Buscemi. Looking ahead, Garcia said there are no shoe collaborations on the horizon. In part, because he is shifting his energy to creating footwear of his own.

Garcia confirmed that he is working on En Noir footwear, specifically sneakers and boots.

Also, he is making professional use of his personal interests by creating a tennis shoe that is both functional and stylish under another one of his brands, Astra, which is the Latin word for star.

Garcia said the brand, which will also offer a selection of tennis and trail running apparel, will debut in October both online and in select retailers.

“I wear Nikes right now on the tennis court, and they’re good, but they’re not amazing as far as the design goes. It’s definitely something I wouldn’t wear off the court,” Garcia said. “I saw that as a void and I could focus on nice details that I could really romanticize for someone like me.”

He continued, “It’s something I have naturally been working on because I’m already doing the activities. Sometimes with brands, they might not be doing the activity at a high level like I’m trying to do, so they just go through the motions like, ‘I want to do a tennis shoe.’ They want to do hiking or trail running, but are they out there running ultramarathons? It’s a different development process, a different design process when you’re out there on the ground level doing these things and implementing things you figure out on the trail, on the court.”

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