Luke Tadashi, Los Angeles native and founder of Bristol Studio, grew up practicing and expressing his love for the game of basketball. Working alongside lifelong friends and business partners MAASAI Ephriam and Jake Fenster, the trio took their knowledge of basketball's style and culture and brought it to the fashion and lifestyle space. Founded in 2015, Bristol Studio creates garments around the foundations of style on the court, which manifest in the brands triple hem short or several of their reversible designs.
For Tadashi, basketball is more than a competitive sport, but is an artful life line that offers him an outlet to create. “What happens in between the start and finish of the game can sometimes be considered art,” he says. “When you watch some of the greatest basketball players, the way they move, that way they orchestrate an offense or a defense, there is an artful, almost dance quality to it.”
Luke spoke with Flaunt about the importance of the game, basketball's influence on fashion, and the next steps for Bristol Studio.
What lessons did you learn being a part of a basketball team and how do those lessons transfer over into your life today?
I think that basketball and the lessons that I've learned constantly inform my life, whether it's in business or just personally. I think the court has sort of always been this sanctuary for me, where I can go to just shoot around and clear my head and kind of forget whatever obligations I have and just be the purest version of myself, and that has never gone away. That's always going to be the place that I go to for that refuge.
I would also say community basketball growing up gave me a really strong community. And, you know, as a kid myself of mixed race background, I think the court was a beautiful place where I didn't feel different. I just felt the same as everybody else. And everybody else who was there felt the same because we were all kind of just playing and dancing in between those lines, if you will. It taught me a lot about empathy: understanding other people, how to get along with others, how to work together as a team to achieve a common goal, and how to motivate others. Many, many things. I think also just playing and losing yourself in the game, there's this feeling of being lost in that flow, this feeling of transcendence, like nothing matters and nothing else in your life quite comes as close to that feeling where everything else is shut off, you're just completely in it. That was something really powerful, it taught me that you can achieve that feeling. Whenever I play basketball, I could achieve that feeling. In other areas of my life, that's a feeling that I strive for and that I look to reach.
What's the most important factor that goes into designing a garment?
Finding creative ways to infuse my own connection with basketball and my own story with the game into the garment. Our triple hem shorts, for example, have three distinct layers–layering and stacking are common features in basketball culture and styling. So we always wore multiple socks, or shorts under basketball shorts under denim, or like three different layers of t-shirts and then a tank top underneath that.
So that was one way that I've sort of applied personal experience to some of the garments that we create. The other piece more recently is we're starting to pivot a little bit more into this performance work space–meaning technical apparel for basketball. So it becomes a lot more functional. It becomes about breathability and movement and how you create a garment to sort of adapt and enhance the needs of a basketball player. Those needs are very different than a runner or someone doing yoga or bicycling or whatever. It started to evolve and change as we're starting to evolve and change.
Through all the obstacles that come with running your own business, what motivates you to keep going? How do you push yourself through this?
Although we started in 2015, I think the brand has taken various forms at different times. I really like this new direction that I mentioned as far as reaching into the technical apparel space. I feel that we’re almost a new brand in many ways. Over the years, we have gained credibility in the basketball space. So I think we're continuing to build off of that moment. For me, what keeps me going is that at each stage there are different things that I can find passion for and each stage kind of brings a new challenge and an opportunity to grow. I think that what I've really enjoyed is–and maybe this is because of the basketball background–but is the challenge to keep going, that challenge to adapt, to grow, to find creative ways to evolve. I like to think of myself as very persistent, so giving up is never something that feels good to me. I think it's the challenge of seeing how far I can take it, how far I can push it, and how, how big I can grow it.
What do you think has been the biggest reward, either personally or in your business life since the founding of Bristol Studio?
A couple things. I would say early on, in 2018, it was really exciting to be tapped by a global brand like Adidas to design for them and to create collaborative products. That was a global partnership that spanned two, three seasons, which was really exciting. For me personally, I got to reimagine sneaker silhouettes from my childhood that they had modernized. So those were inspired by Kobe Bryant in his early years playing basketball, which was really cool because growing up in LA I was a big fan of his. That's something I'll always treasure. Then, a couple years after that, LeBron James started wearing our stuff and embracing what we were doing and requesting us to create a one of one piece for him, which was really exciting. He's like the biggest basketball player on the planet, so that was definitely a dream come true in many ways. Right now–even though it's new, this idea really excites me–this challenge of creating the next generation of technical apparel for basketball. Although we haven't done it yet, I know we will do it and we can do it, like that feels really exciting and rewarding to me as well.
Tunnel walks seem to be a big connection between basketball and fashion. Can you elaborate on the impact they have on trends and culture?
I think that it obviously coincides with the rise of social media. I think that social media has for better or worse made it a platform for all of us to be seen and to want to be seen. So, walking down that runway–or that tunnel, which is effectively a pre-game runway, has become a big deal because we used to not have access to these moments in players' lives, but the tunnel is a when we can get a window into who they are, see how they choose to express themselves through their style. Obviously style is a really intimate form of expression, which I think is worth mentioning as well. It’s not like, “What book are you reading?” or “What movie do you like to watch?” It's literally on you, it's on your body. Once you put it on, you kind of can't separate yourself from it in many ways. So I think all of that together, just kind of coinciding and meshing has made that tunnel really important. It’s been cool to see some of these players that I admire wear our stuff through the tunnel and embrace our brand as well. That’s been cool.
Where do you like to play basketball?
Where I like to play basketball is our Run. A run is basically an organized basketball game that's more casual and isn't as formal. It's like a real rec-league or adult game, and our brand hosts our own run in Los Angeles every Saturday. It’s this place that I really like to play because we've cultivated a nice community of people who are all there for the right reasons, they love the game in the same way that we do. We're hoping to take that run and really establish it in different cities across the country so that basketball enthusiasts can come together and just have a space where they can play and enjoy the game. We provide jerseys, Gatorade, water and create an experience.
Where do you guys hold The Run?
It's rotated in the past, but right now, it’s in Santa Monica at a park called Memorial Park. That's actually the court where I grew up playing basketball, where MAASAI grew up playing basketball, where Jake, our partner also grew up playing. It has a very close relationship to us and who we are. It’s nice in many ways that we're playing at the court that we grew up on.
What do you like to do in your downtime that keeps you afloat?
The immediate thing that comes to mind is playing basketball. I know we talked about it, but I feel most creative when I'm on the court–like I said, you know, it has that ability to shut everything out. You forget time, you forget where you are, you forget about your to-do lists. You just simply are there and there's something really beautiful about that space that's creative, and creativity can emerge from that space–so that would be the first thing. I'm pretty low key, honestly. I like to stay off of social media as much as I can, and stay off of what's happening online, whatever conversations or headlines in the news, I like to stay off of that as much as I can. I guess, in many ways it's an attempt to replicate the space that basketball creates for me, but when I'm not playing, I create this cocoon for myself where I can just really tap into my truest self and think about where my curiosities take me. What book can I pick up that sounds interesting, whether it has to do with basketball or not? What TV shows or movies can I lose myself in and have a good time with? I guess it's chasing my curiosity.