Since starting in 2015, the LA basketball brand has kept hoop culture alive by deconstructing it. In 2023, they’re stepping up their game by getting back to it.
“I wish I was on the basketball court.”
That’s the first thing Luke Tadashi, Founder and Creative Director of Bristol Studio, tells Boardroom when the interview begins.
As an adolescent, Luke spent every waking hour absorbing the game as an athlete. As an adult, he’s transformed his passion for play into creating a distinct design language inspired by ball, blending a local Los Angeles lens with ancestral Japanese influences.
Because of this, Bristol Studio has remained relevant in the hoop and fashion conversation since it launched in 2015.
Around the internet, Bristol’s wavy Adidas collaborations fetch top-dollar at Flight Club, while their cut-and-sew staples score write-ups from fashion’s top tastemakers.
Luke’s love for the game is spoken through the clothes he creates. This design language evokes the ears of streetwear gatekeepers and roundball royalty. Still, the only thing better than talking about basketball is actually partaking in it.
“Playing basketball is the joy of my life,” says Tadashi. “It’s the place I go to find balance between mind, body, and soul. The act of being out there is transcendent for me.”
This year, Luke and Bristol Studio are set on telling the transcendent story of the sport and culture through clothing and content. Where they’re going is new in some senses – yet a place they’ve been before.
So, just where are they headed and how did they get there?
Travel hoops and family in the Far East kept Luke Tadashi on the go growing up. Still, Los Angeles has always been home.
Before breaking into design, a young Luke was busy on the California prep basketball circuit. It was there where he found himself — and also his future business partner.
“Luke and I met at 11 years old by playing on the same AAU team,” MAASAI Ephriam, Bristol Studio partner and Public Relations Director, told Boardroom.
Shooting in the gym for hours on end and gulping Gatorades on car rides to tournaments, Tadashi and Ephriam became best friends through basketball.
They played together in high school, but lost touch in college. After graduation, they reunited but found themselves in different stages.
While Ephriam was figuring out what life could look like personally and professionally as a young adult, his old teammate wasn’t taking any timeouts.
“He’d already started Bristol Studio and was literally running every part of the business,” says Ephriam. “Creative, production, PR, social media, accounting, essentially all by himself. I was blown away at how he was doing all of that.”
After bringing Ephriam on board along with Jake Fenster, an active partner who also serves as co-host of the company’s 94 & More Podcast, the team was small in the early days. However, the reach and range was rapidly expanding.
In 2016, they were shooting lookbooks boasting tailored outerwear with archival Adidas Kobes. By the next year, Bristol blossomed coast to coast.
Just how far had they come? In 2017, Luke and company were already presenting at New York Fashion Week.
Talk of the Tunnel
Fast forward to 2018, and all the hard work began to attract big attention.
That year, The Three Stripes showed love by blessing the company with a capsule collection.
Inspired by Luke and MAASAI’s coming-of-age summers at Venice Beach, the German juggernaut leaned on the LA startup in its infancy to elevate and story tell around their new Boost You Wear platform.
Shortly after, athletes started crossing party lines as Nike superstar LeBron James commissioned one-of-one sweatsuits.
The King’s arrival attire shined a spotlight on the brand’s breadwinning Reversible Sweatsuit.
Cut-and-sew in construction, the inside-out ethos may appear on trend with streetwear’s recent regard for exposing raw materials and otherwise unseen design details as popularized by the late, great, Virgil Abloh.
However, hoops always prove the through-line and inspiration for all Bristol Studio does.
“Basketball fans remember what it was like to throw your hoody on the terry loop side after practice,” Tadashi says. “That was the sensibility I was shooting to capture in that garment.”
This sentiment resonated with everyone from Jewell Lloyd to Obi Toppin.
On each garment, Bristol brings basketball energy to fashion without forcing the issue. The cues are subtle, while the seams and structure are inherently Japanese.
All of Luke’s learning aligned in 2020 on what’s perhaps the brand’s most popular item.
“The Triple-Hem Shorts were a big moment for us,” Tadashi says. “We were able to take something so authentic that’s almost a secret unless you play: layering and stacking are part of basketball culture.”
This ‘if you know you know’ design language speaks to seeing the game from the inside-out.
Because of that, not everyone catches the nuances at first glance. Regardless, they’ve been able to cut through the noise of the fashion-focused sport simply through their own quiet confidence.
“If I look at the way that other brands are talking about the sport or marketing? It doesn’t speak to it in the way that I see it,” says Tadashi. “They still see it as just this sport. It’s so much more than that. I think there’s an opportunity to capture everything it is around that.”
For fans searching for asymmetrical leg sleeves, shorter shorts, or freely moving fabrics, the state of performance hoop gear has not moved as fast or gracefully as the evolution of the game on court.
Luke sees this, and he’s ready to act.
“People want something a little different,” Tadashi says. “Up to this point, all of the product we’ve created have been meant for off-court use but inspired by the game. Me being the hoop head that I am? There’s the dream of playing in your own gear that you designed.”
So, what exactly does that mean?
“On-court looks that really propel your game forward,” says Tadashi.
Back to Ball
Most people designing for basketball aren’t actively playing basketball.
This disconnect is becoming more and more obvious. Never fear, Bristol Studio is here to patch the gap back together.
“Right now, that walk to the tunnel is becoming more important than how people perform on the court,” Tadashi says. “On a practical level, it’s a lot more feasible to design and produce garments for lifestyle use.”
Making the most of NBA eyeballs and accessible fabrics, lifestyle looks inspired by the game have been Bristol’s bread and butter since the start.
Heading into 2023 and beyond, they’re looking to take their talents to the hardwood. It makes perfect sense, it’s where they’ve always been.
Additionally, it’s where a market void exists for those that actually play competitively.
In conversation, Luke notes how hoopers often play pickup in running gear based on weight and cut.
Aesthetically and functionally, many of basketball’s leading labels still use the same fabrics and designs that they did a decade ago.
It’s created a gap for consumers and a zag evident among even elite hoopers.
“Guys wearing Lululemon to ball in or even Jordan Clarkson becoming an ambassador for them?” Tadashi says. “All of these technical apparel brands that aren’t intended to be worn on a basketball court are being worn on the basketball court because the gear is simply better.”
Per usual, Luke’s looking to turn that trend inside-out. His goal is to invert the market as it currently stands.
“[I want to make] basketball clothes you wear on court that could be picked up by a runner or a tennis player,” he says. “For whatever reason, the apparel market hasn’t caught up to how the game is being played today.”
But the team at Bristol Studio wants to do more than create court apparel for the modern player; they’re continuing the conversation of hoops through corresponding content creation that tells substantive stories of the game and the people who play it.
From meetings in Italy with the first Patron Saint of Basketball to diving deep into the spirituality of the fast break with an NYU professor, the company is looking to enhance the narrative surrounding the sport.
Like the modern game, their storytelling comes from a place of emotion, skill, and expression. This same sentiment is relayed on the product front, as it ranges from refining Triple-Hem favorites to releasing Reversible Flight Jackets that dually define elevation.
Still, years after his own hoops career came to a close, it’s the court where the designer behind it all finds himself most grounded.
“The court was always the place I went to get right,” closes Tadashi.
“If it was up to me? I would spend every waking hour in a gym.”
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