Interview: Robert Lopez of LES Clothing Company
Last week brought word that Clinton Street resident Robert Lopez was again on the warpath, filing claim against Coat of Arms at 43 Clinton Street. Ever curious about this recent spat of lawsuits and overall intentions, we asked Lopez a few questions about the Lower East Side and his constant David -v- Goliath battles against fashion kingpins.
BOWERY BOOGIE: What is your connection to the neighborhood? How long have you lived here?
ROBERT LOPEZ: In my opinion I have a very strong connection to the LOWER EAST SIDE. Not only are my parents and grandparents LES natives, I myself was born in Beth Israel hospital on 16th St. in 1976 and I have resided here my entire life. I was raised in the LaGuardia housing projects on Clinton and Madison St. and my current address of 230 Clinton is the same address listed on my birth certificate. I attended elementary, Junior High and High School all in the Lower East Side throughout the 80’s and early 90’s. The LOWER EAST SIDE and the many trials and tribulations I endured growing up here has made me into the man I am today. I love my ‘hood and I represent the LOWER EAST SIDE in many of the things I do.
BB: When did you first start LES Clothing Company and actually file the trademark?
RL: I printed my first LOWER EAST SIDE t-shirt in 1997 with a heatpress machine, designing the graphics myself on a regular PC. My initial concept was to make shirts for the people from the neighborhood in an effort to provide them with a means for representing and feeling pride in the LOWER EAST SIDE. In 1999, I started LES Clothing Co. cause I wanted LOWER EAST SIDE and LES NYC to be viewed as a brand and not just the neighborhood; so I was a little more conscious about branding as opposed to just printing it on the front of a t-shirt or sweater. While I operated for many years using the LES CLOTHING CO., LOWER EAST SIDE and LES NYC brands, I didn’t begin seeking and filing for trademark and copyright protections for my various names and artworks until 2007.
BB: We’ve covered your David-v-Goliath pursuits quite closely here on Boogie. You’ve gone up against some big-time fashion folk. How do you think you are perceived in the business? What’s your reputation?
RL: Well I have been up against some big names in the fashion industry over their use of the LOWER EAST SIDE or LES NYC names, but I still think that I’m perceived by them as a lil guy or even a nobody in the clothing business. While in all actuality I still am a lil guy climbing up the ladder, I do know that I’ve taken them all by surprise with regard to my legal pursuits and aggressive stance in enforcing my rights in these. I mean I haven’t gone up against anyone who isn’t a billion dollar clothing company. I’ve been up against some of the most prestigious law firms in the country and in every single instance thus far I have prevailed. If they don’t respect me in the clothing business, they damn sure respect my paper game and business savvy in maintaining what’s rightfully mine. I’ve also been told that, although they were not aware of me at first, I am definitely on their radar now. So all in all it has been an interesting challenge in me growing my business.
With regard to those who have been purchasing LOWER EAST SIDE wares from me for years and have seen me out there grinding hard and trying to push it to a higher level, they commend me on what I am doing. Plus, I have actually received a lot of love and support, and sales and popularity of my LES clothing products have increased since being in these various legal disputes.
BB: We see your clothes in lots of the local stores along Delancey and Clinton Streets. Do you have goals of bringing LES Clothing Co concept into bigger department stores? Or licensing the brand to larger companies?
RL: Yes, sky is the limit and I do have big plans on bringing the LOWER EAST SIDE and LES NYC brands into bigger stores. I would love to do an exclusive deal with Macy’s someday. In the event that does not become a reality, I am open-minded to either teaming up or licensing the brands to more established clothing retailers that can potentially help push the brand to places I can’t take it. One of my main objectives in enforcing my rights in the brands and commencing these lawsuits is to increase the value of the LES brands. If I can limit the availability of any and all LOWER EAST SIDE or LES NYC products as only coming from LES Clothing Co., then that is something big and will be beneficial to my long term goals of where I want to take the business.
BB: The neighborhood is changing quite quickly these days. How do you feel about this?
RL: Well the LOWER EAST SIDE has changed drastically in the past decade. I actually have mixed feelings about it. While it’s current existence is good for business and has increased the worth of many properties (including my LES trademarks), I truly miss the LOWER EAST SIDE that I remember from my youth. I miss the graffiti-filled streets on almost every single block. I miss the fireworks we used to enjoy in the streets of the LES during 4th of July weekend. I miss the old mom-and-pop record and clothing stores that are no longer around. I miss many other things. However, when looking in on things from a business perspective and a place to raise my kids that is safer than it was back in the days, I am content with how things are cause I am one who knows how to adapt with the changing times.
BB: Tell us a funny “only on the LES” story.
RL: What’s funny is that 15 years ago the streets of the LES was filled with mostly nothing but drug dealers and bodegas and other business establishments that sold drugs from them. Now it’s filled with boutique clothing stores and outdoor cafes. I see buildings on Stanton and many other locations in LES going up where they are multi-million dollar properties, while years ago these were corners selling $100,000’s of heroin in a single day. It’s funny that some of these developments are being built right across the street from NYCHA properties so they are still somewhat surrounded by peoples from the ghetto.
I also think it’s funny that many of these major clothing companies thought they were going to come in and profit off of the LOWER EAST SIDE, but single-handedly got shut down by a dude from the hood who dropped out of school in 9th grade and got a GED.