Since 2008, Pink+Dolphin has been lighting up the streetwear world with its bold usage of color and unapologetic attitude toward making a statement. Brand co-owners Cena Barhaghi and Neima Khaila are all about giving their friends and fans something that they’d love to wear that’s created from their at-the-moment inspiration, and things that still drive them from the past.
For their Holiday 2013 collection, Pink+Dolphin is headed in a new direction and looking to expand on the foundation it’s already built. The brand is making denim, parka jackets, and waves in the streetwear world. But it hasn’t left its roots of Miami Vice-like colors behind.
The Pink+Dolphin crew went into the California desert to shoot this season’s lookbook, and let their clothes shine amongst the dreary background of sand and gravel. Don’t get it twisted—even though the clothes are printed and boisterous in nature, they’re also built to last. Pink+Dolphin has been increasing its quality as the brand has grown.
In an exclusive interview, Barhaghi and Khaila give us an inside look into their Holiday 2013 collection, as well as what it’s like running a budding streetwear brand. This story is not only inspiring for those who want to make it, but they also drop knowledge for those on the come-up. Pay attention to Pink+Dolphin, and here’s why you’ll be wearing the brand this year.
How did you first approach the Holiday 2013 collection?
Cena Barhaghi: With the Holiday collection I wanted to switch up our usual color palette to something that fit in with the aesthetic of the season. This led to using some earth tones, which in turn complement a lot of the outerwear pieces that were designed for Holiday. I also wanted to showcase that we can design and manufacture great winter outerwear pieces--something we haven't done before, and this was the perfect season to debut. This season is also the debut of Pink+Dolphin Denim, which has been in the works since we first started the company five years ago. Our denim is all made locally in Los Angeles and has some of the best fits and fabrics available.
So what’s it like being a West Coast brand and designing a winter collection with pieces that your East Coast fans want, but people in L.A. aren’t necessarily going to wear?
Cena: Earlier this year I traveled to Europe during their winter, and although I wanted to wear only Pink+Dolphin, I had no choice but to wear other brands' outerwear because our clothing hadn't been designed for colder climates. I decided to design an entire range of products for Holiday from lightweight fleece for warmer winter climates to much heavier pieces that will do well in sleet and snow. It works well for us because we have a big following on the East Coast and Europe, not to mention the people on the West Coast who will be traveling this winter.
In your collection, there’s a lot of prints. What was your influence for that?
Cena: Our brand started with t-shirts and that’s always been the backbone of the line, so prints continue to be the biggest category. The eye-catching prints are part of our brand legacy, they are our staple. The Holiday collection prints were our take on luxury menswear brands.
How did you decide to shoot the lookbook in the desert?
Neima Khaila: We use a dope photographer named Quang Le. Being on the West Coast, we had used a lot of Los Angeles scenery, so we went a little bit outside of that. We drove about four hours away, and took the team up there. We found this spot that had a lot of melted lava, really cool colored sand, gravel, and had a dope panoramic view. It was really his idea, and he’s part of our creative team.
In the collection, there’s some athletic inspiration with sweats and jogger pants. Where did you get that influence from?
Neima: I grew up playing sports. I played a lot of high school sports, and I played football at San Jose State for a year before I got injured. Sports have been a big part of my life, so I’ve really been putting it in Cena’s ear to start doing some sports outerwear. We have a lot of support from different NBA, NFL, and soccer players around the world. We wanted to give them something that they can relate to as well. Not necessarily the celebrities, but the athletic consumer. I think it has been received really well. Again, it’s just about us expanding the lifestyle and making it bigger than just t-shirts and hats.
How does a young streetwear brand become a more established, complete brand?
Neima: I think it’s expanding your collection, evolving your collection every season. It’s very difficult and expensive. There are a lot of barriers that young brands face and we faced when it came to showing and proving yourself—especially when you have a handful at the top, and they have the formula figured out. It’s very difficult to figure out the entire formula. It’s bigger than just designing, it’s about manufacturing the right way and the factories and marketing. There are a lot of different challenges, but we wanted to prove we could make more technical pieces. We really wanted to be on the same level as a lot of these higher fashion brands. That’s what we shoot for. We’re trying to separate ourselves from streetwear. If you look at our stores, if you go to Fairfax or Haight Street and walk into a lot of the other streetwear stores, they’re more skate-based and they have their own approach. But for us, if you walk into our store, you get more of a high-end feel and experience. We took the opportunity with our flagship store to showcase our Holiday collection, and we’re definitely a higher-tier brand.
Is that where you get the inspiration for the logo flips and the fashion parodies?
Neima: That’s just streetwear culture. There are a lot of parodies and spoofs that have made streetwear cool and what it is. A pretty small percentage of our stuff is spoofs or parodies. You’ll see a Chanel one in our Holiday collection. We did a really popular one with the Miami Dolphins’ logo last year. It was cool because Frank Gore from the San Francisco 49ers wore the hoodie after a game, and it got picked up all over. On the flipside, the NFL sent us a cease-and-desist order. So there’s a balance—you don’t want to piss off these bigger companies and get yourself in trouble. At the same time, you want to contribute to the streetwear culture and that’s part of it.
What was your first reaction to that situation thinking that you finally hit it big?
Neima: I was so juiced, I was so excited. The NFL knows who we are. I was at the Niners game, and I was leaving and Frank Gore wore the sweatshirt at the press conference after the game. Then people started tagging me on Instagram and Twitter, and I was like, “Damn, people don’t like me this much. Why’s my phone blowing up?” Then I looked at the picture, and I was excited not only that Frank supported us, but that the NFL sent us a cease-and-desist. It was a milestone for us. I almost framed the letter from the NFL’s council. I thought we really made some noise, and then my lawyer called me after and said, “This isn’t good,” and then reality hit.
Do you ever try and plan out ideas that are going to have a huge impact like that?
Neima: That’s our mentality. Every time we design something, we want to make a statement. That’s the point of Pink+Dolphin. We’re unique, we use a lot of loud color schemes, and we started to use these colors when they weren’t popular and it was really risky to do so. This was before the South Beach LeBrons came out, before Nike and all these other brands started using these color schemes as well. A lot of brands will take a less risky approach and design things that are based around sneaker releases. We never took that approach, and I think that’s why we’re going to be around for a while because we didn’t follow anybody. We let other people adjust to what we did, and if they liked it, they liked it.
What’s next for Pink+Dolphin?
Neima: We design about a year ahead of time. Currently we’re working on Fall and Holiday 2014, so everyone can definitely expect a lot more categories of clothing and items. Denim is going to be a really big thing for us—we source the fabric from Spain and Italy, and it’s sewn here in the U.S. Our fleece is custom now, and we don’t use generic blanks like American Apparel. We also just opened a new flagship store in San Francisco. Our main goal for 2014 is to keep the brand going and provide the legends, we call our fans legends, what they want.