A pair of jeans doesn’t have to be synonymous with mass production: Brandon Lamar Rials of BLRDesign elevates the humble garment to haute-couture material. From his cool live-work space in Pilsen, the driven entrepreneur produces customized pants that take one to two weeks for completion, fashioned in quality 11- to 13-ounce stretch selvage denim made in America, Italy, and even Japan. “The jeans are one of a kind; you can’t find anything like what I make elsewhere in the city,” he says. Each wash is unique and handmade, created with soap, water, and bleach, and dyed in pieces. The finished product has been sported by local celebrities such as photographer Trashhand, streetwear designers Don C and JoeFreshGoods, and rappers Joey Purp, Vic Mensa, and Towkio. All that hard labor doesn’t come cheap: BLRdesign’s customized denim prices range from $350 to $650. Other items are more affordable, however: the striking car-print T-shirts sell for $40, the sturdy jean drawstring bags with a handy exterior pocket cost $65, and the six-panel caps embroidered with the designer’s witty illustrations sell for $35.
With a background in industrial and graphic design, Rials, 32, does almost everything related to his line—from taking photos and creating the illustrations printed in his merchandise to product development, pattern making, and garment construction. His mother, who taught him to sew, helps him in the manufacturing process. Inspired by Japanese designer Hiroshi Fujiwara of the cult streetwear label Fragment Design, Rials cares deeply about the image of his brand: “I’ve always been at the heart of design, but I’m not so much an in-your-face seller or marketing guru. This past year has been about training myself to be a better businessman rather than being so aesthetically focused.”
One of Rials’s strategies has been to release new products every month during Second Fridays, a popular art walk in Pilsen. “Sometimes I even do sewing demos for the interested few,” he says. His prime spot on Halsted and 18th has helped him grow his clientele thanks to the abundant foot traffic in the area: “It is great from spring to fall. Winter is terrible in Chicago.” Even though Rials opened his brick-and-mortar store in June last year, he’s run an online shop for over six years. His graphic design skills are evident in his tasteful and eye-catching website, filled with high-quality photos. “What I want is to produce work that inspires others to create work that inspires others—this motto is also written in large letters on the wall in my studio.” v