An A&R is a person considered to hold the keys to stardom by those hoping to be discovered. They determine who gets the spotlight and who is left to wade in the pool of artists. While working as an A&R at Motown Universal, Phil Gapud put the focus on himself.
Along with two partners Gapud created a military inspired line which is sometimes described as the caviar of the streetwear industry. Like the military persistence and dedication is the foundation for Cavi’s progression and as good music does, the line sky rocketed to the top.
“I’d definitely say hip-hop is a big part of telling the general public what’s hot and what’s not. It’s the masses telling us we’re hotter than most of the other brands.”
Format: Who are the three founders of Cavi and what do each of you contribute to the line?
Phil: I’m the founder and designer and I do all the marketing. My partner, Danny, he’s the CEO. He handles all the operations and makes sure everything’s running tight. My other partner, Nathan, makes sure all the manufacturing is on point.
Format: How did you guys go about creating a street buzz, because it seems as though the hip-hop world really welcomes the line.
Phil: After Jay-Z had on Cavi at the 2004 BET awards, it just snowballed after that. I was getting calls left and right from stylists, management and magazines. It wasn’t even in stores, yet, I was doing it by hand and selling it independently.
Format: Was it an original intent to target the hip-hop world or was it more of a coincidence that hip-hoppers began to notice it?
Phil: At first I wore the stuff, since I started it. I started designing stuff on the shirts and wearing it out just as a hobby. So everybody started taking notice of the shirts and then it just took off as far as the military shirts, now we have a full line.
Format: You and your partner Danny have a history in the music industry, so would you say that music influenced the establishment and growth of the line?
Phil: Yeah, of course, because fashion and music intertwine. It definitely helps being from a label. We both were based from the Universal Motown family. We both worked in the A&R department so having access to management and artists was easy. It was basically a no-brainer.
Format: The jackets have been seen on a number of different artists and of course they’re custom made, but when an artist comes to you wanting a custom made shirt or jacket how much input do they contribute to the process?
Phil: Usually they trust our judgment and creative input. Most of the time they just want to get it personalized and have their name put on it. For the most part with the basic style of the shirt or jacket, they basically trust us.
Format: What would you say has been the most extreme change you’ve ever made for an artist?
Phil: I’d probably say Fab’s shirt. I made a custom shirt for Fabolous, but the metals were iced out. I had a jeweler put some diamonds in it, that’s about it. It was supposed to be for his album cover, but I guess it never made it. That was the most extreme thing I did for somebody as far as customization.
Format: A while back Cavi did a collaboration with Swagger. How did that come about?
Phil: I sent my partner Danny to go to a store in Harlem called Goliath and the owners of Swagger were there also. They saw the presentation that Danny did for the store and they were interested and hyped up about Jay-Z and all these celebrities wearing it. A week later Danny went to a party that Swagger threw in the city and they linked up and we had a meeting about doing a collaboration with them. We did a military shirt and a T-shirt with them. We sold out as soon as it went on shelves in Japan. Everything sold out.
Format: Are there any new up and coming collaborations that you can tell us about?
Phil: We’re doing a collaboration with a jeweler. Everything is in the works but Gabe Jeweler is his name. He does a lot of the jewelry for New Era. We’re trying to do a collabo with New Era and also Fab’s line Rich Yung.
Format: It’s been three years since Cavi was introduced to the industry. You went from jackets and shirts to tees. Do you see any items from the full line coming out in the near future?
Phil: Yeah we just did our fall and winter line which is located on our showroom. We have sweaters, hoodies, jackets, buckles, coats and pants. It’s a full line now we don’t just do the shirts. Be sure to look out in fall or winter.
Format: Shortly after Cavi was established you guys received a lot of attention from the US and Japan, but how long was it before the buzz began to grow internationally?
Phil: I’d probably say within the last year, 2006 definitely. Everything happened really quick. Me and Danny, well all of us we’re pretty new to the fashion industry. I’m in the music biz and four months of just playing around with clothes I got it on Jay-Z. I started in 2004, it hit retail in 2006 and now we have over 50 accounts across the US and worldwide so within a year we moved fast.
Format: What do you think helped contribute most to the buzz?
Phil: The product placement and New York City in general. A boutique called City Styles was our best support as an account because all the dudes were rocking it in the club. Lots of celebrities wearing it and a lot of support from the stylists. That’s it.
Format: As of now do you see any international countries showing an interest like Japan did?
Phil: We’re trying to break it into the European market, but for now just Asia and the US. Japan values hip-hop culture and fashion in general from the US.
Format: Originally, Cavi consisted of just military jackets and shirts. Other than the colorways and branches of military the jackets and shirts were pretty much the same. Do you see Cavi doing anything outrageous with the shirts or jackets any time soon?
Phil: Not really, the military look has always been the foundation of how we started so we’re not going to stray away from that. We’re always trying to pizzazz it up a bit. We did the US Army and Navy so now we’re going to spice things up and do foreign military shirts like Spain Argentina or Cuba. We’re doing things with different fabrications, designs, placement of the graphics on the shirts. Also we’re trying to do the women’s line come spring `08.
“Everything happened really quick. All of us we’re pretty new to the fashion industry. I’m in the music biz and four months of just playing around with clothes I got it on Jay-Z.”
Format: The line is noticeably inspired by the military, but do any of the founders have any significant experiences or ties with the military that contribute to the theme?
Phil: Not really, a lot of my family are in the military, but that didn’t really influence me. When I first started putting the metals on the shirt and going out the lights hit the metals and it’s shining and it makes you feel like a superstar.
Format: Cavi is described as the Caviar of the streetwear industry, how would you say that Cavi is better than the competition?
Phil: I’d definitely say hip-hop is a big part of telling the general public what’s hot and what’s not. We got the streets approval from the majority of the platinum artists and the streets. That’s what embraced us in the first place. If you go to the club you’re bound to see one to five Cavi shirts. It’s just the masses telling us we’re hotter than most of the other brands. A lot of brands started as a T-shirt line which is easy. We started a line with button up shirts with metals. Anybody can put patches on a shirt, but when you take the time and effort to put all the metals and details on the shirt it’s kind of hard to replicate.
Format: Where do you see the line in the next five years?
Phil: I want to keep it exclusive, but at the same time I want to see it in the high end department stores. I want to take it where Sean John took it and make it a lifestyle brand. Basically how LRG has it now is where I want it to be.
Format: If Cavi had a soundtrack what are two songs that have to be included on there.
Phil: Man, let’s see T.I. “Big Things Poppin” and probably “I Get Money” by 50 Cent. We’re not filthy rich like 50, but we’re on our way.
More Info: http://www.cavinyc.com/