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Brooklyn Pride: A Conversation with Brooklyn Industries’ Lexy Funk

Brooklyn Pride: A Conversation with Brooklyn Industries’ Lexy Funk

Photo: Andrew Shepherd

Just in time for Pride, we’re thrilled to announce our second fashion collaboration with Brooklyn Industries, the pioneering clothing and accessories company. Their talented designers created a limited edition t-shirt emblazoned with our advocacy call to action: we CAN end AIDS in New York State by 2020 (find out how here). The shirts will be for sale at our Bookstore Cafe, on brooklynindustries.com, and in select Brooklyn Industries shops beginning Tuesday, July 23. 10% of proceeds will be donated to our fight to end AIDS.

We recently sat down with Lexy Funk, the visionary CEO of Brooklyn Industries to learn more about their roots, their commitment to social responsibility, and their awesome windows.

Housing Works: Name, location, occupation
Lexy Funk: Dumbo, Brooklyn, Entrepreneur

HW: Brooklyn Industries is a true pioneer, opening Brooklyn Industries in Williamsburg in 1998 with a recycled billboard bag as your first product. How has living, working and creating in Brooklyn changed in the past 17 years?
LF: Brooklyn is now an idea that has filled in. I saw the inkling of the place Brooklyn has become in 1991. Now the abandoned industrial lots have filled with housing and buildings, and empty storefronts have changed hands multiple times. My community has changed from one of underground artists to emerging entrepreneurs. In a way, this is a process of solidification that perhaps comes with age but also has to do with gentrification and growth. I have become more interested in South and East Brooklyn, and in areas such as industrial Canarsie that are perhaps overlooked. I am concerned about rents becoming too expensive and people being priced out of their neighborhoods. Cities are vital organisms but the center of creative energy might start to shift to other boroughs.

HW: Tell us about how your community based bag and tee shirt collaborations came about.
LF: One of our first collaborations with a non-profit was with Housing Works. We opened a store on Lafayette Street that had an entrance across from the Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. This happened organically. We had a graphic designer then who was really impassioned by the gay rights movement, and this gave us the courage to do a series of Pride t-shirts long before it was broadly socially acceptable. Our collaborations are usually with neighbors and fairly ad hoc. I interned very briefly at the Ali Forney Center when I graduated from college, so we have given proceeds to them. We also really believe in your cause. We try to stick to the environment and gay rights but if one of us feels impassioned by a cause we will consider broadening our scope. More recently we did a t-shirt for Partners in Health who have been working to end Ebola in West Africa. This felt a little too far afield but I am a big supporter of Paul Farmer who started the organization so we couldn’t help ourselves. My favorite collaboration wasn’t really one at all. The artist Ai Weiwei had been imprisoned for his political speech in China. My son designed a graphic t-shirt that just said “Free Ai Weiwei” with his face in stencil. We gave the proceeds to Human Rights Watch. This was more of a push than a pull. We later received a picture of the shirt on his desk with a thank you note. That was really wonderful.

HW: As fellow design devotees; we love your windows. What’s your process for creating your eye-catching windows?
LF: I am so happy you say this. The windows are designed by my life partner (if that is a term) Vahap Avsar and executed by our first employee Koh Suwa. Avsar is a conceptual artist. He generally ignores what the design team is doing (which drives them crazy) and works on ideas, materials and thoughts that are driven by his own creative vision. Our budget is very low or non-existent, so Vahap usually uses recycled or found materials. He has used recycled tires, found scrap, ping pong balls, tennis balls, old turn tables, the list goes on. The installations are often interactive, colorful, moving and sometimes political. I wish our whole company could be our windows, but then we would probably be an art collective.

HW: Brooklyn Industries is a brand with a vision, what can we expect next?
LF: Our discussions right now are how we can be a design and product driven company rather than a clothing company. This is an important distinction as it enables us to think of longevity and impact and social consciousness. We would like to slow down rather than speed up and to work on idea bubbles such as bicycling, localism and organic sustainability. This is the inverse of how most clothing companies design- “I need four shirts and five dresses.” To carry this idea into the store, we would then have areas based on Live, Work, Create that describe our heterogeneous lifestyle.

HW: In your opinion, what’s the best place in Brooklyn to recharge your creative juices?
LF: Ok I am going to cheat here. If you go all the way to the end of Flatbush and cross the bridge you hit Fort Tilden. I live four blocks from this huge nature preserve; think Prospect Park without the people, think sand, bunkers and tempestuous skies. I walk on a jetty with the skyline of Brooklyn and Manhattan at my back. The odd fisherman or winter nudist with rainbow flags cross my path. The beach here is exultant and humbling.

Get your limited edition t-shirt while supplies last. For an insider’s perspective on Brooklyn Industries, check out Brooklyn Industrialist tumblr.

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