Tommy Bogo — a Bay Area native and founder of the fashion brand TOMBOGO — has captured the hearts of streetwear enthusiasts for his innovative and utilitarian products. Design is an avenue for him to communicate his life experiences and learnings to propel the dialogue around function and form. “I have these stories to tell and I actualize them through tangible garments and pieces,” Bogo tells Hypebeast. “And as my brand grows in streetwear and even elevates into high fashion, I want my experiences to continue to inform my work.”
Bogo’s journey dates back to when he was a student in college working towards a degree in industrial design. His experiences in school helped him develop a knack for problem-solving through creative projects, so he formed his eponymous imprint in 2013. TOMBOGO started out in Oakland, California, and served as a platform for pop-ups and concerts for local artists like Guapdad 4000 and Larry June. Nine years later, Bogo’s fashion imprint has amassed a loyal fan base and earned co-signs from high-profile names in culture such as Bad Bunny – who sported his LED Scouter glasses at the 2019 MTV VMAs — J Balvin, Kehlani, Kid Cudi and,most recently, Jack Harlow who was fitted in a TOMBOGO CityScape Knit sweatshirt on Saturday Night Live.
Tommy Bogo has become the guy for multifunctional pieces as well as quirky accessories and gadgets such as his double-knee cargo pants with reversible and removable pockets, branded camcorders and tape guns. The brand tallied up its fourth runway show at New York Fashion Week and introduced its first-ever sneaker collaboration alongside Saucony.
Bogo’s “The Butterfly” team-up with Saucony is the focus for this latest installment of Hypebeast’s Sole Mates series. We caught up with the talented designer to talk about his sneaker culture experiences in the Bay Area, the process of bringing this Saucony collaboration to life and more.
What got you into sneakers?
Skateboarding. I was a very avid skater from middle school through high school. That’s where I got a lot of my brand influence, from brands like Spitfire, Vans, Etnies, eS, Osiris and Adio. As a skater, you would run through shoes quickly so I was always looking at shoes that I was going to save up for and then ruin within a few weeks. Skating is where I started to get into [Nike] SB Dunks and Janoskis — then obviously those popped off as an actual fashion statement.
What was sneaker culture like for you growing up in the Bay Area?
I remember Bows and Arrows in Berkeley was a hub for streetwear and sneakers for me as well as 510 Skateshop. Those two stores were my world aside from the Internet. I wasn’t really the type to camp out for hyped sneakers, especially because I knew I would just be skating in them and scuffing them up. For my parents, skate shoes were the threshold of what they would buy for me growing up and if I wanted anything else then I was going to have to save my own money for them.
How would you compare Bay Area sneaker culture to where you currently live in LA, and NY?
New York is definitely the most advanced. LA has got some funny fits [laughs], but I will say that there are strong trends out there. I think staple pieces and brands like Fear of God ESSENTIALS make so much sense for the [LA] demographic and what they want, which is typically nice sweats, tees, a solid hat and good shoes. I almost feel like if you are in the fashion scene, then you’re kind of like an outlier there in LA. The Bay has a mix, but it’s harder to find people that know fashion in the Bay. When you do find them though, they definitely know they’re stuff.
TOMBOGO products lean heavily on functionality and sustainability. How did you land on this ethos, and what role you see your brand playing in the streetwear space?
I landed on that ethos through a project that I did at San Francisco State. I studied industrial design and my senior project was to design something that solved a problem. And within that, the assignment required me to illustrate the process of how I got there and how each piece is formed into that functionality. Additionally, each presentation of that process had to be just as beautiful as the final product, and so that’s what it started with. It helped me realize what design is about and how envisioning something solves a problem, and if it’s not that deep, how it at least functions in a way that’s going to be beneficial to you.
“When I’m trying to produce an out-of-the-box idea, I still want that middle ground of it actually being a durable product.”
When did Saucony enter the picture for you? Were you rocking the brand growing up?
I was definitely always aware of them. I personally didn’t wear them when I was younger, but I did have friends who ran cross-country and track and field that would tell me that Saucony was their go-to running brand. Having that perspective from them was all I needed to know that they put a lot of R&D into their running technology. When I’m trying to produce an out-of-the-box idea, I still want that middle ground of it actually being a durable product.
How did the opportunity to work with Saucony come about in the first place?
Saucony’s head of brand partnerships and marketing just DM’d me. It was super casual and I could’ve easily missed it, but we hopped on a call and everything just snowballed from there. They did an initial sponsorship at our last runway show on the roof of Spring Studios and that was our first toe in the water of seeing what we could do together. I actually wore the prototype of this shoe myself for that show and it was a very small detail that only certain people noticed. Jian DeLeon from Nordstrom noticed them and it got on @muleboyz a year before it actually dropped. It was an organic relationship from the start.
Not many young designers have the luxury of landing their own sneaker collaborations, let alone creating an original silhouette. Was that what you wanted to do right off the bat and was there any pushback from Saucony?
It definitely had to be my own silhouette. If Saucony asked me to make another colorway of one of their existing models I most likely would have passed. However, they already had a loose idea of the silhouette that they had pitched to me and it worked out perfectly because it was in the direction of what I wanted to make in terms of my first sneaker collaboration. Granted, it was only passed through a certain group within the company, the higher up corporate people didn’t understand it. It wasn’t an easy process. Everyone internally that worked on this takes a lot of pride in getting this out and having the successful drop that it did because we sold out, which was awesome.
Can you break down its overall design?
The idea was born from a story that Saucony shared with me about a kid who ran a marathon in clogs and ended up winning. He killed it, but his feet were probably killing him. So the idea with this two-layer design was to create a clog that embodies everything that everyone’s really into about clogs right now, but make it into a wearable version that you could take on a run, on the treadmill, down a mountain and into the water.
How many prototypes did you have to go through before you landed on the final design?
It was actually pretty on point. We were both always aligned on the end goal, but I really appreciated their help when it came to the shoe’s technicalities. For example, there’s an interlocking system on the bottom of the clog and the bottom of the boot and there’s a grip that really locks in and prevents you from slipping — that was something we had to take our time to figure out. And also, in terms of multi-functional, modular design, the bootie was an essential component. We spent a lot of time on how that fit perfectly inside the outer shell as well as the materials. That was the biggest R&D piece and then it just came down to colorways.
“The palette was actually an accident … “Sage Moon” is the happiest accident that I’ve ever landed on.”
What’s the meaning behind its Butterfly moniker? Is there any significance behind the color palette?
Saucony had the name for it as we were going into it, but it’s funny: “Tombo” means “dragonfly” in Japanese so there’s significance for the sequel to possibly be “The Dragonfly” because it has even more relevance to my name. “The Butterfly” title is derived from the shoe being interchangeable and having an evolution type of beat.
The palette was actually an accident, which is the funniest part. I don’t think I’ve shared with any press outlets yet! It was supposed to be an all gray colorway, but when I saw the sample come back, I realized I was probably using the wrong Pantone book. And when they came back, I thought they were hard and I loved them. I already wanted to do something that had a desaturated jade hue and this came out perfectly. With production, R&D and everything, the timeframe was so tight and I had to pick from four colorway samples that we made. I actually didn’t want to redo anything but I couldn’t even if I wanted to and I genuinely really liked this colorway. The official colorway is called “Sage Moon” and it’s the happiest accident I’ve ever landed on.
Can we expect more colorways to release down the road?
Did the uprise of clogs and mules inspire this design or have you always wanted to craft this type of sneaker?
I definitely started to wear more clogs during the pandemic and I think that the multi-functionality aspect of things kind of stemmed from there. My convertible double knee cargo pants were also conceived during that time, and really informed a lot of the designs I did including this sneaker. I like to take familiar silhouette, something that people already enjoy, and put my own twist on them This model is a prime example of that.
“There’s nostalgic value within sneakers and I think that feeling is what a lot of like-minded people value. You’re either holding a place in the past that you cherish or you’re appreciating something for its potential to push forward, and that’s something I really appreciate.”
This type of footwear has really cemented itself in the fashion lexicon and seems to have real post-pandemic staying power. How do you see it progressing?
I think it will continue and start to advance. After we dropped this, other shoe brands from Jordan Brand to adidas started making rubber shoes with inserts. It continues to be successful because people like having the option to interchange with one piece.
Why are sneakers and their stories important to you?
I just think back to skate skate sneakers, what those meant for me and how I got into sneaker culture from there. There’s nostalgic value within sneakers and I think that feeling is what a lot of like-minded people value. You’re either holding a place in the past that you cherish or you’re appreciating something for its potential to push forward, and that’s something I really appreciate.