Angelo Baque doesn’t have much time for a break. “I have to take a day off and recover after New York Fashion Week, but the work never stops,” she says. When you’re as in-demand as Baque — he’s the founder of Awake NY, Baque Creative and Angelo Baque Studios and has worked with everyone from ASICS to Fenty — your plate is always full. Beyond juggling projects with the ever-expanding Rodolex, the born-and-raised New Yorker’s unique talent is connecting his work to his community.
Most of Baque’s projects are rooted in community empowerment and raise awareness or funds for causes close to his heart, such as charity T-shirts that helped families affected by January’s Bronx apartment fires. At New York Fashion Week, however, Baque took his focus on community to a new level by partnering with UPS for a “La Bodega Baque” installation and a special clothing collection. The former was a raucous celebration of New York City’s Latinx community and the city’s beloved bodegas, filled with gear and homewares from Latinx creators, while the latter preached a message of unity between cultures from the Americas and the Caribbean islands. However, the efforts were more than a celebration of community and a new clothing launch. All proceeds from the collection, as well as a $50,000 USD grant, went to Manhattan’s High School for Fashion Industries to support a scholarship program for Latinx designers and entrepreneurs.
“I wanted to bring intention to this partnership and design with UPS — highlighting our mutual commitment to empowering and unifying Latinx communities,” said Baque. “When Awake NY creates, we do it to bring people together.” UPS CMO Kevin Warren echoed Baque’s sentiments, stating that “UPS is committed to providing diverse small businesses with the funding and resources they need to thrive, and our partnership with Angelo and Awake NY has done just that.” .
Baque sat down with HYPEBEAST to discuss the finer points of Awake’s partnership with UPS, the importance of being intentional about his brand’s storytelling, and his passion for making a long-term impact in his community.
What was the process of designing this collection like?
The first part was coming up with a new acronym for UPS and we came up with “Unidos Para Siempre”, which means “united forever”. After being locked in, we wanted a design that represented the Latinx community. One of the biggest challenges facing this community is fragmented identity, which is a by-product of everything from post-colonialism to colourism, discrimination and social caste systems, so we wanted to send a message of solidarity between descendants of the Americas and the Caribbean. It doesn’t matter if your folks eat tamales and mine eat humitas — we’re all on the same gang, man! [laughs]. So we landed on a map of America as the print for the jacket and hat.
La Bodega Baque took this message of unity even further. How did you use this physical space and the events associated with it to convey the story of the collection?
It was important to me to break the typical tropes of what a bodega is. The stereotypes are like “oh, Papi’s behind the counter, making a shredded cheese, there’s a gambling place in the back…”
A cat sits on the bench…
Completely. There is so much crap surrounding bodega culture on social media and on TV. Although some of it is true, the majority of it is almost mythological. During one of our meetings with the UPS team, they asked me what the bodega meant to me and I said it was like a community center. You can go get the latest news, a credit line for food and drinks, whatever you need. It is a home away from home, the heartbeat of the neighborhood.
“You never want to compromise your design, product or brand presentation in order to ‘reach’ your audience. You have to respect their level of intelligence and taste.”
So was it an experience you wanted to celebrate and elevate?
Absolutely. One of the biggest lessons I learned during my decade at Supreme is that you never want to compromise your design, product, or brand presentation in order to “reach” your audience. You have to respect their level of intelligence and taste. That’s why I didn’t want to do a surface-level image of the traditional bodega you’d find on 100th Street and Manhattan Avenue or in Spanish Harlem. I wanted to honor bodegas and how much they mean to New York by having La Bodega Baque give you the same feeling you would have walking into the MoMA gift shop.
How did you curate the selection of products?
Curation goes back to the sense of community I mentioned earlier. Many brands at La Bodega Baque were run by young Latinx cats I’ve been talking to over the past five years. Of course, we had a bunch of different streetwear brands there, but we had things that were less expected, like coffee and healthcare products. It was a diverse selection, just like you would find in a bodega, and I wanted to shine a light on this young talent that is out here pushing itself and creating premium products.
Everything Awake NY does feels very deliberate. How does the brand stay true to its core values while working on a major partnership?
We always want to give back, especially when we are playing David to the Goliath of a much larger partner. Our current goal is to make our partnerships more consistent and longer-term, creating a positive impact that will still be felt a decade from now. That’s why my ears perked up when I heard about the opportunity to work with UPS: I felt like they could really help me realize the long-term empowerment that Awake is pushing for.
In the theme of long-term empowerment, all proceeds from the collection plus a $50,000 USD grant go towards supporting Latinx creators at the High School for Fashion Industries. Tell us about the impact paying down payment can have — how might your life be affected if a program like this was available to you in high school?
My older sister actually went to High School for Fashion Industries. As a kid, I was really inspired by her leaving Queens and heading to Manhattan to pursue her passion. As for me, I had to drop out of the School of Visual Arts in my second year because I couldn’t afford it. I’ve never been bitter about that experience or let it hold me back, but I’ve never forgotten it and always think about the kids who might be in the same boat I was, unable to have those opportunities due to lack of funds, or worse. , don’t bother trying because they can’t see themselves in a position like the one I’m in now.
Being able to help create programs and initiatives that pay off is what makes my job rewarding. Five years ago, streetwear brands weren’t heavily involved in giving or community work, but since then streetwear culture has developed more consciousness. I’m proud that Awake has always been at the forefront of changing the rules in the streetwear industry.
“The Awake NY community can smell bullshit from a mile away, and the fact that we’ve never shied away from our message resonates with them.
There are many different things at play in this partnership – community empowerment, a deeply personal story, and peer support. At the same time, it was a big NYFW dot. How do you balance doing something meaningful with something that makes waves?
There is definitely an element of strategy. We were up against 20 other things when we opened on Friday night, but because the intent and purpose of our work is there, people want to come and support us. The Awake NY community can smell bullshit from a mile away, and the fact that we’ve never swerved from our message resonates with them.
You know you have a good event when people stick around instead of running in, get an Instagram story and leave!
That was honestly my favorite part of the launch event, how many people showed up and how many people attended. The place was supposed to only hold 30-40 people, but when they finished everyone inside, they hung out and turned it into a block party. We want all that energy — to experience that in my city is a beautiful thing.
Anything else we should know about the collection?
I hope it inspires people of all backgrounds to remember that we’re all connected — and, of course, to go buy it!
The UPS x Awake NY collection is now available on the Awake NY webstore. The jacket is $225 USD and the hat is $50 USD.