The Laws of Style hosted by Douglas Hand Episode 14 – Justin Bridges
“I’m a problem solver. So I think I fell into a style, but there’s always this line of variation through all my work where I’m solving somebody else’s problem with my imprint.” – Justin Bridges
Douglas Hand sits down with Justin Bridges, a fashion photographer based in Harlem, New York. Justin discusses his decision to leave an unfulfilling job on Wall Street to pursue his passion for photography in the fashion industry. Bridges also talks about how he manages the business aspect of being an artist (including social media and freelance work) as well as his problem-solving approach to every project. Also discussed are race, street style, streetwear and trends in menswear.
Shoes: Doc Marten
T-shirt: Lands’ End
Shammy: L.L. Bean
Coat: Assembly New York
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Douglas HAND: Hello, welcome to the podcast, The Laws of Style, downloading to you from high above Bryant Park in the fashion District of New York at the Law Offices of HBA. I’m your host Douglas Hand, fashion lawyer, fashion law professor, and self-styled, well-dressed man. My guest today is Justin Bridges, photographer and visual director. Justin, thanks for joining us.
Justin BRIDGES: Of course, my pleasure.
HAND: So you’ve been in fashion for many years but before being in the creative field, and specifically in fashion, you were an equity trader at Goldman Sachs, one of the premier investment banks on the planet. Describe for our listeners, how you made that pivot and what led to it?
BRIDGES: Sure. Yeah, when I started, when I moved to New York, it was 2008, probably the heart of the financial crisis, I moved to New York to be on Wall Street to tackle finance to change my family tree. And when I got there, life was a lot more chaotic than I had ever imagined, even when I worked there for internships. And so I found this like sort of unhappiness starting to settle in about midway through my two-year analyst program, and I started sort of looking for things to, you know, get happy about, or get involved in. And it just so happened that obviously, with a little bit more disposable income, I could go shop. And so I would spend every single weekend walking from Sach to Barney’s to Bergdorf and just window-shopping, a little bit of spending. And I caught the bug. I was in love with clothing.
And that sort of thing, married to the idea that I picked up a camera in college sort of gave me this idea, like, what if? What if I pick up a camera and do something fun with it? Could I make something happen? And so I spent a lot of time on the weekend starting to shoot friends, just walking the streets taking pictures of things. And when I would get into work, my boss would notice how unplugged or like disinterested I was with projects that were assigned me. And she finally pulled me aside, she became a mentor of mine, and she said, “You know, what’s going on? You seem to be so happy about all these photo projects you told me about, but you never have anything exciting to say about the work.” And I said, “Hey, look, I think I’m in love with this hobby that I have, and it’s hard for me to get engaged here.” And she pulled out this napkin and she was like, “Let’s write a list of pros and cons. If you were to go do this thing, what would be the pros, what would be the cons?” And all the pros stacked up in terms of creativity. But on the con side, the only thing that I wrote down was money. And she told me—and I know this is going to sound a bit cliche, but she said, “If you follow your heart, the money will come.” And at the time, I was like, “Whatever,” but the seed was planted. And I just couldn’t get rid of that notion anymore.
And so when my two years was up, I didn’t really seek to get rehired, I did look for other banking jobs in full honesty, because I wanted to learn other skill sets and I didn’t know if I was ready to go full time photography. And so that’s what sort of was the impetus of like just getting out there and you know, following my heart, and then I finally got a temp job at J Crew, worked in merchandising and planning. Then I got finally got an interview at Sachs Fifth Avenue and end up being in the buying office. And so I just sort of followed the fashion further and further away from numbers. Obviously, the first two jobs were numbers heavy, but then I went to PR, that’s where I worked with this brand called Public School. And then eventually I worked for another photographer, and then that was it.
HAND: Yeah. Well, and we’ve both worked with Public School…
HAND: …For many years at this point. Maybe describe that culture at Goldman Sachs, again, one of the premier banks that has ever existed. And you know, how perhaps, that led to some of the dissatisfaction if I’m, you know, don’t let me miss here…
HAND: But what was that culture like?
BRIDGES: I would say, you know, the one thing I did love about Goldman’s culture was the sort of this pillar of excellence, having probably one of the smallest footprints for global investment bank, but outperforming everything on the street. So that’s one thing about the culture that I did love. But that sort of excellence driving also sort of hurts you in the back end, too. Because if you don’t fold in nicely with what is expected of you, whether it’s making sure your face is shaved clean every day, or you know, wearing a little bit more flamboyant clothing, then you’re chopped down very quickly.
And so there’s this idea of personality that’s supposed to be shown in the work, but not in the personal aesthetic or not in the way that you would carry your lifestyle that was a little bit sort of claustrophobic for me. I also never really loved the whole authority thing. And you know, everybody’s your boss. I mean, there’s a tier system…
HAND: Indeed, a caste system.
BRIDGES: Yes, it is a caste system, yeah. I hate to sound a little bit like a millennial, but I do see a little bit of that shine through where you, you know, I could see what revenue I was generating. But because I didn’t fall in line, I didn’t get the spoils that were due. And so that kind of thing sort of gets in you and it just festers and festers and festers.
The other part that I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a Goldman thing, but during that financial crisis time, you know, we’re looking at CNBC all day being called Vampire Squid. And for a young guy like me who loves to be liked I mean, it’s kind of hard to sit there and watch, and then also be maybe a little unsure, or am I contributing to a problem? Am I apart of this? And so all those things, I think, came together.
I will say, the culture at Goldman wasn’t as bad as what I’ve heard at other banks. I’m sure there were bad moments for a lot of people. But my group and my team were awesome. And I actually did like what I was doing; it just didn’t align with how I saw myself on a day to day basis.
HAND: Yeah, yeah. Well, you know, perhaps one of the largest pros on that list that you made was that sense of self-actualization that you were going to be pursuing a career that you really felt drawn to. But maybe more on the culture, not of Goldman specifically, but the white collar world, because as a lawyer, obviously, I’m part of that world, and I practice that at a big law firm, Sherman and Sterling and I too really appreciate it that kind of best in class type nature of the approach to the work. Sherman is rather large, but Goldman, you know a law firm that comes to mind is like Wachtell, which is similarly small, but packs quite a wall up when it comes to M&A engagements in particular.
But, you mentioned that you weren’t able to express yourself through dress, and I know you and I geek out about menswear all the time. There certainly in those environments are certain items that carry with them a bit of legacy, a bit of entitlement. Here, I’m talking about those patriarchal vestiges, like the suspenders with critters on them.
BRIDGES: Yeah, ties.
HAND: Ties or the contrast color, dress shirt, cufflinks, things like that. Do you agree that those things both communicate a sense of where you are in the pecking order, and that to wear them too early is absolute death?
BRIDGES: Career suicide? I would have to agree. I mean, I remember two instances for me where I actually went shopping with an associate above my pay grade and we stopped in Hermes, and I was going to buy a tie as well. And they said, “No, no, it’s not time for you yet.” And I was glad to have that guidance. The other thing that I noticed and this was back to your first question is one day I came in, you know, we would go out a bit, you know, I was young and I came in one morning with like the fresh stubble and one of the associates on the desk was like, “You need to go to the bathroom right now and get that shaved.” And I just remember being so like, felt so distant in the moment like what is going on? How am I part of this?
But yeah, there are there are traditional vestiges of that world and they denote pecking order, they denote an understanding of where you’re at in that culture. And you know what, I don’t hate them all actually, I think there are…Within different workplaces banking, law, accounting, all these other worlds, there are sort of standardized ways that people see themselves and project their sort of confidence and belonging in that world. And baking does have this one thing that happens to be a little bit more, I guess, bragadocious and money feeling. And those things aren’t horrible. I think they get a lot more shine now that there’s social media and this people pointing out. One of the things that I loved wearing when I was in banking was the fleece vest with no sleeves. I mean, that thing was like my favorite.
HAND: There was a Wall Street Journal article about it last week.
BRIDGES: Yeah, exactly. And now people are hating on it, there’s an Instagram about it. You know, Midtown whatever…
HAND:It was Gallagher that wrote it.
BRIDGES: Oh, yes. It’s a great piece, right. And so there’s things like that that will probably always stand the test of time. And then there are other things that probably might, should go away. The contrast color thing is a staple of just another era that might not survive any longer than it has, but I think the business casual, the certain ties when you’re going into meetings, because most of us did dress business casual on a day to day basis.
HAND: You know, let’s talk about that, and we will get into photography, I promise.
BRIDGES: No, of course.
HAND: But with the business casualisation, right, of men’s wear, really starting a couple of decades ago, but now in full throat, right? It is common to see basically everybody on the street or everybody on Park in the 50s tieless but in some sort of a uniform. That vest is…
HAND: Right. What do you think about how that affords men an opportunity to express themselves in these places where traditionally it’s been sort of the smoke filled room, if you’re not dressed like your grandfather, then you’re kind of out? And do you see many men doing it right?
BRIDGES: That’s a great question. I think the problem with sort of the standardized uniform vibe on a lot of sort of corporate environments, is that it sort of strangles the creativity out. Or at least something I learned at Sachs is it pushes that creativity into accessories and small leather goods and things like that, it doesn’t give you the chance to wear the whole ensemble, but it allows you to pull off the bill fold or pull out the handkerchief or the or the cufflinks and something like that, to show a little bit of that personality and pizzazz, you just have to be very careful about how you do it.
When I worked at Sachs, one of the things that my buyer taught me, which I thought was incredibly, I guess, visionary was that he was always thinking about the guy coming in from Connecticut, scrolling through his Blackberry, just trying to get through his emails, deleting half the stuff. And he said, “What we need in every assortment online because I work in Sach.com is we need that blackberry stopper, that thing he’s going to scroll past and be like, ‘okay, I have woken out of my slumber.” And the thing about that is that the one thing we have to remember or that I try to remember when I think about all these business environments is that you might not be able to do as much as you can like to at work, but people actually are starting to show that they have a spirit of creativity and personality outside of work. So that same hedge fund guy might only show his personality and the nice like cobbled shoes or a nice like handkerchief coming out of the blazer. But on the weekends he’s being a little bit more daring. And so I think even though we are constrained in the workplace, we’re finding ways to still get that sort of peacock thing done in some shape or form in our lives.
HAND: Now how about you work with a ton of menswear brands, you shoot a lot of them, you advise them on visual direction. You may even assist the merchandising department for all I know. [inaudile 12:48] which is sort of—or streetwear. I mean, some of these terms are really laden with a lot that’s inappropriate. Public School being a great example of that, in that, they make tailored clothing. I have a public school gray suit that looks a lot like [crosstalk] But to that clearly non-tailored look, can men pull that off in a white-collar world? Is that being worn at Goldman in ways and if so how?
BRIDGES: You know that I feel like the closest I’ve seen people sort of get into that world, and I did this a little bit myself, not knowing whether or not that got me in trouble. But you know, I think the designer that comes to name immediately is like a Tom Brown, you know, maybe you’re not doing an aggressive silhouette all the time or, you know, Tom Brown, you have the gray flannel suit but it’s cropped high at the ankle, or the sleeves are a little short. And there’s so many excellent ways and examples of doing the tailored look in a way that’s very true to you are true to self without causing alarm.
And so I do think people are able to operate in this white-collar environment. You know, I think a lot of who you are…There’s corporate culture, then there’s your boss. And I think there are ways to navigate around your direct reports that allow you to express some things if you’re willing to take that risk.
So yeah, I do think people are getting away with it. When I was at Goldman, I would probably consider myself the small 5 to 10% of people trying it. I didn’t last very long. So who knows if that’s a reflection, but I do think there were, you know, even I’m trying to think of some of the bigger guys like a Dave Solomon. I remember that guy used to wear some of the most beautiful suits. They weren’t necessarily the coolest tailoring I’ve ever seen. But I feel like he was trying to push things. The guy that I think is taking over for…Was it Lloyd Blankfein, that’s the new guy that’s also a DJ on the side? That guy was trying some things back then.
HAND: And Lloyd actually was one of the first to start showing up with scruff on a regular basis.
HAND: So the needle has certainly moved since our days being you know, with the big institutional or organization. In terms of menswear brands, who do you see designing well for this shift, acknowledging service professionals and others who traditionally want to look professional, but pushing those boundaries?
BRIDGES: That’s an interesting question. I feel like the older I get, the less I pay attention to designers and more I pay attention to just like sort of functionality, comfort, and I sort of let myself be brandless a bit. You know, I actually loved what Daria said about fills in last podcast…
HAND: Daria [Kalmeez 15:34] who was on a few weeks ago?
BRIDGES: Yeah. But I would say one of my favorite things to do, and this is a very bit of the low side of my high low equation is I really like Unico and those people that sort of can take care of my sort of foundational pieces. You know, another brand that I really like that fits this it’s an accessory piece or shoe pieces is Doc Martin, because they make a range of silhouettes that allow you to have a little personality but even the shoe I’m wearing today…
HAND: You are always in Doc Martin.
BRIDGES: I’m almost always in Doc Martin.
HAND: And you do have that iconic tab.
HAND: Which is a trademark.
HAND: With the yellow and that somewhat iconic top stitching. I don’t see it on what you’re wearing today.
HAND: Let’s flip into that, let’s flip into the what are you wearing? And to the degree you can tell me you know who designed it and what season is it, although you appear to be…
HAND: Seasonless, but have at it.
BRIDGES: Okay, so today is interesting because I don’t have one designer piece on, which is rare when I go to things.
HAND: It proves your point.
BRIDGES: Yeah, kind of proves my point. I’m wearing Doc Martin shoes, they’re laced up Oxfords with almost no sort of detailing at all. I think the sole is probably the most Doc Martin thing about it.
HAND: That is a [Blue Choo 16:53] though, my friend.
BRIDGES: Oh Blue Choo, excuse me. See, you have the whole thing laid out. Correct me on the rest of it too.
HAND: It’s an interesting distinction but it’s where the, you know, I’ve got [inaudible 17:0]so that help but where the two tabs that are pulled together by the laces are either above the vampof the shoe or actually sewn underneath it.
BRIDGES: That’s an important distinction too. The things that you focus on. I love it. So I have Doc Martins for shoes. I have on both Unico socks and jeans. The jeans have been cut to the height that I prefer them to be.
HAND: Yeah, they’re left pretty raw.
BRIDGES: And left raw. My pocket T is Lanzin and my Shami, Sham shirt is LL Bean, classic. I have like five of these in the closet. I’m Inspector Gadget of the LL Bean stuff and the Lanzin tshirt. And then I wore a Honduras hat that I got from my trip with Carlos Campos.
HAND: Yeah, I see that. Bring that into the show before we’re done.
BRIDGES: And also Patagonia jacket. I do have one designer coat on top of the Patagonia jacket and that is an assembly long coat. So that’s my look today.
HAND: And the why for putting that look together. I mean, obviously you were coming in for the podcast but it’s morning so you probably have a number of other appointments. So why this ensemble?
BRIDGES: So this is essentially a variation of my uniform. My uniform is black jeans, black shoes, black t shirt, and then whatever coats to keep me warm for the day. And today, I was like, “You know what, I’m going in for this podcast. I know it’s on video.” I’ve been actually working on a sort of variation to the uniform. So I still don’t have to think when I leave the house. But it adds a little bit of like, “Oh, he’s trying today.” And so the half tuck of LL Bean over shirt. And then mixing and matching silhouette sizes like the Patagonia. It’s the standard sort of Patagonia jacket everybody has, except mines a little bit more shiny, and then a long coat to sort of break apart those proportions and have something that the wind takes away is a little bit of a mix…
HAND: Did you bike in?
BRIDGES: I no longer bike for casual stuff because I have the whole kit I’ve got to wear to feel comfortable on the bike. So I only exercise cycling now.
HAND: Okay, well, let’s pivot into your work behind the camera.
HAND: You know, you work with a lot of brands, a lot of menswear brands, there is a perspective that comes out. Describe that process and is it intentional that that perspective comes out? Or is it just innate? And because Justin Bridges shot it, it just ends up looking that way?
BRIDGES: That’s such an interesting question because I think about this all the time. You know, I’m an educator on the side, I’m always trying to mentor people, I answer people’s questions all day. And they always ask me, how did you get to that style or that way of shooting? And I don’t know, you know, overarching all of this is that I’m a problem solver. And so I think I fell into a style. But there’s always sort of this line of variation through all my work where I’m solving somebody else’s problem with my imprint.
And so I don’t know how I get to it. I always start off like every single conversation starts off with, you know, what are your pain points are? What are we trying to achieve? What’s the collection look like? What are the sort of consistencies? What are the differentiation from other seasons? What’s the mood? What’s the vibe? And then it always follows through or flows through to the shooting part. But I always start with somebody else’s problems in mind and how my take on the world or my take on the lens can sort of solve that problem for them. And I think that’s how the style started to become defined as it’s always a—I think my style is always a collaboration. It’s never just me going, “Okay, this is how I see it so this is how it must be.” It’s always “what do you see?” Because I really love the team aspect of the whole photography thing.
Now more than a couple people on set, I start getting anxiety, but I love the team aspect of creative strategy and creative brainstorming. I hope I answered the question.
HAND: No, you did indeed. There’s a lot that goes into it for people who, you know, I’ve been on set with you, you’ve shot me and you know, there’s, believe it or not hair and makeup.
BRIDGES: Yeah, totally.
HAND: There’s a lot of lighting. And then that lighting can transforms things completely. There’s the stylist who’s touching people up making sure that things are staying where they should or being appropriately disheveled if that’s what you’re going for. What is the difference between what you do as a fashion photographer, versus a digital content either strategist or manager?
BRIDGES: I think that in both those roles, there’s a story to tell. But it turns out in digital content, the story never really ends. It’s sort of the book that is chapterless, you’re just stream of conscious. Because when you’re doing digital content, in a lot of ways, you’re telling a brand story that it may be evolves over time, but the through line is always there. When we’re looking at sort of fashion photography, whether it be a campaign, an advertisement, or just a look book for the season, it is very of the moment. So there’s a marriage between whatever’s happening in the diaspora, the cultural diaspora, and whatever’s happening for the designer, or their interpretation of culture at that juncture in time. And then the brand element of that is there’s the guidelines or the guardrails which you don’t want to deviate from, but you have a lot more freedom of creativity, you can say, you know, what’s really going on right now is high key light and, you know, ugly, like ugly fashion. This is a moment, so let’s style it up, let’s be maximalist. And that can be this season and next season, you could be right back to minimalism. And that’s, I think that’s the big difference, you can really go all the way with the sort of dreaminess of it.
HAND: Yeah. When you are approaching a fashion project, right, everybody assumes the fashion industry is glamorous, right. And you and I, at very different ends of the spectrum are very much in the weeds of it and we know that’s not necessarily true. Any just anecdotes from either really, really difficult clients or really, really difficult models or subjects, I mean, what is kind of the wildest thing that you’ve found yourself doing where you sort of pause and say…?
BRIDGES: Yeah, I mean, there isn’t…Glamorous, such a weird thing to think about, because I don’t think I’ve ever really experienced it. I mean, you know, I’ll start off with a very positive end of it, you know, one of my clients is Keith, and I was lucky enough to go to their last fashion show, Cliff Park, and I’m not really a big celebrity person, so to say, but I was sitting in the back row and in walks like LeBron, Kevin Love, Justin Bieber and his new wife. And, you know, there’s there is that sort of—that’s probably the closest to glamour, where you have this moment where you’re like, “Wait, I’m here.” I don’t care about them. But it’s just the idea that other people would have killed to have the seat. And that’s sort of the most glamorous thing that I think I’ve experienced.
But on the other hand, I mean, you guys have helped me solve some problems of non-payment, breach of contract. And I mean, those are things that you have to…I mean, I have to think about somebody signing something before I even think to actually get into a project. And so those things, all the business stuff is, although it’s fun for me, because I have the background, I can imagine it being like the most unglamorous thing ever. I would say, I’m trying to think of like a good experience where—or not a good experience. But, you know, I got my start in fashion by doing street style. And a lot of people see the street style pictures, and they romance them, they’re like, “Oh, my God, you’ve got to take a picture of this editor or that editor,” and like 90% of the time, or 99% of the time, especially during the winter, when we’re shooting people in like spring fashion, or whatever, you’re out there, it’s 30 degrees, your gloves are barely helping I mean, you have to stand in front of the show, maybe up to an hour and a half before it starts, you wait outside during it, if you don’t have a ticket—I’m in my early days, I never had a ticket—and then you’re waiting for lead outs, that’s another hour, waiting outside the show. So you might be outside of a show for three to four hours freezing to death, just trying to get that picture of the important editor for the season so you can either sell it or turn it into your client. That’s painful, that’s like completely unglamorous. And then you take this whole experience and multiply it by all of New York, I would do Milan and Paris. So at least four weeks of this stuff in the freezing cold.
And so I mean, that’s probably one of the most unglamorous but one of the highest touch points that most people get to see. I’ve shot behind the scenes of fashion shows, and if you’re not seniors back there, you’re getting pushed out of the way, you’re not getting the shot that they’re getting. And most the models don’t look at you, you know? So I mean, there’s that.
And then you have the challenging clients, you know, quite honestly, the people that pay the least want the most from you. They want the most for your time, and they want the most of your creative energy and output. And that can be the most unrewarding work you’ll ever do as a fashion photographer. And that usually happens starting out, but more so now, it’s the common experience because budgets in a digital world go down because there’s so much more content to put out. And so that is, you know, probably one out of every four experiences is probably a client that wants more than they paid for, they want licensing that they can’t really afford to get, they want a couple extra looks, going into overtime without paying overtime. All that kind of stuff is so unglamorous, but it’s just par for the course.
HAND: Well, so when you discussed how you got into photography free, it began as a personal passion project, which I share that too, although I’m far less gifted than you. And I think with the advent of the handheld device, and the iPhone, you know, everyone is a photographer of sorts. How do you distinguish between your commercial jobs and your approach to those versus your personal projects?
BRIDGES: Yeah, great question. I mean, honestly, I do have a similar approach. But it’s a little bit different. I don’t have a problem to solve most of the time with my personal work. So like commercial work, I’m always worried about how does the client feel? What are they trying to achieve? How can we get this done? How can I make money? How do I keep my margin? I mean, there’s all these like, sort of business things that I’m always thinking about along with the creativity. For personal stuff, there’s no sort of impetus I’m not rushed, you know, I set the date whenever I’m comfortable. And I feel like I have the plan in place, or I have the team that I want to work with, I can really just let go almost.
And that, I find really fun, I get to work with creatives that I might not have been able to hire, because I didn’t have the budget or the concept wasn’t right or whatever, I get to really strategize around an idea instead on how to sell something. And I really do enjoy the process of like fine tuning, like, what models do you want to do. And I have this project called Our Faces where I’m actually just shooting regular old, I don’t want to call anybody regular, but just in general, just humans, you don’t have to be a model, you don’t have to be this or that, there’s no styling, it’s just, hey, come in and show me your humanity, show me your expression. And sort of in those sort of like free willing, just freedom projects, I get to really just connect with people.
And I think that’s the difference is like, I can have a sort of motivation, like, I want to connect with people. And I can create a portrait project out of that. Or I can say, hey, I want to say something about the state of culture or the state of politics and I can do something like that, and not have to be pulled away from it because, oh, there’s not money there. You know, this is a little too risky for our clientele or our demographic, it’s just like, hey, this is out of my head. And that’s the fun part.
HAND: Seeing that more and more on the runways as well, where you often have non traditional models walking the runway, I still wouldn’t say normal, you know, often visually arresting people, but still not traditional models who are booked through one of the one of the major agencies.
BRIDGES: A lot more street castings getting done these days.
HAND: Yeah, which describe that process. So you’re obviously involved in that process.
HAND: How does casting go about, how much of the brand is involved in that and how much are you involved as a photographer?
BRIDGES: I think that it always depends on how involved the brand is period. So like, you know, some brands have big budgets with creative directors and a whole department of people that are just focused on how do we fine-tune the aesthetics for this season? Some brands are a lot smaller where the designer is the owner, the finance guy, everything. And so I think that, you know, you take a brand like,,, I’ll bring up Keith again, or even Public School, those guys, Ronnie, Dow, Maxwell, those are kind of guys that love getting into the granular pieces of things, too because it’s their baby, it’s like, it’s so special to them. So we did a street casting for Tommy Hilfiger, I wasn’t involved in the actual street casting. But I get to watch from afar. And that can be kind of crazy because the bigger the sort of the legacy, the buzz around a brand, the more people are interested in the street casting aspect. Whereas like, when you’re casting regular models, you’re just putting out the, “Hey, we’re looking for this type of person, send me what you have, we can review it in a digital portfolio and then make our selections, and then go for an in person thing.” Street castings are usually a lot bigger, a lot messier, there’s a lot more to filter out. Kind of as if you put a job on LinkedIn and it’s just like, okay, let’s get rid of the first…
HAND: Get ready for the flow.
BRIDGES: Yeah, exactly. But yeah, I think you know, like I said, it depends on the brand, how involved they get. I think there are healthier ways to do things. Like I think if you have somebody who is a lot more vague in terms of what they want, then they should be the least involved with the casting or involved in the creativity because then you just end up going around in circles. But if you have a team in place that is like this is what we want, this is the idea, this is where we’re at, then by all means the more help we can get, the better.
HAND: So your social media feeds which you have a couple of them, one for your personal projects or your personal life and another for your commercial work. How do you approach populating each of those? You are what in the trade we would call a perhaps micro influencer just because you don’t have a six digit, seven digit to your followers, but you’ve got a healthy know. Is that part of the business plan? Is that marketing for the business? And does the personal feed also inform that because it’s at the end of the day, still mainly photography.
BRIDGES: I would probably consider myself not a subscriber to traditional value system that’s been created around social media. I don’t actually care. Like, I actually split my Instagram handles back in the day when Jill from [inaudible] who’s the owner of [inaudible] before [inaudible 32:50]] bought it. She was like, I was asking her advice, like, I have this edgier portfolio that I want to get booked for. But I also don’t want to miss out on making money for more commercial projects. And she’s like, “Why don’t you just split your websites in two?” And so that got me thinking, “Oh, why don’t I split my Instagram into two so I can have a place where…” I mean, the modern portfolio is now on social media. I don’t know how many people even look at my site. I’ve never looked at the numbers, I don’t care. But I feel like most people go to your Instagram first, get an idea for what you do. And then if they want to dig deeper, they go your website.
So my personal website, or my personal Instagram, it went from like, oh, I’ll make this personal, or I’ll take away the fashion components of this. But then it was unmotivated for me to use it. So I was like,”Okay, if I’m going to stay on Instagram, I need to find purpose.” And everything I do down to the clothes I wear, they have to have a purpose. And so I actually the personal Instagram, I put pictures of my girlfriend or something we ate or whatever. But the purpose that I’ve derived from that is educating people on finance. It’s a part of my life that I actually still enjoy. But it’s also a part of me that I don’t want to atrophy because if I have something I can give back, that is I mean, to me, that’s what the platform should be used for. Not just endless mindless sharing of stuff. And so I use the freelance skills to educate people on their entrepreneurism, the small business aspects and finance. And then the By Bridges section of it has been a place for me to share and give credit to people that I’ve worked with, show clients that I’m proud of the work we’ve done together and you know, to share the work, and that I’m on much less it’s more of a curated it’s like okay, this project these three photos, or this layout, so I do have to be a little bit more in tune with it. And then the freelance skills I just—as I want, I just you know, my girlfriend and I went on a trip, here’s a cool picture from the trip. I don’t think twice about…I don’t get any validation. I don’t care.
HAND: Yeah. Well, to those that does care, to those that actually have formed a business model around it. And now I’m speaking of Influencers capital I. What do you think about the influencer economy? Because you’ve undoubtedly shot them. You’ve undoubtedly recognized from time to time, this person is not a model. I’m now having to direct a lot more than normal or not, you know? What do you think about that? And specifically, within the realm of fashion, and how fashion has quite a bit latched on to the rock of the influencer to Jewish up their brands?
BRIDGES: Yeah, I mean, I think when I got into fashion 2009/10 brands didn’t want to give into this influencer way and then it just took them over. I’ve done the whole roller coaster where I’ve gone from, like, oh, I want to be part of this world, too. I want nothing to do with it, too. I think everybody that’s a part of it, you know, blah, blah, blah. And I’ve gotten to a point now having worked with them, shot them, have then part of my projects that, I now understand, like any other business, it is hard work, the ones that are truly killing it are putting so much effort and time into it, that they almost don’t have a personal life outside of that work. And so I respect that a lot more than I used to.
So getting back to your question, though, influencing or influencers, it’s an interesting world because it’s essentially that whole model where somebody would get a tattoo on their arm from a brand to get a perpetuity or whatever that’s called for the rest of their life or something, it’s kind of that but in very classier way. Where you know, it used to be you might hawk one product or two product every once in a while, but most of it would just be what am I wearing? What do I like? Now, every other post is something they’re getting paid for. So I don’t even know if influencing is a fair word. There are some people that drive commercialism, don’t get me wrong. But I think a lot of people now see through to what it actually is. And it’s basically targeted banners of people that you can actually relate to better than the people that they picked for the campaign or the advertising thing. I don’t know if I’ve… I feel like I have more to say here. Can you rephrase some of that question?
HAND: Well, or maybe I will ask the follow up because I described you as a micro influencer. And I am seeing more and more interest amongst brands to micro influencers because of their perceived— they’re not as…Kim Kardashian, she is a mega, she’s a personal brand and you will pay her rack rate for tweets or posts or Instagram story. Someone with 11,000 followers, they may be more organically oriented to your brand, and they may have 11,000 engaged very specific followers in something like deep sea fishing.
HAND: You know, so what do you think about that? Yeah, as far as, is that an answer to this? Is that an answer to the mega influencer being too impersonal and now you’ve got to find this sweet spot of someone who is a micro influencer?
BRIDGES: That’s fair. I think that that is the right question but I don’t know if it tackles the actual symptom so I’ll put this another way. I think that capitalism drives the true value of the influencer out in terms of how it affects how they actually influence people. So for instance, like me, if you consider me a micro influencer, the value that I add to the consumer that’s just following me and wants to know what I’m doing or what I’m buying, or all that kind of stuff. The true value of me comes from not over subscribing to getting paid for it. That’s why the engagement that I get or the amount of people that actually slide into my DM to ask really specific targeted questions about something I’m wearing or whatever, those people are truly the people that you want to hit, not the people that just blindly like my photos because I have 11,000 followers, so I must be cool or because I look like I had a great trip or whatever. And whether you’re a mega influencer hundred thousand or more… I don’t even know what we’re mega starts. But if you’re a million or hundred thousand or whatever, all those people are great. One thing I do like is even though they might not be giving the engagement of a purchase, they even make me aware of things I didn’t know were out there that I might be interested in, which is the true—I think the true cool thing about it. But the minute you start selling everything on your feed is a minute you just become like everything else. And so I think that’s the line of demarcation not necessarily whether or not you have 11,000 or 200,000. It’s do I sell you everything I do? Or do I really give you the stuff that I think is truly special? And that’s the danger of sort of sliding into the big followership.
HAND: Yeah. Well, hand of the law is micro. But I get engagement through Instagram and Twitter that leads to clients. It is not your grandfather’s law firm marketing plan. But it actually works, which is very interesting.
BRIDGES: Well, the question becomes, like, where do you want to derive? To me, it’s like, where do you want to derive your business from? And the thing that’s really cool about a law firm doing stuff like social content, is that you’re looking for the derivative of it, not the like, Oh, you found me on Instagram, so I can sell you for a$500 post, right? Like, you’re actually driving people that actually sees the value in your legal advice or consultation to come to you, and that’s different to me. But if you’re hawking…If you took whatever you’re doing, and you grow to 100,000 and then finally decided, let’s monetize this. That is what cheapens your value, to me.
And I think you can be Kim Kardashian, and if you decide to not sell everything, that makes you so much cooler in my book, and I think that helps you retain that authenticity. I mean, John Legend, for instance, he’s huge, he’s a huge celebrity that has been around, he has the staying power him and Chrissy have an amazing staying power. They haven’t cheap in their brand value, because they don’t… I don’t see them selling me something every five seconds. The content is what’s king. They keep me interested, because they’re funny, they’re witty, they have great experiences together. That’s cool. They don’t monetize it all. But they’re getting paid in the background for sure.
HAND: Yeah, obviously, and they’re both doing quite well.
HAND: I would imagine for people at that level, it’s also a great place to engage with fans, because it is mostly safe.
HAND: I mean, I’m sure you have, I’ve been on feeds where all of a sudden someone’s getting flamed, or something’s happening where you’re just getting way too much, you know, it’s moving, the likes are moving or the comments are moving at a rapid pace, and that’s a bit of a weird out. And I imagine that happens for those huge accounts.
BRIDGES: A little shift. Yeah, we talked about clients like Public School, brands like Off White, what Virgil has done there, what other new emerging designers are doing in the fusion and in particular, for menswear, between a more casual approach to dressing and a more tailored approach. Well, I’m just going to read a quote from Herbie, you probably know, “ I just want to know, what’s being called Street, the clothes or me?” So my question is, does the fact that many designers in the spotlight as head of street wear brands or urban brands, diminish their accomplishments as designers?
BRIDGES: That’s a good question. I mean, we could actually answer the question he posed, then I think we would know. I think that one’s a hard question to parse nowadays because street wear is so on trend, that the places that it would actually take away their credit is in the inner circles of what we experienced behind the scenes. The consumer thinks somebody like Kirby, Ronnie, Public School, all these Teddy Santos of Amai, Leandro Ray, the consumer thinks these guys are the gods, they think that these guys are doing incredible work. But the consumer is not that referential anyway. So to them, whether they call it streat wear or not, I think they respect and acknowledge their place in the market.
I think where that question is way more sensitive, and way more cutting is if people like Vogue and your Harper’s Bazaar, your GQ and all those people are looking at these brands and calling them street as a way to sort of separate them from being part of the true design diaspora, the relevant names. So even I can’t answer that. As a black man too, when I started as a photographer, one of the things that I was very conscious about whether subconscious or overtly was that I wanted to make sure that I positioned my photography when I switched out a street style to a place where people could relate and acknowledge that I wasn’t just going to be the urban guy or just shooting you know, I didn’t want to just shoot cut and sew hoodies, you know, I wanted to be able to participate in the true conversation. And so a lot of my early decisions were to avoid certain work or to work with predominantly Caucasian models a lot of the time and just try to blend in. Right now, street wear is standing out because it’s saying you know what, forget the traditional norms and memes of society of the GQ of yesterday, we’re going to just confront it and do us, and it seems to be working.
And so I don’t know if I would say that calling it street belittles it. I don’t know where street wear originated. I know it you know, obviously it probably deserved to be called street wear when it was and that name stood for so long that it just made it into the fabric. I mean, Fubu, Calcani, Baby Fat, nobody ever would have argued that that wasn’t street wear and that was an inappropriate label.
HAND: Yeah, I don’t think… I mean, there’s, to me, it’s a bit of a fusion between what was maybe termed hip hop. And street in a way came out of maybe more skater culture.
HAND: Which skateboarding is urban, you’ve got to have paved. You’re not doing that in Indiana country on the wheat fields. But it’s been conflated. It now is virtually meaningless.
BRIDGES: Right. It is.
HAND: But it is a misleading term when applied to tailored clothing.
HAND: So when I see certain items that I would see in Brooks Brothers, if I if I was shopping, Brooks Brothers, perhaps me with a different cut, and it’s labeled urban, I mean, maybe it’s truly urban because a lot of men in the city wear suits. But I know what I’m being fed a little bit by that urban moniker and it’s not intended to commit convey sort of a, you know, a London German street. So there is a little positioning there, which you’re right, it is on trend right now. So maybe people are just appropriate and saying, “We are street.”
BRIDGES:Yeah. And I think urban is a much more tricky word than street wear to me because, you know, you’re right, I think you connect this word street wear to hip hop culture that also swallowed up a lot of things: fashion, music, blah, blah, blah, graffiti, skating all these things. And the street wear moniker stayed around, and not in a defeatist way, but it sticks around because the originality is the origin point is, street wear is made for the guys that wear the Tims and the whatever. And although that man has progressed and changed a bit, it’s still stuck around. And this is probably what Kirby’s talking about because in a sense, those designers that came from those worlds didn’t have the traditional background in design or any of those things. I’ve often looked at fashion, and I’ve separated those worlds. Now, without calling something street wear, but somebody that went to school, or have a much more referential design aesthetic, I’ve always valued above somebody that just was like, I’m going to figure it out, unless they just ended up being genius out of the box.
And so that’s what separated my worlds. But I never took away…If you ended up…Like, I’m a self-taught photographer. If you ended up becoming a designer, because you just everyday were in the lab, just putting things together and making it work in it and it came out beautifully. But I just never thought that things that were sort of denim focused or hoodie focused, or any of those kind of worlds where the street wear started, deserve the same sort of juxtaposition to a Damirr Doma and Andy Millimester, any of that stuff. And not because they were white, just because there just was a lot more—one deserved to be in a museum and the other one was a consumer driven product. And so that was my distinction. When you say the word urban, that’s the one that you start to feel a little bit because, you know, they’re not talking about the urban guy that’s on its way to work writing the metro with an umbrella. They’re talking about a certain type of person. And so that’s the one that always gets me a little bit.
HAND: Well, slightly hackneyed question you’ve probably been asked it many times. What for you is the difference between fashion and style?
BRIDGES: Hmm. That’s a good question. Because for the longest time, I thought it was very obvious until social media started and I realized people don’t have…I mean, everybody’s changed the definition of things. I think style is how you take fashion and apply it. Fashion comes from a legitimate heritage of study and design and production and personality, and putting all those elements together to produce something that somebody can look at and say, and interpret in a way, and its clothing base. But style is how you apply those different fashions, whether they’re on the runway or not.
I actually will take this a step further and say, I don’t…Like we’ve stretched the word fashion really far. I think there’s a difference between fashion and clothing. When I go to Unico, I’m not looking for fashion. They can participate in the fashion world all they want, I hope this doesn’t ever preclude me from getting a job. But they’re participating in the fashion world, but they’re just selling me a product. There’s no referential design. There’s no studied over time thing there. There’s nothing artistic about it. It’s how do we make shirts that people can get in for an affordable price, and we make a lot of money while doing it. Yeah, that’s clothing. If you, you know, you’re part of the Antwerp Five, that’s fashion. Learning how to drape, even if you never make a dress in your life, you know, you go on to do something different. I think, for me, and this is very self-fulfilling or self… This is a selfish way to define it but fashion to me has to come from some sort of root in study. Otherwise, I guess, to me, it’s just producing clothing to sell. It’s just pure commercial.
HAND:Yeah, well, and basics, and/or fashionable items can of course be worn together, right?
HAND: And for some, that is the highest point of style.
HAND: And they can show up in an Old Navy t-shirt, but have you know something from Rick Owens over it and it all blends together really, really nicely. So it’s interesting, one of the things that you spoke about, which marries both your background as a disciplined financial advisor, and the fact that you have gone out on your own you have a small company, you employ people, but when you started, it was just you, is that you use your social media to put forward some courses on really being a independent contractor, a consultant, and how best to set up not only your business, but perhaps plan some of the financial elements of your life. Can you speak to that?
BRIDGES: Yeah, I mean, I found myself, maybe… I guess we’re like, probably five years on Instagram or something like that. But I found myself, you know, last year, hitting a spot where I’m like, I’m not really enjoying just posting for the sake because I was told I need to. And I’ve always wanted to bring something out of my past, finance, obviously, to the forefront, because I’m more than just a photographer, I’m an amalgamation of my experiences. And if you enjoy something, I think you should do it and you know, if it makes you happy, you should keep pushing it. And so I decided, okay, let me convert my Instagram from just random noise to something that could actually do something for others.
And so I started hosting, like, I try to do it once a wee but I started hosting basically an asked me anything around personal finance, investing, and small business entrepreneurialism. And much to my surprise, I would at least get three to six questions every single time. And it’s always a range, like, what do I do around taxes? Or what how do I even get started investing? Or how do I save money? Just random questions, and I try to answer everybody’s whether in the DMs or publicly. And that filled me up so much that I was like, Okay, I should take this a step further. I’ve been a Skillshare ambassador for the past year, I teach sort of their bigger photography classes. And one of the hardest things about putting content out there is distribution. And I knew that my Instagram, being a micro influencer is very limiting.
And obviously, and also on that front, you know, not everybody feels comfortable asking finance questions, they’re so personal. And so they reveal something of you when you ask them. And so I knew I was going to need some other fulcrum in which to get people to actually pay attention. So I pitched the Skillshare, what if we did this, there’s such a thirst and hunger for this information. And they said, you know what, that’s a great idea. And it might be kind of interesting to have somebody that was solely focused on one creative aspect be so well rounded and teach somebody the whole genre, or the whole landscape of like how to succeed as a business person. And so I’m going to be doing that I think we’re planning in March and hopefully, release something, our first class in finance this year. And it just feels so good to be able to give something that somebody paid me to learn, you know, essentially and give somebody sort of the keys, there’s no cheat codes to this. It’s not sexy, but to have somebody “cool,” somebody that people would consider cool, teach them something that is so esoteric or so boring or so personal, maybe it’s an opportunity to open people up and get them excited about something they wouldn’t normally be excited about.
HAND: And just recognizing that you too have to deal with it.
HAND: Now, it’s rare that you get to the point where my manager handles that or my agent handles that. And candidly, if you’re doing that, and you don’t know anything about it…
BRIDGES: You’re probably losing money too.
HAND: You’re losing money, and too much so…Well, thanks for that. And that will show up where? On Skillshare?
BRIDGES: The first class will be released on Skillshare. I’m still….Obviously if anybody’s listening that wants to know more about finance, I’m still doing Ask Me Anything’s on Instagram. So if you follow freelance skills on Instagram, you can always stay tuned for an Instagram story when I post and it’ll say “Ask me anything about your personal finance” or whatever and feel free to throw me a question. It can be hard or easy. I’ll research it if I don’t know the answer.
HAND: Beautiful. Last question for you, when you are just really suiting up, you’re trying to look very proper, who is your go-to designer for those evenings out with the girlfriend dressing to impress or, you know, big, big meeting where you know you’ve got to be in a suit and tie.
BRIDGES: I mean, I have very, sort of, I don’t know, I guess the way that—you can cut this part. I’ll start over again. I’m incredibly sort of specific to the designers that I really like and I’m kind of one of those guys like a man of repetition or I do the same thing over ago. So once I find something I really love, it’s hard for me to deviate from that. So like if I’m dressing up to the nines and I really want to show I here’s a statement here. It’s usually a mixture of Rick Owens, Damir Doma, Silent…Is it silent? I can never remember brands, but Rick Owens, Damir Doma, Yohji if I can, I mean, I wish I was shopping more, but I also have my eyes set on retirement.
HAND: Those Goldman paychecks are all over.
BRIDGES: Oh, yeah, trying to figure that out. But I mean, I love…This goes back to the style question, like I love putting things together that don’t seemingly go together to make the statement so that somebody does talk to me, because, you know, everybody loves that validation of like, what are you wearing? What do you have on? That’s crazy. I’ve never seen that silhouette or blah, blah, blah. But Rick Owens is, every time I go to Paris I buy one piece at least. He has an ability to make me stand out without having to wear the whole uniform which I love. I don’t want to be a Rick Owens like gold follower. Damir Doma, the shape of the pants . People that I would wear but I don’t have Andy Millimester, original Jil Sander. I wear some…Now I forget the name of this designer. Somewhat in the RAF era, but whatever, I always forget everybody’s name because I just love the clothes and once they’re in my closet…
HAND: You want to look it up? We can look it up. You want to look it up?
BRIDGES: Because the brand is now defunct? He doesn’t make. It’s okay. But yeah, I’ll just repeat that part of brands that I wish I had in my closet that I would marry to the Rick Owens vibe is Jil Sander, original Jil Sander , Andy Millimester. I mean, all those guys, you know? I mean, I love all that stuff. I don’t necessarily have the frame to pull it all off. But yeah, those are the things I would want to dress up. And if I have to wear a suit to like a wedding or something, because I’m no longer want to, I don’t own suits really. I’ll buy like a quick suit supply. So I hope that doesn’t make me look bad. But I think that they make really cool stuff for your one off occasions and make good stuff for going to the office to if you don’t want to spend a…
HAND: No, they’ve been… I mean, we have a partner here at HBA who is Dutch, who we’ve done a little work for Suit Supply, and the value proposition is certainly there…
BRIDGES: I mean, for 600 to $800 for a suit I’m going to wear four times a year. I’ll always love beautifully tailored suits. I mean, there’s just no way around that and the way that they make you feel when they’re on. But I’m past the time, spending three to five grand for a suit.
HAND: Well, if your body doesn’t change, they lost they will serve forever. You know, and if you go with a lapel width that isn’t too wild in any particular direction. You’re generally safe. Totally. Well, listen, Justin, really awesome to have you in here. You know, it’s like your second home.
BRIDGES: Yeah, I’m here a lot.
HAND: But thanks for your time. I will get you probably your second copy of the laws of style since
BRIDGES: Wave it in Yeah.
HAND: But we’ll get to that and listeners, you too can obtain a copy. You can go on the American Bar Association site to find a copy or probably easier and I think candidly cheaper at this point, go on Amazon put in The Laws of Style and Douglas Hand and it’ll pop right up. Thanks for listening. And Justin, thanks again.
BRIDGES: Thanks for having me.