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Meet Franco Zulueta of Blends

Today we’d like to introduce you to Franco Zulueta.

Franco, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My journey begins during my Freshman year of college. I had decided to pursue a career in fashion and was going to school as a Fashion Merchandising major. During these classes, I learned the ins and outs of the industry and expanded my knowledge in fashion. One professor, in particular, Professor Michelle Craner, was instrumental in my growth early on. She guided me down the right path and eventually introduced me to my first mentor, Fabrice Guyont.

I began my career in fashion at 19 internings for Fabrice, and through working with him I built the building blocks of my career. This internship was my first exposure in the industry, I remember feeling so excited and anxious, but eager to soak it all in. One of the big production sets that Fabrice and I have worked on was for the launch of Paul Mitchell’s men’s line, “MVRCK”. It was one of the first times that I have seen my work come to life; from assisting Fabrice style over 2o outfits to seeing it on a big screen in New York’s Times Square. It was definitely one of the first “wow” moments for me in my professional life. His mentorship has guided me in all avenues of my career and I learned so many valuable lessons while working with him and to this day Fabrice continues to be one of the first people I look to for guidance.

The experiences early on with Fabrice helped shape me for success at my next role at BTNC, a subsidiary of Blends. BTNC was the first place that really allowed me to express my creativity. For the first time, I had full control of many marketing aspects of a business- from E-Commerce to social media. I was able to hone my craft and sharpen my skills in producing content. Within a month of working at BTNC, I was put in charge of maintaining our webstore and producing content for our Instagram account. When I was given the responsibility of handling the BTNC Instagram account, it helped foster my creativity and gave me a platform to showcase what I can do.

After a year and a half of working at BTNC, the head photographer at Blends, Jayson Palacio, gave me the opportunity to prove myself and gave me the task of shooting the Blends Bi-Annual, a seasonal lookbook that showcases the upcoming collections of the brands we carry at Blends. I remember not being able to sleep the night before; I had felt like this was my make-it-or-break-it moment to see if I was cut out for creative work. When the moment finally came and I got on set, the nerves instantly went away and I felt that I belonged.

Since then I have been at Blends for a little over a year now, with my role focusing mainly on Content Production and Strategy. This entails coming up with different concepts and executing them for content that lives on our social media accounts and website. Through Blends my work has been featured on the likes of HighSnobiety and Eye_C which has been really gratifying.

Blends have been the main catalyst for my growth as a creative. Our team is constantly trying to push the envelope and it forces me to keep going forward and to not get complacent.

One person who constantly pushes me is Jayson Palacio (Head Photographer at Blends), he has been one of the most important figures in my professional life so far. He never lets me take my foot off the gas and is constantly pushing me to do better. Since I began my role at Blends he has taken me under his wing and went above and beyond in championing my success. It is very rare to find mentor figures in such a cutthroat industry, but I have been blessed enough to have two in Jayson and Fabrice.

Outside of Blends, I have also had the chance to work with PUMA Hoops and East-Coast label, Krammer and Stoudt. Working with Krammer and Stoudt was extremely special as it was one of the first times I had been the head photographer for a big brand, my work with them was featured at New York Fashion Week Men’s and I also got to work hand-in-hand on that project with Fabrice.

Has it been a smooth road?
My journey so far has definitely had its fair share of struggles. When I was first starting out in the industry I was having trouble with my immigration status. As a result of it, I couldn’t drive or get a job. During the time I was interning for Fabrice, I had to take a combination of the train and bus to the Fashion District which made for some pretty fond memories. I was 19 at the time, so it was pretty scary getting out and figuring out my transportation like that on my own. I remember missing the train back home several times and having to pay for Uber’s when I had little to no money. Looking back at that situation years later makes me really grateful for all the things that I have and whenever I feel discouraged I just look back to from where I started.

One thing that I’ve struggled with on my journey is confidence. I’m sure many creatives can relate, I’m my biggest critic. I often find myself disliking my work or questioning my methods, but it’s something for me that has gotten better as I’ve gotten older and more experienced. The more people were validating my work and the more that blogs were re-posting I started to gain more confidence. As more of that was happening I saw myself trusting my vision, and trusting myself which was game-changing for me. I started to work faster and just work based on instinct rather than second-guessing every detail.

Juggling my hectic schedule has been a struggle at times as well. On top of working at Blends, I am a full-time student at California State University, Fullerton. Balancing the two can make for some very long days that drain me mentally, but I have a very good support system that keeps me afloat.

Please tell us about your work. What do you guys do? What do you specialize in? What sets you apart from competition?
Blends is the brainchild of Tak Kato and Mike Toe and began with the simple concept of providing a unique shopping experience for customers. Hailing from Tokyo, Japan, Mike and Tak wanted to bring an international perspective to the industry. Our first store opened in Costa Mesa over ten years ago and as the years progressed we have increased our presence and grown to multiple locations in Los Angeles and one in San Diego. Prior to Blends opening most sneaker stores, were very compartmentalized and only carried one specific type of sneaker. Skate stores carried skate shoes, athletic stores only athletic shoes, etc. We put it all under one roof, we wanted to have something for everyone. The philosophy extends to our apparel selection as well, we carry a selection of everything across the fashion spectrum.

Nowadays, our stores are staples in the communities that they are in. Each location has its own unique identity that reflects the area they represent and our presence is also growing outside the Southern California area. We have collaborated with brands such as Vans, Puma, G-Shock, and Adidas on an array of projects that range from product collaborations to marketing support.

One thing that sets is apart is how we like to market our products. Our marketing team is very diverse and all come from different backgrounds, but come together to form this unique collective of talents that give Blends its persona. We like to approach everything through an avant-garde lens and love giving projects a unique twist. One of my personal favorite projects was when we partnered with Adidas to launch their new basketball shoe, the Marquee Boost. With this project, we were inspired by 90’s bedroom and we built one filled with our favorite pop culture references from the 90’s and we brought it all the way to the Mojave Desert to shoot. That off the wall type of approach is what makes us unique, especially in a market that tends to gravitate towards the same style of marketing.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
In recent years streetwear and fashion have been turned on its head, especially in the men’s market. The industry as a whole has seen immense growth and has become a major part of fashion. It’s hard to pin down where the industry is going to be in the next 5-10 years because streetwear, in particular, is so rapid pace and ever-changing. In such a trend-driven and quick reacting industry, it can be hard to project where it is going to be even a couple months from now.

The same formula that may worked just a month ago, may not have any impact now and I think companies are starting to realize that. On the other hand, I also think that consumers are starting to get smarter and more informed. More than ever people care about the stories that surround a brand, where was it made, who was it made by, etc. It is simply not just about the product anymore, your product has to come with a well-delivered story now.

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Franco Zulueta

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