Cali loves its “ch” words. Chuspa. Chusco. Chontaduro. Chamba.
Chipichape is another one. No one can tell me definitively what it means, I only know that it’s the name of a shopping mall in the northern part of the city. It’s big and beautiful in the typical way most large malls are. I’ve only been there about 4 times during my 3 years here but it’s where Shamyr Caicedo Rivas and I planned to meet up to talk about his clothing brand, Básico Pero Nítido (BPN).
The toughest part of this interview was figuring out how to translate “nítido.” I assumed it meant “cool” based on the way I had heard it being used, particularly by people from Buenaventura. On the other hand, the dictionary will tell you it means “clear,” “defined” and “sharp.”
“It’s complicated,” Sham admitted. “It’s like, when you’re really well put together. Or when you leave the barber after they’ve lined up your beard –that’s nítido.”
So, “fresh” was the closest I could get to the energy of the word as it’s used here (and I invite anyone to show me how to get closer). Básico Pero Nítido. Simple but fresh.
“Our Communities Matter” and young Michael Jackson, both by BPN
How did Básico Pero Nítido get started?
Everything began with that phrase. I had always dressed the same: I’d wear a lot of black, I’d wear t-shirts, I didn’t wear many accessories. And so my response when people would ask me about it was, “I’m here — básico pero nítido [simple but fresh].” And so I started to use that phrase a lot. Then, I thought we should come up with a logo to describe that, so I got together with a friend, Salvador, to design it.
We bought some shirts and started with the logo, and people would ask me what it was and I’d tell them it was this brand that I’m starting. But it took me a long time.
Because I was indecisive. But eventually everyone gets to a point where they say, are we going to do this or not?
So we decided to print some shirts with some well-known phrases and images. People asked about buying them and so we opened a Facebook page to let people know that they were available.
The funny thing is, when we started I had no idea how to go about printing the shirts. But I had a friend who knew and she directed me on who to talk to. From there, we created a team to work on the shirts in order to produce them for more people.
We were happy with calling it BPN because all the local brands that have to do with ethnicity are called “Afro.” Afro this or Afro that. The phrase básico pero nítido is actually quite powerful in a number of ways. You can see it as something funny, but you can also view it from the point of something being minimal but saying a lot. Or, you could see it in terms of, “they see me in one way, but I’m actually different way.” Like when people look at a person, it’s the most basic way of “seeing” a person. But when the person shares their ideas and shows you who they really are, you realize “oh, this person is cool.”
And the idea behind the phrase básico pero nítido is one of the reasons why, as a brand, we only use black, white or gray — everything is kept simple.
But anyone who looks at the shirts can see there’s more to it than simplicity.
It’s also a brand with a particular identity. When you wear it, you feel like you’re carrying something; it’s a part of you.
“Zully Murillo” shirt by BPN. Photo by Angel Montano.
When people see you wearing a shirt that says “All Power to the People” they assume certain things about you. We want people to wear, but to also take on, the messages on the shirts. It’s not just a Rolling Stones or a Metallica t-shirt because they’re cool. When we speak about identity, we mean wearing something that helps you value who you are as a person.
Part of what we’re doing is sharing the discourse of African identity with people. I’m a fan of Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X because when these figures came into my life they changed a lot about the perspective I had. Muhammad Ali was known for all of his funny sayings but it was a strategy, and it put him in a very dignified place. Malcolm X is another story. There is also Martin Luther King Jr. who doesn’t fall into the same school of thought as I do, but his contributions were significant. So when I wear a shirt with one of their faces on it and someone stops me and asks who the person is, it gives me an opportunity to share the history with them.
And when you had the idea to create this brand, is this what you had in mind?
Yes, always. Everything I do in my day-to-day life is related to this. Some of the things that I write on Facebook have caused problems, but they have also helped me acquire credibility. You wouldn’t believe the amount of people who write me to ask me things. They’ve asked me everything from questions about hair when I had my afro, to where they can find information about certain topics. It was as if people thought I knew everything, but I don’t know anything. I mean, I know some things. And I knew what I was doing with this. I knew what it would do, I knew that in a way it would be revolutionary. It’s kind of like our version of FUBU: for us by us. I want people to take ownership of BPN. We have so many ideas and we can’t wait to share them with everyone.
Do you think it’s more difficult for people to find information on African history because there isn’t a lot of information in Spanish?
Yes. Well, it’s not that it’s difficult for them because there isn’t information in Spanish, it’s that they don’t know English. The information is out there but people aren’t going to take the time to copy and paste information into a translator. It’s like when people ask me what is the best way of learning English, and I say it’s simple: the desire to learn English. If you aren’t motivated to learn something you aren’t going to learn it.
How have people responded to the brand?
Benkos Bioho shirt by BPN. Photo by Raiz Negra.
It’s been good. The thing is, the brand is directed towards a certain type of person and everybody knows that. People have told me that I need to diversify, but no. Maybe in the future, but right now I’m not interested in that. Right now I’m interested in educating my people. What would be the point of me putting some celebrity that everybody knows on a shirt? What would be the point of me putting John Lennon on a shirt? Everybody knows John Lennon but not everybody knows Benkos Bioho. So I’d rather put Benkos on a shirt. Benkos represents us.