Lord Zapata, along with his business partner and girlfriend Modern Muse, are doing things in streetwear that are experiential and innovative, which is exactly what streetwear should be about. They do it through Muse by Pablo, the emerging brand they founded focused on upcycling and Latino culture.
Muse by Pablo illustrates their limitless sense of creativity, reconstructing basketball jerseys into shorts and women’s bikini tops, or turning jeans inside out and embellishing them with bits and pieces of fabric, fringes, and religious imagery. These, among others, are some examples of how the designers and entrepreneurs are mixing upcycling with streetwear culture, in addition to adding their influences and life experiences. Today we speak with Lord Zapata about how a Kanye West concert gave him the courage to start his own project, his childhood in Colombia, and how he’s turning streetwear on its head.
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“Stay far from timid, only make moves when your heart’s in it and live by the phase, sky’s the limit.”  What does this quote mean to you?
I’ve listened to Sky’s the Limit so many times, but one day riding my motorcycle, that line really stuck out to me. I was working two dead-end jobs with no plan for the future. This line was such an impact at that moment that I made it a mission to listen to it on repeat for three months straight. The song gave me so much hope. I’d get home tired from my jobs and would blast it. Even though I was working around seventy hours a week, I made it a priority to create every day because of the feeling this song gave me when I’d envision ‘sky’s the limit.’
Floor seat tickets to a Kanye West concert have a big significance to the start of it all. Take us through the journey from turning a dream into a reality. When did you begin to take the concept for Muse by Pablo and turn it into what it is today?
My girlfriend got me Kanye West floor seat tickets to see the Life of Pablo tour, where I wore my first customized jacket. It was a tan Pablo Escobar denim jacket styled with a custom baseball cap and rare Formula 1 Raf Simons. I know it was a Kanye West concert, but my jacket was the real star of the show (lol just joking). Seriously though, so many people were trying to buy it off my back that at the end of the night, I had an epiphany to create my brand. Once I posted my outfit on my @lordzapata Instagram account and again got repeatedly asked to sell it, it gave me the confidence I needed to set my vision into motion.
Your parents come from Medellin, Colombia, but you and your mother eventually moved to the United States when you were just a kid. How did their experience inform your personal ambition?
I grew up in Medellin during the Pablo Escobar era. I come from a family that has been poor for many generations, and some sought employment from the Medellin cartel to break the chains of poverty. As a result of their involvement with the cartel, my dad and uncles were violently gunned down when I was only 5 years old.
Years passed but the violence in my life continued. Constant threats to my family forced us to flee to the United States seeking safety. It was clear that the amount of violence I grew up with wasn’t normal. Moving to New York gave me a positive outlook on life. I was exposed to streetwear and the sneaker culture I instantly fell in love with. From that moment on, I had a burning desire for years to come to master the art of cool.
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Sneakers were your first love. How did sneaker culture influence you as a designer?
In Colombia, I wasn’t exposed to hip-hop and streetwear, so when I moved to New York I was drawn to the music even though I didn’t even know English yet. What I did know was that I loved the styles in the music videos and streetwear worn by the cool kids in the neighborhood. I learned so much throughout the years as I started collecting sneakers, especially Nike SBs. They take a story and incorporate those details in the design of the shoe, which is what inspired me to always incorporate history, details and statement pieces in all my designs.
Muse by Pablo is most famously known for its unique approach to garment designing with its roots residing in streetwear culture. What was your first exposure to streetwear?
Luckily, I moved from Colombia to New York, where people walk and play outside all day. I was able to see in person what people wore and listened to, which led me to start watching music videos. I was an avid Wu-Tang Clang listener. I loved everything about them, including the baggy style of clothing, which I often wore.
Muse by Pablo’s clothes consist of one-of-a-kind pieces, handmade by you and your partner, Migna Pacheco aka Modern Muse. Can you talk to us about how your partner has contributed to the growth of Muse By Pablo?
Throughout the ten years I’ve been with her, Migna always believed in me and pushed me to be better. There were many conversations at the beginning of the relationship where she’d mention how my lack of ambition was stopping me from achieving my full potential. These were very hurtful moments but I understood the reality of it. Once Muse by Pablo gained traction, I always encouraged Migna to join. She is very driven and tenacious, and I knew I wanted her to be a part of it. She implemented a long-term business plan instead of the day-by-day method and slowly got into designing. She was my first muse and now she’s involved in the everyday operations of Muse by Pablo.
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How do you and your partner remain creative? Do you ever feel pressure to outdo yourselves?
I used to daydream a lot growing up as a mechanism to cope with my harsh reality, so I’ve always had a big imagination. Ideas come to me naturally as I’m designing. Contrary to designers that have to sit down and sketch their designs, I turn on my sewing machine and let my mind do its thing. Migna is different from me. She’s more of a planner and likes to have a vision before starting on the design. I do think this causes her to feel pressure a lot more than I do because I know it’ll come to me.
“The idea is not to compete, the idea is to maximize the potential,” Kith founder Ronnie Fieg said about not wanting to dominate the marketplace but instead prioritize keeping the integrity of the brand. How important are authenticity and integrity for you in a world where many chase notoriety and wealth?
With so many brands that exist, it’s important for us to remain authentic to ourselves. What makes each person different is their experiences, so we make sure to incorporate our childhood, music taste, political views, interests, religion, etc. to create unique designs.
You started in a smaller town lesser known for its fashion scene and are now being featured in Complexcon’s Los Angeles exhibits, while also shipping pieces around the world. How did you go from local to global success?
In addition to our statement pieces, it’s the amount of time we spend doing marketing. There’s a lot of traveling involved in the growth of Muse by Pablo. We made an impact in our hometown but we knew that in order to expand we had to have Muse seen in other parts of the county. Networking at events nationwide has always been very important for us and allows us to continue growing. Social media is a huge factor as well since we can show our work to audiences across the world.
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What is the significance of Tampa, Florida, in informing how you create?
Tampa is very special to me and I make sure to rep it everywhere I go. This city was the first to be receptive to my designs and gave me the confidence to expand. Every time I put on a fashion show I make sure to go all out for the city that helped me start living out my dreams.
Muse By Pablo’s fashion shows consists of Mariachi bands serenading the crowd and models sitting around a dinner table, recreating the Last Supper. What inspires you? And how important is it to remain inspired?
I don’t think the Latino culture has a lot of representation in the streetwear community. I use my craft to exhibit my heritage and Latin traditions. Everything around me inspires me, which is the reason I named my brand Muse. There’s no teacher like experience and I’m very much inspired by my surroundings.
What is your advice on taking risks as an up-and-coming brand?
Take the risk, it’s worth it. Better to try and fail than to not try at all. Don’t be afraid to be your own muse.
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