Peter Koytroulis – a man of many talents with an outstanding resume and even more experience. His journey starts as a teenager who began working retail and eventually worked his way into the industry. Over time, he’s accumulated over 17 years of valuable experience working with brands such as Rocawear, Converse, Pro-Keds, and more. His current day-to-day is spent being the Design Director of Apparel at Jordan Brand, where he oversees a team of designers creating everything from in-line product to collaborations.
We had the chance to catch up with Peter as he stopped by our headquarters before doing a Free Game session on design at the beSocial space in Charlotte, NC. Check out the interview below.
How did you get into design? Did you go to school or were you self taught?
From an early age, I was always into drawing. Where I grew up in Jersey City, everyone was into graffiti so that’s kind of how I got started. I never thought it would go into actually designing clothes, I just wanted to draw. So focusing on that, I worked retail and that’s where I got into the clothes part. Being into graffiti and mixing it with fashion, it started to click.
I went to college for two years. The first year, you have to take the general classes and I really didn’t take any art classes so it was boring for me. So I stopped doing that. A friend of mine was airbrushing business cards in Photoshop and I thought that was pretty dope you could do it on a computer. So I went and took classes for like 15 months just learning photoshop and illustrator and received my Associates degree. Instead of staying for my Bachelor's degree, I went straight into the work field.
With being into graffiti and streetwear, how do you combine your personal style to your designs?
I think it’s funny, if you talk about Jordan, I have to think about the heritage that the Jordan Brand comes with but I think the interesting part is being from the east coast. There is like a street style that’s just something I was brought up with and that I feel like was passed down and then evolved into what it is now. I don’t feel like design is so much of putting a style into it, I just feel like I do what is in my heart; what comes naturally. It just so happens that is what people gravitate to.
If what I was doing 5 years ago compared to what I am doing now has changed, but it’s just like an evolution of where I am. I never try to force it. So for me I just let whatever i have done in the past just happen naturally.
In saying that, what’s one mistake you made in the process from 5 years ago to now and how did you overcome it?
I think there is a lot of learning you can take. Sometimes when you start at a new place you may compromise the things you believe because you think that you have to because you are executing it for a job, right but there was a few times that I did that and I just turned around like man I gotta follow my gut. It takes a while because sometimes people get uncomfortable with that , but once you realize it’s okay for them to be uncomfortable, that it’s what’s best for the product then you just follow that. That’s the main mistake I learned from.
Always do what’s best for the product and just follow your heart.
What’s your day to day like at Jordan Brand?
Honestly, my day to day is 80% meetings and 20% creating. At the position that I sit at now, my day to day is really about clearing paths and making sure that the team that I have now is able to execute and get their vision out. My job is to make sure that they have the support they need in order to do their job the best. It’s also helping people to understand why we do what we do. I have to make sure that the business side feels comfortable but also that the design side feels comfortable too so it’s a perfect balance.
Talk a little bit about relationships. How they are important and how have they helped you?
I look at my career and I look at the relationships that have helped me get to where I’m at. I mean these are some of the same people that I have been rockin’ with for the past 18 years. I started in retail, from that the owner of the store went to go buy jeans for this store. He said “Hey I went over there and there was an empty seat. Would you like to work there?” That’s how I got my first job in fashion.
When I look at my career and I look at the past 18 years, it’s really based on the same few people because you just build those relationships. They know that they can trust you, you can trust them and when opportunities come you bring it to them and vice versa. I was in a meeting with Jay-Z when I was at Rocawear and he said “A good business deal is when both parties leave happy” That always stuck with me and that’s how I look at everything now. Always remember that your relationships follow you.
What era were you at Rocawear?
I was there before they sold, before Iconix bought them out. I don’t remember the years but it was right when they started to pop. I had just started when they were still doing the Rocawear embroidery flame logos on the shirts and then George [Robles] had started working on full collections and pushing that part of the brand. I was right under him and when shit started to hit, it went nuts, man.
It seems as if you learned a lot there at Rocawear. Do you think that’s where you learned the most?
I wouldn’t say that’s where I learned the most but that’s where I got the most exposure. I was able to touch the most things. It was the foundation. The stepping stone. In any house you’re building, the foundation has to be strong. I don’t think my foundation would have been as strong if I wasn’t able to do as much as I was allowed to do and be around great people and leaders, because that shit means so much to me. Being around people who inspire you to be better is so important. Not just a better designer but be a better person, business person, etc. Being around Dame [Dash], his thing was just HUSTLE. You weren’t telling him “no.”
Roc set the foundation for me to do these other things. The important part for me is that the foundation that was set for me was be a designer but also think about how to use your talent and make money.
What’s your favorite project that you’ve worked on at Jordan Brand this far?
[Takes a second to think] It’s a few! I think being able to work with the team on the Travis Scott apparel was great. Travis added great energy to it and I think he was able to take the apparel into a place that we normally wouldn’t be able to take it without a collaborator and it made sense to the story. Also working on some of the new collections coming out in the fall because I think we were able to push the product a little bit further than it was before, for certain tiers of distribution.
What’s your favorite sneaker in your closet right now?
So I’ve been on Jordan 1’s the past few months. I was going heavy with 3’s and 4’s and then I chilled out for a few. Before that, I did the Supreme Air Maxes for a few months and now I’ve just been heavy into 1’s. So whether it’s the Art Basel 1’s that Social Status and James [Whitner] had a part in, the Union 1’s, OG 1’s, Off-White 1’s. I go through waves.
Do you prefer designing apparel over sneakers?
I like apparel better. Sneakers are cool. I love ‘em but it’s difficult because I’m so pure. Unless I can design a 1, 3 or a 4. I think something about apparel gets me a little more excited. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t get back into sneakers, I would, but my day to day has just been apparel over the past few years.
Lastly, what advice would you give someone trying to get into design?
My first advice would be, to be a sponge. In the beginning of your career, it’s such a risky thing when you figuring out why you’re doing it and are you doing it for the right reason. I would say for me, my passion isn’t necessarily the design part. It’s a talent that I have. My passion is more so about creating either an emotion or an experience -- so taking a design to the next level up. That’s my passion. So as a young designer, you say, what’s your passion? What’s your angle? If it’s a race, where’s your finish line and what do you need to do to hit your finish line? And understand that it’s a marathon, you gotta keep going. Certain doors will open and certain doors will close but just have that angle in mind.
I always tell young people that I’m around, in the beginning, learn off other people’s money. I learned that from Dame [Dash]. Learn off other people’s money because it is a learning curve and a learning game. So if you want to get into t-shirts, cool, work with someone who’s already in t-shirts. Learn the techniques, learn the call outs, learn how to avoid some of the mistakes you make not learning, by having experience. Learn as much as you can before jumping all the way in, hold all that knowledge and just figure out when’s the right time to use it.
My second piece of advice, it’s not always about talent, you know, it’s about the passion, the hustle, the love, it’s about how much you are willing to fight and push for it. Whatever you put in is what you’re going to get out.