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Why Corteiz's Bolo Exchange Was Modern Day Performance Art [Featured Article]

"Performance art is an artwork or art exhibition created through actions executed by the artist or other participants. It may be witnessed live or through documentation"

Founded in 2017, streetwear brand Corteiz has rapidly risen to the top – in part thanks to the power of an authentically deep connection to youth culture. Endorsed by many big names, including the late designer and creative director Virgil Abloh, CRTZRTW has recently amassed over 200k followers on Instagram, jumping from 100k in just 100 days. The London-based brand has become a fan favourite for its cosy, quality clothing and its refreshing detatchment from the status-quo as a label.

Corteiz has very quickly made its imprint on youth culture, with its brand ethos being one of freedom and non-conformity. Founder and creative director Clint is notorious for his unique approach to marketing – his previous pop-up inviting fans to Soho to exchange their travel cards for CRTZ RTW T-Shirts. The event brought together a large community of young fans and was heavily documented on social media – generating mass amounts of buzz for the label.

In January, Clint took to social media to announce his latest project – ‘Da Great Bolo Exchange’. In a tweet, he clarified that the first 50 fans to show up to the secret location wearing ‘certi’ jackets will get to take home a highly sought-after and unreleased Corteiz Bolo. The puffer jacket, available in the colours black and silver, has stirred up buzz and speculation online over the past few months as to its official release date.

The following day, hundreds of Corteiz fans flocked through the streets of London to swap the high-priced jackets off their backs for a limited-edition Bolo piece. The exchange took place at Wormwood Scrubs Car Park, with a lengthy queue forming only minutes after the location was made live. Clint and his team pulled up in a white van containing racks of Bolo jackets – which were handed out to the lucky first 50.

The announcement was initially met with scepticism from social media users, with many questioning the specific request of only jackets from high-end brands in good condition. The exchange quickly left Clint with an array of highly coveted coats from designer brands including The North Face, Moncler and Canada Goose.

Corteiz fans also were questioned by Twitter users, many not understanding the point of handing away the high-value jackets they already owned. Think: fans giving up their Nike x Drake NOCTA puffer jacket – which is currently reselling on KLEKT for as high as £880, for a Corteiz Bolo. One concern that circulated Twitter asked an important question: where were these expensive jackets going?

Soon after the event, Clint posted a photo standing in a pool of jackets, which he revealed totalled up to £16,000 in value. He revealed the motives of the exchange, announcing that each coat was donated to St. Laurence’s Larder – a drop-in open kitchen for the homeless and those in need in the local community. Alongside a warm meal, those visiting the organisation will be given a warm jacket to wear during the winter season.

Clint's reveal was met with positive feedback – many commending him for executing a well-thought-out project. "One of the hardest things I've seen a brand do" a user tweeted in response to Clint. “Lord forgive me for ever hating on the Bolo Exchange” one tweeted, taking back their earlier criticisms of the event. “Big up yourself bro your brand is the most unique in the UK, the takeover is coming", another fan wrote.

Other users were still not convinced by the brand’s style of charity. “I think it would make more sense to sell the jackets and donate the money to the homeless shelter” a user tweeted, while another wrote, "Let's hope no one robs them”. To some, the donation of these jackets to the homeless is an impending safety risk.

Clint swiftly addressed the negative feedback online by posting an Instagram story: “Everybody a genius in hindsight”.

Ultimately, Clint’s ‘Great Bolo Exchange’ project was a success on various levels. Not only did the event generate more buzz around the brand, but it illustrated the growing value of Corteiz – showcasing just how sought-after the brand has become.

It seems that the exchange was a clever way for the rising label to position itself amongst long-standing brands. There are very few emerging labels that streetwear fans would willingly give up their high-end jackets for without second thought – especially pieces that were already difficult to get a hold of. Whether consciously or not, many will begin to associate Corteiz with the same stature they attach to other esteemed brands.

The aftermath of the Bolo Exchange is an indicator that this is already happening – Bolos obtained at the exchange were spotted hours later on the marketplace app Depop for up to £500. However, Clint does not condone resale culture. He continues to catch out resellers in an attempt to clamp down on Corteiz pieces being acquired for the sole purpose of reselling for extortionate prices. This is also backed by the intention to deliver the high-priced jackets to charity – which can be interpreted as a commentary on 'product' as a whole. What is the real value or purpose of a product? Is it created to improve our quality of life, or to create a social class and extort the consumer?

The answer lies somewhere in the extensive amount of conversation surrounding this performance art piece, not only in the execution of Da Great Bolo Exchange, but in the perspectives shared by many people that paid attention to it. Some may be of the opinion that it's arrogant and frivolous to exchange a high-priced jacket from established houses such as Moncler and Canada Goose for a jacket that costs between half to a quarter of the price. They may say that a decision like this showcases a lack of understanding of the value of the product they are exchanging for a Corteiz winter jacket –which retails at £250.

This also begs the question, why are these other jackets so expensive? Many believe that jackets made by brands that deliver products at a high-end price range are more rooted in quality, good design, and longevity. Also, the development of a brand and its positioning in the market, ownership, and scarcity are additional factors that determine the price of a luxury winter jacket.

Take Moncler for example, a brand founded in 1952 in Monestier-de-Clermont in Grenoble, France by René Ramillon. Moncler is a luxury fashion brand that originally made tents and sleeping bags and later, due to the need of workers to be shielded from the cold, created their first quilted jackets. The brand is very much known for its quality, however, it is important to state that despite some luxury outdoor clothing brands claiming quality as their leading selling point, this may not be 100% true.

The insulation qualities of the jackets are also a key selling point – this is evident in their down coats, which are sourced from white geese. In addition to environmental consciousness, manufacturing costs, and target audience, these are all elements that determine the price of your typical Moncler quilted jacket.

The next stage of the discussion asks, is it worth it? This is another concept that subconsciously runs through the seams of Da Great Bolo Exchange. Corteiz is essentially declaring that its brand can stand next to, and even eventually take over, market share from brands such as The North Face, Nike, Supreme, and more – as well as making the youth desire a Corteiz quilted jacket more than a £1000 Moncler coat.

It is also important to detail that fashion is a form of communication and messaging, and the masses are inclined to be aligned with what is most popular at the time. The Corteiz brand has over time proven to be the fastest-growing brand in UK streetwear, picking up speed with each new drop. They have created a loyal customer base with high repeat purchases and a message that every young person can connect to.

Of course, it is clear that a luxury brand such as Canada Goose or Moncler has a completely different target audience to Corteiz. However, due to the recent work of designers such as Kim Jones, Virgil Abloh, Jerry Lorenzo, and Kanye West, the conversation between streetwear and luxury fashion has become more intertwined from a design and consumer perspective. An example of this in recent weeks is the new partnership between Yeezy, Balenciaga and Gap – headed by Kanye West and Balenciaga creative director Demna Gvasalia.

When asked about the project, Demna was quoted saying “This is a very different challenge. I’ve always appreciated the utilitarianism and the accessibility of Gap. I share some of the same sensibilities in my creative language. This project allowed me to join forces [with Ye] to create utilitarian fashion for all.”

The values of breaking down separative ideas are what Yeezy x Gap, engineered by Balenciaga, is about – and in its own way, Da Great Bolo Exchange also encapsulates those motives. It gives power to the consumer in the sense that they do not have to be tied to an established label, its level of intricate design, or its ability to communicate a higher class level. The value of the product lies in the hands of the consumer – if they choose to exchange it for something they desire more that is less expensive, they have the power to do so.

Usually, exclusivity is a huge factor in determining how a brand is collectively viewed – the harder a product is to obtain, whether due to its price or quantity, the higher the value attached to it. Yet, some may argue that there was a level of reverse psychology at play. By donating these jackets to the homeless, those that are brand-conscious may reconsider the importance they attach to ‘high value’ brands – and who they believe is allowed access to them.

For instance, some online questioned why homeless people would need such expensive pieces – however, this opinion was met with strong disagreement. “Homeless/less fortunate people deserve nice things just as much as those with better fortune!” a Twitter user exclaimed. “I hate how people experiencing homelessness are expected to only take scraps”, another wrote.

Simply put, this serves as a reminder that homeless people are, in fact, people – something that is unfortunately forgotten at times. Da Great Bolo Exchange communicates that like everyone else, the homeless are deserving of warm, quality clothing that will last them a long time.

If sceptics weren’t already convinced, Da Great Bolo Exchange'has certainly affirmed Corteiz’s major influence – and the brand is steady on the road to establishing itself as a top streetwear label. Clint has very quickly shown both its emerging and more established competitors what his brand is made of, all whilst simultaneously giving back to the community and maintaining his core values.

Showing no signs of slowing down, Clint recently treated fans to a new online drop – consisting of pieces such as the green ‘ALLSTARZ’ tracksuit, the ‘Heather Grey Alcatraz’ tracksuit and the ‘White Canvas Work Jacket’. If they missed the Bolo Exchange, fans were given a second chance to get their hands on the jacket online for a limited time. Corteiz has also recently released a corduroy cap in collaboration with Soho Yacht Club.

Clint also recently attended Virgil Abloh’s final Louis Vuitton show, which was held at the Carreau du Temple in Paris. At the event, he donned a 1 of 1 gradient Louis Vuitton jacket – which was gifted to him personally by the late designer.

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