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Exclusive: Baja East on Winning the L.A. Fashion 'Designer of the Year' Award

Baja East designers
Scott Studenberg and John Targon (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

In less than a year, Scott Studenberg (left) and John Targon, the design duo behind Baja East, have taken the fashion industry by storm.

Since we featured them in our Hot List in 2015, Scott Studenberg and John Targon, the designers behind Baja East, have had a whirlwind year. After receiving a nomination for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, and more recently winning the Daily Front Row's "Designer of the Year" prize at the L.A. Fashion Awards, the designer duo is getting the favors of Hollywood's A List. Here, the Baja boys answer our most burning questions.

Out: Congratulations on winning the "Designer of the Year" award! What does this recognition mean to you?

Baja East: Well, the award is related to The Daily Front Row and this is the second time they are having these awards. The recognition isn't specific to this publication though, because it recognizes all areas of the fashion industry. For example, Lady Gaga is being recognized for her work with V magazine. The recognition amongst this crowd of creatives is a really incredible. We always believe that it's the most incredible honor to be surrounded by people that are not only super talented but super passionate and devoted to their work.

You're received honors alongside Karl Lagerfeld, Carine Roitfeld, and Lady Gaga --great luminaries and patrons of the industry. What have these people taught you about the industry?

John Targon: Lady Gaga has showed me that being a true humanitarian goes way further than anything. We've been fortunate to hang with her and she knows her fans, and she knows the young people's lives she has personally touched through her music and in person. She actually knows the families that have traveled to her shows and share the stories of how her music and being humble helped them come out, or helped them through an difficult time.

Scott Studenberg: Carine Roitfeld is a legend who has been shaping the fashion industry for years! All of those Gucci ads she styled are epic and now we're being honored alongside her!? That's surreal.

It seems you guys get more good news everyday: Gaga said she loves wearing your clothes. How does it feel to know that the major stars are noticing, and want wear your work?

Scott Studenberg: We are ridiculously thankful that we even get celebrity requests for samples to wear. We do all of our own press and sample traffic, but the most flattering part about all of this is that Justin Bieber and Gaga are two of our best clients who actually buy our collection at retail! They get our vibe of loose luxe --they wear us off duty when they're on set or just chilling out.

John Targon: We love the fact many notable celebrities are into our brand, and like we've said before, when other artists love your art it's the sickest compliment. But in all honesty we are most obsessed with the men and women that we meet in the stores, that buy our brand and tell us about their every day lives in them. For example, we sell in this incredible store in South Miami called At Ease, and we've met one of our favorite families there. A mom, three sons, and their dad. And they all wear Baja East in Miami and while they travel. One morning they all came down for breakfast in Aspen and every single person was wearing Baja. That's the biggest high.

Historically, Baja East is known for its ambisexual approach to clothing, however, for one reason or another, it seemed like we saw a lot more women's wear strut down the runway in your fall 2016 show. Is that a response to industry pressures?

Baja East: We've always set out to create a brand that didn't subscribe to gender labels. But even in our second season when we introduced swim, we had women's bikinis and men's speedos. Baja East is about being confident and stepping outside of the fashion box. Our core has never changed and these are the pieces that guys and girls can wear just as easily. So about the more feminine approach, 90 percent of our business is women's and we have nailed their jet set needs, and they come to us for things they can wear each and every single day, from our pants to our cozy knits. What we weren't doing was getting them when they went to a dressier cocktail, and we started to introduce our take on this with spring 2016. For fall 2016, we sat down and said let's bring it with our more hip hop approach to luxe evening. Essentially, a bad ass woman who hits a charity event.

You opt to use very specific text in the graphic tees of your work, be it "Baja Bae," "Thriving," or "Don't Panic." Explain how this typography is communicating your design aesthetic.

Baja East: Playing with our font has always been a go-to. When we launched, 10 seasons back now, we played with messages that were true to our lives like thriving, loose luxury and drug rug (what bajas from Mexico are referred to on the streets). This season, we wanted to make things even more personal and used our tattoos. "Don't Panic" is one of Johns tattoos, and Scott has a palm tree which was seen on the back of a hoodie with the message "Bye Felicia." We wanted to give a piece of us on the clothes to make them even more identifiable.

On top of everything else, the two of you can now be seen on the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund reality series, which recently premiered on Amazon. What does it feel like seeing yourself on a reality show?

Baja East: It feels surreal. It's fun. We chose to do the show and competition because we wanted to change our long term approach to business. So this show is the reality of our brand and where we were, and where we are headed. People see us and they think, 'Shit, they are golden' but there is a reality, and that reality is there is a lot to make this happen and a lot of challenges. Check the show to see it all.

Obviously it was an amazing opportunity to compete in front of folks like Anna Wintour and Diane von Furstenberg. In watching the show, what did you learn about yourselves that could be improved?

John Targon: The experience made me realize that there's nothing better than full transparency if you want to make a change. People need to know the reality. With this experience, we had to be very transparent about our numbers. The other great take away from Anna was to stay true to our start and our brand DNA, and this always stuck with me. We can evolve, but we remember we kicked off gender obsolescence and this idea of off-duty athleisure.

The Baja East website just launched its new e-commerce, which features pieces that can't be found in stores. Why are these pieces online exclusives?

Our tribal print tees and tunics are all exclusives. They aren't in any retailer stores, we just made them to have a special print for our customers. Our focus is to introduce items that no one else has, so people need to check us regularly.

Your brand is largely known for its gender fluidity and uncommonly chic comfort. What are some of the hardest things about maintaining that brand identity while also evolving?

Baja East: The biggest thing we remind ourselves of is to stay true to our roots. We will never walk away from our cozy knits and prints we launched, like our Ikat graffiti and tribal prints. But we have events to attend and that's why we've ventured into cocktail and evening wear, but with our take: relaxed and effortless but still sexy.

You seem very good at keeping the work fun. What's your secret?

Baja East: The secret's out, we enjoy a good time. We love dancing and we reinvigorate ourselves through not only nightlife but solid workouts and sweating it all out. Energy needs to be reinvigorated and reintroduced. So out positive fun vibes and that comes back your way.


The Fashion Fund continues through May on Amazon. For more information, go to BajaEast.com

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