Redefining Street Fashion: Fli Pelican
Every day top fashion executives take field trips to street corners to see how our pants hang, our shirts fit, how we lace our shoes and how we wear our hats. What WE wear influences what’s hot and what’s now. Our “swagger” can be seen transforming runways of near and far. But when we become the masterminds behind our own labels something truly magical happens. As was the case when Diontae Bell, better known as his alias Nino, created Fli Pelican, a clothing line that perfectly blends the aesthetic of street culture with inspiration reminiscent of labels in the past (think FUBU meets Karl Kani in Kanye West’s album cover lab). After dropping out of college and working in Atlanta as a recording engineer, Bell found himself looking for another outlet in which to use his talents. Having done graphic design for many years, he knew that his ability was going unused but it was not until a friend took note and suggested starting a clothing line that Bell saw his skills as the answer he had been looking for. Now three years later, the business that Bell explains, “started really, really slow”, is a budding empire with apparel popping up on MTV, BET and in photo shoots for some of the hottest young stars.
Even with all his successes so far, Nino is humble when explaining his mission for Fli Pelican, always keeping in mind the very principles upon which it was created. “The F.L.I portion means finding love inside” he explains, “the pelican comes from an ancient folk tale where Mother Pelican was trying to feed her children but she didn’t have any food so she struck her own chest and feed them with the blood—we also use lots of circles, that symbolizes our unity”. Nino doesn’t shy away from the platform upon which he began his business but also recognizes that his messages may appear a little rough from the outside looking in. One of the most popular items in the Fli Pelican arsenal is the “Run S*** Daily” t-shirt. Bell explains that it really came from a place of humility. “For the first two years of me doing Fli Pelican because I’m such a humble dude I’d never say out of my mouth ‘yeah we’re killing it’. I never did that, so my way of saying it was just “run s***” and do that daily and I believe everyone does that in their own way”, Nino says. He also found a way to give something back to the young men who are more than likely responsible for the Pelican success. Aside from the clothing business, Fli Pelican offers mentoring programs where young men can get involved working with the company. And Nino is very involved in strengthening them as people not just businessmen. “I like to always tell them I like building men of standard. We all have to be men of standard. That’s from when we go take care of business to your personal life or your relationship with God or whatever the case may be—just make sure you’ve got everything together” he explains.
And Bell knows all to well how important it is to have all bases covered. When he began Fli Pelican he had no clue about what it took to start a clothing line. “I couldn’t sell anything. I was trying to figure out the market and how to sell t-shirts; I had never sold t-shirts before in my life. So I started doing events and releasing the shirts at the events and at each event I would sell out of the shirts”. And so he noticed a pattern and dived head first into one of the hardest industries, save sports and entertainment, to make a splash in. And Bell is completely aware of the path he’s chosen and has kept his company one step ahead of the competition by simply going where they won’t. Unlike the rappers and music execs who think they have what it takes to properly showcase the style of the ever-changing hip hop culture but dare not venture to the streets they advertise on, Nino is truly immersed in his target audience. “A lot of these labels say they’re keeping their ears to the streets but I really don’t think they are. That’s how we recreate ourselves because we do stay in the streets—we stay close to college campuses, high schools, we get involved,” he says.
One can foolishly mistake Fli Pelican as nothing more than an ambitious career move from a producer who was secretly a graphic designer trying not to fade off into obscurity. But it is a movement. A leap of faith of sorts. A reminder to always be moving forward…loiterers should be arrested (it’s not right to just let a moment to slip a Jay lyric in pass by :). And its owner is a breath of fresh dopeness. A teacher of diligence and passion. A true role model of this generation and a deserving heir to the street fashion throne.
Written By: Iman Milner