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Packing a Punch: Two West Coast architects cinch the fashion scene with customizable belts

by GRAY Editors

Photographs courtesy Rafael Soldi

IT’S NOT EVERY DAY THAT A DIY PROJECT TURNS INTO A SUCCESSFUL BUSINESS, BUT FOR JOE BASHAW, ARCHITECT AT JOE BASHAW ARCHITECTURE AND CO-FOUNDER OF FRUIT PUNCH—A MODERN BELT COMPANY LAUNCHED LAST YEAR IN PORTLAND—THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED. Eight years ago, after struggling to find a belt that satisfied his architect’s eye (most of the belts he saw were low quality and unattractive), Bashaw decided that if he couldn’t buy what he wanted, he might as well make it. Taking apart an existing belt he sprayed the metal buckle with blue powder coating (a tough, waterproof material typically used to protect the exteriors of buildings and boats). Bashaw reattached the newly colored bucked onto its leather counterpart, and started to wear the one-of-a-kind piece on the daily. The belt immediately caught the eyes of friends and colleagues, and Bashaw started getting requests from people who wanted one for themselves. Now, nearly 10 years later, in collaboration with longtime friend and architect Tom Mulica, Bashaw is answering the call, offering customizable powder-coated belts through Fruit Punch.

As an architect, your creative juices are always flowing. We’re always thinking about things outside of architecture to satisfy our creative desires.” —Joe Bashaw, architect

Bashaw and Mulica met in Seattle more than a decade ago while earning their masters degrees in architecture at the University of Washington. After graduation, Bashaw moved to Portland, but he and Mulica continued to stay in touch, and eventually, the two ended up working in their respective cities for the same architecture firm. Today, Mulica and Bashaw each have their own firms, and both men work on Fruit Punch from different ends of the West Coast—Mulica takes charge of powder coating buckles in San Diego, while Bashaw sources leather in Portland.

The co-founders use their architecturally trained eyes to create belts that balance playful colorways with sophisticated designs. The brand offers two uniquely crafted buckle shapes (one with rounded corners, and one with angled corners) that can be powder coated in five vibrant colors including Surf (an eye-catching blue), Turf (grassy green), and Lilac (the purple hue of its floral namesake). Each brightly colored buckle is paired with a locally sourced tan or black leather belt.

“While we take design, color theory, and quality seriously we thought fashion and life could always use a bit more fun,” says Mulica of the bold buckle color choices.

Fruit Punch belts bring more than just aesthetics; they’re handcrafted with functionality in mind. Each Fruit Punch belt buckle is hand-sprayed with powder coating, a shiny resin that is typically used to prevent tarnishing on industrial-sized structures. The durability of the powder coating not only makes a sleek design, but it also ensures strength for everyday wear. Mulica notes that the hi-gloss candy-like shell on each buckle also creates a nice contrast with its leather strap.

“We’ve developed a process that we’re proud of that brings a piece of industry to fashion,” says Mulica. “Especially for architects and designers who understand that crossover.”  

Fruit Punch belts are currently sold online, and they will start being sold in select regional retailers later this year. So far, belts have made an appearance at the 2018 GRAY Awards and the designers hope to see them worn by people around the country.

“Our goal is to walk down the street and see someone we don’t know wearing one someday,” says Bashaw. “We’d feel giddy.”


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