Back in March, Gunna posted a photo to Instagram posing in front of a cream Corvette C8. The rapper’s colorful patchwork jacket covered in triangular swatches of patterns like florals and red houndstooth complete with a large red “M” on the left chest was the perfect contrast to the toned-down paint job of the expensive sports car. At the official launch party for Slime Language 2 a month later, Gunna had the “M” on his chest again, but this time the jacket was made of spotted fabric made to resemble a snow leopard. 2 Chainz donned a patchwork jacket of his own in Benny the Butcher’s “Plug Talk” video, and NBA superstars like Carmelo Anthony wore his own variation walking through the tunnel in late April, covered in hexagonal patchworks. No two of the jackets look alike, but all of them were crafted by MFBLU out of an assortment of vintage fabrics in its 40-sewing machine factory in Atlanta. With a new celebrity stepping out in its creations what seems like weekly at this point, the man behind the brand, Blu, says he’s currently getting hundreds of DMs every single day from people who want to purchase their own.
Currently stationed in Atlanta, he lived in Los Angeles from 2006 to 2010 and says it helped him see vintage clothes in a new light. It’s one of the many cities that MFBLU utilizes to accumulate his one-of-a-kind collection of vintage fabrics and textiles.
“The Rose Bowl, seeing all these old things in a new light, inspirational. Melrose Trading Post. The whole LA vibe. Walking down Sunset. Walking down Melrose. Walking down Fairfax. The grunginess of the city going down Olympic and Ace and seeing how you can just take cloth and make it into something beautiful,” says Blu over the phone as he discusses the role LA has played in his journey as a designer. “It’s highly inspirational.”
Comparing his hunt for new materials to an episode of Storage Wars or American Pickers, the Atlanta resident says he finds a lot of his best patterns/textiles at estate sales outside of the city in towns like Douglasville, Savannah, and Augusta.
“That’s my best method, just to go to these estate sales. Go into these homes. Go into these historical places and see what they have,” says Blu, who notes these sales have also been an escape for his family during the pandemic. He describes what typically happens while shopping: “Wow, look at these draperies, vintage silk. Let me buy that. Oh, what else they have? They have a bed linen. I’ve never seen purple polka dots with red. Let me get that. What are you going to do with it? This pillowcase. I like that. It got lace on it. It got twill on it. Let me get that.”
Blu uses this diverse selection of fabrics to craft his one-of-one shackets, a patchwork take on a coach jacket with a cropped front and elongated back designed to be worn as a standalone item or layering piece. No two MFBLU shackets are quite the same. Each features unique patch placements, colors, patterns, and even different stitching techniques. In order to pull off some of the more intricate stitching styles, Blu relies on the local sewers in Atlanta. He says there are a handful of women at a senior living home who he employs to sew some of the patterns. They have been using the particular sewing techniques for decades to make quilts. Now they are being repurposed to craft Blu’s one-of-a-kind garments.
“There’s a whole generation of us, and we’re growing up, and soon I’ll be a great-granddad. I can pass on something to my great-grandkids, heirloom pieces. So, I’m learning about the quilting techniques, how intricate they are,” says Blu. “Their faces light up when they accomplish something new. It’s like, ‘It’s only me now. All of my family is gone. This is all I have, so I want to keep busy. I’m still living. I’m 87. I still want to move around. I still want to do,’ And I’m giving them an opportunity to do that.”
Image via MFBLU
After the jacket is sewn together, the sewers add the MFBLU signature: a large chenille “M” logo on the left chest. Blu says that while he currently isn’t producing seasons or full collections, the “M” indicates when a customer purchased their piece. For instance, a red “M” represents the first run of shackets. When the red fabric runs out, he will switch to blue, then to green, and so on. It will give each customer a better sense of when each piece was made. The silhouettes will also change. Currently, it’s a shacket with a cropped front and elongated back. In the future, it could be a bomber or a hoodie. “It makes it more exclusive,” says MF Blu. “So, this next round will be a different color, a different silhouette, with a different impact.” The one thing that Blu makes clear, once a particular fabric is gone, that’s it. Since most of them are sourced from flea markets, storage units, or random estate sales, there’s no way to get it back.
“You’re seeing Part 1 with the jacket. How I look at it, I’ve been in the entertainment and music industry for years. I’ve seen multiple albums from multiple artists. I approach this brand as an album,” Blu tells Complex. “Right now, we got that hit single, which is the shackets. I got 12 tracks on this album. So, I got something else rolling.”
Each shacket is made on a to-order basis and takes roughly 110 hours to complete. Prices range from $1,250 to $2,700 depending on materials, production time, and stitching techniques. Blu says creating the shackets was born simply out of necessity though. He was originally producing high quality blanks like sweatsuits and T-shirts at his Atlanta factory. When the pandemic hit, he pivoted to producing face masks. When the production line began to slow up again, he started to use the leftover materials to craft these shackets. Eventually, he wants to be able to give each customer a more in-depth story about their particular item too—where the fabrics were initially sourced, where the stitching techniques originated, who worked on it, etc.
Blu has worked in the fashion industry in some capacity for 20 years. Upon graduating high school in 2001, he got his first big break when he connected with Ludacris and would make him custom hoodies and T-shirts to wear during appearances. He says one of his first design opportunities took place during a trip to China for a clothing line that Ludacris was trying to launch, C.P. Time. His laptop full of tech packs got stolen, so he had to go to the factory and make the clothes to the best of his memory so they would have items to display at the Magic trade show that was just two months away. The line first announced in 2003 was short-lived, but he and Ludacris remain close—he’s also an MFBLU supporter. Upon graduating from FIT in 2004, Blu would work with a handful of popular brands at the time including Scott Langton’s Artful Dodger where he says he gained a lot of experience he still utilizes.
“I learned about the LA marketplace, manufacturing, where to buy fabrics, where to buy your trims, who is doing your labels, who is doing the best washes,” says Blu. “So, I took that experience and applied that to everything, even though we didn’t have that in Atlanta. I know those areas in production that I can apply to my corner of the world in this fashion industry.”
Working with Luda was a connector to 2 Chainz, who he still works with as an image consultant and personal shopper. He says he fell in love with fashion while traveling around the world to cities like Paris, Dubai, and Japan when he was working with 2 Chainz.
“At the time, 2 Chainz was starting to sizzle. Tity Boi was turning into 2 Chainz, and he asked me to come along on a couple of dates with him, personal shop, and handle his wardrobe for him,” says Blu. “So, I did that and I just kept into the business of personal shopping. Going to various cities. Meeting individuals. Meeting brands. Meeting store owners. Meeting factories. Going into factories. So, that’s led my path for design.”
Before the shackets began to take off, Blu used his unique collection of textiles to create what he calls Mush Monsters in 2019. They are small sculptures crafted out of selvedge denim and various other scraps, which are then painted over. He first made them for a special event he did with Miami retailer, The Webster, as a gift for some of its top spenders. Sometimes Blu even pins them to the jacket’s chest as an accessory. He says his 11-year-old daughter, an artist herself, has a big role in helping create each Mush Monster. She chooses colors, materials, and even forms a story about each of them.
“She’s the creative director. She keeps me in tune to like, ‘Hey dad, that’s not cool,’” says Blu. When they aren’t creating for the brand, they are still creating, setting up tents to splatter paint in the backyard or painting pictures inspired by what they see while looking through Instagram. “She comes in and uses a very creative eye like, ‘Hey, this is what I see. This is what I wear.’ Because at the end of the day, I’m creating a legacy brand. I want her friends to have this stuff like, “Oh, MFBLU is our Celine, our Ralph Lauren. So I’m creating for the likes of her.”
Image via MFBLU
When it comes to scaling, Blu says he wants to keep things limited. Even if he expands beyond one-of-ones, he will never make more than 28 pieces of one particular design (28, the day his daughter was born, is his lucky number). Eventually, he says his blank sweatsuits will come back into play too, but with premium upgrades like quilted velvet or patchwork styles. He wants to work with Levi’s to repurpose their scraps into new Mush Monsters, Adidas, who can help him expand into activewear, and Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss.
“I love what [Kerby is] doing. I love his aesthetic and how he’s unapologetically him,” says Blu.
Blu isn’t in a rush though and he wants to slowly build his legacy. Next up is a small capsule coming at the end of June that will introduce pieces like bowling shirts, bucket hats, and shorts for the summer.
“I love legacy. So, MFBLU is about legacy. Family, faith and fashion. That’s all we have right now. COVID came through, swept us by surprise and we had to still work. We still had to maintain a sense of life. This was my void. This was how I maintained life.”