Christophe Roberts Is Planting SEED Brklyn As A Innovative Creators' Zone
Brooklyn has historically been one of NYC’s creative centers, from the emergence of rap icons to award-winning chefs. Now, the borough continues to flourish with the launch of SEED Brklyn. Located at 1217 Bedford Avenue in Bed-Stuy, the space is a hybrid of contemporary and digital art, fashion, culture and community.
The idea stemmed not from an out-of-touch stakeholder, but from a fellow artist who has long been immersed in Black culture. Christophe Roberts, a Chicago-born and Brooklyn-based artist developed the idea in order to have creative talent thrive and also give back to the community. SEED Brklyn (which officially opens on Oct. 21) is a multi-layered retail space that hosts:
- The Oasis: An art experiential space and NFT gallery dedicated to immersive events featuring state-of-the-art technology for a unique art viewing experience.
- Greenhouse Cafe: Enjoy a hot cup of La Colombe inside a plant-enshrined café. Guests can also purchase plants; vinyl collectibles from Funko and Super 7; books from Taschen and Rizzoli, and additional lifestyle products.
- The Garden: A retail space on the first floor and mezzanine featuring globally recognized and burgeoning brands including Martine Rose, Rains, Maharishi, Undercover, Against Medical Advice, 100 Wolves, 424, PRMVTO, Socialite Archive, and Jason Markk. Also located on the first floor of The Garden is a Japanese-inspired sneaker laundry for sneaker lovers to wash their favorite kicks in-store.
“Just when surveying the landscape that I've been a part of for 12 years and just experiencing the fashion, the culture, the cuisine, the way that everybody represents a borough with this proud nature, it just didn't make sense to me [that there wasn’t a dedicated space],” Roberts tells EDITION. “I was seeing creatives flee once things got too pricey and expensive. Often creatives are seen as mules for gentrification and new neighborhoods and businesses. The people that make the neighborhood cool oftentimes don't have a place to continue to show their talent or share conversations. This is an immersive type of experience.”
How long did this process take?
It took a couple of years. When I first looked pre-COVID, I was looking at a lot of those storefronts that were empty, which are filled now. At the time it just wasn't right. When COVID hit, that spaced out things quite a bit and opened up the playing field for me. I'm glad I held back because a lot of the larger institutions that were kind of holding their rank all closed down because of COVID. That really opened up the conversation for these brands to even consider Bed-Stuy and come over here. The landscape for retail has changed too. Post-COVID, people want more localized experiences that are immersive, that combine a number of layers and arms, that can really keep someone engaged beyond the rack.
As an artist, this whole space is an art piece for me. I feel like only an artist could create a concept like I've created. I've been blessed with the experiences I've had to lead me to this point where I could lead an army of architects and construction workers and other creative minds that really come together as a collective and push this forward. A lot of questions I asked to the luxury brands and people from this neighborhood were, “Where would you shop in Bed-Stuy if you needed something?” And it's crickets. That's amazing to me too because so much style comes from here. All the things that they're wearing and love, they have to always go to Manhattan. It made no sense anymore.
It’s really to appease not only my own journey and interest but also those of other creators and people in the neighborhood. I want to go to a cafe and hear MF Doom in the morning. But that's why I moved to New York because when I first came out here as an artist and I was being repped by galleries in Chelsea, we used to take a U-Haul to do shows. This is 15-20 years ago. Every time I would come out here, the culture was right. It was just a feeling here. The ultimate playground for artists. Then once I got here, I started to see how quickly a borough will lose some of those things because there just aren't enough people caring about it enough to take the risk. When you see a lot of businesses popping up, they don't speak to that energy at all.
Our magazine is all about inclusivity and equity of our own culture. And what you're doing with this space is providing access for people who may often be shut out from certain spaces and providing them the opportunity to showcase their work, to interact with people just like them. I think having a space like this is going to help open up even more doors for artists and creators to flourish. In Brooklyn, there are so many creative minds. But because they're all often seen as “other”, they don't have that opportunity to really express themselves.
No, you get it 100%. What I found out in this digital landscape that's growing so fast, is that a lot of time minorities are plucked and pulled out for little splashes in that space, but there's never really a digital space where they can own it and be represented and be the majority. So, we built our own digital team that handles the smart contracts for you. They get your assets up on the blockchain so you can sell them, so you can just be an artist when you come into the space. In particular, our opening show is all Black artists. We have Siege, who is a leading AR creative who worked with Kanye West to Facebook. We have Shay The Surrealist who is this amazing artist that plays with imagery in a collage digital aspect. We have Dante Bills, who was the tailor of the stars where you met his NFT, and you get one of his jackets and then we have Vince Fraser coming from London who's this amazing animator installation artist that does projection mapping. That's all happening in the Oasis in our opening month. In particular, we are working towards having a monthly event where it almost turns into a “First Thursday” over here. A lot of the brands took a risk with me because I was an artist, and they know artists or visionaries. I know [it would be different] if I came up to them as some rich kid who had money and I want to have these brands solidify myself in the culture. But that wasn't the reason. I was coming to them with a vision that was reactive off the needs of the environment.
Exactly. Because you're actually part of this world, saw what was missing.
Yeah, exactly! From the parties I used to go to when I first moved here, to Afropunk— there were just a lot of micro-immersive events that were going on in the scene. Those spaces are just gone, they’re condos now. I almost didn't get this space. A potato chip company wanted it. So it was a tug of war. This space was very unique and so I put every inch of my soul into it. I think it's also a space where you come back and visit. You can't even dig into all the details at once, and that's what I wanted it to be. I wanted to be a world you can come to, you can check out, but you never know what's happening at the Oasis. You come back and check out a show, a lecture, an artist, a new brand, or a fashion label.
I grew up as a sci-fi and anime nerd just into the arts. I started off doing a little bit of graffiti and then went into art so a lot of those aspects come off in the space. There’s Japanese brands there too, based on some of my love for their design and architecture. We have Undercover from Japan. We have another brand, Maharishi from London. The offerings of quality garments and designs should be offered in Bed-Stuy. We have high and low balances in the space. There are garments that are definitely luxury price and then there's garments that are affordable from some of our independent brands and then there's middle ground brands like Rains, which is an amazing brand from Denmark that does great rain outerwear, but it's affordable and well designed.
And there’s my love affair with La Colombe which to me is some of the best coffee in New York. You know how I found it? Roaming around, going to spots I really loved. Like checking out a Supreme…they're all next to these spots. This is my first time having a coffee shop, so I really wanted to lean on a bigger brand that would offer support. For training of my staff and for the education.
Seed Greenhouse Cafe.
I wanted to ask more about Oasis because there's even more of a growing relationship between the tech space and the arts.
Right, you hit it on the head. There are no more lines anymore. It's completely merged. There’s a search prompt engine where you type, “I want a leprechaun that's blue on a cliff, swan diving into the ocean” and—
That’s fantastic. [Laughs]
That AI will make the artwork for you flawless. We're at a point where it's almost out of control. What I wanted to do, since all the worlds are blurred, is have a space where it's approachable and where you're seeing all artists that aren't even of the digital landscape being able to interact with the help of our tech teams and just the mere fact of how the blockchain and the NFT world just slammed into the art world out of the blue.
What's cool about the SEED pod is that often, people were confused about where it was headed in the digital space. “If I get an NFT, what do get?” That would always be the question from some of my followers. So, what we've done is become the first brick-and-mortar of NFT. We teamed up with Infinite Objects. It is a company that creates these digital frames for digital prints. Our rule is if someone mints an NFT, they have to leave with a physical item. At our space in the Oasis, if an artist doesn't have merch, we have a partnership with Infinite Objects where we'll at least always be able to provide the digital print in a frame that you can hang in your house once you mint an NFT that had the moving graphic within that picture frame.
What also makes this experience unique is the philanthropical aspect. You're giving back to the community. I think it's great that you're taking this space and bringing it to other people because Brooklyn essentially is all about community.
Yeah, it's the type of place where you talk to somebody on the street no matter what they look like, no matter where they come from. It's just that type of energy. So you're hitting it. I almost want to reverse the interview and interview you, because you have all the energy that I'm trying to get across with SEED, so that makes me happy that even you on the outside, just reading through, you’re understanding the sentiment about it.
I'm glad. I think it's because I'm a native New Yorker so I live this. My friends and I always talk about wishing we had a space that we, as in Black people, can go to and feel accepted and welcomed. That's what makes SEED so exciting.
Oh my God, you hit it on— it's great seeing like-minded individuals. Even our cafe, let's even get into that. The café manager is from this neighborhood. She's Latina and she's amazing. Her name is Juanita Vasquez. One of my baristas is from Brownsville. One of my main things when hiring staff was that sometimes people are going to come in from the neighborhood and be confused or frustrated with certain prices or not understand certain things. But, I'm looking for individuals who love to hold a conversation, who treat those types of guests just important as a kid from Japan who rolled in with a suitcase and is going to spend a lot of money and just wants to be cool in Brooklyn. I need everyone to have that energy.
SEED Brklyn Mezzanine.
When you name community, the creative community in particular needs some type of lifeline and space where they can come in and interact with a number of verticals that we own and represent here. Our mantra is “seed the block.” So we will always do our own outreach. I don't even think it's possible to function in this world and not have some type of involvement with your community in different ways. What I wanted to do was, from a creative standpoint like you were bringing up, artistically offer something to the community. This means that I might have a fashion designer in there for one week running a workshop where you're learning about tailoring and patterns and how to build your own branch. Then next week there might be a lawyer in there talking about LLCs and branding, and in particular, how to protect yourself. I've been in the court system where someone stole my mark. I went through the process of almost spending $60,000 on lawyers. Now, luckily, I was trademarked so that fight I could hang in and protect my mark in particular as an artist.
But a lot of people don't have that to fall back on.
A lot of people need to trademark and copyright before they get their Instagram popping to 100,000 followers. I could mess up a lot when I was young. I'm 42. There was no social channel. I could go get into trouble, break something, or fail. You wouldn't see it. Until I was seasoned and could present a good idea. Now, the generation coming up is so amazing and has so many offerings in particular ways they can produce. There's like an industrialized revolution where you can make anything now. You can produce anything pretty quickly, but I feel like there also needs to be some steps filled in between on how to protect all this energy. When I talk about the type of community partnerships I want to do, it’s not only going to a school or a local garden. If there's a broken-down garden across the street, it doesn't even make sense to open up and not hit that first.
Yeah, and people will call you out on that too.
Oh my God. It's like I want to naturally do stuff. I'm not trying to run a marketing plan where I’m trying to pretend. My aunt, my mother…I grew up around a lot of amazing, intelligent women that ran art centers all over Chicago. I didn't come up with this energy on my own, I was inspired by the people that brought me up. I grew up at art centers. My summer camp was being with my aunt at some of the presentations she was doing. She's in New Orleans now, and she runs an organization where she revamps gardens all over the city. But she's been doing that.
So it's like a generational cycle.
Exactly. I'm not even coming up with this out of the blue. I just always have seen this. I've always been a part of it. I've always seen art bringing people together in cool ways. It eases the soul.