Not everyone has the chops to innovate. Revolutions are a process, after all. Step one: have a vision for something that doesn’t exist. Step two: believe in that vision. Step three: do what it takes to fulfill said vision. The final step—let’s call it In Practice and Pursuit—is the riskiest and most complicated. It’s also where most visions die. But Brandon Lamar Rials, an auto designer turned graphic designer turned fashion designer turned entrepreneur, has embraced the nonlinear lifepath necessary to achieve a few of his goals: create work that inspires others while elevating and increasing black representation in motorsports.
Car culture has always been in Rials’s orbit. As a kid, he looked up to two uncles who loved cars. One still builds hot rods, and the other once owned what is still Rials’s favorite car, the ’89 Nissan 300ZX. He spent his adolescence going to races and auto shows, which cultivated an interest in all things automotive-related. “I can appreciate any type of vehicle,” Rials says. “But what really gets me going is the performance and modification side—taking a car and creating a really unique driving experience. I like visceral driving experiences and love how designs and attention to details cater to that.” This interest led to his studying auto design at the College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit for two years after high school. Rials then moved back to Chicago and completed his BFA in Graphic Design at Columbia University, which is where his career arc turned unconventional.
After graduating from Columbia, Rials was hired as a graphic designer for a popular Chicago clothing boutique. He ran social media accounts and managed their advertising in addition to designing T-shirts. It didn’t take long for him to work on special clothing projects, and people quickly started purchasing and asking for the clothes based on his designs. He was tagged a “fashion designer” by the boutique, but felt uncomfortable with the label because he didn’t know how to manufacture and sew the clothing himself—so he learned how, which in hindsight was a full circle moment for him.
“My grandmother designed clothes for people. Sunday’s best. Suits, dresses, nice fur coats,” Rials says. “She had a full set-up in the basement of her house in Chicago and watching her sew left a subtle impression.” Rials’s mother also sewed as a hobby, and his family would reupholster furniture. “Sewing existed in my atmosphere. Craft has always been a part of my life.”
It was clear to Rials that cars and clothing—two things that had always lived separately but at an arm’s length—were beginning to collide, which began to form a new vision for how he wanted to use his gifts.
Once he sharpened his sewing skills, Rials took his graphic design work to freelance-only and started his own clothing boutique, BLRdesign. The company offered custom denim designs, and he had clients pick from a catalog of preconfigured concepts for their clothes as car buyers would at a custom body shop. The venture took off and led to his leasing a manufacturing and retail space in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, where he eventually turned his fashion interest toward cars. Rials wanted to design not only gear shift covers and upholstery, but also clothing inspired by motorsports. For him, the two are intertwined.
“For me it’s a whole universe,” says Rials about car-related fashion. “Clothing that mechanics wore in the forties and fifties influence style. Things kids wore in the sixties when they were getting into hot rod culture or what people wore in the eighties in Miami are all related to cars. There are eras of fashion that coincide with eras of popular cars, and I want to capture that.” Rials acknowledges that some brands attempt it. “But I’m trying to add my flavor to it,” which includes amplifying a lot of hidden black influence on motorsport and car culture.
The lack of black representation in motorsports, as well as credit due to black contributions to car culture, is no secret. Just look at the landscape. Lewis Hamilton, the first (and so far, only) black Formula One racer, has voiced his desire to see more young black drivers, and after seeing a photo of himself with other racers in 2019—in which he was the only black person—he established the Hamilton Commission in partnership with the UK’s Royal Academy of Engineering to conduct research for solutions to the underrepresentation. The African American Racers Association has similar objectives. In short: there is interest within the black community to contribute to the automotive industry and culture, but there are few pathways to get there, if any. This is when innovation is needed.
Brandon Lamar Rials has been chipping away at his personal passion and vision for some time, and in the end it will lead to a deeper imprint on motorsports and car culture from the black community. Revolution doesn’t have to be large-scale. We can argue over the semantics of the definition, sure, but innovating at a personal, local level is where big impact begins. His contributions already possess a creative nuance that hasn’t existed before, and he’s creating a new avenue for kids like himself to cultivate an interest in the automotive and creative industries.
Where will it lead?
“I want to create the world’s best body and hobby shop,” Rials says with a gentle laugh. But there’s an earnestness in the statement. Everything he’s wanted to do so far, he’s done, and it doesn’t sound as if this will be an exception.
“Think of a body shop where you can get your car fixed. Where you can pick pieces from a catalog and design your own ride. Then mix that with a hobby shop—posters, diecast models that I’ve designed, anything for your garage or man cave, including clothing. That’s what I’m thinking.”
Creating is, among other things, an act of discovery. Rials took risks and pushed his limits both creatively and professionally, and it led to an idea: a place where all his pursuits could mesh while amplifying black voices in motorsports. His vision, a body and hobby shop blended with a clothing boutique where people can build what they wear and what they drive, is a temple of his innovation. Because of the likes of Rials, Lewis Hamilton, the African American Racers Association, and others, black contributions to car culture both past and present will be more visible.
Brandon Lamar Rials is a designer of many things, but mostly, in words that echo his mantra, he is a designer of work that inspires people to create things that inspire people, the catalyst of an endless cycle of art that requires one to pursue a vision and put it into practice. Changing a culture is a collaborative effort, and he is doing his part.
Follow Brandon Lamar Rials:
www.BLRdesign.us (main website)
insta: @BLRphoto (Carspotting Photography)
insta: @Rials_Tuning (Gaming Custom Body Kits and Tunes for GT7)