Jase Calderon: LEGO® Legend
Jase Calderon sits at his booth at the Abbot Kinney Festival, an annual one-day, artisan-centered event in Venice, CA. His wares draw surprised reactions from passersby, intrigued by the double-identity of his jewelry: “Wow, look! They’re LEGO® [pieces]!”
The founder of LOK’D Jewelry (pronounced “locked”) by Gadgiz Galore, each piece of Calderon’s jewelry is made with LEGO® blocks. His pieces are quirky and vintage: the block-y and solid feel of the LEGO®-infused jewelry, a throwback to the days of old 8-bit Nintendo® games. His jewelry is nostalgia in a ring, a necklace, a bow-tie pin. It feels punk and hip-hop and old school all at the same time.
The Building Blocks to Success
It all started when Calderon wanted a brass knuckle ring, but couldn’t find exactly what he wanted in stores. Undaunted, he created his own, inspired with the help of an earthquake in Pico Rivera: “Randomly, after the Pico Rivera earthquake, all of my LEGO® collection fell off my shelf into pieces and after cleaning it up I found pieces that I needed to build my own version of a brass knuckle ring.”
The ring led to a cascade of more LEGO® jewelry.
He founded LOK’D in 2010, and two years later Calderon is selling his work in six stores in California. He has also branched to the East Coast, selling through Newbury Comics in Massachusetts. He calls the store “the Amoeba of comics,” referencing California’s famous Amoeba Music, the world’s largest independently owned music chain. On top of that, he sells online through Etsy and Glow Accessories.
He gets his materials mostly online from a website that he calls: “The Amazon of LEGO®s.” And while the 40 cent-per-piece price tag may seem cheap, some of his jewelry has up to 134 pieces, normally totaling $53.60 just in material cost. Calderon says the average cost of his pieces, not including labor, is $30. But the complexity and cost to build his jewelry does not keep his business from moving forward.
Calderon graduated with a degree in business administration and marketing from California State University, Long Beach. Not being a fashion insider, Calderon has not and does not have access to trend books and other resources, making LOK’D a truly gutsy start-up.
But one thing he does have access to is the support of his family and friends. Calderon calls his family his “investors,” and his friends are constantly volunteering to help in any way they can. He confesses he sometimes finds the support surprising — he knows it’s because they all believe in him, but it doesn’t change how surreal it sometimes feels.
As for the most surprising thing Calderon has learned since starting LOK’D, he admits that he has made prototypes that he did not think much of: “I thought they were tacky,” he says, with a sheepish grin. He notes, however, that his friends think differently when they visit and pick up pieces, saying things like: “Oh I love this!” This speaks volumes to his intuition, his innate skill at forecasting even if he’s not conscious of it. Just as an example, he predicted the popularity of the “sea foam” color that dominated recent fashion before it hit big.
Looking Past the LEGO®
But there are other quirky things about Calderon. He has a dachshund named Neosoul and used to do ABDC-style dance in high school, belonging to several dance teams. His speech is rushed, but only from his excitement of sharing his ideas. The rest of Calderon is laid back, and at times his humbleness can be glimpsed, his gratitude at having made it this far.
What’s next for LOK’D? Last year, Calderon concentrated on streamlining, and this year, his focus is all about expanding his product line. He is currently hoping to expand to t-shirts, specifically the screen-printed tee that’s steadily been making a comeback into the “cool” but easy fashion lexicon for the past ten years.
Calderon is also interested in home décor, referencing an “old school LEGO® cassette mixed tape” decoration on the Gadgiz Galore Facebook page. He also wants to have more wholesale around the world; already he has customers from Australia, to Japan, to Sweden, to China, noting that LEGO® is a brand with a universal connection. His goal is to not always use LEGO® pieces; the novelty is an extra plus, but Calderon does not like using the pieces as the main draw. He would rather have people attracted by the design firstand notice his unusual choice of materials second.
Calderon is a firm believer of value: value over brand name, value over gimmick. He wants his work to have subliminal messages, but the good kind; it may have been why he was attracted to LEGO® pieces in the first place. He likes things that, “make you go ‘aw,’” — things that have sentimental meaning behind them.
When not creating jewelry, Calderon spends a lot of time trying to help others. He shared a quick story with ALIST about a little boy he met who took to his jewelry: having seen Calderon’s work in the morning, his mother later told Calderon how, all through lunch, the boy was already creating his own stuff. As he tells the story, his smile gets bigger and bigger.
Calderon ended up giving the boy “homework,” challenging him with projects to think about for next week: “What can you do with this?” Calderon said. “That’s our goal…And he [the boy] was already telling me stuff. I always want to teach people,” Calderon says. “I want to inspire.”