Costa Rican designer Oliver Skinner began his artistic and entrepreneurial project, Plivertees, 11 years ago. Today, at only 33 years of age, he has developed his line of T-shirts into a successful brand, positioning himself within urban Costa Rica’s cultural scene. This year he expanded his horizons internationally, participating in Berlin’s international trade show Bread and Butter and selling his brand in London. His dogs, Radar and Hutch, have become a special part of the brand.
The Tico Times sat down and spoke with Skinner in his beautiful and artistic home in Barrio Otoya. Radar joined us through the whole conversation. Excerpts follow.
How did you become a designer?
I studied art in high school and then Advertising Design at Véritas University. I also enrolled myself in two serigraphy courses at the National Learning Institute (INA). I started Plivertees in 2004. No one knows my life plans, but they are bigger and more ambitious than they seem regarding the brand. [This brand] was very important for me because it was something very specific: it had to echo with my life, with what I’ve lived, with what I love, and what draws my attention.
Ever since I was child I had two great fascinations: collectible items and cities. My father is from Buenos Aires and my mother from the United States, but she lived on a small farm here in Costa Rica. I had the best of both worlds. I always had the opportunity to move every year to different countries. My father worked with a transnational company, so they would send us to different places every year. I loved to go to Buenos Aires and walk through July 9 Avenue and Recoleta. I loved this world of the gallery stores! I was fascinated with these stores that had tattoo parlors and sold bands’ T-shirts. It was an urban and obscure world in which I would tell myself, “Wow, how amazing to express yourself through clothing and tattoos!” I’ve always thought of this as an artistic medium of communication.
How did you end up in this beautiful house in Barrio Otoya?
This house was a gallery called Des Pacio. It still exists, but now it’s located at the beginning of the Avenida Central. All the space was used up as an art gallery and next to it there was an apartment. At that time I was living and working at my family’s old house in Rohrmoser, but the house was sold, so I told myself: ok, I have one month. What am I going to do? And the owner of this project, Costa Rican painter Federico Herrero, offered me a six-month residence. I didn’t know if it was a charity act, but I told him that I preferred to pay the rent. He told me: “No, I want you to accept this residence, and the artwork is you; you, your project, developing yourself as an entrepreneur… all of that is art for San José. You don’t even know the big things you’ll accomplish.” Knowing that someone who I admired, both as a person and as an artist, thought that of me, encouraged me more. I was very thankful and took the opportunity.
After the six months of my residence, Herrero had the opportunity to take Des Pacio to its current location, and I became attached to this house, where I had seen my beginnings. In six months I was able to understand the potential of what I could be. I’ve been here for three years now.
What is the concept behind Plivertees?
Just be yourself. I strongly advocate being authentic and empowering people through the shirts’ messages. If I wear a cool T-shirt I’ll attract my tribe. I use catch phrases. It all has to do with what I perceive. Plivertees’ messages are mantras, things that echo one way or another in pop culture.
I wanted to do the shirts through the screen printing process, and there was a minimum quantity of shirts to print, which was between 20 and 30. If I can make 20 shirts I can have one for myself, sell the other 19 and fund the screen printing. It was all about minimal costs, fabrication and exclusivity. That’s what makes my brand special; it’s a powerful shirt that depends on your attitude towards life when you wear it. It’s a shirt that’ll make you interact with the exterior world.
What is the story behind Radar?
I knew I wanted my own dog: a dog small in size, with a personality and thin hair. Radar is that dog. I adopted her from the dog refuge Territorio de Zaguates, and she became an icon for both Territorio de Zaguates and the city.
She escaped from my house on Dec. 24, 2014. I was at my parents’ house and when I came back the next day, she was not there. I would walk down the street with uncertainty … is she on the loose? Did someone take her? My best friend had lost a dog. She helped me and told me that crying and screaming through the streets was not going to be enough. She said we had to act fast and place banners all over the place. We also made business cards to contact all sorts of people on the streets: homeless people, bus drivers, taxi drivers, thugs, drug addicts…. That opened a whole new world for me. We documented more than 90 dogs that looked similar to Radar. I saw about 60 of them. Since she is a mutt, there are lots of dogs like Radar. With my 30,000 followers on Facebook I shared the news and more help was given. Radar evoked a pop culture phenomenon. She became an icon.
We developed an ambassador project in order to find her. There were people from Coronado, Guadalupe, Tibás, Alajuela … from everywhere that wanted to help. That was when I realized that Radar is larger than life. Radar’s name is a palindrome, two words that form one: dar, or give, two times.
Finally, the people who had Radar called and told me they had her. I gave them ₡70,000 (about $140) as a reward. Unity is strength. If you ask for help, you’ll get it. She’s such a small mutt and had so much coverage until she appeared. It’s a story with a happy ending. That’s when I released Radar’s own T-shirt line. Radar was like a rock star for a while.
What are your future aspirations?
Keep on working and keep on surprising people by improving the product in all possible aspects. I want people to say, “What a genius! What a good shirt, what a good concept, I want it, and I need it.” I never want to lose that sense of a collectible item. This is a brand with international quality, but that has a national identity at the same time. I don’t want to lose that authenticity. I want the London project to grow. In December I’ll probably expand to Latin America, maybe Argentina.
Read other “Weekend Arts Spotlight” interviews here.
Our “Weekend Arts Spotlight” presents Sunday interviews with artists who are from, working in, or inspired by Costa Rica, ranging from writers and actors to dancers and musicians. Do you know of an artist we should consider, whether a long-time favorite or an up-and-comer? Email us at [email protected].