I interviewed entrepreneur and musician Rob LaFond for my documentary The Rise of Medellín as a Creative City, which you can watch for free on YouTube. You can also watch the interview with Rob on its own. He moved from Los Angeles to Medellín and started the clothing brand LaFond Medellín. Here is the slightly edited transcript of the interview:
Julian Power: Can you introduce yourself?
Rob LaFond: My name is Rob LaFond. I’m originally from Worcester, Massachusetts. It’s a small city in New England in the United States. It’s a small industrial city. I grew up there and I started off as a musician playing blues music in small clubs until I got my start as an artist. Worcester, Massachusetts is kind of like the original Boston. It was an industrial city where people came in. They got work from the harbor, from the Boston harbor, and a lot of the factories were in Worcester, Massachusetts. So my grandparents and everyone like that grew up working in factories, and a lot of that stuff became abandoned. It was actually a pretty decent artist community in Worcester. There are a few famous artists and a few revolutionary political people who came from the city.
I had gone to a small private school in northern Vermont. It’s actually well known for the band Phish. It’s a psychedelic band. I went to a small private college there and then ended up dropping out of college. I opened my own business as a recording studio. I had a five-room recording studio. I worked with independent artists for a number of years, and then when I went back to college as part of my curriculum, I got an internship for the famous punk rock label Epitaph Records. So I drove my car from Boston to LA with my father and I had no idea what I was going to do. I had no plan to stay there, but I drove across for an internship to work at a punk rock label for the summer and I just never left. That was 11 years.
I fell in love with Los Angeles. It’s a very vibrant city as well and there’s a lot going on. You can go out in Los Angeles and see all kinds of stuff, the nightlife, the comedy, the entertainment scene, everything is there. I had gone there chasing dreams and to work in the music industry. Every time I looked at music, records and stuff like that the producers were always in Los Angeles. So I went to try to work with some of those people. I did over 11 years. I worked with most of the people that I had set out to work with. I loved the city and I was working for NPR. I was a senior producer for NPR. And I was doing a bunch of freelance projects, and then eventually I got kind of burnt out on the city, to be honest with you.
It’s a very big city and I think it happens to a lot of people who live in Los Angeles. They have a 10-year itch where it’s like they love the city but then after 10 years of the traffic, all the people, like I said I was working a full-time job. I was a musician. I was working as a photographer. In the end, I was working for my production company that worked for SpaceX doing production for them. And I was always working and always going to other parts of the city. And I loved the lifestyle there, but I got burnt out.
Julian Power: When did you come to Medellín?
Rob LaFond: I came to Medellin for the first time last May. I had a friend that was a yoga teacher in Santa Monica. There’s a very well known yoga studio, a power yoga studio in Santa Monica. I’m not sure if he started power yoga, but he’s one of the original people to do power yoga for over 40 years. And one of his students and teachers is from Bogota, so I came to a retreat on the north coast of Colombia for that. I was taking a break from work. And it ended up being this extended trip through South America to different parts of Colombia, eventually through Peru and I hiked Macchu Pichu with my father.
I actually was leaving. I hadn’t left myself enough time in Medellin. Everyone told me that I would love the city, but the way that I traveled I had to meet my father, so I only had four or five days here. And when I was leaving it was very early in the morning. I had a 5:00 flight. And I was running a little bit late. When I went to go get on the plane, they said: “You can’t get on the plane because you need onward travel,” or something like that. And I was like “I don’t know where I’m going.” It was 5:00 in the morning and the ticket window didn’t even open up for another 20 minutes and I was supposed to board in 30 minutes.
So I went on my phone and I looked at tickets from Lima to Los Angeles and they were too expensive. And so I was like “Well, I guess I’ll just come back to Medellin.” And I bought a ticket on my phone and I came back here after that, and I stayed for a few weeks. After that, it was decided. I went back to Los Angeles. I was working on a record there. I finished my record in Los Angeles and I had a release party and a bunch of emotional stuff I did there. And then I sold everything that I had and I came to Medellin.
Julian Power: Why did you come to Medellín?
Rob LaFond: I came here because I was a little bit disillusioned with Los Angeles and the lifestyle in America in general with the politics and a lot of other things. I’m an artist, I’ve always been an artist, and I think I was able to have that lifestyle in LA. But I was always working for someone else, and then I was doing my side projects in my extra time. And it’s hard to make a living there. When I came to Medellin, I wasn’t like: “Wow, this place is amazing” right away. But after a couple of days I was like “This is pretty chill. I could do this.” They have vegetarian food. The internet’s fast. The people are cool. But I guess overall I felt like I could have a lifestyle here that could meet the things that I wanted to do.
Right now I’ve started my company. It’s called LaFond Medellin. It’s a fashion and apparel brand that I’ve started last January. It’s become very popular. I had a couple designs, like the one you can see here with the E’s in reverse. There are a bunch of different designs that play off this basic design. It’s gotten quite popular. You can see people wearing it around the city. It’s in about eight locations right now. Getting it, it’s in one museum and we’re talking to a couple of different museums. So it’s getting out there pretty fast. And so I’m working on that. And I also work as a photographer and a musician. So I’m doing those three things.
Julian Power: Can you talk a little more about your company?
Rob LaFond: I started Lafond Medellin last January. I had some time between work and I really started with some basic ideas like just, I had done some fashion stuff and I’m a designer and a photographer. I do work with digital art. And so I had some free time. I just started playing around with it. The ideas really came out. I was at my friend’s café, Café Revolución. And I started to play around with some ideas and I started to make some different shirts and actually Café Revolución, the first one was the first café to carry my stuff. And actually the business partners there helped me get started with my business a lot. They are other business owners here. They’ve had the café for I think almost five years, the first café there, their first Café in Laureles, which is my favorite neighborhood in Medellin.
They helped me get started with the business a lot and they carried the products there. They sold immediately. And we went from there. Now I have a location inside their second café, which is a bigger location. I guess you guys will probably see that on the video. But there’s basically a tienda, a small store inside the café. And it’s a collaboration that I’ve done with these guys, with Café Revolución. It’s a mix of culture. We have the café that’s very popular. There are all kinds of people coming in. There’s a lot of Colombian people that come here. It’s a Colombian neighborhood. There are also a lot of travelers. There’s a lot of tourists. There are people from all around the world that come inside this café. There’s a big exchange of ideas.
So it worked out to have the brand inside the café. It’s been a great collaboration. We also do a lot of events together. We do trivia events. We do music events. We do all kinds of different cultural events that are inside the café that we can collaborate on.
Julian Power: Can you also talk a little more about your music?
Rob LaFond: I’m working on the demos to record my next album in Colombia. I have three albums so far. Two of them are EPs, which means a smaller album. The project that I’m working on now is a trilogy of EPs. I started it in Los Angeles. The first one got a little bit of popularity. It got played on the radio there in LA. And the second one I released before I left. But like I said it’s a three-part series. The first one is called “When We Fly.” The second one is called “High and Low.” The third one will finish that sentence.
So it’s a piece of work. I think a lot of people are making songs and you just get the songs off iTunes, but I still like to have a story, a continuation of a story through music. I think music is based on storytelling.
Julian Power: What would you say to people that are thinking about coming to Medellin but are still undecided?
I want to say something witty here. I would say get ready. I think if you’re a creative person and you feel like you have some creative ideas, I would say try it. I think this is a very vibrant city right now and it’s a changing city. A lot has happened in the last 10 years here. It’s like New York in the ’70s or the east part of LA in the ’90s or something like that, where they have these artist communities where artists can live not super expensive, so they can create art but they can also live a pretty decent lifestyle, like I was saying earlier. You can get good vegan food. There’s yoga, there are all the things that you would think of in a first world country. You have access to everything.
There’s still parts of the city that are, running a business here is still a lot different from running a business in different places I think. But I think if you have creative ideas this is a good city. There’s a lot of opportunity right now. The city is very open to new ideas at this moment. There’s a change in the people and you can try things that are new or take a spin off other ideas. I think the people here are a lot more open to it. So I think it’s a cool city to make things like that happen, cool creative projects. A lot of it has been unused. There’s so much inspiration. Me being a photographer and stuff like that, when I was in Los Angeles, it was like everything had already been shot before. From the Hollywood sign, from this thing. Everyone has already used this material. But in large part, there are so many places in Medellin that have not been used in different creative ways yet. So there’s a lot of opportunity for that as well.