Going through Imran Potato’s Instagram is like scrolling through a surreal fever dream, featuring inflatable babies clad in Gucci gear; Teletubbies dripping in Louis Vuitton prints; and celebrities like Travis Scott, Billie Eilish, Kylie Jenner, Playboi Carti, Sheck Wes, YG, and Bad Bunny making cameos.
Imran Moosvi, the man behind the account that has racked up more than 250,000 followers, is just as intriguing as his Instagram.
More popularly known by his brand name “Imran Potato”, Moosvi is a designer known for his bootlegs, in which he flips iconic fashion brands – their symbols, logos and prints – and makes them his own.
“I just like to keep it real,” Imran, 27, who prefers to go by the name Potato, told VICE over a video call. “I graduated from film school and didn’t really know what I was going to do with my life. But I really wanted a pair of Gucci Air Force 1s, and didn’t know where to get them [because that collab didn’t exist; Air Force 1s are Nike shoes]. So, I decided to make them myself using knockoff fabric I ordered off a sketchy Chinese website. I posted about it on Instagram and it just took off.”
Supercharged by his obsession for basketball, hip hop and street style, Potato built his brand identity by tapping into the weird, whacky and warped – whether it’s splashing a Gucci print onto toilet paper or the Fendi logo on flatbread.
His brand name “Imran Potato” is just as random, bizarre and superfluous as his designs and general personality. “It doesn’t really have any deeper meaning, it just looks cool,” he said. “And that’s the point.”
While the designer who describes himself as a “hypebeast” shuttles between New Jersey and New York, his Iranian-Indian roots have played a pivotal role in shaping his unconventional identity.
“Growing up, I was the only brown kid in a class or basketball team full of white or Black kids,” said Potato. “I was always the weird, different kid, and I guess I learned to be proud of that identity.”
Born to immigrant parents who came from India and Iran in search of employment, Potato admits that his brand’s identity is driven by the knockoffs he saw his parents bring back from their home countries, both of which have a massive market for counterfeit designer products.
“I would see my mom, who is Iranian-Indian, wearing these knockoff Louis Vuitton and Gucci hijabs that my naani (grandmother) would buy for her,” he said. “It was insane because I would hear about these brands in my music and sports culture, and she’d be wearing the same stuff, but in a very unique and different way.”
Potato was so taken by his mom’s fake fashion that he decided to incorporate counterfeit products he picked up in Turkey and Iraq into his designs. And just like that, his mother’s knockoff hijab prints became the foundation for Potato to explore the most peculiar of pairings, starting with pink trucker hats embossed with a BMW logo that he made in college.
While counterfeit designer products is a $500 billion market, bootlegs aren’t necessarily considered fakes. What sets them apart is that although fakes tend to outright copy designer logos and iconography in a bid to deceive their customers, bootlegs are more a form of “creatively appropriating” an authentic product and adding the creator’s personal touch to it. In both cases, the logos or other copyright material is emblazoned on the fabrics without their authorization. But in an age when even high fashion brands are obsessed with streetwear and celebrities are embracing knock-offs, it just gets a bit complicated to sue bootleg designers such as Imran Potato or his counterparts like Vandy the Pink and Etai Drori, as well as smaller streetwear brands like Bowlcut and Sportsbanger.
“I never really got caught, so I just kept going,” he said, admitting that although his products could invite legal action, it’s not something he’s afraid of. Potato does not advertise his stuff for sale or even mention prices on his Instagram; he usually gives his bootlegs to celebrities free of charge.
Describing his designs as a mix of fashion and humour, he emphasises that his agenda is to never take fashion, or himself, too seriously. He also just sold three NFTs – a trippy yellow Teletubby splashed with the LV iconography, a somber turtle embossed with the Gucci logo, and an animated clip from the NBA top shots – each for $100.
“I think people are attracted to my products because they’re funny, but also because they’re exclusive and I only make limited items or [one of each],” he explains. He believes it’s this air of exclusivity that has made him a celebrity magnet.
In fact, Kylie Jenner was one of the first celebrities to discover Imran Potato in 2017, acting as a catalyst for his social media clout.
“I’ve been told that Kanye West [the creator of the Yeezy brand] likes my [bootleg] Yeezy foam runners,” he said. “And I still remember when Lil Uzi, my favourite rapper of all time, hit me up for my designs. I went to his hotel with a bunch of clothes, but ended up handing them over to his assistant. That night, I got a FaceTime call from a random number, and I couldn’t believe it when I realised that my rap idol had called to tell me he loved my designs.”
The bootleg trend had its glory days in the Harlem street style of the 80s and 90s with the likes of designer Dapper Dan, who reimagined luxury products through the lens of the Black community. But although the Harlem couturier pioneered the trend way back in the 70s, he was forced to shut down his iconic atelier in New York after Fendi sued the bootleg designer for trademark infringement.
But things came full circle for Dapper Dan when, in 2017, Gucci collaborated with the fashion outlaw and reinvigorated the bootleg brand that high fashion houses had sued out of existence. Creative appropriation was suddenly back in debate. With the fashion house’s nod to authentically illicit usage of its logos, famous bootleg designers suddenly started seeing collab offers coming in, too. Potato himself has collaborated with brands like Burberry and MCM Worldwide.
Potato’s designs are as much about satire as they are about style, whether it’s the freakishly hyperrealistic feet shoes inspired by Jim Carrey, or the Gucci babies he regularly loans out to celebrities.
“My ideas are always random and funny. Even the Gucci babies came to me when I saw these dolls at Walmart. They got so popular that when I would carry them around at parties or in the street, I always had a few people trying to snatch them straight from my arms.”
Potato has managed to tap into the intersection point between fashion, culture and content to create a brand identity that is true to himself, and a hit with the Gen Z that craves authenticity. His effort has also made him a source of inspiration for the South Asian community, who look up to him as a refreshing force of creative intuit.
“Like most Indian households, my parents wanted me to study medicine or science,” he says. “It’s scary being in a creative field and not having that [financial] backup, but I hope I can be an example, and show South Asians that no matter where you come from, or whether you’re Muslim or an immigrant, you can be creative and work in fashion as long as you push boundaries and stay true to yourself.”