Is it just me, or has the sartorial taste of the average man on the street gotten more spirited, more expressive, more inspired of late? Maybe it’s a response to the stiflement and sensory deprivation of the pandemic. Maybe there’s been a collective realization that life is too short for the bland self-anonymization of normcore.
There’s been a shift in men’s shirts, in particular — an embrace of the valuable real estate of the upper body as a personal canvas or billboard that advertises one’s personality, one’s passions, even promotes a worldview.
To get a closer look at this sartorial development, Forbes gathered the insights from founders and representatives of the brands making creative apparel for male creators and their kin: The Phoenix Brand, Descendant of Thieves, and Tombolo.
[Read about Kurt River, RSVLTS, Pyknic, and Duvin in Part Two.]
For Greenwich Village denizens
Trina Assur, Co-Founder: “The Phoenix Brand is a planet-first retail platform that aims to democratize consumer access to ethical and sustainable apparel. Unlike traditional garment design, we lean on the cultural influence of emerging musicians and artists to create story-driven fashion collections using plant-based, biodegradable and upcycled materials. Our mission is to provide solutions for not only a better planet, but also better physical and financial health for consumers and factory workers, while also restoring the meaning and intent behind the clothing we choose to wear.”
Gabrielle Gomes, Co-Founder: “Our journey did not start with a passion for apparel. Rather, it began with a profound connection to health. Our life experiences and teachings led us to the realization that our health is no longer in our complete control, but that it is deeply influenced by the environmental ecosystem in which we live.
We founded The Phoenix Brand on the tailwinds of other industries doing their part. We had seen an overhaul of the food industry, with grocery stores carrying organic products, and the beauty industry, with a massive push towards natural inputs and no toxins. As this was happening, we knew the same attention had to be placed on the textile industry. From our years of experience working in both luxury fashion and the home textile space, we knew that the clothing industry — specifically amidst the rise of fast fashion — was becoming far too dependent on the use of plastic and toxic chemicals to produce clothing. This dependence was and is having a devastating effect on the health of our planet, people and the workers making the apparel.
With this understanding, and after countless hours of research, we discovered ways to actualize our ideas and share our version of sustainability within the apparel space — clothing made from plant-based, upcycled, toxin-free materials.
The Phoenix is an immortal bird that cyclically regenerates. The Phoenix Brand is built on the premise of using materials that can be upcycled or replanted and ‘born again,’ stronger than before.”
Trina Assur: “As a writer and illustrator, Eunsan Huh explores the visual expression of the Korean language and the impact of images on language learning and the speaker’s personal development. Her curiosity about the world and enlightened way of expression was something that really resonated with us. From the minute we met her, we knew we wanted to work with her.”
Gabrielle Gomes: “Amber Vittoria is an artist working in New York City. Her work draws on her relationship to femininity, anxiety and societal expectations. Augie Bello is a New York-born and -raised multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, producer, and songwriter. His collection is centered around the story of the role NYC has played in his journey. He brings art and innovation to every aspect of his life and this collaboration was no different.”
For sartorial A-listers and smooth criminals
Matteo Maniatty, Founder and Creative Director: “Love thy neighbor, but dammit, don’t dress like them. We encourage people to be individuals. To color outside the lines. To align our business with this, we make all clothing in small batches rather than mass-producing. It’s much more difficult and expensive to make 150 pieces of a style, but it offers something unique to the customer. It gives them the power of differentiation and a sense of belonging to a niche club of outsiders.
To take it a step further, all our products are single edition releases. We do not repeat designs. To meet demand, we make a considerable number of styles and release new items every Friday at noon, what we call ‘Fresh Friday.’ We understand Descendant of Thieves is not for everyone but trying to appeal to the world only waters things down and ends up appealing to no one.
We started the brand almost by mistake. Our co-founder Dres would only wear clothing he made himself so that he would ‘never be seen wearing the same thing as anyone else.’ The designs were different than anything in the market, so we made a collection of 15 styles. Through connections, we landed a meeting with a buyer of a renowned retailer. The objective was to get advice and directional feedback. We didn’t have the infrastructure to make the product. Due to manufacturing delays, the samples looked unfinished because they didn’t have our brand labels. We got lucky, overnighted them to the hotel, and hand-sewed them minutes before the meeting. At the top of the meeting, we asked about their business and pricing sweet spots. When we showed our product, we quoted a price just below their sweet spot, even though we had no idea how much it would cost to make. They selected 12 styles to purchase and asked for style numbers, which we had to make up on the spot.
We were so excited but had to quickly land a manufacturer that could deliver in less than five months, or we would risk losing the account. When we found a manufacturer, we didn’t meet their minimum requirements, so we sent ransom notes out to buyers, made from letters we cut out and glued onto stationery. It was a little dark, but it worked.
Instead of investing our money, we leveraged the orders from key retailers, which validated our brand and allowed us to negotiate a deal with the manufacturer to front the money in exchange for profit share. We did this without offering equity. We started the brand with almost zero out-of-pocket.
We make reversible shorts that, besides being ideal for traveling light, match back to printed shirting and tees. One side of the short is printed, and the other side is solid. The printed side matches back to a printed short sleeve shirt and/or tee. If you’re not ready for a full-on set —which admittedly can be a lot — the solid side of the shorts wear beautifully with those same tops. We love to give functional styling options and have never been afraid to push color and print.
Street Gang is a key piece. The artwork is a bold patchwork mix of geo-prints that plays against unexpected color ranges. ANother is the monochromatic Broken AC Floral print, which has a more sophisticated feel. The artwork is a hand-painted floral that we later scanned and printed on a silk-cotton fabric for shirting. We also made this print in shorts that match back to it.
[Descendant of Thieves’ Mulberry Street location has its own colorful history.]
For aspiring permanent vacationers
Mike Sard, Co-Founder: “Our clothing is all about transporting the wearer to a sunnier time, place, or state of mind. We use the term ‘escapewear’ to encapsulate this feeling of fantasy, nostalgia and holiday getaway — even if you aren’t leaving the couch!
If a garment has some special technical function, then perhaps it’s something that would have been cutting edge in 1973 rather than anything slick or futuristic. See, for example, our new Stowaway Shorts, equipped with a range of whimsical pockets and temptingly short inseam; the zenith of 1970s pocket storage innovation! We design our clothing for everyone, generally unisex with broad size ranges.”
Chris Galasso, Co-Founder: “Tombolo really began in our adolescence, as the two of us developed an unshakeable fascination with the Hawaiian shirt. For us, a Hawaiian shirt was this incredible canvas for self-expression, yet the shirts on offer at the time were often derivative and uninspired – or vintage shirts that were hard to find and ill-fitting. Even as we began working in very different industries, we kept coming back to this dream of restoring the Hawaiian shirt to its former glory. Ultimately, we made the leap, and it wasn’t long before the vision for Tombolo expanded to encompass what we dubbed cabana shirts: shirts with designs that often have embroidered motifs that tell a story and some nostalgic detailing.
Sometimes it’s easier to show rather than tell: The first-ever cabana shirt was The Angler — it is a half-zip organic cotton terrycloth shirt with two pockets, embroidered fish spilling out of one of them, as well as an embroidered fish on a hook over the shoulder. Our first run of The Angler was tiny given how new and unusual of a garment it was — perhaps a couple dozen units — which we started displaying in a pop-up shop we had at the time. Seeing customers’ delighted reactions, we knew we had something very exciting on our hands.”
Mike Sard: “Our Fault One Tennis Cabana Set offers a playful take on tennis wear. In our signature terrycloth, the shirt features a ‘tennis net’ pocket spanning the full front panel and Chenille ‘Tombolo’ tennis ball patch representing the failed first serve. An embroidered tennis player stands at the baseline, hoping that an airborne second serve clears the net. Another new item that we really love is our Monkey Business shirt available in Tencel in two colorways. Tencel is one of our favorite fabrics to work with, as its airy, drapey and ecofriendly with easy care instructions. The shirt features an embroidered monkey catching coconuts falling out of a tree. Looking closely, the ‘coconuts’ are actually the coconut buttons falling in succession down the placket.”
LabDAO Is Charting The Future Of Open-Source AI For Drug Discovery
Meet The Company Democratizing Access To Human Cells
Can A GMO Plant Become Your Latest Household Helper?