Turning Down

This past week was a pretty quiet for me both personally and professionally. Rom is traveling and after sending a flurry of follow-up emails form the conference, the focus is now back on marching forward and staying the course towards building our prototype pairs of jeans. For many people, quiet times can be great times of reflection and relaxation but that’s not always the case.

Starting in 8th grade, I changed my entire attitude towards school and my educational career. I decided that instead of being status quo, I really wanted to dedicate myself to see how far I could go. I began studying longer and harder and it helped me be a better student throughout high school. Ultimately, that drive and desire allowed me to go on to Pepperdine where I not only got a great education but I almost met a lot of wonderful people and had a lot of wonderful experiences.

The drive and dedication, however, can also be very frustrating because it takes neither weeks nor days off. There’s always that little voice in my head during quiet times interrogating me with questions like; are there are other things that I can be doing now, have I done enough, where am I headed and is this course going to get me to where I want to be.

Much like Gollum in the Lord of The Rings, that voice can be both very helpful as well as very hurtful. Last week was one of those weeks where I spent time quieting the darker side of my drive. I think that allowing ourselves to have slower weeks is great for reflecting on what’s to come in the road ahead for our businesses as well as in our personal lives. Just make sure to not let your “reflection” turn into judgment, criticism or denigration.

As creatives and entrepreneurs we are walking paths that have never been paved and we are blazing trails that have never even seen fire. So, we have to balance our drive and our desire for “success” (everyone’s definition is and should be different) with the realization that our trails may have a few unnecessary turns, especially, in the beginning. Nothing will be perfect no matter how hard we try but we have to allow ourselves to be productively imperfect. The important thing is to just keep marching on despite the fact that you can’t see where the end lies.

 

Sunset in Lagune BeachMy extra time last week allowed me to catch a Friday night glimpse of the sunset with my wife.

 

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘the plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.'” – Jeremiah 29:11

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Angels In The Outfield

Welcome to Magic

Have you ever felt like you were being watched when no one was there? I definitely had that feeling while at the Magic Trade Show in Las Vegas, but in a good way. The show was great and, as I mentioned in my last post, it felt like I was supposed to be there, even though I was a little hesitant and anxious about attending. My hesitancy melted away as soon as I stepped foot on the show floor and I almost, dare I say it, began to flourish in a new yet unfamiliar environment.

After our 4-hour drive northeast through the arid California desert, we arrived in Casino-ridden Las Vegas. After checking into our hotel and having a quick lunch with my wife, I decided to head on over. I packed my iPad, notepad folio, business cards, anxiety and plenty of jitters to go along with me. I walked down to the show floor only to be told that the “Sourcing” show where designers could go to connect with vendors and exhibitors was at the Las Vegas Convention Center and that I would have to take a shuttle to get over there. So, cue the addition of another dose of jitters to my briefcase. I followed the herd of people heading in the same direction and boarded the shuttle secretly wanting to turn back and retreat to the clear blue hotel pool.

Once I arrived, I knew I was meant to be there. The first thing that I saw when I arrived was a panel discussion being moderated by a friend and fellow member of the Sustainable Apparel movement. The panel discussion was on how we, as industry members, could make the industry safer and more sustainable for everyone involved. This was right up my alley, so I listened intently before later going over to say hello to my friend and colleague. I thought to myself, “what a strange coincidence it is that I walked in right as my friend was beginning a panel discussion (which I did not know she was leading) on sustainability in the industry.” At that moment, I felt as though there was someone watching over me whom I couldn’t see, someone who wanted to show me that what I, am doing is worth the energy and the time, and to reaffirm that this walk of faith will pay off.

Magic Panel Discussion

Form there my confidence skyrocketed and I handed out more business cards that day than I think that I had imagined I ever would. I walked up and introduced myself to a few vendors who had booths to see how we could possibly work together and it felt great to make good use of the precious time that I was given at the show. Overall, it was a great experience and it was a great introduction to one of the largest trade shows in the industry. I will never forget those two days and I will never forget that feeling as if someone was telling me to “keep going” and to “keep up the good work.” It’s a subtle and small message but it is one that we entrepreneurs long for like water while trekking through the long deserts that are our business journeys.

The next day I got back in the car and began to reflect on the conference while making the 7+ hour (we had to go around the terrible fire in San Bernadino) return trip. I looked out at the monotone sandy landscape and thought about the indigenous Americans and settlers who used to roam those lands and asked myself, “why would anybody ever come out here without air conditioning and electricity.” Then I remembered that, like me, they were traveling because they were seeking something more and getting through the desert was just a part of the journey. Luckily, those ancestors are speaking to me while I am in my desert and on my own journey, encouraging me to continue. I greatly thank them for that and I hope that they will encourage you too.

 

The scripture this week comes from my Aunt Debbie. Thank you, Debbie, for always helping me in anyway you can!

“See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.” -Exodus 23:20

When the Time is Right

Tomorrow morning I have the pleasure of waking up at 6am and driving from Orange County, California to a very hot and sunny Las Vegas, Nevada. Even though the average temperature for Vegas in August is above the century mark, this trip is truly a privilege for me. I will be attending the Magic Las Vegas apparel trade show for the very first time and I can’t wait. My anticipation is high because this isn’t the first time that I wanted to go but this is the first time that I will actually be able to do so.

Last year, my mother gave me the idea to look up different apparel industry trade shows so that I can meet new vendors, other apparel designers and get to know the industry a little bit better. After about 30 minutes of Google searching, there was one trade show that kept popping up over and over again. It was the Magic Las Vegas show. I quickly found out that Magic is the All-Star game of the apparel world. It is where all of the people that “matter” rent over-priced and elegantly decorated booths to show off their new products and collections to retailers while vendors (mainly sewing factories and fabric suppliers) wait patiently while cramped into the small rooms in the back of the booths trying to get their attention. I got this picture of the action stuck in my head that resembled a trading scene from The Wolf of Wall Street but with people dressed up like Zoolander. Frankly, I think that imagining the chaos and action of overly-dressed sales people closing million dollar deals intimidated me, a lot. Here I was a young and inexperienced apparel industry entrepreneur trying to help change the industry and the world for the better but no sale or product to show for it. So, needless to say I very easily coaxed myself into not going and I told myself that famous but dreaded line; “there’s always next year.”

Now it is next year and although I have neither a fancy booth nor any great new collection to show off, I am still going because I want to hold myself to the promise I made last year. I plan on going 1) to meet potential new vendors 2) to see what new trends are going on in the denim sub-market and 3) to show myself that I can hang with the “big dogs” even if I am a very small fish in a large pond. In fact, all of the exhibitors are just ordinary people, like me, who also started out working from their kitchen tables on a dream and a plan that they had ingrained in their heads. My plan and dream may be different than theirs but we all have started from the same dark and lonely place and I’d like to think that gives me some credibility.

Last year I wasn’t ready for this show yet but I sit at my computer today ready to accept the challenge. I will have to report back in next week and let you all know how the show goes. I am at least confident that it will be productive in growing my confidence and my knowledge of the industry. Perhaps I may find out about a great new eco-friendly denim blend that I hadn’t heard of before. I don’t know exactly but I do know that I will grow as a person and a entrepreneur as a result of this experience. So, let’s get ready to heat things up in Las Vegas! I hope to see you there if any of you are going.

 

Magic Badge

 

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1

 

Hitting Reset

This past week has been very hectic. Last Monday at 7:45am my wife and I boarded a plane to go back to California. Since then, we had to pack up all of our stuff and move to a new apartment down the street. As I write this, things are still a bit out of order (both physically and metaphorically) at our new place but sometimes starting fresh can be a great way to refocus and regain perspective.

For those of you who do not know, my wife started a Masters in Fine Arts program in painting here in Orange County, California last fall. This will be her 2nd and last year in the program and it’s been amazing to see her growth as an artist, student and person since beginning the program. Nonetheless, there is something about relocating, even if it’s only temporarily, that tends to really shock my system. The change in scenery, or almost any major change for that matter, is first and foremost, seen as a threat. This has been the case for nearly my entire life and, unfortunately, there is only one effective way to get past my fears: face and embrace them head on.

As a result of many years letting myself be defeated by fear and anxiety, I have (reluctantly) trained myself to see change as an opportunity. In fact, as I look back on my life, the times when I have experienced the most growth, felt the most proud and felt the most courageous are when I have pushed myself to embrace new changes in my life. That is no different now. I do not think that I could be beginning my entrepreneurial path in any other circumstances than the one that I am in now because being in a (somewhat) foreign place has forced me to be flexible and to be open to new opportunities. These are, in fact, parts of the true spirit of entrepreneurship.

In honor of this lifelong lesson, this past week I embraced our move and I have to admit that I like our new apartment much better than our last. In addition, I used my regained proximity to my business partner Rom, who lives just North of Los Angeles, to have a meeting and brainstorming session this past Saturday. We had a great time hashing out our way forward and coming up with some exciting new marketing efforts. Afterwards, he, his wife, my wife and I all got together and went out for a great dinner by the Newport Beach Harbor. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon. In my relatively short lifespan, I have learned that nothing will ever be exactly how I want it and there will always be moving pieces to which I will be forced to adjust to. The way that I have grown and flourished in my life is by embracing those small imperfections and embracing those changes so that I can actively move out of my comfort zone into new uncomfortable spaces and conquer those using my inner psyche. I will, admit, that it’s not easy but embracing discomfort is the fastest and best way for us to grow as human beings. I urge you the next time you are faced with a fear inducing challenge, to take a step back and think about tackling the problem head on instead of letting fear get the best of you. You will not regret it. I promise.

Ski Pic

 

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” – James 1:2-3

Asking The Tough Questions

While on this journey, several people have asked me what I mean by “sustainable men’s apparel.” I then try explain how we are committed to making great men’s clothing that come from responsible sources making an effort  to preserve and cherish both our environmental and human resources. Sometimes, they give me a puzzled look but most of the time people just nod their heads and change the subject.  The fact is that the apparel industry now has some growing up to do in order to become more sustainable but there is definitely a growing movement. I think that for us and for the many other folks trying to really make a difference in the business, one of our biggest hurdles is explaining our sustainable differentiation without bashing others or being too negative.

I have listed below some pretty startling statistics that were displayed at the Hokin Project Gallery at Columbia College which hosted the Ethical Fashion event I attended. The display is visible at 623 S. Wabash Ave. Chicago, IL (if you would like to go check it out). Some of them are pretty surprising and shocking.

Purchasing Power

  1. Americans throw away over 68 pounds of textiles per year.
  2. Fashion is the world’s 2nd most polluting industry after oil.
  3. Some clothing coming from many countries outside of the U.S. has been linked to child labor.
  4. Goodwill and the Salvation Army sell less than 20% of what they receive.
  5. 42% of publicly traded companies in the U.S. still do not have supplier codes of conduct.
  6. 91% of 219 brands surveyed by the Behind the Barcode study in 2015 did not know where their cotton comes from and only 50% of those brands trace where their products are cut and sewn.

In short, we want to help change some of these statistics so that we can be a beacon of change within an industry that needs help getting back on track. How do we do that? It starts with just asking the tough questions. Whenever I am looking for new fabrics, I always ask where the cotton comes from or if it has any certifications associated with it (Organic, Fair Trade etc.).  In addition, the few factories that we have spoken with are all located within the U.S. and invite us to visit them at some point so that we can see that they provide good working environments and they, by law, have to abide by local labor and fair wage laws.

These steps aren’t rocket science but I think that the push to continually put profit over people has led us down a dark path not only within the apparel industry but within a lot of others in our country as well. We’ve seen it recently with the collapse of the housing bubble as well as with the debates about Fracking and the mining of Oil and Gas.

Our business, although incredibly tiny, can hopefully be a part of a change and a movement that is looking to change the direction of the future for the better. We, of course, want to make money and produce profit but not at the expense of doing harm to our stakeholders. In addition, please do not let the statistics get you down or discourage you from shopping in anyway. None of us, including Rom and I, can ever be perfect and reach the “apex” of socially and environmentally responsible consumerism. Our business will never be be perfect. We, as people, start to make progress, however, by asking a few extra questions and getting to know a few more facts so that we can all be more educated consumers and citizens of our world. Once that happens, there will no longer be a need to put “sustainable” next to our apparel because it will be the norm. Personally, I can’t wait for that day to come and I hope that you can help get us there.

Sun Peaks Through the Rocks

 

“For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” – Romans 8:24-25 NKJV