It takes courage to go where no one else has ever gone. Entrepreneurs often risk their financial future and well-being on pursuing an idea for the benefit of themselves and others.
Being an entrepreneur of any kind takes courage and inner strength, but every industry and business comes with different challenges. If there’s one industry that’s easy to break into, it’s not apparel. The industry is crowded and controlled by large manufacturers and brands that have a strong grip on the market. So how does a startup break into textiles? By doing something that no one else had done before and executing it perfectly.
Despite the seemingly impossible hurdles to overcome, some of the wildest success stories, most innovative products, and inspirational entrepreneurs have come out of the fashion and apparel category. Kevin Plank and Sara Blakely are just two of the billion-dollar successes who have changed the industry in very different ways and serve as an inspiration to others.
On Under30CEO, I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing several amazing young entrepreneurs in this industry. Among those are Nice Laundry, Voy Voy, Zara Terez, and Glamour Kills.
Ten years ago, Mizzen+Main co-founder Kevin Lavelle was an intern in Washington DC when he saw a disturbing sight. One of the many young professionals dressed in a suit and button up shirt was running to a meeting soaked in sweat, but the look and smell of the clothing after it dried was even worse. There had to be a better option for men’s dress clothing. Mizzen+Main is taking traditional men’s clothing into the 21st century – bringing advanced performance fabrics to traditional menswear.
Innovating on the classic men’s dress shirt was no small task. Although there are new styles, patterns and trends each year, the fabrics used have remained consistent with little variation outside of wrinkle-free shirts and pants. The thought of using advanced performance fabrics outside of gym wear or sports jerseys was once off-limits, but this changed with the performance polo. Performance fabrics used in polos were first seen as a joke by traditional apparel companies, but they now can be seen and are accepted at nearly every golf course in America.
Before launching a full clothing line, Kevin had to prove his concept by successfully creating a men’s dress shirt using fabric that was usually reserved for athletic apparel. “To make one dress shirt in the manufacturing industry is almost impossible. Most manufacturers don’t want to make one of anything.“ While working a full-time job, Kevin spent nights and weekends working on the business. He hired a local seamstress to copy one of his dress shirts with new moisture-wicking and four-way stretch fabric. After four months he had a prototype, but it would be another eight months of hard work before the first Mizzen+Main shirt was ready to sell.
Mizzen+Main launched two years ago with a moisture-wicking, wrinkle free, button up dress shirt. Moisture-wicking shirts draw sweat away from the skin and transfer the moisture outside of the inner layer. “Our goal is to build the next great American brand that fuses innovation with tradition.” All Mizzen+Main products are made in the U.S.
Helping the Courageous
Startups having a social focus is nothing new, but it’s inspiring to see the different ways that even early-stage companies can impact others. Mizzen+Main recognizes and gives back to those who have served in the armed forces. “I wanted there to be something that was part and parcel to who we are – integral to everything we do and not just let’s just write a check at the end of the year.” In addition to donating a percentage of all shirts to wounded veterans and their families, they also provide exclusive job and internship opportunities for veterans and recognize those who have served through their Hero of the Day posts on their blog. “These are people who put country, nation, and community above self, and often times there’s a high price associated with that.”
When asked if entrepreneurs are courageous, Kevin replied that they are to some extent, but it pales in comparison to the courage that is involved with serving the country through the military.
Mizzen+Main quickly expanded past traditional dress shirts once they established their brand, and they are looking to continue to expand within menswear. In February of 2014, their performance blazer Kickstarter campaign raised over $50,000. “We started with dress shirts. We’ve got henleys, denim, and blazers, and my goal is to move into the full suite of menswear…Right now, no one else is really doing things the way we are doing it, the way we are approaching it.”
Q: What drives you on an everyday basis as an entrepreneur?
A: Knowing that I am building something that has never been done before, and (something) I think can truly make a mark on the world.
While Kevin and his team have made their success look easy, he admits “it was significantly more difficult than I had anticipated.” His advice for others looking to dip their feet in the waters of the clothing industry is to “take a while to study the industry and understand the pitfalls of things to avoid and things to shoot for. Talk to people in the industry to get some perspective, but do what you can to get started.”
Want more? Don’t sweat it, we’ve got the whole interview with Kevin Lavelle available below!
Connect with Kevin on LinkedIn.