In a new series titled Building the Brand, we talk to budding entrepreneurs and creatives on their strides to construct a new business and the trials and successes of launching a brand.
It’s no secret that fashion is one of the toughest industries to break into. Add to the mix starting a new menswear line, one’s got to have a lot of chutzpah to navigate both the rigors of the industry while maintaining a lucrative business. However, that’s a feat that Leon Curry of Pas Le Mode is ambitiously willing to take on.
A young black male designer, Curry set his sights on establishing Pas Le Mode in 2015 as a menswear brand geared to an audience he believes many fashion houses are still trying to understand: young people of color. And he is right. With a collective purchasing power of $3 trillion, people of color are quickly becoming the nation’s most sought-after consumers according to a report from research group, Catalyst. With Latinos and African Americans leading the buying power with 1.7 and 1.3 trillion respectively, retailers are slowly shifting their focus to tap into this cultivated market. However, most fashion houses are still behind on the times. With the recent call for diversity among people of color working in fashion from the industry’s most influential including Diane Von Furstenberg, Naomi Campbell and the CFDA’s current CEO Steven Kolb, there’s more to be done. Yet, Curry seems to be ahead of the curve. Designing what he says is the “new cocktail attire” for men; in an exclusive interview, we talk to Curry about starting a menswear label, lessons he’s learned in business, and tapping into an audience he represents.
What prompted you to start your label, Pas Le Mode?
I got the idea for the brand in 2014 and immediately purchased a domain name for a website and began laying the ground work, i.e. coming up with a business plan. I’ve worked in fashion since I moved to New York in 2009 and before this I was designing womenswear. Making a woman’s garment is very expensive and I found that I wasn’t meeting a return on investment in the gowns I produced. One day I was on the train and wanted a specific shirt, so I decided to make it. I wanted to invest money into something that I wanted to wear. Fabrics for menswear are far less expensive and knowing how to construct a gown in tulle or organza, I knew it was easier to make a man’s t-shirt; so I decided to go that route.
What did you do next?
Good question. After purchasing the domain and drafting up a business plan, I used my tax return check to buy samples and design 3 different shirt concepts. I went to a one stop shop factory in New York, provided them hand sketches (I’m self-taught and never went to design school) of the shirts and they manufactured 80 pieces of each design.
Wow, that’s very impressive. Since you did not go to design school and the plan was to be a lawyer, were you always interested in fashion?
Yes. I’ve always sketched and doodled and was interested in making and selling some form of art, naturally it evolved into clothing. Back in high school, I would buy cheap fabric and deconstruct Dickie outfits on my mom’s old sewing machine, adding and taking things apart to create patchwork looks. My classmates loved it and I made some serious $$$ off of it LOL.
How did you get into the fashion industry?
Interestingly enough, I was on the fast track to becoming a lawyer. The plan was law school after I graduated from Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, but I always dreamt of starting my own business. Clothing is the most attainable art form I can craft. I’ve always been designing something and deconstructing fabrics to make a new piece of clothing. So I moved to New York right after graduation and began working for a menswear designer who took a chance on me and my talents.
What’s your vision for Pas Le Mode?
Think of Pas Le Mode as your bestie, it’s a social shopping experience that is both fun and different. I want guys who venture to the online shop to know they are going to have a good time and find amazing pieces that they can wear on vacation or to the club or even strolling down the street. The goal for the brand is to dress our guys for moments they won’t forget.
How would you describe the brand’s aesthetic?
It’s “young, wild, and free”. It’s for the guy who has his/ their own style, and wants to feel sexy and relevant. Honestly, the style of clothing is something that I would wear. I feel like I’m designing for me sometimes, I like to be comfortable or flashy or both at the same time. Every guy has two closets: what he wears during the day and then at night, so I’m capitalizing off of that concept and outfitting stylish men for their varied wardrobes.
There’s something fascinating about Pas Le Mode’s images, it seems connected to the young POC male experience in New York. How much has branding played into your overall strategy?
Branding is everything and imagery is key, it sets the DNA of any creative brand. I want to put the time into crafting great images that resonate with my clientele, because I’m also a part of my market. Not many fashion lines are marketing to young black and latino men, especially those that identify as queer, and those companies are missing out. I want to capture the experience of being young, queer, and POC in a major metropolitan like New York – because I identify with that experience and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from starting a fashion brand, you have to meet your audience in the middle.
What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned so far?
Understanding and valuing the voice of my clientele. If you’re going to be a business, you’ve got to let the customers speak their mind. For example, our men’s crop top is our number one seller. When I designed and uploaded the top to the website, I didn’t think it would sell. To my surprise, it sold out and we received a lot of positive feedback for the top. Men are dressi
ng different now, and it’s great to see a new generation exploring with their identities.
What’s been your biggest or ongoing challenge since starting the label?
Money and inventory are our biggest challenges. We’re a very small crew, and demand is starting to pick up. Hopefully, within the year I would love to provide a bigger collection, but right now we can only sustain but so much.
What has been an “aha moment” you’ve experienced so far?
I feel like the “aha moment” is currently happening. I’m constantly learning how to 1) run a business and 2) how to connect in new ways to our clients even though I’m in the very, very early stages of running a company; I’m beginning to see measurable and trackable results. What I’m starting to see that to be successful in business is less about glamour (even when operating a fashion company) and 1000x more about math.
What’s been the biggest or ongoing challenge of starting a young clothing label?
Money and inventory is the biggest challenge. I’m grateful for my clientele and they are really patient with me. I want to give them bigger collections that are more and often.
What’s next for Pas Le Mode?
To grow the brand! I’m looking forward to our next production cycle and to create things people will potentially love.
Photo Credit: Pas Le Mode