A very cool guy with an interesting viewpoint on business and on life, Lenny Kang joined his father at his California-based shirt company about ten years ago. “I had been doing corporate consulting in NYC but my father was a mess when my mom died so I moved to California to help,” he explains. “The business is more interesting than I thought it would be,” he adds. “Not just the design aspect but the merchandising and how to fit our product into social constructs by pushing as far as we can…”
The Christopher Lena business is exclusively woven shirts with an exclusive specialty store distribution. “We don’t want to sell department stores; our growth will come from gaps to be filled up and down the value chain. Our shirts sell at $100 on down.” Although the focus is on dress shirts, many styles are worn as sportswear, or as Lenny points out, “In today’s world, it’s just a woven shirt. Customers don’t think in industry terminology.”
What he’s learned from his dad (and from his own experience) are lessons he’d share with anyone coming into the business. “You have to make it fun, which is easier if you have a genuine passion for the business. And you have to do what you say you’re going to do: deliver when you say you will; send samples and swatches as promised. Retailers have to believe in the people behind the product; this is as important as the product itself.”
He describes his company’s top three assets: carrying an extensive inventory of great product, offering extensive margin, and establishing strong partnerships with retail accounts. “I love getting compliments from consumers (editor’s note: I had just told him that my husband’s Proper dress shirts come out of the dryer without a wrinkle) but the higher compliments are from our retail partners. We stand shoulder to shoulder in all we do together. I try to get to the stores at least once a year and I don’t presume to know their business better than they do…”
He believes the best buyers see through the smokescreen of designer labels to understand the value proposition beyond the branding. He is proud of the fabric diversity his company offers, from Egyptian cottons to wrinkle-free to performance stretch. And proud of the tremendous margins his retail accounts can confirm on beautiful shirts that wholesale from $13 to $30.
Asked about deliveries from China during this Coronavirus era, Lenny admits that immediate deliveries could be a problem but by paying air freight for the fabrics, fall deliveries should be fine. “There are ways around every problem,” he maintains. “Manufacturers just need to take on a little more of the risk.”
Arlan and Barbara Nagel have repped the Christopher Lena collection for many years and offer a bit more insight into working for this very creative guy, who lives in Santa Monica with his brilliant, beautiful wife and their rescue dog. “Working for him is a day to day surprise, from what will he wear (Asian streetwear or Comme des Garçons?) to what he will eat (he’s an extreme foodie and wine enthusiast but is not above grabbing an NYC hot dog from a street vendor) to what our booth will look like to what we’ll be showing a year from now. He treats his office and warehouse staff like family, even sending them to Universal Studios theme park for a surprise day off. He is truly an amazing leader!”