Crafting a modern american brand: bldwn’s president shares some secrets

by Karen Alberg Grossman

How did you first get involved in BLDWN?
I met Matt and Emily Baldwin at the MR awards dinner two years ago, and shortly after that event, Matt reached out to me to see if I would consider joining BLDWN. I was just leaving a long tenure at AG and I didn’t want to jump into something immediately. I began consulting for BLDWN in August of 2017 and after six months, we came to the mutual decision that I come on full time as President of the brand.

What did you know about BLDWN when you came on board?”
I knew there were some remarkable achievements for the brand: being nominated ‘Best New Menswear Designers in America’ by GQ and a finalist for the Vogue/CFDA Fashion Fund. I realized what was so appealing about the brand was its Kansas City roots, the unexpected juxtaposition of Midwest and fashion. Coming on board and being tasked with growing the brand globally, I felt the brand needed to evolve.

How?
Most importantly, it’s about building on the brand’s identity and story. We’re building a modern American fashion brand which represents a natural evolution from BLDWN’s Kansas City roots. Our focus is telling the story of what it means to be an American fashion brand through the lens of American art and design within every touch point of the brand (i.e. the inspiration of our collections, photo shoots, website, etc.).
I also believed that in order to build a global brand, it required moving elements of the business (i.e, design, communications, production, retail, e-commerce, sales, etc.) from KC to LA. We officially opened our LA creative office at the end of March last year. Considering the cost and time savings benefits, and access to a larger fashion talent pool in LA, the decision seemed clear. Our headquarters (finance, HR and some logistics) and our heritage remain in Kansas City.

Why did you redesign the logo, even dropping a few letters…

It seemed more modern, more architectural, more androgynous…

Like the fashion?

Yes, but our version of modern is not stark and sterile. Key to the concept is that every piece hails back to function: each snap, zipper and seam serves a purpose; every item is designed to be relevant now and in years to come. 

I also wanted to instill American design with an innate sense of credibility and pride. As it stands now, French and Italian designers have cornered the market on respect; the bar is much lower for American fashion. But I maintain that today’s American designers are every bit as sophisticated as European and Asian designers. My mission is to embrace and tell that story, to raise the perception of American fashion. 

What’s the inspiration for your fall 19 collection?

It’s NYC Bohemian: a high/low juxtaposition influenced by artists and musicians of the late 60s and early 70s.

Is it still all about the denim?

Our core tenet is the DNA of our denim – we use top quality fabrics (mostly Japanese), updated trim, clean (minimal washings, less rip and repair) authentic washes. All our denim is substantial: it feels like denim, not like yoga pants. While we focus on comfort and incorporate some stretch, our denim never has that gummy feel.

What’s your strategy on distribution?

BLDWN currently has seven retail stores. At first we questioned the expense of brick&mortar, but we believe in creating a brand-immersive experience. Most of our stores are 2000-2500 square feet; our first flagship on Melrose will be about 1000. We also do some business online. But the biggest part of our business is wholesale; our growth will come from key specialty stores and select majors.

Do you realize you’re rebuilding the brand at a very challenging time?

People say it’s a challenging time to be in the denim business, but BLDWN is much more than denim. With a clear vision of where we’ve been and where we’re going, coupled with a very talented creative team, we’ve managed to get on track fairly quickly.

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