How two city kids launched a successful streetwear brand

by Karen Alberg Grossman

They were two talented NYC kids who also happened to be sneaker collectors and artists. “We stayed in NYC when our friends were off to college,” recalls Philip Bassis, co-founder of Reason Apparel. “Then when several of our friends were opening stores, we decided to create a t-shirt brand.  We printed up a few designs and sold them to our friends—small specialty stores, no majors. It was a low barrier to entry at the time: streetwear barely existed, social media barely existed.”

Philip fondly remembers the first year they did MAGIC in Vegas with 20 t-shirts but no line sheets. “We had no idea what a line sheet was or why we needed one. A buyer showed us so we ran to Kinko’s, took some photos, and created a line sheet… Like everything else we did, we learned by doing! Then in ‘08 when the economy collapsed, we opened a little store in the East Village with exclusive product. We wanted to build demand, build a community. We knew streetwear would have a resurgence even though the trend at the time was tailored clothing. So we stuck with our limited editions. Then in 2011-12, we created these fashion parody tees that really took off just when streetwear was becoming cool again.”

At the time, Philip and co-founder Jonathan Price Totaro had been operating out of their apartment, which served as a very cluttered warehouse. “We needed to rent more space so we went to this guy in Soho and explained our predicament, admitting we had no money. He was 93-years-old and was selling the building in two years: since no one wanted a two-year lease, we got it: 20,000 square feet of warehouse space out of which we shipped from 2012-2016.”

This extra space allowed them to accommodate Macy’s, who has become a terrific account. But after 2016, Reason moved to a public warehouse in L.A. and a showroom on 38th Street. “We finally realized that packing and shipping our own orders was a tremendous waste of our time and money,” admits Philip, “especially since we weren’t even good at it. We also learned that the out-of-town buyers we were seeing two or three times a year were actually in the market far more often but didn’t come down to SoHo. Once we moved to the garment center, relationships were established and reinforced.”

For fall ‘19, the Reason collection combines various streetwear trends: utility looks with lots of pockets, military vests, chest harnesses, scarf-printed Hermes-inspired viscose shirts and fashion pieces with tons of embellishment: embroidery, chenille, appliques and more. “There’s a lot going on since Gucci changed the game,” notes Philip. “But our prices remain mostly under $100, up to $150 for outerwear.”

Asked about future direction, Philip is excited to see sustainability become more important in the streetwear space. “We also see brands becoming important again: customers want to see brands that effectively tell a story, whether through collaborations, events, customization, special product releases, or just communicating in more compelling ways. Guys want to understand what the brand really stands for.”

He also admits that Reason’s journey has been a long slow climb. “But since we started at age 18 and have lived through numerous fashion cycles and erratic economies, we’ve had time to learn from our mistakes.”

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