A STITCH IN TIME
Rodolfo Ramirez + Andrew Cheung Go Fashionably Forward
Interview by: Eugene S. Robinson
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE:
Because looking good is probably the first big step toward being good looking.
If you’re even going to come close to looking cool, it’s going to start with the small touches. A set of cuff links, a tie clip, a scarf and — for Los Angelenos and USC grads Rodolfo Ramirez and Andrew Cheung — a pocket square.
“We were enamored by the symbolism of the modern-day pocket square,” said Ramirez. ”It’s an iconic piece that serves not only as an accent to your outfit, but also as a powerful statement of who you are.”
Specifically: someone who cares enough about how things look to take care when assembling a look.
“A consumer can take a chance with an accessory, and grow into a more sartorially savvy — and loyal — customer.“
When Ramirez and Cheung, both 25, decided to peel off from careers in architectural design and business and film, respectively, to become clothing designers, neither had any background in fashion. “We started Pocket Square Clothing three years ago as a vehicle to explore our own individual styles,” said Cheung. “What you see is very much reflective of who we are personally.” That commitment to distinctive individuality has won them some big fans: NBA notables like Mike Conley, Matt Barnes and top NBA draft pick Andrew Wiggins.
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The company specializes in that cherry-on-the-outfit topping, the pocket square. The just-right dash of color in a man’s left breast pocket, the square (really just a folded handkerchief, but one that you’ll be laughed out of the club for actually using for something as gauche as blowing your nose) is right up there with the tie — the thing you’ll notice most when approaching a killer suit and the man wearing it.
“We actually started with bow ties first, because that’s what we were interested in designing,” Ramirez said, “[and then] we introduced skinny ties a bit later, and pocket squares were the third piece to come along.”
It’s a far cry from how they looked back when they were roommates in college, wearing “the standard shirt or sweatshirt with a pair of shorts or jeans,” Ramirez said. “But there was always a shared interest in clothing, and we were always looking to improve the way we personally dressed.”
What we see now when we take a gander at what they’ve wrought?
Boldly quirky collections of ties, bow ties and pocket squares played out over wool, cotton and silk, along with linen, corduroy, denim and canvas. They’re influenced by everyone from fashion retailer Nick Wooster to Street Etiquette’s Joshua Kissi and Travis Gumbs.
The duo deliberately chose Los Angeles instead of the fashion epicenter of New York City to set up shop, making local flavor part of the package. Since 2011, Ramirez and Cheung’s vision has been about aligning inner communities of creatives (musicians, designers, artists), outer communities of structural folks (manufacturers) and the intended audience of consumers and lifestyle agents (stylists, costume designers and anyone fashionably fabulous). “We kept seeing time and time again that the market didn’t offer the fashion pieces we wanted,” said Cheung. “So we took matters into our own hands and made it a mission to make it ourselves.”
“Our vision for the brand has always been to become a style destination for talented gentlemen who care about the way they look.“
It’s a passion that’s put them in over 60 retailers worldwide — mostly boutiques but, notably, in the Nordstrom gift collection this past holiday season. “Our sales growth has been double or more every year,” Cheung said. “Next year, we’re projecting that our growth will hit anywhere between half a million to a million in sales. And one of the greatest things about fashion is that it’s a global language. The international community has really taken a liking to our brand. At least a third of our customers are from a different country.”
“It’s no accident that Ralph Lauren built his empire starting with ties,” says Mick Edwards, a former interior designer at Ralph Lauren and a Los Angeles stylist. “A small but highly visible accessory starts the conversation that builds the brand, and it allows for the possibility of recoverable missteps: A pocket square in a too-bold color or fabric comes at a price point that allows it to find an audience.” Which is to say that a consumer can take a chance with an accessory, and grow into a more sartorially savvy — and loyal — customer for the brand.
And it’s all about loyalty these days, even though — according to industry analysts at IBISWorld — the online designer clothing industry “is highly fragmented and has a low market-share concentration.” The fact that the top three market leaders have only 27 percent of a market that’s seen industry revenue grow at an average annual rate of 2.1% to $9.6 billion during the past five years means the sky is really the limit.
That’s the good news.
The bad news? The space is getting crowded, with the number of industry firms growing at a “6.3% annualized rate from 2008 to 2013, to about 1,982.”
“Look, we’re not trying to reinvent menswear or chase trends,” Cheung said. “And there’s always going to be smarter and brighter people bringing better ideas and designs forward every year.” But the sine qua non that makes PSC different, at least in Cheung’s mind, is that “we’re not trying to sell a product, but rather an idea that people want to be a part of.”
Which is partly design, aesthetics, tailoring, interesting fabrics and a real connection with the local community either via their involvement with The Blazers, a nonprofit providing mentorship programs for inner city kids from South Los Angeles, or just by keeping their fingers on the pulse of what’s happening around them.
Because at this point, it’s really “our customers who dictate the demand for our products and what we would offer next,” Cheung wound up. And what the people are demanding this fall season? “Men’s shirts and socks. Then tie bars and lapel pins.”
Which is probably the smartest thing that Ramirez and Cheung have done yet, according to Edwards. “Making a mistake with a larger, expensive, structured item like a blazer or a suit can ruin a company before its second season.”
“The goal within the next few years is to develop a full clothing collection and eventually open up a flagship brick-and-mortar, since our vision for the brand has always been to become a style destination for talented gentlemen who care about the way they look,” Ramirez closed.
“But who knows what we might get into next?”