Kevin Lavelle is the founder and CEO of Mizzen+Main, an innovative men's clothing brand that is known for its performance classic menswear. He was recognized in the Dallas Business Journnal's 40 under 40 list in 2013 and was also named to Men's Fitness list of Game Changers in 2014.
In this interview, Kevin shares the story behind Mizzen+Main, how he overcame his biggest challenge early on in the business, what drives him - and of course, style & grooming tips.
What is your back story, and how did you end up coming up with the idea for Mizzen+Main?
Kevin: Ten years ago, working in Washington, D.C. in the summer heat, I watched a staffer run into a very important meeting - soaked in sweat. His shirt was two different colors, sticking to him, and all-around terrible-looking. It was unflattering to an up-and-coming statesman.
An hour later when his shirt was finally dry, it was wrinkled and disheveled. This was right around the time performance polo shirts started to become popular in golf and tennis. The idea for a moisture wicking dress shirt was born.
What was the biggest challenge you faced early on? And how did you overcome it?
Kevin: When I started this company, moisture wicking material was only reserved for athletic clothing. We had to prove our concept before we could find success in investors and customers. The first way to do that is to show off the product.
Making one men’s dress shirt in the manufacturing industry is virtually impossible. I had a difficult time finding anyone that would make a prototype. So, I found a local seamstress to make one shirt from materials I found.
It took 4 months to get the initial prototype finished. From there, we’ve only improved. With the amount of media and industry recognition we have received over the past two years, we have grown tremendously.
One specific challenge we are facing now is keeping up with demand.
Building a successful business is not an "overnight" thing. How long did it take for you to really start getting sales on a consistent basis?
Kevin: It took me almost a year to get a prototype finished and reworked to get our very first one to sell - that was in 2012. Since then, we have only improved our products; I think we are on our seventh or eight generation now.
We really saw consistency within our first year and that consistency has been growing. We continue to challenge the market by analyzing our products and improving them along the way, and I think that is the key.
After you launched your business, what strategies did you pursue to generate traction?
Kevin: We've tried a number of different strategies, but ultimately it's about taking care of customers and being true to who we are as a brand!
What drives you?
Kevin: Jim Carrey’s commencement speech last year had an unbelievable truism: You can fail at what you don't love, so you might as well take a chance doing what you love. That is absolutely what I have learned through starting this company, to take a chance.
I’ve also learned so much about starting a company in general, everything from fundraising, to managing a team. There is so much that goes into starting something from nothing. You pick things up along the way.
Before Mizzen+Main I had absolutely zero experience in fashion, and now I could tell you exactly what goes into making and producing an entire collection.
My wife and I have put everything we have into this company, and knowing that we are building something that has never been done before, and believing that I can truly make a mark on the world is what drives me to take this chance everyday.
If you could name one thing that has contributed most to your success, what would it be?
Kevin: Influence from tremendous people: my parents, my wife, my mentors.
What are 2-3 key habits you have that you feel have been very impactful for your career?
1) Staying fit and healthy. It helps me stay sharp and on top of everything.
2) Being honest and flexible. If things go wrong, own it. Trust me, they will.
3) Finding great people.
What's your best style & fashion tip?
Kevin: Be yourself and wear Mizzen+Main - you’ll never go wrong.
And what's your best grooming tip?
Kevin: Shave every day, and shine your shoes.
How can our audience find out more about you and what you're up to?
Kevin: Follow Mizzen+Main on social media! @mizzenandmain - We are always announcing news on our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. You can also follow me - @kevinslavelle.
Step Up Your Game
Thanks to Kevin for the interview! If you're interested in stepping up your style game, go ahead and check out Mizzen+Main for their performance menswear. Don't be like that sweaty dude that Kevin saw in DC. :)
Also, something else that might be helpful for you: want to look dapper - but just absolutely hate going shopping?
Then you should do yourself a favor and take a look at "Doorstep Dapperness," which is a list of 37 ways to get "dapperness" regularly delivered to you. Enjoy!