Transcript of Sushi Fridays EP010: Christopher Holland Brandt, Owner and Designer of Holland Brandt

This was transcribed using AI. Please pardon any typos or errors.

Andrea: I love your work because it's super fun, and it's playful, and it feels very freeing, and you have a strong point of view. What inspires your design aesthetic? 

Christopher: I'd say a lot of my inspiration comes from childhood nostalgia. Uh, I'm very inspired by old cartoons and Just the aesthetic of Hanna Barbera cartoons or Disney characters and stuff like that. I also love fantasy and world buildings.

I really want to bring that sense of fun and fantasy into clothing and make it so that even if you're not able to buy it, you can get it. But also, you know, have that warm feeling. If you see it walking down this, somebody walking down the street with ears on their, you know, hat, you know, it gives you a little smile. And so a lot of the time I'm trying to find ways to recontextualize familiar things in this more luxury high end context. 

Andrea: Welcome to Sushi Fridays. I am your host, Andrea Pascual. Thank you so much for listening. We are on episode ten, so we made it to the double digits. And thank you for sharing this moment with us.

Today's episode features a talented, creative, skilled fashion designer. I met him on LinkedIn. And like I've said before, LinkedIn is my favourite platform to connect with the most talented, smart AF, legit creatives. As a fashion creative myself, I've learned so much from following our guest's journey and listening to the story. If you're an entrepreneur, creative artist, fashion designer, or fashion lover, this episode is absolutely for you.

It's my pleasure to introduce to you the one and only Christopher Holland Brandt, owner and designer of LA based fashion brand, Holland Brandt. What was moving from Chicago to LA like?

Christopher: Well, I, you know, you're from Toronto, you know, the weather in Chicago, it's, it's about the same in the winter time. I loved where I grew up. I'm very grateful to have grown up not in Los Angeles because I think I can appreciate being out here a lot more.

Andrea: Have you always wanted to start your own clothing brand? 

Christopher: Yeah. So I had a, uh, graphic streetwear brand back in high school called Absurdity Clothing. And I, you know, I loved streetwear. I felt that trying to have more fun with clothing and designing things that I really loved, which was mainly, like, alien character graphics, um, you know, put onto T-shirts with my script, Absurdity.

I would always make new designs for every single piece that I would put out. And it, It is funny looking back on it. Because I think if I had been more business minded, I would have really focused on branding and, and just sort of, you know, if it's streetwear, you wanna make your brand ubiquitous. Right? But if you're constantly making new designs and stuff like that, that's cool from a like, oh, it's artistic perspective, but it never caught on and I, I can see why I continued that brand until about 2015, 2016, when I actually took a it was a streetwear masterclass that was sort of curated by Virgil Abloh.

Woah. And, yeah, it was really cool. It was a good, good experience, but it really kinda opened me up to know that what I was doing just wasn't gonna cut it overall. And, and with that, I had a, um, sort of like a personal mentorship, Um, day with, um, this guy, Raif Adelberg, who is, um, in the garment industry. To be honest, I don't know what he, what his brand is, but he has been around garment, you know, manufacturing and stuff since he was quite young from what it seemed.

And he said, you know, for what you're trying to do, I think you probably need to go to design school. And I really took that to heart and realized that if I wanted to take this seriously and not just make graphic streetwear and actually really go into fashion. I had to study construction and design and cut and sew and really learning how to, you know, be critical about fit and details. So transferring to CCA was definitely the right choice for me. After college, I didn't intend to start a clothing brand initially.

I really just needed to get a job. So I got a job at True Religion Jeans, Which was a great experience from a learning perspective, learning the good, the bad, the ugly of what happens in a corporate fashion setting. I wasn't loving the work, although it was a good experience, it wasn't flexing my creativity the way I wanted it to. So around the end of 2019, I started actually, they would have all these like test dye shirts sent from manufacturers. Just, this is the type of tie dye we can do.

This is the lab dip sort of stuff. And they would just throw them away. So I would, I would take all that stuff home and I would screen print on them and just give them to friends for the most part, just get them out there. Towards the beginning of 2020, I started buying a bunch of, like, vintage t-shirts. And I just did a run of overprinting on vintage t-shirts with no real plan or, uh, with no strategy.

And so on my birthday, February 28th, 2020, I released this first little capsule of overprinted t-shirts. And at the time, my Instagram handle was superflypants. The first week of March 2020, I bought my first industrial sewing machine, which was amazing to have that in my one bedroom apartment. And I just started making pants because that's what I love to do.

And then soon enough, COVID hit, and the company went bankrupt, and they had to lay off a bunch of people. So it was kind of, you know, what are you gonna do with your time? I guess my new full time job is gonna be making clothing. And I would wake up every day and treat it like a full time job.

And that kind of became what I was doing. 

Andrea: That is wild. Um, that's exciting, though. Yeah. It was.

Yeah. I remember back to 2020, like me as well. I had to pivot my creative endeavours for sure.

Christopher:. Absolutely. 

Andrea: When it comes to running a fashion brand, what were the biggest challenges that you had to face?

Christopher: The biggest thing has always kind of been being taken seriously by the deciders of this industry. I kind of knew from an early stage that my clothing, especially the cut and sew, the pants, it's very difficult to buy them online because you wanna shop in person. You wanna be able to know the fit. Um, you know, these aren't just sweatpants or joggers That you can just buy, you know, I'm a small, medium, large. It's particular.

And I think that became very, uh, much my goal was to get into stores. 

Andrea: With his very early streetwear brand, Christopher learned that if he were to constantly make new designs, They wouldn't catch on. He mentions that he would have been more business minded and focused more on branding, which I think is an essential business lesson to share because branding means being memorable. And if your designs are forever changing, then your customer can't really put a finger on what you do I also love how Christopher shares that he had to learn fashion design, including construction and fit to take fashion seriously. In my opinion, whatever fashion item a brand is creating, construction is what keeps a piece together, essentially, and it also determines the item's quality as well as affecting the way the item fits.

So preach, Christopher. Thank you for sharing that with us. Coming up, Christopher achieves a huge milestone for his fashion brand while also building brand recognition. 

Christopher: So in about August or September of 2021, I started selling at this store, Genero Neutral. And they had just opened about six months ago on Sunset Boulevard in Echo Park, Los Angeles, which is like prime location, very hip neighbourhood, lots of, you know, great coffee shops and restaurants and bars around there.

So I reached out to them on Instagram and said, Hey, would you be looking for more small LA based designers to carry? And they got back to me and said, come on in and show us what you have. So I brought in probably, you know, fifteen, twenty products, you know, I brought everything that I had available. And they said, yeah, we like this, this, and this, you know, maybe three, four pairs of pants, some of my puppy purses and maybe a shirt or two. And that alone was a big accomplishment because they had great accounts with Eckhaus Latta and Ganni, you know, some brands that I really loved and really admired.

So to be in the store next to these brands felt like a real accomplishment. What they do very well is they put on events once or twice a month where they just have a DJ in their sort of storage upper space of the store. And so it's a good community space. And I remember that first week or weekend I was there. I think I probably dropped it all off to them on a Wednesday or Thursday, and they put it on the floor immediately.

And I wanna say in the first like weekend, like two pairs of pants sold, a pup purse sold, which at the time, my prices were quite reasonable. So, you know, for sixty/forty consignment split, I wasn't making a ton, but it was validating to be in this store with brands that I admired and to be selling next to them. So that was really my first in-store experience. From there, I made a trip to New York, hit the pavement and just went all around Soho Chinatown, all the way up to where Dover Street is. I went to every store that I knew about and every store that looked interesting and just stopped in there and say, hey, introduce myself.

I have a backpack full of my clothing. Would you like to take a look? You know, half of them would be like, we're not interested. And then half would maybe be like, sure, show it to us. And then from that, three stores decided to carry a couple pieces.

And so that was awesome. Having some stuff in stores in New York didn't last very long. They sold the pieces, but they didn't restock. And it is complicated shipping things consignment all the way across the country. So I was focused on LA.

I did a pop up with Genero Neutral. And then from being in that store in LA, a buyer from GR8 in Tokyo, found my stuff. And they said that your stuff was the most exciting thing in the store. And I tend to agree. But that was very exciting because that store is one that I've looked up to for a long time and, and I love their curation.

And I've always sort of known that Tokyo would be a good market for what I do. After a month or two of back and forths, of them wanting to get very custom exclusive pieces. They finally placed a wholesale order, and that was my first wholesale order for anyone. So I'm locked in in the studio, and I'm making all this product. But knowing that it's going out the door and it's I don't have to worry about it.

They're selling it and it's not on me anymore was just like the best feeling in the world. And at this point, Genero Neutral and I had kind of gone separate ways. They were going in a different direction for what they were carrying in the store. And so I didn't have any stores in LA. I just had GR8 in Tokyo, which was amazing.

But I'm like in my hometown, you know, where I live, I can't seem to get anybody to take me seriously. And I kept on pushing. I also now sell consignment at a store in Palm Springs, which is dedicated fully to reuse and vintage garments. So it kind of felt like a perfect fit. But I was still looking for stores in LA and New York.

I began working with a wholesale rep, which, you know, they promised me the world and said, oh, we can definitely sell your stuff. They unfortunately were not able to sell a single piece to a single store. They said, oh, we could get you consignment in, you know, this place in New York, or we can get you in consignment in couple stores in LA, and I just felt I could get myself in consignment in any of these places. I can walk in off the street, and they'll take my stuff on consignment.

It just didn't make any sense. So we went our separate ways. And at that point, I'm kind of, what do I do next? And like I said, in 2021, I had gone to all the stores in LA. And the past couple years, I had done the same thing.

Gone to stores, brought my look book, try to get their attention. It just never really seemed to work. I had met a. This guy, Jason at ComplexCon in 2022, uh, with his partner, Rick, they run this space called Homegrown, which is inside of Fred Segal. And Fred Segal was one of the stores that I've been to.

Homegrown was one of the people that I had tried to work with. So when I met Jason, I was like, hey. How can I get my stuff in your space? And that was November 2022. Right?

He's like, oh, I like your stuff. Like, let's talk. And then this year, you know, I'm trying to figure out what do I do next after the wholesale rep didn't work out. So I would just show up to every event that they would throw. Some of my friends were involved in some of them and some were just other LA brands.

And I just wanted to come and support and have a good time. And I would say May or June of this year, I was at a market that a guy I know was putting on at Fred Segal, this guy, Leonard, who does a clothing brand called Trashman Green. His stuff is really cool. He and a bunch of people were there selling stuff in the store. And so Rick, who I hadn't met, Jason's partner, he came up to me.

He's like, you're Holland Brandt, right? You, you make these bags and hats, right? And because I'm obviously I'm wearing it. Anytime I go out, I'm wearing the stuff because I need to, I need to rep it. And he's like, yeah, I think we'd really like to get it in the store.

And, you know, I'm like, that's awesome. I've been trying to get your guys' attention for years, probably in my head, not out loud. But we set a meeting and he, you know, was like, okay. I think our customers would like these types of pieces, and we'll start with fifteen for the LA store and maybe ten for, uh, our store in Malibu. And eventually I think beginning of August is when I first started selling at Fred Segal.

That was huge to see myself, see my things, things that I've made in a store next to huge brands. They carry Moncler. They carry Issey Miyake. A lot of brands that I admire and loved. About like a week or so after I brought over the product, basically all of the hats sold in one day to this huge Latin music artist named Ozuna, which was like the thing is I didn't exactly expect it just because I don't wanna set too high of expectations. But Fred Segal is the place where that stuff happens.

Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, lots of celebrities coming there, lots of artists. The musicians and stuff coming there and buying things for tour or buying just whatever. They'll drop ten bands on clothing in the store. So for him to come and buy all that stuff was crazy, but it also was like a week before the release party that we had planned on September first. And so I had to scramble to make some new product for the store before the release party and just kind of, yeah, made sure that they were stocked up because I wanted people to be able to buy stuff at the party.

Andrea: You hustled and yeah. You did a lot. And it must feel so rewarding. I'm happy for you because I know how hard it is, like, you know, like, as a designer, and it's such an inspiring story. I love that.

What an admirable goal Christopher achieved being in Genero Neutral, having his product in consignment stores, being carried at a GR8 in Japan, being carried at Fred Segal in LA. I learned from Christopher that being tenacious, being part of a community, going to events, being present is key for a fashion designer to grow their business. 

Coming up, Christopher shares some advice for fashion designers looking to get into stores, and he reflects on his journey so far. 

For fashion designers who are just starting out, what would be your top tips for them to try to get into a retailer? What do they need to have all set up before they walk into a store based on the lessons you've learned and what you've been through.

Christopher: Absolutely. I would say before you walk into a store, Have a line sheet. Because if you're walking into a store, chances are the buyer isn't there and you're just talking to a sales associate. So just have that ready. Start a conversation and then say, I, I make clothing as well.

I have a clothing brand. Um, could I, uh, get the email for your buyer and be able to follow-up with a line sheet. And on that line sheet, you're gonna have to have good quality photos of your garments, all information listed material and wholesale and retail price. And when it comes to wholesale price, make sure that you're making money on it. I think so many people, we get in this thing of like, oh, that's the price of a garment is this because we see Amazon or Zara or whatever the hell.

And their prices are only that cheap because they are exploiting people. And they're able to make things very cheaply and they are making a profit off it. So they're not dealing with wholesale costs, But you need to make money off your wholesale cost. So whatever your costs going into it, labor, materials, At the very least, you have to double it to get your wholesale costs. And then usually wholesale is fifty percent of retail or less. You know, if you wanna give the stores, you know, good return, then try to make it less.

But you also don't wanna make it so expensive that they don't think they can sell it to their customers. Do the research before you walk into these places and know what they're selling for what price, because that will inform whether your garments will even fit in their store beyond just an aesthetic point of view. And don't expect anybody to just take your stuff because it's really cool. They have people walking in all the time and you may have to be persistent. Follow ups are really important.

Like I still, I haven't visited GR8 but if I hadn't followed up with them probably two or three times, I would have never gotten that first order to Japan. Make yourself available, be at places where these people are and it will be challenging at first and it's not going to work out immediately. So just be prepared for that as well. 

Andrea: You drop some gems on us right there. Drop some knowledge on us.

Christopher: I hope so. I hope so. 

Andrea: If you didn't get into stores, do you think that it would be more difficult trying to sell your product on your own, like through your website or running your own events. Like how beneficial was being in retail spaces for your brand? 

Christopher: I would say it was hugely beneficial and, you know, I knew that my products really need to be bought in person.

People need to, like, see the quality, be able to try them on. And because it's not, uh, you know, a mindless purchase, you know, it's, I'm very aware that not everybody has four hundred dollars to spend on a hat. Or if they do, they're gonna be really choosy about that hat that they buy. So being in places where the customer is already accustomed to the price point that I have made a world of difference. People at GR8 are buying Marni and buying Louis Vuitton and Gucci and all these expensive luxury brands.

They're used to paying a premium price for clothing. And that's the same with Fred Segal. So being in places like that, where people are used to that price point has been tremendously important to me because with a small social media following and, and not a ton of marketing push. It's very difficult to sell my clothing online. I would say half my income for the past two years has been just stores.

And then the other half is probably a combination of consignment or direct through Instagram orders. So definitely has made a world of difference, um, being in the stores. 

Andrea: Have you ever felt like you had to compromise your artistic vision for when you're dropping a collection or even when you were approaching retailers? Or was it just, this is my brand. This is what I stand for. Take it or leave it.

Christopher: I would definitely say the latter. I'm quite stubborn of a person, and I really like to just make what I like to make. I think my, a, uh, new pup purses are kind of a good example of that. They are a hard sell, but I would like them to be kind of recontextualized as, yes, it's a bag.

At times, I've tried to think, oh, what do people want? But I'm never good at making things that people want because then I'm sort of working backwards and it just seems to fall flat and it just doesn't ring true. But I also wouldn't really have it any other way because I am doing what I believe in and I think in time it'll be understood. So, so no, I, I don't believe I have compromised and I'm, I'm grateful for it.

Andrea: I just had a memory, like, one of my last projects.

So I went to fashion school to do handbags and shoes. One of my last projects was this bag, and it was a face and it had like fur, like, as hair. And my professor roasted me and I was like, dude, years later, you see all these bags of faces and little sculptures. I'm like you guys just jaded my whole experience. 

Christopher: Absolutely. And they don't know, you know, they're all it's they're an expert in their own opinion, right? So they're not going to be able to tell you what people want or even what is right for you.

You have to tell you what's right for you. Right? 

Andrea: You've come a long way from Chicago to California to sewing in your apartment and now being in stores in Japan and also in the city that you are right now. Like, you've you've done a lot, and you've accomplished a lot. I know that there are a lot of challenges to get there, like you said, but if you had to do anything different in that journey, what would you do?

Christopher: So I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I probably, if I had been smarter, I would have really considered branding and, you know, brand story from an earlier point. Um, I think my one caveat to that is I am not looking to make perfection get in the way of progress. I do think it would have taken all these experiences for me to come to a point where I need to, like, consolidate my thoughts.

So I don't think I really would do anything differently because if I had started in 2020 and really thought, what is my brand? What is the point of view that I'm trying to get across? I think it would be very different than what I'm doing right now. Back then was far more worried about being cool and I'm no longer worried about being cool. I know it's cool and that's what matters.

I would rather be true to me. And I think I didn't have the confidence then to, to even be true to me because I was looking at outside perspectives and at, you know, what other people were doing and trying to do my own thing from that. But I see myself as more of an artist than an entrepreneur. And so I'm a doer and I just, I needed to do, I needed to make the mistakes. I wouldn't really do anything differently.

Andrea: No regrets. 

Christopher: That's right. 

Andrea: Are you a glass half full or glass half empty kinda guy?

Christopher: I go between both, I would say. Okay.

But I'm working to be more of a glass half full type of guy.

Andrea: Art museum or history museum? 

Christopher: That's tough. Art museum for sure. I do love history, but art museum.

Andrea: What's your fave fashion brand of all time?

Christopher: Of all time. Martine Rose. 

Andrea: Oh, that's a good one. What's your fave material to work with? 

Christopher: Denim. 

Andrea: What's one thing you're most excited about right now? 

Christopher: I'm really excited, to work with some new leather that I just bought. Um, got some ideas with that.

Andrea: Bonus question. What can we look forward to for your brand?

Christopher: Right now, uh, I'd say look for a consolidation of ideas and sort of a rethinking of how I'm presenting things, which is gonna be more from a personal perspective rather than a brand perspective. 

Andrea: Oh…I'm gonna watch out for that. 

Christopher: Yeah. I'm excited about it. 

Andrea: There you have it. Episode number ten with Christopher Holland Brandt. My biggest takeaway from talking to Christopher was learning that having your product where your people shop is key. And it affirms my reasoning why I've only tried to take part in specific events in Toronto because I'm very particular about where my product is curated and who my customer is.

After listening to this episode, I also urge you to check out Christopher online at by Holland Brandt on Instagram and Christopher Holland Brandt on LinkedIn. And go look at his pup purse. I'm telling you, you've never seen anything like it. It is such a cool, wearable piece of art.

I wanna give a big thanks to Christopher for having this conversation with me and dropping his BTS gems.

This is exactly why we're here, to learn from each other and support each other.

 Please follow Sushi Fridays on sushifridayspod on Instagram or leave a rating and review on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or Amazon Music. I am your host, Andrea Pascual. I'm a brand designer and fashion brand owner slash designer who loves talking to diverse creatives and entrepreneurs and cares about building community. I will talk to you again next Sushi Friday.

This was transcribed using AI. Please pardon any typos or errors.