Remember when Nick Graham launched a rocket into space with a pair of his Joe Boxer brand shorts in the nose cone? Or, were you there when he did the first live-streaming fashion show (from an airline hanger in Iceland?) Regretfully, I was invited but couldn’t attend. Or, how about when he launched one of the first fashion industry websites; wove the Joe Boxer URL into the elastic of his underwear; installed the world’s largest live ticker-email sign in New York’s Times Square; and sold the world’s first cyber-scooter in the Neiman Marcus Christmas catalogue.
During the early 90s, Nick Graham, an early adopter of technology, connected his cyber-vision to his meteoric Joe Boxer brand and one outrageous and hysterical event after another. Indeed, his mantra, ‘The brand is the amusement park, the product is the souvenir,’ was the DNA of the Joe Boxer brand.
And, now he’s at it again.
To launch his e-commerce-exclusive line of menswear on www.nickgraham.com, Graham is doing a series of events much like Banksy’s city-wide project in New York last month. From Miami to NYC, Graham will do a series of street art, pop-up stores at the Paul Kasmin Gallery in New York, wild posting of his “street store,” and to cap it off, he is planning to launch his free, same-day delivery service in Manhattan for four days, delivered by, if can you believe it, a Polka-Dot Santa Claus.
I recently caught up with Nick on his plans for his new venture, which he is officially launching on December 6th during a segment on his 3D printed collection on CBS This Morning.
Robin Lewis: How has the menswear market changed since you started Joe Boxer?
Nick Graham: Twenty-five years ago, 80% of men’s underwear was bought by women. That number today is probably down to 20%, because men are more independent in their thinking, in their self-expression and what they wear under their pants. I now feel the same is happening with Men’s clothing in general, and what we have trained men to wear is ready for a big shift. We\’re about to go from Prep to what I call Post-Prep.
Robin: What’s Post-Prep? Sounds like a Nick Graham-ism
Nick: I think there is a huge market for what I call Post-Prep. It is what it says it is: it’s the idea of moving men to be a little more adventurous, but not abandon what is familiar to them. If Prep is emailing, Post-Prep is Blogging. Prep is Prius, Post-Prep is Tesla. It’s the Darwinian evolution that we, as men, are going through — and how we want to represent ourselves as our own personal brand.
Look at the modern world we live in: the technology shaping social systems; the world that is being mapped and photographed on every street — and now in the ocean; crowd funding of new ideas that would never before have seen the light of day; space tourism coming online in 2014; 3D printing poised to print a material revolution. How are we going to dress while our world goes through one of the most disruptive periods in history?
Robin: What’s your overall take on the menswear market in this new age of technology?
Nick: Well, we live in an interesting time. In developing the concept for Nick Graham, where I started is not where it ended up. I was thinking in a very traditional way. You sold something to a store, they put it on the shelf, you market it, and hope that it sold. That’s the way I built Joe Boxer, and that brand has sold over $7B. That is still the way most of apparel is sold, but at this moment in time, it’s not the way I want to start my new brand. Not to say I won’t sell stores in the future, but it was important for me to remain independent at the beginning.
The filtration system brands go through in the traditional format is a series of compromises and can undermine the essence of what a brand aspired to in the first place. I felt the ‘old way’ would limit my ability to create a narrative directly with people who are open to new ideas and new ways of thinking. It wouldn’t allow me to take the chances that I wanted to take, to put ideas out in the market that would never otherwise see the light of day. It wouldn’t allow me to make mistakes, a part of the creative process that I feel very strongly about.
Robin: How will you be different? Menswear is an increasingly crowded, competitive and commoditized market.
Nick: Yes it is all those things, but it depends which lens you look at it through. I actually see it the complete opposite, and see it wide open, especially online. I think Seventh Avenue has not embraced e-commerce at the level they should. In fact, some of the most successful pure ecommerce apparel and lifestyle brands are from people outside of the industry. Most apparel companies look at it as just another channel, but I see it as the primary channel.
I’m also getting behind it as a personality. And I want to have fun. When you see the shopping cart, it has me in it, for instance. I am going to give everyone who has the name “Nick Graham” 50% off everyday. I’m the guy holding the flowers and gift box in the gifts section of the site. Nobody is doing what I’m going to do, and I don’t say that with any arrogance at all, remember I’m Canadian, we’re humble people. I really want to be the first high-profile digital designer, whose primary residence is online.
At the same time, I want to explore new production processes, such as 3D printing, that are on the cusp of revolutionizing design, fashion and pretty much everything else we know. Plus it’s the most economically efficient production process in the world, because you never carry inventory, and can deliver within 3 to 4 days. I want to create new ways of communicating by adding QR codes to our products so wherever you are in the world our products are a portal back to us. And by creating what we call “Everywhere,” we can connect you 24/7 with what we are up to, as well as what we find important, interesting and ironic.
Plus this is a purely strategic business decision. For us to enter the ecommerce market, (with increases on Cyber Monday this year up over 20% and Amazon alone up 45%; and mobile according to some estimates was 35 to 50 percent of those sales), is an obvious move. Combine that with the continuing growth of menswear this year, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that the combination is compelling.
Robin: You’ve gone digital! Tell us about your site.
Nick: I designed it very cleanly, and online site architecture is really important. I find most sites dysfunctional in their design, which is why I came up with A.D.D.-to-Cart system. It is created especially for busy men who are impatient — and distracted, like me. With the A.D.D.-to-Cart function, simply press your size, and keep on shopping. (Of course if you want more details, you can press on the item, and, boom.) The beauty of it is that when you press the keep-shopping icon, you come back to where you left off when you chose your size – no backtracking. I know that sounds simple, but just try it on other sites and you’ll see what I mean. We’ve tested it, and you can buy five items on our site up to 70% faster than many sites.
Our site is also extremely fast. I call it a “one-handed” website, especially built for mobile technology. You can shop with one hand,it’s that easy. I designed the site mostly on the treadmill, so while you’re shopping you can hold on with one hand and shop with the other. And I haven’t fallen down yet.
Robin: Online shopping on speed dial. You’ve always created an experience for your customers. What’s your secret sauce?
Nick: The three most important parts of any brand are product, product and product. And not just how the product feels, but how it makes you feel. When you open the box from us, I want you to feel like you just got something that’s special and individual; both in character and quality. Basically, a lot like you.
I’m not trying to revolutionize Menswear, because guys and style are evolutionary, which is totally cool. I just want to move the needle 20% from where we are. On the menu of what I call the McDonalds of Men’s fashion, I want to be the salad.
I want to start a new conversation about lifestyle brands in the ecommerce world. This conversation is not about a new trend, but the launch of a new style. A trend is having dinner with someone and never seeing them again, style is like knowing someone all your life.
The other thing that ties back to this conversation on ecommerce is seasonality. Online we can launch “spring” in December, ahead of everyone else, even though my goal is to be non-seasonal. I see the weather online like LA, always 75 degrees and sunny. What do seasons really mean when it comes to true style? Style has no seasonality, items and marketing do.
Robin: What’s your vision for all this?
Nick: I want our customers to have a blast and be constantly surprised by what we do. And whether they wear one of our pocket squares, scarves, our underwear, or are impressing a Russian supermodel (male or female) with their 3D printed bracelet. I want each man to always remember that his style is his own. It’s all captured in our company motto: “Because he can.”
Robin: Well, if anyone can do it ‘because he can,’ it’s Nick Graham.