What made you start designing?
“I think to be honest with you it was always in me. At a young age I was always into style. When I was in grade 4 my mother bought me my first Polo shirt and she explained to me about branding. I will never forget it. It was a black and red Polo shirt and she pointed to the logo and said “You see this? It means its Ralph Lauren. This is a way of saying this is his brand and when u see it. It’s expensive and has certain elegance to it.” At 15, I went to Howard University and it blew me away, with the different styles and colors. It was just like a world in itself and from there ideas all of a sudden just kept coming. I saw this guy and he was kind of geeky and I wondered if I put certain clothing on him would it make girls like him? I would just look at people and their style, suddenly all these ideas just kept coming and everything just evolved from there.”
Most designers use inspiration to create, what inspires Gregory Allen?
“I think just life! I don’t do it the traditional way, looking at what other designers are doing. The only fashion book that I read would be the autobiography of Ralph Lauren. I read autobiographies on people like Ted Rogers and Einstein. Those are the guys that really inspire me, people that can create brands and lifestyles that last way beyond their years. It’s really not what fashion says, I could care less! I do what I feel in my heart and gut instinct. I run with it, that’s what has been making me so successful so far.”
Now I know that you grew up in the Jane-Finch community, how did that mold the designer we know as Gregory Allen?
“Well it gave me more of that street edge. It made me understand that hard living situation, if that’s what you want to call it. So I understood what it takes to become successful with nothing. Because I had nothing I had to create which fuelled my creativity. And when I add the whole multicultural aspect of it, I know how to mix and mingle with different cultures and knowing how to speak to people of all different races. No matter which manufacturer or who I’m meeting with, I know their customs and how to approach them and be on their level to treat them the way they would want to be treated.”
What type of obstacles did you face while starting your line?
“Growing up in the Jane/Finch community having no money, when I started off if you were designing you weren’t considered cool. When I was doing it only certain people did it, not everybody designed. Are u straight? Or you not straight? What’s the deal with it? I just kept doing it, with the friends that I have thank God everybody knew the situation. I just kept designing and with no financing, 80% of what I earned I invested into the Gregory Allen Company. So those were the obstacles, money and people not believing in my vision.”
What was your first piece that you designed?
“The first piece that I ever designed, was the Gregory Allen long sleeve t-shirt. It said Sportswear on one sleeve and Gregory Allen on the other sleeve with the Gregory Allen logo in the middle of the chest. I did that first piece when I was 19.”
How many pieces does the Gregory Allen label carry?
“Right now we design pocket squares, ties, bowties, furniture, shirts and we going to be doing cushions and stepping into women’s fashion. So right now about 7 pieces.”
What made you start designing furniture?
“Actually, it’s because I couldn’t afford a chair that I wanted. I wanted it to match the gingham pattern that I have with everything else. I wanted it to fit the lifestyle of the Gregory Allen pattern. I made that couch to fit in with the whole lifestyle and look that I wanted for my store.”
Now I know that you did mention earlier Ralph Lauren as one of your favorite designers, past/present who are some of your favorite designers and how did they influence you?
“I think Maurice Malone from back in the day. He was one of the street wear designers and the reason that he influence me, he was inventive and always took a risk with his clothing. Ralph Lauren because of his longevity and he had built a lifestyle with his brand. I want my brand to be the brand of the future. It has that classic look and feel to it but it has the element of innovation and newness to it. When I’m 6 feet under I want brand to be still alive.”
What advice would you give to a new up and coming designer?
“Just to be yourself! In the beginning it’s going to suck, it’s going to be horrible, cause everybody is going to want you to do this way or that way. But when it’s all said and done you follow yourself you create your own name. When you follow anyone else you become like everyone else. And if you look like everyone else there is no way you’re going to have longevity. Why would anyone want to pick you? Why? If I make a line that looks like Banana Republic, why would anyone come to me? It’s going take time and money and people are not going to believe in you, they will laugh at you. But many great people of today were laughed at some point in their lives.”
Where can we find the Gregory Allen collection?
“You can find it at the flagship store at 306 Sherbourne St. here in Toronto, Gotstyle, The Loop in Waterloo, 3 Monkeys in Montreal and online at http://www.gregoryallencompany.com “
What’s next for Gregory Allen?
“Hmmm…What’s next for Gregory Allen? Only time will tell. I’m just trying to focus on 2010 and make it as successful as 2009. We will see what’s going to happen, making the brand better and more of a staple, basically a great Canadian International brand. We will see where it goes from there the next time we will be having this conversation. I might be telling you a completely different story maybe I’m doing cups now lol. But we’ll see!”