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Q&A August, 30 2011

Speaking with | Brian Awitan

Without getting too ‘pop eats itself’ about the whole thing, we’ve always been interested in showcasing some of the interesting people working behind the scenes of fashion. So we decided to launch a ‘speaking with’ series where we talk to said people, finding who they are, what they do and how they got there.  Consider it the ‘in the actors studio’ of our interview series. First up is Brian Awitan, who you can read more about after the leap.

Photography: Leah Awitan

For those that don’t know, who are you and what do you do?

My name is Brian Awitan. I’ve been on the wholesale side of the clothing business for 16 years now. In that time, my role has ranged from managing the sales of a pretty wide range of brands that include Diesel, Theory & Tommy Bahama. During the same span, I have been fortunate enough to be part of many jumpstart/launches from J. Lindeberg, Original Penguin, Modern Amusement and most recently, the Levi’s XX division.

Over the last few years I have also been lucky to hold some challenging consulting roles, in various capacities, with the likes of Tellason, Deus ex Machina, House Industries and currently with Penfield USA.

How did you get into it?

My first official entry was just an extension of childhood hobbies through working in a skateboard shop through college.

At the time I was thinking I wanted my own store one day and with that idea in my head I did time in a more fashion-forward store in my hometown of Austin, Texas. The storeowners indulged & encouraged the interest and embraced my curiosity while mentoring me in the ways of the independent clothing store. The deeper I got, the more I realized the wholesale side of the business was where the real burn, for me, existed.

In the hopes of landing a bigger, more official job, I tricked the regional Mossimo Inc. sales manager (Yes, that Mossimo. Before the Target days, the man had a $150M+ wholesale business before he deployed his golden parachute.) into hiring me as his sub-rep. I cut my teeth on that side of the table handling all the specialty store business. This was a different time in the way sales were conducted. The bulk of my requirements were spent actually traveling, driving from store to store and servicing accounts — product knowledge/re-orders/merchandising/display/selling — the physical interaction and genuine exchange that you find less and less these days. I didn’t have sophisticated look books, link-able runway shows or viral videos with which to spread the gospel. All my deals were done in the breezeway of the back of the store between the store owners’ smoke breaks & shift changes.

What’s the most interesting part of your job?

I think mostly the speed with which things move. It really is a dynamic environment to be in at the moment. Not only in the way manufacturers, designers and retail channels communicate and react, but more importantly the speed with which the messages are communicated to the end-consumers. This dissemination of information from the sea of different outlets is bottomless. It’s a wonderful time to be a maker because there are so many ways for people to appreciate your work. One’s knives are forced to be much sharper than ever before. I feel a responsibility to, not only the companies I represent, but also to the retail partners I conduct business with. The more I know about everything the better I can inform and direct all parties involved. Hopefully I can provide common threads to guide all of my partners to the most optimal position. I’m somewhat of a busybody when it comes to any dispersement of said info. I have this almost tourettes-like need to share any found research with others that they can possibly utilize in any way. To occasionally see, on any level, a direct link as a result in my work or others has to be the most satisfying and interesting aspect of my job.

What’s the least interesting?

That connectivity can make people lazy, though. More recently, there has been almost a backlash to this over-stimulus of information. There seems to be a desire to return to “make,” which tends to make everyone a so-called “expert” these days, for better and worse. We are currently in a “curation culture,” where most people will never make anything. Because making something is work. Design, art, writing, whatever; it’s work and work is hard. You have to organize your ideas and sweat on the page until something good shows up. I think what has happened is that these newer tools that promote sharing allows audiences to feel like they’re making something through curation. The world is starved for original content, but it’s not because less and less people are making than any other point in history. It’s simply because more people are curating the work that the world makes. Blogs, Tumblrs, ffffound, magazines (online and print) and so on, make it as though we’ve set up a system that says “by looking at other people’s work, your work gets better.” Maybe so, but usually there comes a point when “curation” becomes straight imitation. Looking at other people’s work is usually done in lieu of actually working, and this seeks to find relevant, borrowed solutions from other people’s problems & processes. We’ve adopted a diet of breadcrumbs — these blog posts — rather than full, proper meals. All I know is that the more minutiae we’re bombarded with, the poorer decisions we make. To me, that is the real tragedy.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to do your job?

Brings to mind one of my favorite quotes: “I worked hard, and if you work hard you get the goodies.”

And lastly, tell us something interesting about yourself that has nothing to do with your job.

I am absolute sugar fiend and addicted to everything unhealthy. My long term goal is to spend the twilight of my years making rock candy and salt water taffy in a small sweet shop in a remote / tropical location.

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