Denim's Master Designer
Today, as the owner and designer of the Brooklyn based manufacturer, retailer and denim brand Williamsburg Garment Company (WGC), designer Maurice Malone is recognized in the denim industry as one of the top denim designers in the world. He has been called the "Steve Jobs of Denim" by Brooklyn Magazine, also, featured as a creative thought leader for Fast Company's The Rise, Fall, And Rise Of The "Steve Jobs Of Denim" and Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s "21 People Besides Kanye Who Are Just Like Steve Jobs." Like Steve Jobs, with WGC Maurice has been a different thinker, believing in simplifying a product to enhance it and not being content following the traditional routes of proven business models is why Williamsburg Garment Company has been so successful.
During the recent downturn in the economy, fresh from being laid-off from a large denim company where Maurice simultaneously designed four different brands in seven categories of denim, he had the notion to take his own advice that he would often give to young designers seeking his help. That was to start small with a collection only as large as could be funded without help from others (see the video for more on the subject). In the spring of 2011, he started the development of WGC with a $1,500 fabric investment. By the end of the year with about $6,000 all in, he set out to prove, one person could build and run an internationally known brand with very little money. Proof – by the end of year-1, the brand had orders booked at top international department stores in the U.S., Hong Kong and South Korea. Within the first 2-years, the brand was ranked in Complex Magazine's "Top 50 Raw Denim Out Right Now," and today has grown to be one of the very best denim brands in the industry, with styles continuously selling out faster than the brand can produce them.
From Hip Hop Fashion Founding Father to Top New American Fashion Designer
From left to right, March 1999 New York Times Magazine's top new American Menswear Fashion Designers Maurice Malone, Sandy Dalal, Gene Meyer, John Bartlett, Tony Melillo, Matt Nye, Edward Parlick & Richard Bengtsson
Those who recall designer fashion in the late 90’s through 2004 probably remember Maurice Malone as an upcoming American Fashion Designer and one of the top Black / African American Designers of that time. The Maurice Malone collection sold worldwide at high-end boutiques and department stores such as Saks Fifth Ave and others. Recalling to mind sterling reviewed New York Fashion Week runway shows that helped catapult him into stardom, Maurice earned a CFDA’s nomination for the New Menswear Designer of the Year award in 1997, which also helped pave the way for other black designers, especially those from the world of Urban & Hip Hop Fashion that followed.
From left to right, 90's Urban Fashion trendsetters : Willie Esco, Ralph Reynolds, Maurice Malone, Karl Kani & Tony Shellman
Those who remember him because they wore baggy jeans in the early 1990’s, remember that before Sean John, Rocawear, Fubu, Enyce, Ecko, Phat Farm, Mecca and others… that Maurice Malone, along with Karl Kani and Cross Colors were the top three selling brands who ignited the Urban / Hip Hop Fashion Brand Era which dominated youth fashion throughout the 90’s. Maurice, under his top selling Mojeans brand designed iconic collection staples like the famous Logo Cuff Jeans that influenced America’s top mainstream designer brands of the time, Polo by Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger to spin their own versions. Other iconic styles included the Chain-Link Overalls, colorful condom pocket underwear, the reflective tape Blade Runner Jeans and the oversized down jackets to name a few.
The genesis of one of the industries best denim designers
This is no tale of an overnight sensation or latest genius in the making. Becoming one of the industries best denim designers has been a 30-year journey through groundbreaking successes and sufficient contributions to fashion history. His career in fashion started in his hometown of Detroit, in February of 1984 with a brand named “Hardwear by Maurice Malone,” after being deterred from his original career goal to become a Special Effects Artist and produce Sci-Fi movies.
Fans during the 80's would remember iconic Maurice Malone jeans with removable metal knee plates attached by nuts and bolts or his denim overalls lined in paisley print. However, it was a (Jughead) hat that he saw while watching an MTV music video from Jo Boxers called "Just got lucky" that helped steer him into a career in fashion after a failed attempt to find the hat at stores.
At age 19, Maurice taught himself to sew and stonewash denim jeans in his mom’s basement. In research, he learned that pumice stone were used in stonewashing so he purchased a large bag of stones and nearly destroyed his mother’s washing machine. Undaunted, by his early twenties during the mid-1980’s the self-made designer’s styles sold in department stores alongside his design idols at that time, Willie Smith and Ralph Lauren. However, funded by his friends and family, his manufacturing knowledge at that point in his career could not keep up with sales demand and Hardwear by Maurice Malone went out of business, unable to deliver orders.
Maurice’s knowledge of production accelerated after meeting Simon Akiva. The two were partners from 1995 to 2001 when Simon’s company was the licensed manufacturer and distributor of Maurice Malone sportswear. It was Simon who took Maurice both to Los Angeles to produce jeans in 1995 and then overseas to work with factories in Hong Kong and South Korea. He explained costing, importing, exporting, factoring and finance. The first few years as partners, Simon explained everything he did along with why he did it. While partner Ertis Pratt, who was the head of sales explained the sales side of the business and filled in Simons blanks. While most designer usually stay on the creative side and have partners to run the financial, Maurice learned from previous business experiences and failures, the importance of knowing everything about the business in order to better run it.
By the end of 1990’s, Maurice felt it was time to move on from the Hip Hop Fashion world and fully commit to high-end fashion. With shipments of Mojeans at about $20 million per year, he ended his relationship with Simon and took the Mojeans collection out of the market to focus on growing the Maurice Malone collection from a small designer brand.
To accent his tailored clothing produced in Italy, Maurice began producing slimmer fit denim jeans just as the premium denim market began to explode. His first hit jean was a women’s jean called the Cinnabunz. See worn at red carpet events and on celebrities, the jeans sold quickly at top better denim boutiques. Barney’s even considered presenting the style in window displays until one of the companies staff members mention to the buyer that Maurice was known as a Hip Hop Designer.
After a few years break, Maurice returned to presenting runway shows during New York Fashion Week and moved all denim production back to Los Angeles to firmly plant a foot in the premium denim market. Using the best wash factories in Los Angeles, Maurice found the washes, although some of the best the denim industry, did not look as authentic as those naturally formed from jeans that had undergone years of aging and wear.
The common way factories create the stretch marks found on the front of jeans from the thighs to the waistline (known as whiskers), is to simply hand sand lines on the jeans while they are most impressionable, in the unwashed (raw denim) state. Usually, the cheaper the jeans, the more artificial or unrealistic whiskers looked.
Premium jeans, besides using better quality denim and making in the USA, had a real focus to try to make quality washes. While factories in countries like China, Pakistan and others producing low priced jeans had no concept of the purpose or art involved in creating great looking whiskers and turned out jeans in mass amounts that were more like lines drawn on jeans for decoration with highly concentrated white spots on the thighs & seat that took denim washing into a very bad place.
Over the next few years, whenever at a wash factory, Maurice spent time experimenting with unorthodox sanding and tacking techniques trying to make more natural looking whiskers. From 2003 - 2004, during a time when Maurice partnered with a Chinese denim factory to bring back the Mojeans brand, he found an opportunity to spend months at a time working at the wash factory.
One day a simple solution came to him. The best way to duplicate natural whiskers is to duplicate the bends that occur when jeans are worn on the body, then sand and wash them with the wrinkles in place. Maurice drew up plans that called for a mannequin with knees and legs that could bend and take the extreme heat needed to set resin, the chemical industrial laundries use to harden denim fabric just enough to hold a shape or wrinkle in place. Later, he flew friend Genaro Hernandez, owner of Los Angeles based Denim Development Group to China to help perfect the chemical balance and simplify the process for mass production.
The end result, in China, the factory moved in the direction of producing a faster less complicated system of steam pipes, in which jeans could slide over and be shaped then cured. Genaro when back to the USA and followed Maurice's original concept of using a mannequin system with a covering hood, which heat would be pumped in, curing the jeans in place.
Both systems are used in wash factories around the world today without knowledge how the systems came about. The Chinese factory and Genaro tried to keep their machines hidden from those who were not customers or workers for as long as possible, but in the denim industry, like many others, every better idea is soon copied by a competitor.