Matthew Klein: Another View on The Menswear Game

I recently had a chance to sit down with my old partner in crime over at Trafik tradeshow and alot more amongst the industry consulting bids and many other things we've down over the years. Matthew's a great guy, one with a lot of knowledge and someone who's time is definitely still to come and about to boil over here soon. We met up recently and discussed the industry, himself, his new projects and other related subjects. Here he is to share his roguish take on the menswear biz and the current state of the fashion industry, enjoy!

1. Tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do within the fashion and menswear industry?

I have been in the industry almost 8 years. That's going on a decade, damn, time flies! We started a while back right after 9/11. I know it sounds kind of cliche, but I was actually a political science and business major at school, and the shake up kind of opened up my eyes and I decided to do what I truly love instead of what I was told to do. Long story short, we have now have a creative, design and consulting firm called CI Group. We own our brand Carpe, a refreshing, east coast effortless preppy inspired menswear collection with a focus on rugby's, Polo's, and oxford cloth button downs. We also do product development, design, and private label for clients such The Rowdy Collection by Dallas Austin, Heritage Forever 21, Saks 5th Ave, and many others. We were also a founding partner in the trade show Trafik. I handle the sales and merchandising for our clients and brands. SKU and merch plan management as well as setting up the sales and distribution plan for our clients.

2. You're quite young, how did you get into this business?

Yeah, 27 isn't too young, but I am definitely on the younger side with regards to others in the business. To be honest I have always loved fashion, and while in school, I decided to go where my heart was. I didn't see myself in a normal day to day office job or going to law school. We got lucky and had some early success back in 02/03 with the denim craze and were able to change with the industry and carve out our own niche.

3. Give me an analysis on the state of retail and branding right now?

To be honest, I am bit disappointed at retail as a whole. I think certain players are on point, but I feel a lack of creativity. With the economy taking a hit, a lot of brands ran for the hills and are playing it way to safe. Now is the time to take risks and go after market share, David Lauren said it best. Micky Drexler and the J. Crew's team are also seizing the moment. Consumer awareness and consumer spending is beginning to turn around, but the consumer has changed, so brands need to change as well. We are all partners in this crazy formula. As a brand owner I need to create our line to make sure it can retail, but the retailers need to really start stepping out of the box a little with regards to branding and getting the consumer excited. Just a few years ago, I remember when I walked into a retailer, I was depending on that retailer to tell me what was "cool" or the hot item at the time. Now more and more I see the retailers taking less chances and playing it way to safe. Its just creating a lack of creativity all around. I hope with the end of the recession, this will turn around soon.

4. What do you think sets brands apart currently?

Two main things for me that set a brand apart. #1 is the lifestyle/branding factor. I am always blown away when a brand gives off that lifestyle feel. Like you can actually feel like your part of the brand. Rugby Ralph Lauren has there marketing down. Makes me feel like I wish I went to Yale or princeton. #2 is quality. I mean, fabric souring, cut and sew, and wash are all so important in a quality garment, it will really set a brand apart from the rest of the pack.

5. Where do you think the future of menswear is going?

I think menswear is definitely cleaning up. LOL, I feel like I have been saying that for a while. But no, it really is. Even down to the mass market level at the Top Shop and Uniqlo you see a clean approach to man's attire. Layering is huger than ever and I feel like men want to dress up again. The contemporary sector of the market which was a market leader for a few strong years is taking a major hit. They are the guys getting squeezed out and the look is dying as well.

6. Name a few icons or people who have inspired you in life or in business and how it plays into your everyday role?

My father is my #1 icon of all time. His life here on earth inspires me every day to continue on the path I carved out for myself. I mean MR. RL is my ultimate hero. He has created such an empire and a way of life. I think you are a product of your environment. Like where Ralph was at that time, and his upbringing led him to where he is today, very inspiring to me.

7. What's your take on the arrival of retailers like Uniqlo and Top Shop in Manhattan an how do you feel it will effect the specialty business?

I love it. I think its going to expose the fashion industry a bit. I mean I can walk into Uniqlo and buy a cashmere sweater or denim from japan for less than half of what it would cost at any of the fine specialty store around the world. I think it will definitely compete with the specialty retailers, but stores like ODIN, Bergdorf and Barney CO-Op have loyal customers that wont break for the mass market hype.

8. Favorite Brand?

Ralph Lauren by far, Blue label, Rugby, RRL and anything with those small initials! #2 would be Michael Bastian. I love his collections, completely my style. I am also loving Tom Ford, Thom Brown, Black Fleece, Band of Outsiders, Rag & Bone, Barbour, Hackett, I am sucker for prep!!!

9. Favorite retailer?

I am really feeling Odin right now.....they are always cutting edge and on point.

10. Favorite article of clothing?

Nothing more I love than a striped oxford by Gitman under a Rugby.........oops that's 2!

11. Favorite spot for a night out in Manhattan?

I love Gold Bar, its my favorite downtown spot, Johnny always takes care of us!

12. Where will you be in 10 years?

10 years huh, I see myself growing our business into an empire. Free standing store with our brand carpe, taking our consulting business to the next level. I have a passion for hotels, restaurants, and anything culture. I understand the formula to creating something, the process that actually goes into getting it done. I think once you have mastered this, the skies the limit!