Charles Miller: Fashion, Denim and Grooming
We have watched denim change and grow over the generations. From the standard blue jean made by Levi that was worn out in the cold fields during the gold rush to denim making appearances on runways and major fashion houses I’ve been keeping a close eye on a new designer making a name for him self in the denim scene and its named Charles Miller. I got a chance to talk one-on-one with Charles Miller before his private showing at fashion week coming this September. We left no stone uncovered while we chatted about fashion, denim and grooming; get to know the man behind CMDB.
Ruggedlygroomed.com: Who is Charles Miller?
Charles Miller Brand Denim: Charles Miller is an out going young professional. In the military for 13 years, my wife is also in the military. She has been in the army for 13 years also. I am 31 one years old, yea, I’m from P.A. as well [and] from Harrisburg. I visit often, but I have been in the D.C. area for the past 3 years. Harrisburg wasn’t showing me any love as far as military wise.
RG: That’s cool. You and me both have a lot in common and I was a military brat. I grew up in Germany and did a lot of traveling because of it. Also, thank you for serving in the military and I have a lot of respect and appreciate anyone who puts their life on the line and serve our country. Thank you to you wife as well.
CMDB: O yea man, Thank you. Appreciate that.
RG: What got you started designing in the first place?
CMDB: So when I was in college, umm…well, lets rewind that a bit. Being in high school and middle school I was a simple guy. Just plain you know. Everyday my outfit was already laid out for me, but when I got to college I wanted to paint my canvas a bit so I picked up commutations as a major and business was my second major. That’s where it really happened. That’s where I took my name [Charles Miller] and my motivation forward with everything. Keeping it moving, that was my business name in college. I went to college at East Stroudsburg University in the Poconos. I was not that far from New York and not that far from Jersey. I would go to New York and pick up some clothes like every other weekend to make some money on the side in college in addition to a work-study job and photography on the side. I wanted to capture the moment and capture everybody in their style; I found that mixing both and playing with both was how I was becoming known around campus.
Fast forward, I graduated college and I said ‘all right you know what, I’m tired of wearing other peoples clothes.’ I put my logo on a shirt and got back to Harrisburg and the day it happened I believe it was 2007. The summer of 2007, it was a holiday I believe. Maybe Labor day because it was still nice outside. I decided let me put my logo on a t-shirt; I made about three dozen of them. I went to downtown Harrisburg. I am going down to the club and going to throw them out into the crowd. I knew the club owners did that and that’s where it got started. Everyone came out the club wearing my t-shirts. Yea, I was pretty excited! It was hype.
RG: That’s a cool way to get started, that’s one way. Listening to what you said, I am a photographer also. I have my degree in Photography. I told you we have a lot in common.
CMDB: Wow, yea we do. We do.
RG: I like the idea of just tossing them out into the crowd and seeing what happens after. I totally understand getting tired of wearing others’ clothes sometimes. Why design denim though, what got you started in that area of fashion?
CMDB: So, it was like a lost understanding. Leading up to middle school I remember trying to find the right pair of jeans. My mother and me were shopping at Value City, it’s similar to a Burlington Coat Factory. The only jeans I could find that would fit me right were some Paco Jeans. I remember them; they had the little Italian flag on the back [laugh]. They were the only ones that fit me perfect back then and I could never find the right pair. Can’t forget about the white t-shirt; that was my go to and favorite that would label you perfectly. You can’t have a perfect top with out the perfect bottom you know. The back of your jeans getting all ate up because they fallen underneath your heal, that’s just whack to me [laugh]. You know you see it all the time [laugh]. I was trying to figure that out. I was like you know what let me just pause on the denim for a second. Back to the story of the T shirts in the club I just told you about [and] we had two successful fashion events in Harrisburg. It was a t shirt line and kind of like a sports athletic thing. I thought to myself I am not going to grow from this you know, so let me pause on this.
I thought, lets revisit the denim idea. I met a guy and he gave me some pointers and it just clicked. I went to trade shows and textile shows and I did all my history to get deeper into the fashion industry; not just doing logos on t-shirts. After that I ran with it. I went all the way to Morocco [and] I checked out the factories overseas. I had the opportunity to do that and I went and checked out the factories in the United Sates. With me being in the military I said you know what, being United States made I said lets be USA made. I went in with it. I was deployed to Iraq in 2011 and I was working on it heavy over there. I stayed in contact with New York and LA. Before I left, we had a launch. This is bringing Charles Miller international, Charles Miller Brand Denim closing out, keep it moving garments. That’s pretty much where it started.
RG: We don’t see a lot of things being American made. Has that made it harder for you as a designer?
CMDB: Uhh. No actually, it made it easier really because for me I am a hands on type of guy. I need to know a little about what you are doing for me before I have you do it for me. It goes back to photography. I know my angels and the eye that I want and this is the vision I am going to give you. I expect you to deliver what I want. I am not going to say I am a micro manager but I know what I want, but I also know that I can learn from someone else. I can’t travel across seas all the time. I don’t know those people like that or have a long enough business relationship with them that I can trust that they have my best interest at heart. Not like I can right here in the United States. That’s why it was easier for me to do it like that.
RG: I understand and agree with you on that, you see a lot of designers and brands running overseas because there is cheaper prices and it makes it easier to just ship it out to them and have them work it out. I commend you on that you know, it is harder on everybody when people are doing that more often.
CMDB: It’s… it’s quality over quantity. I didn’t start this to just make money. I want the experience to be out there first and a follow, a brand follow, a loyal following before I worry about the money.
RG: I get that, a lot of people only think about the money first and what’s the easiest way for me to do that. Sometimes the grass is not always greener on the other side.
CMDB: Yea… yea.
RG: How would you describe the Charles Miller shopper? How would you describe the person that is buying Charles Miller?
CMDB: I would describe the shopper as three types of individuals: the professional, the traveler, and the visionary. These are what the styles are named after. I describe those styles as the individual who thinks outside the box. They don’t have to or try to fit in, they just do. That’s my target market. Even in regards to style they don’t have to try, just throw on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and that’s an outfit for the day; that’s my guy.
RG: On your website I saw that you have expended to not being a men’s brand through a quote. The quote says, “Originally crafted for men as the consumer, the brand has expanded with female bodies wearing the same available fits for a more authentic approach to fashion and genderless clothing.” Can you explain this direction of genderless clothing in more detail?
CMDB: Everybody has a different shape and umm, not to discriminate through gender. You have a new world now. Gay marriage is in every state now. You have feminine females and masculine females, feminine males and masculine males. That’s why we geared this to not be gender concentrate because you have women in the fashion industry who like to wear a loser jean. That’s where the boy friend jean came from, a men’s styled jeans. We just built on top of that. we are not going to shut out females. What if a female wants to wear that and that goes back to you thinking outside the box. I like those jeans, I want to wear those jeans, those men’s jeans, but I can’t wear them because I am a woman? You know?
RG: I like that, which is a different way of looking at it. Making denim that anyone can walk over and pick up is pretty cool. I know my lady loves her some boyfriend jeans. Her style isn’t fitted or tight. She likes things to be a big loser but feminine. A lot of people like to stick to the norm and this outlook isn’t the norm which is very cool indeed.
CMDB: Yea man, I appreciate that. The first logo was a direct representation of me. It was guy-walking throw a red rectangle. It stood for breaking through barriers. That has been my fuel from day one.
RG: What was the inspiration behind the line that is being shown at New York Fashion Week this year?
CMDB: Six months ago was the official launch in February. We went to fashion week to be showcased. The goal in February really was to launch in March and to be retail ready. That was the only goal at that time. We were approached and we said let’s seize the moment. The focus was to be retail ready [but] everything else was just extra. The show was a success though and it was an amazing experience and some measureable exposer came out of it. I figure to come back now, then goal here is to set us apart from everyone else. That’s why we are doing a private show/ presentation. With the other one it was a collective so we got kind of a good moment but it wasn’t a great moment. We figure we are going to build on it, lay it out exactly the way we want to have it and exactly do what we want to do with branding and marketing and throw it in their face. The focus is what you read on the website and everything soon to the public. I wasn’t able to do that in February. That’s the focus behind this one.
RG: I am looking forward to it and can’t wait to see what you going on. Lets transition a bit and talk about some grooming stuff. What grooming products are you using at the moment?
CMDB: Umm, Paul Mitchell at the moment. He is my favorite right now as far as shampoo and body bar. Umm also, I mean that’s it [laugh]. My wife brought home this brand called Lush. They have these bath balms; she went in there hard core and she got face scrub and everything. I would say those two things right there.
RG: As men of color, Lush is great for our skin. They have a lot of great products that are great for us to use. We’re going to have to build out your closet and get you a nice selection of products for your skin and hair [laugh]. What is your daily skin care routine?
CMDB: [Laugh] Right now, I use Dial soap for my body, Paul Mitchell shampoo and an exfoliating Clean & Clear I want to say. For my face, my face wash if I don’t use the Lush products and nothing else really. Unless I feel like putting something in my hair and brushing my hair, but I’m wearing my uniform most of the day so it’s like I’m not putting no smell goods on or cologne on when I’m out their in uniform. There was this product, a leave in conditioner, called Cantu. My barber was like my education. He would tell me what to put on my hair and face.
RG: Just recently Askmen.com did an article on Men of color in the grooming industry. As a man , how do you feel about the respenstation of men of color in the grooming industry when it comes to advertising and brand packaging?
CMDB: That’s a tough one [laugh]. I don’t think they are aggressive as they should be. With marketing the product, with getting it into the right hands and getting it the proper review. Going off of what I told you, I know stuff from my wife and my barber. I don’t hear about it or if I see it in the magazines it’s not a professional look for their marketing. It does not make me want to look at it or even try it, you know. Even if someone said oh, they got this new stuff out and I can’t check out the reviews I’m going to be reluctant to try it. They need to do a better job at that. Even if there is stuff out there for men of color, more so that should be recognized I need to see it more. I didn’t know about Lush until my wife brought it home.
RG: Yea I hear you, and I agree as well. I see a lot of brands and not all have a great look or try really hard to be creative and stand out. It’s pretty tough out here for men of color once we start to talk about the grooming industry. We’re coming to a close but before you go what’s next for you and your brand (outside of fashion week of course)?
CMDB: Umm, I say this with as much confident as I can. Next year I want to focus on selling the product and stores. More boutiques then mainstream stores. Focusing on the wife; my wife is due any day now. Also, working on the women’s side. Developing a few fits that are tailored to the women more.