Entrepreneur and frequent flyer Kevin Lavelle knew nothing about fashion manufacturing when he launched the Dallas menswear brand Mizzen+Main. What he did have was an idea for dress shirts that prevented sweat stains and wouldn’t wrinkle. Using performance fabric traditionally used for athletic attire, Mizzen+Main did just that, developing a structured, fitted design that's now sold in 30 states nationwide.
Three years later, as pro football players and businessmen (from official spokesperson JJ Watt of the Houston Texans to bestselling author Tim Ferriss) quickly embraced the product, droves of other athletes, college students, fashion-forward men and guys-on-the-go are following suit.
What sparked the idea for a performance fabric dress shirt? During an internship in Washington, D.C., I watched a guy run into a building dripping in sweat. I was 19 and knew nothing about starting my own company, but the idea stayed with me for years. I’d been working in Dallas when I had to give it a shot. I really felt like, "why would guys not want a shirt that performed like their workout gear but they could wear with a suit and tie?" So far, people are loving the product; once you try our shirts, it’s really hard to go back to wearing a cotton dress shirt.
What’s the significance of the name, Mizzen+Main? The main, mizzen and jib are the first three masts on a sailboat. It’s an homage to that classic, east coast lifestyle.
How did you determine the product would fill a void in the market? Ultimately, I think the reason athletic apparel companies haven’t done it is they need their logo, and guys don’t want to wear a logo dress shirt to the office. We don’t have one on our shirts; our signature mark is a blue buttonhole, which represents “blue collar meets white collar.” We’re not trying to be trendy; we’re for guys that need to dress up but want their shirts to work as hard as they do. I want you to pick up the shirt 10 years from now and still feel like you’re able to wear it.
Aside from online, where can people shop for Mizzen+Main, in Dallas and elsewhere? In Dallas, certainly here at our office in the Design District, and at Saint Bernard, which is also in Austin. We’re in three Saks Fifth Avenue stores – St. Louis, New Orleans and just outside Manhattan in New Jersey – in addition to 13 Kinnucan’s locations across the Southeast and a bunch of golf pro shops.
As a business guy on the go yourself, what are some of your tried-and-true travel tips? I travel anywhere between two and nine times a month, so I’m pretty aggressive in my travel efficiencies and just in how I pack: Go with as many basics as possible so you can rotate through them, and wear your nice pair of shoes on the plane instead of packing them; if you do pack them, use shoe trees so they don’t crumble.
For shoes, I like brown, blue or gray, because it’s harder to mix and match with black. For guys who have to wear a formal suit, I’d say wear it on the plane instead of packing it – or have a flight attendant hang it up – so it doesn’t wrinkle. We will be doing suiting at some point next year though, so hopefully we’ll solve that problem.