Daniel Friedman is the owner and founder of Bindle & Keep, which offers bespoke, fitted, androgynous suits. Each suit is one-of-a-kind and meticulously tailored, but still comfortable enough to wear all day and night. With a name that derives from the concept of a bindlestick — which belongs to a traveller, seeking new frontiers — and keep — reminding us of home — Daniel seeks to break new ground in the fashion industry to deliver give his clients exactly what they’re looking for. As someone who opts for custom clothing himself, Daniel’s business was not only birthed out of natural interests and passions, but out of necessity: after suddenly losing the ability to read and write due to undiagnosed Lyme disease, Daniel realized self-employment was his destiny, and has since paved a path towards a future that “fits as well [his] suits.” Today, Daniel is joining us to answer some questions about the twists and turns he’s encountered in his business and personal life, an upcoming HBO documentary produced by Lena Dunham about his company, and how authenticity and fostering a niche has led to success. –Sabrina
Photo of Daniel by Seze Devres
Why did you decide to start your own business?
It’s funny because it never felt like a decision to me; I started Bindle & Keep at a point in my life where I either had to change or die, basically. I studied architecture in school, and in the last year of my second post-graduate degree, I suddenly lost my ability to read and write. I know it sounds ridiculous, but all those intrinsic skills I’d spent the first half of my life refining and honing just up and vanished. Even the most rudimentary sentences and phrases were suddenly baffling; emails that once took only seconds to fire off became embarrassing labors that could easily eat up the balance of an afternoon. (It would be years before a client rightly suggested my disability was due to a buildup of neurotoxins from late stage, undiagnosed Lyme disease.)
On the surface, I started this company because I’m short in stature and have always preferred the fit of custom clothing. At some level, I’d always wondered what I could come up with on my own. When I effectively lost my ability to read and became, in a sense, unemployable, it became clear that I’d have to create my own work.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
The business took about a year to formulate and we launched to friends and family August of 2011. I’d initially defined Bindle & Keep as a company supplying high quality, well-fitted, affordable suits and shirts for young men and women in the spring of their professional careers. But as time went on, we expanded our concept of what a suit could mean to people and how it could fit into their lives. In addition to refining the complex technical aspects of manufacturing androgynous, gender-blind suits, I had to step away from thinking of these garments as specifically business-oriented and reevaluate what needs were — or were not — being met by the industry at large.
In retrospect, it seems so obvious: regardless of gender, orientation, or employment, the occasions for which one might need a suit are bound to be momentous in one way or another. This means that you have to feel that your garments reflect or speak to who you are in this world. Whether it’s a business meeting, summer wedding, or red carpet walk, it’s our job to make sure that our clients feel that their truest selves are being represented.
Above images: Photography by Ryan Brenizer
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
Money. Specifically, not enough of it. We started this company with $,1500 and, in order to grow, everything had to be grassroots. We didn’t always have a fancy Brooklyn showroom with a bunch of dedicated employees; For the first two years I was ironing suits in my bedroom and gluing as many Bindle & Keep labels onto hangers as I could before running out to visit clients.
Given our limited funds, we had to be as clever and innovative as possible to get the show up and running. Our website, photography, and even our accounting was all accomplished via trade — which turned out be a real blessing in disguise. The relationships we built through those collaborations are so precious and meaningful to me that I’m almost glad that we didn’t just throw money at the problem.
Surviving our initial incarnation in general was tough. That old adage that it takes three years, from starting a business to finally realizing a profit, is so true. It’s not for the faint of heart — not only on account of all the daunting grunt work, but because the whole venture could have tanked at almost any time, for reasons outside of our control or understanding. It feels dangerous because it is! By the time we cleared those first three years we’d evolved so much through trial and error that it felt almost like a different company — which was, and is, a good thing.
Above Image: Photography by Caitlin Mitchell
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
Be open. Open to new opportunities, new markets, new everything. Folks are always congratulating us on our foresight in carving out a sustainable niche in a saturated market, but the truth is we didn’t plan any of this.
We hired and trained Rae Tutera who identifies as trans masculine. She began posting about her work with Bindle & Keep on her blog, The Handsome Butch, which led to an increase in customers from LGBTQ communities seeking gender neutral suits in a warm and accepting retail environment.
We made a ton of costly fitting mistakes early in the process, but remained dedicated to serving every market and making sure that our suits reflect everyone’s personal and unique aesthetic.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
I think it was our 30th suit: I’d driven most of the night from Brooklyn to Boston to meet a client who had ordered a super fancy suit. It wasn’t until I was seated in his living room that I noticed in horror that his much anticipated 2-button accidentally came out as a 3-button. Trivial as it sounds, 2 and 3 button suits are very different in style and fit. He explained to me mistakes are part and parcel of any business and that how we react to those mistakes will determine our future and reveal our character. I ended up driving back up three weeks late to redeliver the new, correctly-made suit, and, in the process, demonstrated his value to us.
Above Image: Photography by Bill Phelps
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
I can’t say that we’ve failed per se, but there were a ton of stumbling blocks early on. In the beginning, you have to wear so many different hats and perform such a multitude of jobs that it’s impossible to maintain a perfect record — especially if you have to teach yourself at least half of those jobs.
In short, mistakes were made and we learned from them. Because everything can become frenetic in a start-up, you have to insist that some small corner of yourself remains detached and rationally oriented toward the big picture or you’ll end up going ass-over-tea-kettle at every bump in the road.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
Youth? Beauty? When it’s your company you have to water it with your own life’s blood — and that’s not always conducive to longterm relationships, a steady diet, or regular exercise. It’s taken me a long time to regain some semblance of a balanced approach to my time, and I’ve certainly lost some important personal and business relationships along the way.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
I remember the feeling of selling that first suit; that someone was willing to pay money for something that I created was exhilarating. Then I paid the rent with that money and felt even better. Then we worked with Gilt Group, grew our staff, and landed an HBO documentary (which never ceases to feel like a hallucination).
Now we’re growing nationally and I feel this immense pride, but it’s also humbling because this became bigger than me. Hell, maybe it was much bigger than me this whole time and I’m just now able to lift my head and really see that.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
You might think these are silly because they’re kind of self-help books, but there are two that stand out most for me: How to Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill and Pour your Heart into it One Cup at a Time by Howard Shultz. Hill demonstrates how what can easily be perceived as an impossible challenge can open new, unforeseen opportunities — which is exactly what we did. That you don’t have to be an expert at something right away is something I learned from Howard Shultz, the genius who grew Starbucks from a small Seattle coffee shop to what it is today. Experience really is the best teacher and sometimes the fastest way to learn is just diving in.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
Oh, man. To say only three might be misleading because there are just so many facets to starting a business. If I may give one, though, I’d say the most important component is passion, because it will drive you through the toughest of scenarios. It’s as integral to success as heat is to cooking. We’ve been through countless challenges and that internal drive kept me (and the team) from the edge of quitting so many times. If starting a business were easy everyone would do it. So think of the myriad challenges you’ll face as a kind of barrier to entry — which helps reduce your potential competition.
via Design*Sponge http://ift.tt/1h35nLJ From Sabrina Smelko