Tuesday, April 13, 2010

John Bartlett of John Bartlett NY

Yesterday, I got the opportunity to meet someone I really liked, respected and actually researched before coming to NYC, John Bartlett.

I very clearly remember last year going down to the Cincinnati Public Library on a gray, rainy day in  February after I got my acceptance letter from FIT and finding a book called Who’s Who in Fashion.  Starting from the beginning and taking notes on designers, I quickly found myself thumbing to the Bs.  Right after Neil Barrett, was menswear designer, John Bartlett.  My verbatim notes say:

John Bartlett
  • FIT Menswear grad and Cincinnati native (frickin' awesomee)
  • American sportswear, looks like upscale Eddie Bauer
So needless to say, I was pretty excited yesterday to meet a successful man who came from my hometown, studied exactly what I am and is killing it in the industry.

John spoke to a group of perhaps 50 or more of us students, and I found a seat next to my friend David from the Menswear program, who was also there. 
He gave a lot of great nuggets of wisdom.  One thing that stuck out a ton was how much he stressed humility (in a confident, non-weak way) and keeping your ego in check.  In 2003, he took a year-long sabbatical and traveled to Thailand to study Eastern philosophy more deeply.  I remember reading about that last year.  It seemed even cooler now to me though as I’ve been wearing a Hindu Ohm and a skull charm around my neck recently to remind me to live in the present moment more and that I am going to die some day and to make the most of my life.
When I got to talk to him one-on-one, he seemed really enthusiastic, warm and genuine, a welcome change from an industry with larger-than-life egos peppered throughout.  I feel as though it comes across in his collections:

Here are some of my notes distilled down:
  • Humility is critical.  Don’t go in a company with an attitude or a list of things you don’t do.  Go in and do whatever it takes.
  • A huge part of his own growth was self-expression through his own wardrobe.
  •  When he started, there was no sexuality to the clothing in menswear; those times have changed.
  • As an employer, companies want to see amazing technical sketches.  Make sure your flats are impeccable and that you record all details of a garment.
  • Get a lot of retail experience.  Those amazing clothes you are designing are eventually going to reach an audience.  If you don’t see what the customer wants, you’re really at a disadvantage.
  • He opened up his own retail store in the West Village to better learn about his customers.
  • Over the years, companies have come along that produce great prices for more reasonable prices.  Mid-tier markets are where most opportunity and growth is, not Bergdorf Goodman or Barney’s.
  •  The industry’s very different than what you see on Project Runway.
  •  At first, he tried to respond to buyer’s suggestions and lost himself.  Unless you’re really clear about who you are, you’re going to get lost in what other people are projecting on to you.
  • The Internet business model is growing by leaps and bounds.
  • If you don’t have a good handshake, forget it.  It says “I’m really comfortable with myself.”
  • A lot of the menswear today is really like little boys, not real masculinity.  He designs for MEN (and women too).
  • It is important in some shows to have pieces that will never be produced but ultimately it's about realness of the garments.
  • When he was younger, he considered being a social worker so he could make a difference in people’s lives.  His dad advised him “If you do what you love, you can give back to the community so much more than as a social worker.”  Now he works with animal rescue and suicide intervention because of the success of his other ventures.

I meant to get a picture with him, but it kinda slipped my mind.  I did manage this one early in the talk.  I’m sure there will be other opportunities though.  All in all, a fantastic experience!