First & Lexington: Building the Brand
Hailing from Ohio but a testament to all things simple and classic, First & Lexington is a boutique clothier that’s spent a number of years putting their business together one piece at a time. From humble beginnings and the struggles of any upstart to a burgeoning network of custom retailers, this tight-knit group has let patience be a virtue as their plans took shape. Now with a team in place and their future plans mapped out, they’ve just dropped their first team edit by Sam DeAngelis. To celebrate the milestone, co-owner Grant Schildhouse took a few moments to answer our questions about what it’s taken to get to this point… and what’s next. Here’s more about the brand called First & Lex.
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First & Lexington — that’s an intersection in NYC, what’s it got to do with a clothing company from Ohio?
Ooof, a strong question from the prosecution, straight out the gate… should we be worried, guys? Haha. In truth our name, originally, was Lexington Avenue. It was a combination of one of the many nicknames my business partner, Alex, has and the core concept we were driving towards — an apparel brand centered around the community that supported it. We got a little letter in the mail informing us that our name was in copyright conflict with a line of athletic wear produced by a national department store and that we should consider changing our name. So, not wanting to loose too much of the momentum we gained, we altered the name to keep with the theme of our brand and to keep it similar enough to the original name so people recognized it. We get photos from our customers from all over the country of street signs where people have found a First and Lexington intersection. It’s pretty cool.
Oh we’re just busting your chops! It’s been awhile since we’ve caught up… what’s new? Did the new line just drop?
Don’t worry, our retaliation is already formulating. Damn, I think I have been watching too much Sons of Anarchy. Seriously, how awesome is that show? I digress. Yeah, we just dropped the Fall/Winter line, second in the series designed by Andrew DiPaolo, and we are almost sold out already. It’s a good and bad thing, really. Great that demand is up, bad that we are almost out of product! We are hard at work with new projects, future lines, events and a brand new website that is sure to set a new standard for e-commerce in this industry. We are pretty excited about that actually.
During the past year or so how have things evolved for the brand?
Oh man, this is a huge list. I’ll keep it to the highlights. We’ve finally recovered from being ripped off by a “Skate Shop.” This was a huge feat considering the amount of money we lost and the hardships of our industry. We have made a ton of new connections and inroads, both in blading and outside. Our Instagram reach tells a pretty clear story how we have reached a new audience, where we would average 10 likes per post we are now getting anywhere from 60-150 on average. We are now being picked up in shops. Oak City has exclusivity in the blading industry and we have been picked up by a number of boutiques in the Mid-West.
Most importantly we’ve matured as a brand. We’ve strived for excellence from day one, making sure that our products and design were always improving and setting the industry standard. We have improved the image of the brand by working with new designers, producers and athletes. The 2014 Team Edit is a great benchmark for FNL and how we want to be seen in the industry. We are expecting between 5-7K views, a stretch for us, but feasible. This will be the first team effort; where as before everything was done on an individual level and now we are working as a unit.
We are looking forward to 2015. We have two team edits planned, a tour, the return of the BBBBQ in August and possibly a box comp in Cleveland before JSMS.
Who all is involved with F&L and what folks do you support? And how do they give back to the organization?
The company was started by myself, Grant Schildhouse, and my best friend, Alex Brinkman. I run point on production and marketing and Alex is in charge of operations and web development. Both jobs are a pain for each of us, as they present their own challenges, but we have a hell of a lot of fun in the process. Then there is our team. Most recently, Jeff Dalnas (RI) signed to First and Lexington. As a huge fan of his for years, I was completely happy to offer him a place on the team, espeically given his excitement about the brand. He joins the rest of the core group: Dustin Jamieson (WA), Kevin LeBron (PA), Craig Parsons (OH), Brandon Nguyen (OH), Jason Hampden (NC) and Andrew Scherf (AZ). In addition to the core team, we have an extended team. Not so much a A/B team or Sponsored/Flowed situation, just a group of guys all attached to the company who are key contributors. Justin “Thursday” Fuelling (OH) is our team Technical Advisor (blade wizard, whatever); Andrew DiPaolo (CA) is our Chief Designer and works collaboratively with Alex and I to produce the best possible products on the market; and Sam DeAngelis is our Media Coordinator.
Guys on the team have the ability to extend their responsibilities beyond skating and representing the brand if they choose to. For example, Dustin Jamieson acts as a Press Liaison, working with magazines and what not to produce column inches and ad space for the brand. Andrew Scherf is our Social Media Manager. He looks after our IG and FB accounts and works with Dustin quite often. Whether it is skating and producing content, or having an official role within the organization, everyone understands what the expectations are if you are a member of this team and they get that sponsorship is a job, not just free stuff. I’m proud of how hard each of them work to live up to those expectations.
It seems like bladers wear less and less blade-related clothing these days. Do you agree? How does that impact a brand like F&L?
You know, I think there is some truth to that. That said, I still see an abundance of Razors and RUN USD tees, rightly so, but I think that we as an industry have finally embraced our own style. We don’t have to be logo’d up to let the world know we are “rollerbladers.” In the ’90s we wore Senate, 976 Launderings, England and Hangers (do you remember Hangers!?) and the rest to differentiate ourselves from skateboarding and everything else. Now, we have formulated our own identity, branding ourselves as rollerblades through company logos just seems less important.
In terms of how it impacts us, well, I don’t know that it necessarily does. When we started First and Lexington, we never set out to establish ourselves as a “blade brand.” We have always been a streetwear company first; one that just happens to be run by bladers. We attach ourselves to the industry by supporting events, athletes and businesses (such as ONEblademag, Oak City, MTC and BCSD before it). We do this because blading has been part of our lives for so long and because, while the industry struggles, we want it to thrive. You can’t do that without giving back and putting money into it. We have our hands in other industries and it keeps business coming in.
What kind of success have you guys found outside of the core blade market? I know you’ve just told us about inroads into some other channels…
It’s funny how we have been adopted in different industries and circles. We are partially supported by the BMX scene. We have been adopted by segments of the local music scene. Sneaker heads seem to love what we do because of the limited edition nature of our products (everything is numbered). We have been hitting street apparel events and making new connections as we attend those. Our next appearance will actually be at Agenda in LA and hopefully in Las Vegas. The combination of these things has fueled our success and allowed us to keep investing in the company and in blading.
Which brings us to this edit and the talented guy on your team. What are we about to watch?
This project has been in the works for some time. We have always wanted to put out a team edit and for a number of reasons we had put it off for a couple years. Part of it had to do with team balance, getting the right people on the team that reflect the image we have strived to create for the company. Dustin Jamieson was the first team member and joined in 2009 and he kind of set the tone for freedom of expression through blading and staying true to your own personality. Since then, we have had great people on the team, like Ryan Sibbio, that have come and gone. Now we finally have stability and, most importantly, the right talent to do something like this.
As you mentioned, we added a fairly big name to the roster, and the final team member to First and Lexington over the summer. Jeff Dalnas had been working on his summer VOD section for USD and was working with a good friend of mine, Sam DeAngelis (Sam L Dean). Sam, a huge supporter of FNL had been wearing our Hater’s Gonna Hate tank (the one with the half naked babe eating cupcakes on it) and instantly fell in love with the brand. A few short discussions and Jeff had joined the team. Feeling that we should strike while the iron was hot, we started gathering footage.
How did the decision to work with these guys and Sam L Dean come together?
Sam said it right on Facebook two weeks ago, “My team is strong.” He couldn’t be more correct; we have an incredibly talented group of guys who all want to work to grow this brand and they deserve to be recognized for those efforts. We have met all the guys in various ways and they all work cohesively with one another. The chemistry is great. Sam attended our annual BBBBQ (Blade, Booze and BBQ) event this summer, held the Friday before the James Short Memorial Session, and was able to see first hand the family dynamic we have at First and Lexington. Shortly afterwards he came to me with the idea to finally execute on the team edit. Everyone was instantly on board. Standards and expectations were agreed upon and set by sam and myself. Everyone was able to meet them without a problem. Sadly, one of our team members, Jason Hampden, lost his mom during filming and had to prioritize family over blading. We supported him and his decision and he will return in a BIG way in 2015.
Any weird/cool stories from filming or during production?
Hmmm. We got Parsons to do a gap (which sadly didn’t make it in to the edit, but watch IG for it as an #FNLFriday clip) by bullying him and calling him old… you know… because he’s about 70 (and still rips!). Jeff bled a lot. Dustin damn near killed himself getting an incredibly difficult trick. Brandon’s gap cost him about a pound of flesh. Scherf’s knee is completely wrecked and he still managed to kill it. I think the “cool” thing that happened was that everyone put it on the line to make this thing kill.
Anything else you want people to know or think about?
We just hope that people watch and enjoy the edit. And hell, it’s free… so what do they have to lose. We also appreciate all of our supporters, customers, friends and family. We want to take a moment to specifically thank Long Tonthat at Oak City for looking after the team and for a great business partnership, and we’d also like to thank Jarred Call; a super loyal customer and supporter of the brand. We also want to thank the guys at ONE for their support.
Thanks for taking the time to catch up with us and we look forward to future projects with you guys.