Will Johnson launched Halsey, his men’s pant line, in 2011 with his best friend, pro-soccer player Robbie Rogers, when the two were just 24 years old. But the entrepreneurs dove into the business with decades of experience behind them.
Johnson is a third-generation apparel and textile-industry executive. His father, William H. Johnson III, also a partner—develops and converts textiles and provides full-package production to brands. The other partners in Halsey include Kikwear, the company founded in 1991 by Alex Berenson and Gregg Ostrow, as well as Dennis Chan and Gino Yeong, who own a high-end garment factory in Shenzhen, China, where Halsey is produced.
“I grew up with Robbie. My dad was our first soccer coach,” Will Johnson said. “We always talked about starting a brand. We saw the men’s trend move into a little more of a clean look, more professional. And we saw an opportunity in non-denim. With my father’s background in tex- tiles, we developed a grouping of competitive with other men’s contemporary brands.
“A lot of the independent stores that carry us are men’s stores, and they carry us as their opening price point,” Will Johnson said. “Because they’re selling suits for a couple grand, we offer an alternative to that in bottoms with something that you can wear more casual or more businesswear.”
Galaxy test market
The Halsey line includes pants and shorts in a range of styles, colors and fabrications such as cotton/bamboo herringbone, Bedford cord and Tencel blends.
The brand has sold in Nordstrom and Von Maur, as well as in about 120 specialty stores, including Ron Robinson at Fred Segal in Los Angeles; Sebastian’s Closet in Dallas; Halls in Kansas City, Mo.; John Craig Clothier in Winter Park, Fla.; and Hinton & Hinton in Oxford, Miss. The brand is also carried by shops at the Montage Hotels & Resorts, the Bacara Resort & Spa and the Hotel Bel-Air.
It was one of those novelty fabrics that caught Karen Meena’s eye. The buyer for Ron Robinson has been carrying Halsey for more than a year.
“I liked that they focused in on one item—pants and shorts,” she said. “When I first bought it, it was fall, and they did an ottoman cord, which was an interesting fabric. They always have different fabrics, and they always have interesting color stories.”
Halsey is taking a small step away from its non-denim focus with one style, the “Six-Pocket Jean,” which was recently added to the line.
Wholesale prices range from $49 to $69 for pants and $33 to $40 for shorts, making the line
Rogers handles marketing, promotion and social network- ing for the brand in between his day job as a forward with the Los Angeles Galaxy major-league soccer team and his own charity, Beyond It, which raises funds and awareness for nonprofit organizations dedicated to fighting racism, homophobia, sexism and disability discrimination.
With Rogers, Halsey also has a built-in test market: the L A Galaxy team. “I’ll bring a box of Halsey to Galaxy and the guys will go nuts,” Rogers said.
Rogers also landed Halsey shorts on NBA and MLS play- ers as they faced off in the recent Showdown LA, a street- ball soccer match organized by the Steve Nash Foundation, the char- ity organized by Lakers point guard and budding documentary filmmaker
Steve Nash. Basketball players in the game included Nash, Jeremy Lin, Jared Dudley and Klay Thompson. The soccer players included Rogers, Robbie Keane, Carlos Bocanegra and Kyle Martino. Nash is currently working on a documentary project about Rogers, who made headlines last year when he came out as gay shortly after he left the English soccer club Leeds United. “Robbie’s so well connected, and he’s in high demand,” Berenson said. “He’s got a good eye, and he’s got a good grip on marketing and the social-media platform.”
When Rogers was still living in England, he interned at Men’ s Fitness magazine, and in LA he writes for online men’s fashion magazine Bello. He considered returning to school to study de- sign, going as far as applying to design classes at the London College of Fashion. But before he had a chance to start the classes, he was offered a spot on the Galaxy.
Shifting business model
William H. Johnson III —who goes by Bill—owns Johnson Tex- tile Ltd., White Stone Sourcing and White Stone (Hong Kong) Ltd., the textile converting and full-package production company he founded after working for mills such as Klopman Mills/ Burlington Industries, Texfi Industries, Marubeni and Abraham Silks and for apparel makers San Francisco Shirt Works and Alex Coleman.
Kikwear’s Berenson described Bill Johnson as “first and fore- most a piece-goods expert.”
Johnson Textiles initially served the domestic apparel mar- ket in Los Angeles, including selling to Kikwear.
“He’s really well versed in fabrics,” Berenson said. “As Kik- wear and a lot of other companies shifted their production to China, [Bill Johnson] opened up a divi- sion where he was bringing in LDP [landed duty paid] packages from factories that he had relationships with in China—including the one that does the production for Halsey,” he said.
A business relationship be- tween the two companies turned into a friendship, which turned into a partnership when Halsey was formed, Berenson ex- plained.
“Bill and Will and my partner Gregg and I were sitting around and said, ‘There’s a hole in the market for men’s contemporary/ premium non-denim.’ Obviously, Kikwear is best known for bot- toms, and we have a lot of experience in that category. We decided to put the company together.”
Kikwear provides the business infrastructure—including issuing cut tickets, coordinating overseas production, shipping and customer service.
This partnership is a first for Kikwear. Because Halsey shares Kikwear’s infrastructure, the partnership was struck between the two companies rather than individual partners. “Halsey is a totally separate company,” Berenson said.
The factory in China produces salesman samples and production orders. “If we have the fabrics, production can be in 45 days, sometimes less,” Will Johnson said.
And because the factory is a partner, Halsey gets favorable payment terms and a spot at the front of the production line.
“They don’t bump Halsey production because they’ve got a 50,000-unit cut from someone else,” Berenson said. “Halsey is a priority in their factory.”
Although Will Johnson doesn’t rule out expanding into other menswear segments—some- day—for now, Halsey is strictly focused on bottoms. “We’re looking to be a core supplier for someone,” Johnson said. “When they’re looking for bottoms, we want them to think of Halsey automatically.”
By focusing on one category, Berenson explained, Halsey can keep an eye on the quality.
“Gregg and I, when we started this whole thing with Will and Bill, we said, ‘Let’s stay focused on one category that we can own and really take a stab at it, make beautiful garments, high-quality fabrics, beautiful washes, great colors, make sure that the trims are immaculate.’”
Berenson said the biggest mis- take a company can make is to launch with too many categories. “They find out that 80 percent of the sales comes from six styles and 20 percent of the sales comes from 50 styles,” he said. “We made sure that that wasn’t going to be the case with Halsey. If you spread out too much you’re going to end up getting annihilated.”
Berenson and Ostrow learned that lesson the hard way.
“When Kikwear launched, we had a 150-piece line,” Berenson said. “It was everything from jackets and sweatshirts and T- shirts and hats to pants and shorts and trousers. It was like throwing darts—until the market told us what we were good at. That’s why Kikwear became a bottoms brand.”
By just focusing on bottoms, a company can carry over winning silhouettes from season to season and simply change the color and fabrics.
“Bottoms is a program business,” Berenson said. “Everything else changes seasonally.”
These days, Will Johnson has an office at the Kikwear offices in Gardena, Calif., not far from Kikwear’s prior offices in Huntington Park.
“I remember going there when I was younger and knocking the soccer ball around with a lot of their workers,” Will Johnson re- called.
Kikwear’s Berenson remembers the pick-up soccer games, but he also recalls Will Johnson’s front-row seat to the inner workings of the apparel industry.
“He was a teenager when we started doing business with his pops,” Berenson said. “When we were doing some import production with Bill, he’d drag Will along with him. He was teaching Willy the ropes. We’d bring in 5,000 units from Bill and he’d come over to QC it with us and Will would be right there with him, helping with the whole pro- gram. Will has been schooled by his dad.”
For more information, visit http://www.Halsey44.com. ●