General Assembly is a Brooklyn-based menswear line founded in 2010 by a couple of guys in the most grassroots way possible. I asked co-founder Alex Keith a few questions about how and why he started his company, and his answers are very worthy of passing along.
Electrogent: Please introduce yourself for those who don’t know you or General Assembly.
Alex: I’m Alex Keith and I started General Assembly out of the back of a van in 2010.
E: How did you start General Assembly?
A: I moved to Brooklyn after college, and got a job doing business development at Vice and then IMG, where most of the companies underwriting our projects were apparel companies. That got me associated with the fashion business overall. When the recession hit, I found myself out of a job, along with a bunch of friends who had been in fashion. A lot of them had small scale passion projects–ties, bags, wallets etc–that they were dedicating more time to. I asked them to let me help develop their businesses. My friend and future business partner, Adam Travis, was itching to do something similar. He had a band, the band had a van, the band broke up, the van remained, so we loaded it up with our friends’ labels and hit the road–cold calling random boutiques in random cities we’d never been to, just trying to get them to buy a few things. I think for the sheer novelty of these two scrappy guys from Brooklyn bombarding their stores, they wrote a few orders. We came home with orders. Our friends were stoked, and the next season we hit the road with a single product of our own–a navy cotton twill blazer. It sold, and that one product became General Assembly.
E: How did General Assembly get its name?
A: We liked the idea of guys assembling themselves and their futures independently, taking risks, being entrepreneurial, being ready for anything. This whole post-recessionary landscape seems to lend itself to the cowboy spirit, except now we all live in cities and heard start-ups instead of cattle. We’re still American hustlers, building things out of the open terrain. General Assembly lent itself to that spirit and the collective-nature of it implied a crew of like minded guys who shared the same attitude.
E: What sets General Assembly apart from similar companies out there?
A: The hits of creativity. There’s always a subtle pop to what we do. Oxfords and chinos are the uniform of the day, but there’s always some spark of personality. It’s fun, but not fanciful. It’s ready for anything. Do with it what you will.
E: What was the biggest hurdle you jumped over to start your own menswear line?
A: Getting anyone to pay attention. Sometimes you have to haul your ideas to market yourself. No one is going to come to you. We put a few thousand miles on the van proving that.
E: If you were to start all over, what would you change about the process of starting a menswear line, and why?
A: There were definitely points where we took on too much and buckled. But we didn’t want to miss any opportunities. Every failure that occurred was cut with the belief that we were seizing a new opportunity. We knew so little when we started that figuring out sales or production or fulfillment was practically the project in and of itself, so we were learning constantly, whether we failed or succeeded. We still are.
E: If someone told you they want to do what you do, what advice would you give them?
A: Open yourself up to people. If you’re only thinking about yourself, you won’t be able to share your ideas with others, and ultimately that’s what this business is all about.
Thanks to Alex for his time and great answers. Additionally, Alex is offering all readers a 30% discount on the fall collection when you enter the code “electrogent” at checkout over the next 24 hours, so act fast if you want to take advantage of this deal.
Do you have any questions for Alex, or comments about the General Assembly line? Speak up in the comments below.