Modern Fashion: Tony Iyke of The House of Rose On The 5 Things You Need To Lead a Successful Fashion Brand Today

An Interview With Candice Georgiadice

Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

--

Clear brand identity — From your brand voice to an aspirational lifestyle and culture, I think it’s so important to know who you are and what you stand for as a fashion brand. Our ethos is all about celebrating differences, and we bake that into everything we do. From not hiring professional models on runways or in our editorial shoots, to the way we’ve encoded personalization into the digital and physical shopping experiences — we are all about empowering what makes people unique and that comes across in our brand. Having a clear brand identity allows you to attract like-minded people and create something larger than the sum of the parts.

Many in the fashion industry have been making huge pivots in their business models. Many have turned away from the fast fashion trend. Many have been focusing on fashion that also makes a social impact. Many have turned to sustainable and ethical sourcing. Many have turned to hi tech manufacturing. Many have turned to subscription models. What are the other trends that we will see in the fashion industry? What does it take to lead a successful fashion brand today?

In our series called, “5 Things You Need To Lead a Successful Fashion Brand Today” we are talking to successful leaders of fashion brands who can talk about the Future of Fashion and the 5 things it takes to lead a successful fashion brand in our “new normal.”

As a part of this series I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Tony Iyke. Tony is the founder of The House of Rose, a personalization-focused fashion brand based in Portland, Oregon. He also has an ecommerce storefront, Designs by THOR, which has been featured in Forbes for its unique approach to scaling personal style.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I grew up in the suburbs of Onitsha, Nigeria. My classmates and I were required to wear a full suit to secondary school. My mom, Rose, made all of her kid’s clothing by hand.

If my mom knew then that her oldest son was destined to become a bespoke tailor, she never let on; but regardless, she taught me the craft. She insisted that I help her choose her outfits daily and she lugged me from Austria to Italy to Dubai to purchase the finest fabrics she could find.

I went to college to study engineering at the University of Nigeria. A year later, I visited the U.S. for the first time, saw my first snowfall, and fell in love. I never wanted to go back.

I later moved to Oregon.

Can you tell us the story about what led you to this particular career path?

In 2008, my mother died of breast cancer and her passing awoke a dormant calling. The more I thought about it, the more I realized I had put to sleep a passion that had always inspired me: fashion. I took a six-month sabbatical to relearn the craft from a tailor back in Nigeria. I began retracing my mother’s steps, tracking down the fabric sellers I had met as a youngster. They remembered me. They remembered my mother.

It was my mother who taught me to make my first stitch, and my mother who brought me back to bespoke tailoring. That’s why my storefront is called The House of Rose.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

Early on in my career, when I had just decided to take the leap of faith and go into fashion full-force, I was invited to pass out business cards at an event which would ultimately lead to a series of interconnections that would help set me up for success in ways I didn’t think possible.

It was at this event that I met a man who loved my outfit and invited me to the winery he worked at to introduce me to some of his friends. It was at that winery that I met, of all people, Tommy Thayer, famous guitarist from the rock band KISS. Tommy loved my blazer, bought it off of my body and then made an appointment to have some bespoke pieces made. At the time I was working out of my home, holding consultations in my sitting room and sewing in my garage. But it didn’t phase Tommy, and he sat on my couch with me and picked out fabrics. From there, momentum grew rapidly and I was humbled to see such an incredible icon rocking my designs!

You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Resilience, agility, and a strong vision for what I want to accomplish. Being an entrepreneur, particularly in a competitive industry like fashion, is not always easy. Having the resilience to keep going and the hunger to get to the next level is foundational. Case in point, making it through a global pandemic. Then, having the agility to change or adapt to new consumer sentiments and new market realities is also important, since trends change so quickly. Agility for me also means not being afraid to do things differently than the competition and to see the world and culture differently. Finally, I think keeping a vision in mind that is purpose-driven is how I continue to get enrichment out of what I do. In every business, I think it’s important to know and connect to the impact that you want to have in the world. For me, it’s to celebrate what makes us all unique.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think what really makes my company stand out is that each design that is created really is as unique as the person wearing it. Young, old, conservative, or flashy, each person, and each outfit, has their own story to tell. Because my business is so much more than work to me, I consider myself honored each time I’m asked to design something; whether it’s an heirloom fabric that has been passed down generations and is finally ready to be transformed into something new, a wedding tux that a groom has been saving up for since college, or a power suit for someone running for office. They are all more than just clothes. Our bespoke designs really are ‘spoken for’ as the word means, and each one has a story of its own.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?

I would say that my biggest ‘life lesson quote’ would be one passed down from my mother: “Anything worth doing, is worth doing well.” I apply this motto in my daily life and especially in my business. Whether it is making my client feel like the most important person in the world during their consultation, hand selecting every fabric that comes into the shop, checking the quality of every stitch, and guaranteeing that my customers are satisfied. Even if it means I have to remake something 100 times it doesn’t matter because at the end of the day, it allows me, and my clients, to stand behind my brand with confidence.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?

Gender neutral design and body positive fashion are two sectors that are gaining a ton of traction in fashion. Personalization is also hitting its stride. Consumers are more interested in reflecting their personal identities through bespoke pieces that only they own, and sometimes have a hand in designing. More and more consumers prefer and will pay more for personalized fashion over mass-produced items.

Can you share how your brand is helping to bring goodness to the world?

Affirming individuality is embedded in our company ethos, no matter what that looks like for each person. We want people to feel confident in their skin when they wear individual pieces from The House of Rose. From a mission standpoint, a big part of our focus is shifting the culture away from the idea of having to “fit in.” The fashion industry has traditionally pandered to a consumer that looks a certain way, and we feel that fashion should be representative of everyone which is why we don’t use paid models in our editorial content. We also donate to a number of non-profit organizations that support underserved or marginalized populations.

Can you share with our readers about the ethical standards you use when you choose where to source materials?

I believe in always leaving something better off than how you received it, and the same applies for this earth! I shop both local, small batch fabric stores, which allows me to buy remnants and one-off fabrics. This not only gives my clients exclusivity, but also keeps my footprint small. I do purchase fabrics abroad as well but choose to work exclusively with mills that ethically source their wool. And lastly, everything that is created is made from natural fibers, which makes things 100% biodegradable.

Fast fashion has an advantage, that it is affordable for most people, but it also has the drawback that it does not last very long and is therefore not very sustainable. What are your thoughts about this? How does your company address this question?

We don’t do “fast fashion.” In fact, it’s counter to the identity of our brand. We produce one-of-a-kind pieces that are well-made and can withstand the test of time in a wardrobe. We don’t believe in mass production, and that makes us a more environmentally sustainable fashion house, longterm.

Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 Things You Need To Lead a Successful Fashion Brand”. Please share a story or example for each.

Clear brand identity — From your brand voice to an aspirational lifestyle and culture, I think it’s so important to know who you are and what you stand for as a fashion brand. Our ethos is all about celebrating differences, and we bake that into everything we do. From not hiring professional models on runways or in our editorial shoots, to the way we’ve encoded personalization into the digital and physical shopping experiences — we are all about empowering what makes people unique and that comes across in our brand. Having a clear brand identity allows you to attract like-minded people and create something larger than the sum of the parts.

Mission-focused — Especially now, consumers are looking toward brands to be socially and environmentally conscious, and mission-focused. Younger generations want to know that their spending is having a positive impact in the world. It’s not enough to post once a year about Pride or to celebrate Black contributions to our culture for only one month. Fashion brands can have such an impact on our culture and trends that they have an opportunity to catalyze positive change, and consumers expect that.

Future-defining — Luxury fashion brands that are successful tend to be on the bleeding edge. They’re provocative, they take chances, and they’re progressive. It’s not enough to stay on top of trends, you have to be different enough and brave enough to define them to create a future that you want to see.

Data-driven — As with all businesses these days, decisions should be made based on data. Many fashion brands take the time to set up infrastructures for analyzing data, such as their ecommerce storefronts and their digital advertising and marketing efforts, but they fall short of putting that data to use.

Culturally aware — Because of how fashion brands define trends and move culture forward, it’s important for them to be culturally aware. Paying attention to the experience of consumers outside of their interactions with your brand will help you to determine where to push the envelope and what kinds of messages you want to send with your marketing and fashion statements.

Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?

The fashion industry, especially in luxury fashion, can feel like a celebration of excess and a focus on materialism. I think luxury fashion should be more about the story of how a garment came to life, the attention to detail of the people that crafted the design, the patterns and where and how products are sourced. Where we place value should be less on showcasing excess and more on fashion’s ability to connect us to the people around us through passion, trade, community and story.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

If I could start a movement it would be to help men to start dressing well (again). It would start with teaching them the importance of self-image and taking pride in their looks/dressing. Historically, men used to take pride in their appearance, and it appears that more and more these days athleisure has taken over and men are taking less and less pride in how they look. When I first started this business, up until today, my biggest goal has been to help peoplegain confidence and feel great in their own skin by wearing things that fit properly without breaking the bank.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Your readers can follow my work online by following us on instagram @designsbythor and Facebook @designsbythor.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

--

--

Candice Georgiadis
Authority Magazine

Candice Georgiadis is an active mother of three as well as a designer, founder, social media expert, and philanthropist.