This Guy Revamped a Startup's Branding with Zero Dollars

From Baldwin to BLDWN...

Getting rid of the vowels was just the beginning.

When denim-industry veteran Johnathan Crocker was brought in to consult for Kansas City denim line Baldwin, he saw the potential for a complete reinvention. Instead of taking inspiration from vintage Americana, Baldwin would focus on defining the new American style. It would be based out of Los Angeles instead of the Midwest and it would now be styled BLDWN, serving a customer who wears jeans as well as patent leather pants and slouchy drawstring trousers.

Crocker’s clear-minded and confident vision for BLDWN inspired Matt and Emily Baldwin—the husband-and-wife duo who founded the line in 2009—to bring him on as president of the brand and let him do the damn thing. (The original cofounders now sit on the board.) BLDWN’s first official collection debuted in September at New York Fashion Week.

As the collection hits shelves this month, we talked to Crocker about his work for the brand, the challenges he’s grinding on and what pieces he’s banking on customers connecting with most.

Tell us about your vision for the new BLDWN.

Johnathan Crocker: We are building a modern American fashion brand while challenging the norms and precepts of what it means to be American. Everything we create at BLDWN, from collections to experiences, tells that story.

How are you honoring BLDWN’s brand heritage while diverging from that history?

Crocker: As a company founded in Kansas City, the brand position we’ve taken represents a natural evolution from BLDWN’s American roots. Our focus now is on how to tell that story so it resonates on a national and global level.

How have your previous experiences prepared you for this role?

Crocker: The first half of my professional career was primarily focused on the business side of building brands and overseeing their communication strategies. In the second half, my role evolved to include all aspects of the creative process. Generally, you’re either left-brained or right-brained. I’ve always approached building a brand’s story from both perspectives.

What are some of the changes you’ve made since you stepped into this role? Why?

Crocker: The most significant change has been evolving the brand identity from a regionally focused one in Kansas City to have national and global reach. Making that shift required moving many elements of the company (i.e., design, communications, PD, production, retail, e-commerce and sales) from Missouri to California. When you take into consideration the cost and time savings benefits of being in a larger city, coupled with the access to a more qualified fashion talent pool in L.A., the decision was clear. We officially opened our L.A. office at the end of March last year.

How do you plan to market or grow BLDWN as a business over the next five years?

Crocker: Given the culture and times we live in, growing requires a comprehensive multi-platform approach to effectively tell our brand story and create conversation. We have to put dollars behind advertising, marketing, social media and PR, but it’s ultimately how we execute within those channels that will separate us. Our growth strategy for wholesale has been to build and establish a strong specialty business and major department store partners.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to get into the denim or apparel industry today?

Crocker: Be certain that there is a unique point of view that you offer the market.

How do you stay inspired and informed?

Crocker: I read industry trade publications and resources, and I research the latest trend forecasts, runway shows, street styles and what other brands in a similar space are doing. In terms of inspiration, I do my best to expose myself to as much art, culture and design as I can—whether that be going to a museum or gallery, listening to various podcasts or going down endless wormholes online. I find it hard not to be inspired.

What do you look for in the people you hire and collaborate with?

Crocker: Besides the obvious talent and skill set levels, I want them simply to be good humans.

What should our readers purchase from BLDWN right this minute?

Crocker: Our men’s Modern Slim Jean or Modern Skinny Jean in the black stretch and the Western Suede Jacket.

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