ICON: From successfully graduating as lawyer to founding a successful fashion house, without any previous experience. When did you have “the call” to make the switch, and why?
Marc Keiser: “I don’t know that I had a specific “call” to make the switch. I always joke that I kind of ‘fell’ into it. I thrive when I’m really challenged, when I can learn new things or problem solve every day. As I left law school, passed the California Bar, and became a licensed attorney here in California, Keiser Clark was begging to gain momentum. New opportunities and challenges presented themselves in and around Keiser Clark and I kept working each day to rise to those occasions. I walked into the industry with out any experience, without any connections, really without a clue what I was doing.
Looking back, I had two paths before me, one pursuing Keiser Clark, another pursuing a legal career. Ultimately, looking at the crossroads, it came down to what path was going to make me happy, and what path could I leave the greatest impact on the world and on others that was bigger than myself. I think asking myself those questions Keiser Clark was the clear choice, and not to mention I still do a fair amount of legal work in connection with the brand.”
Did you have a moment so far that confirmed you were on the right path? And if you ever doubted yourself during the process?
MC: “Any business venture or transition in profession is going to have its moments of doubt. Moments of sitting there, asking yourself “What am I doing?”, “Am I doing the right thing?”, “Was this the right move?” And I think in fashion those questions and self-doubt are ever more present, because you’re putting yourself out there creatively and professionally for the world to judge you. You’re looking for validation from buyers, editors, stylists, celebrities and athletes, investors, and at the core of any business, your customers. And in doing so, you’re going to be criticised, you’re going to be ignored, and you’re going to be told, “No”, a lot. This is not an easy industry to enter and an even harder industry to survive in.”
What’s the dream customer for Keiser Clark?
MC: “I don’t know that I have a dream customer for Keiser Clark. I design the collection with a wide array of individuals in mind. I think about both men and women; the mid-life business professional to the young high school or college student; the big city fashion kids and the small-town kids who are just beginning to explore fashion for the first time. Whether you’re an A-list celebrity or a young kid in a town of a few thousand people, the dream customer is someone who wears Keiser Clark and feels better about themselves. Piggybacking off the above, the goal is to impact others’ lives for the better, the clothes are simply the vehicle in doing so.”
What’s inside the label – its core and soul? What is the inner message you are communicating through your garments?
MC: “Inside Keiser Clark beneath the gritty nocturnal glamour and visual edge, is connectivity and family. The world can be a tough place at times, it’s competitive and judgmental, it can ignore you and kick you down, there are hardships and setbacks, sleepless nights and stressful moments, and despite the fact that we are more connected than ever the world can feel lonely at times. For me the core and soul of Keiser Clark is about accepting those truths and changing the narrative sort-of speak for others. With each new collection I’m telling more and more of my own story, my own struggles, and my own triumphs – in hopes that it has a positive impact on those I meet along the way. The door is always open for my Keiser Clark family, and I hope as we continue to grow more and more people feel a part of what we’re doing, and can glean lessons, inspiration, or simply some great clothes from what we’re doing.”
Tough times for the fashion industry, how are you reacting during COVID-19? What adjustments were you forced to make in regards?
MC: “Tough times across the industry for sure, that being said my team is healthy, my family is healthy, and I’m healthy, and that for the moment is worth more than anything. Looking back, leaving Paris Men’s Fashion Week this past January we had quadrupled the number of retailers for our Autumn/ Winter 2020 collection. It was an incredible week for Keiser Clark.
We slated being in some major doors across the globe for the coming season, a good amount of which came from Asia. What began as tough conversations with retailers in the region, quickly spread to the rest of the world, and we (like so many other brands at the moment) have seen Autumn/ Winter 2020 orders reduced or cut entirely. It’s been a huge blow undoubtedly, especially as a young brand.
The silver lining though as a young brand is that we’re fortunate in that our overhead remains low, and our Autumn/ Winter 2020 collection remains tight and focused. This allowed us to pivot a little easier, and conserve as much resources and cash as possible while the world continues to heal. We’re working each day to stay in contact with our Keiser Clark family, and get creative to make sure we’re doing our part to assist our retail partners globally. The reality is we’re all taking a financial loss in some way or another, so the direction for us
Tough times for the fashion industry for sure, and for my Los Angeles community, the nation, and the entire world. We’ve all been impacted in some way by this pandemic. The reality is a lot of businesses are going to see financial losses, Keiser Clark included, but at the moment I’m okay with the idea of some financial loss. In the back of my mind there are people I love, people I care about who are in at risk groups because of their age or their health. But, what I think we are beginning to see from a lot of brands, a lot of designers, and from me, is more of the human element shine through in our work.”
Do you think this pandemic will change the industry forever?
MC: “Beyond the industry itself; the pandemic will, and in many ways already has changed our lives forever. There are families and friends who fear losing or have lost loved ones. Businesses are laying off employees and shutting their doors. Unemployment rates are the highest they’ve ever been. Asian-Americans, and Asian communities across the globe are facing a new wave of discrimination and with that new fears and anxieties.
Myself and hopefully the industry as a whole are seeing the universality of the fashion industry, and that in order to grow, succeed, and leave the greatest impact you have to look beyond your own borders; respect all cultures and all people; and be willing and able to empathise with local and global circumstances even if you are not personally or immediately affected.
One of my business law professors at Loyola Law School started and ended every lecture with reminding us, “all business is personal.” That couldn’t be truer and more applicable than at this very moment. We’re seeing a human element shine through across the industry. Brands are stepping up to produce personal protection goods, editors and public relation agencies are working harder than ever to share information and keep the industry informed, and designers are talking with each other and sharing their personal sentiments and knowledge more than ever before.”
What are your goals for the next couple of years?
MC: “At the moment we’re working to navigate the pandemic, each day we’re working to connect with our customers, retailer partners, and manufacturers ensuring first and foremost everyone is staying safe and healthy, and secondly, to see what we can do as a business and as individuals to help support those business and individuals who support us.
Over the next couple of years, the goal is to expand our presence in the global market through further developing our direct to consumer business, aligning with strong global retail partners, and exploring greater collaborations and partnerships that align with the Keiser Clark ethos. With each new collection we’re focusing on further developing more sustainable options in design, material, packaging and supply chains; utilsing and repurposing vintage materials and elements; and continuing to design quality pieces that will be a part of your wardrobe for life, pieces that will one day be those sought-after archive pieces.
Overall, every day and every collection the goal is simple – make each day and collection better than the last.”
Explore Keiser Clark, here.