by Joseph Pimentel/Asianjournal.com
LOS ANGELES — Filipino American Dennis Calvero is Crooks and Castles (C&C), a clothing brand for the new generation of hip hop aficionados. His clothing line has been growing in the urban art and fashion scene that recently, hip hop moguls Jay-Z, Kanye West and other rappers and celebrities have appeared in public wearing C&C.
Last December 14, Calvero, together with his partners, realized their dream when their clothing brand opened the first C&C flagship store on Melrose in Los Angeles.
“It feels like we’ve made it,” said Calvero about the opening. “It’s been a long road.”
For Calvero, it’s been nine years in the making. He’s suffered from a bankruptcy and a job change,. He had to travel around the world before regrouping and starting C&C.
What once was considered just underground wear for a niche consumer base, street-wear fashion is now a worldwide multi-billion dollar industry.
Growing up during the late 80s and early 90s, no community was immune to the gang lifestyle. The hip hop scene was still in the infant stage of development. The youth were beginning to transform their appearance from wearing tight to baggy jeans. This generation made it cool to look like a thug.
Calvero grew up in Cerritos, CA. He realized early the clothing transformation of his peers and became aware of the growing “street wear” segment. He started designing clothes for the urban market in 1997 and created a clothing label dubbed Landscape. The label eventually failed to reach the mass numbers in the US.
“During that time, the street wear industry was young,” said Calvero. “There was no market for it here [US]. There was more of a market in Japan.”
“From [that experience] we learned how to do things on our own,” Calvero added.
After the business failed, Calvero moved to the New York/ New Jersey area to work for designer Marc Ecko and served as one of Ecko’s head clothing designers.
A blessing in disguise
Working for the billion-dollar company taught Calvero how to run a business more effectively. “That’s where I learned how to make a [clothing] brand,” said Calvero.
“I traveled to Asia and learned how to [negotiate] with vendors. I learned just how to be a business person.”
He also began to travel around the world extensively. He has traveled to Hong Kong, China, Paris, Philippines, Germany, Barcelona, and Japan, considered the Mecca for underground clothing labels.
“In Japan you can see how fashion and commerce drives the clothing industry,” he said.
After working for Ecko for a little over a year, Calvero left the company to continue to pursue his dreams of having his own label.
He gathered a group of his friends and started Crooks and Castles in 2002. The word “crooks” is a metaphor to how some people attain their goals, while “castles” is the goal itself.
Although the company has received some criticism about the name, Calvero simply shrugged off the criticism.
“We’re not promoting [crime],” he said. “We’re really business savvy. It’s just about the market. We’re very design oriented. It’s a name that we’ve stuck with and it’s our goal to brand it.”
“You could say that we started out of a garage [designing shirts],” said Soriano. “He [Calvero] was in New York designing clothes in his small apartment. I was out here [Los Angeles] trying to help him out,” said Emil Soriano, a designer for C&C.
The clothing brand began to pick up steam when consumers began to demand for hip hop street wear.
“There was this whole emergence in the street wear market,” said Soriano. “All these new start up street wear companies began to come up and achieve success.”
“This is the kind of clothes that people we grew up wanted to wear,” said Jon Palos, who works in marketing for C&C. “It’s a lifestyle brand developed from growing up in Los Angeles.”
It also helped when Jay-Z and other celebrities began to sport the label in major events and award shows. Immediately, rumors began to fly that Jay-Z offered Calvero to buy the company in a multi-million dollar deal.
“All I can say about that is that they are just rumors,” he said. “No formal offer has been made.”
In the three years, C&C has seen tremendous growth. Just last year, Calvero went from making six-figures in profit in one year to millions of dollars. He plans to expand his US operations to Las Vegas, NV. He also said he plans to open a store in the Philippines sometime next year. Crooks and Castles merchandise is being distributed worldwide.