In love and underwear, Marek+Richard stick to the (nearly) bare necessities
J. DENTON BRICKER | Contributing Writer
Partners in both love and business, Neil Marek and Robbie Richard are taking on the fashion world one themed collection at a time.
Launched online in September 2011, the Marek+Richard underwear brand is already sold by stores in cities across the nation, including New York, West Hollywood, Chicago and Fort Lauderdale. But Dallas is still home.
“We hoofed it [around Dallas], and Union Jack was the first one to buy,” Richard says. “They loved that it is American made as they specialize in brands like that.”
Their underwear is comprised of U.S.-made materials and production takes place locally from a warehouse in Dallas.
“All of our fabric and thread are made here in America, so when you buy it, it’s almost 100 percent American made. That’s becoming more and more relevant. It makes sense for smaller businesses because you have to meet minimums, so why not do American made? One of our slogans is bringing manufacturing back to America one pair at a time,” Marek says.
Keeping it local in all particulars is par for the course for these two. The men, both Texas natives, met while enrolled in the fashion program at the University of North Texas, and managed to fall in love amid the fierce competition of school.
The couple’s relationship not only helped to sustain them through the rigors of the program but gave them a leg up in competitions — they won regularly, and that succeed ultimately led to the Marek+Richard line.
“If I remember correctly, we won $36,400 in scholarship money. That basically launched the brand,” Richard says. “And paid for tuition of course,” adds Marek with a laugh.
Designing isn’t where their involvement stops, either; this dynamic duo is involved in each step of the process — from production to marketing and even photography.
“Everything is almost completely vertically integrated,” Richard says.
“It is part of being a small business and bootstrapping it. You take on many different roles and learn something new every day. The only thing we don’t do is knit fabric,” says Marek.
The pair premiered one of their most recent collections, called Gameboyz, at the Pin Show with a marketing campaign featuring real-life couple Jake Genesis and Seth Knight as models. Couple marketing is a hot new trend within the underwear industry much like Andrew Christian’s Brandon Robert and Colby Melvin.
The Gameboyz collection has a hot retro nerd flare and offers trunks, briefs, jocks, tanks and hoodie tanks in a selection of color blocked lime green, purple and turquoise — all accented with grays.
“Every collection that comes out has a complete story behind it,” Marek says. “I know a lot of underwear companies come out with collections based on functionality or fabric performance, but we always have an actual concept. I like having a storytelling element to it. It’s almost fantastical and whimsical and yet the consumer can relate to it.”
One thing almost all their products have in common is a nod to the gay culture that they draw much of their inspiration from.
“We’re not Calvin Klein,” says Marek of their aesthetic. “There are definitely gay undertones — especially with these new photos coming out, it will be undeniable. We are looking to create a sense of loyalty within the gay community, knowing that they will stick behind a brand that supports their beliefs and way of life.”
“Anytime we release anything that is gay related, I feel like it takes off and blows up,” adds Richard.
“Even our designs are catering to what the gay consumer wants.”
Although they’ve garnered national popularity by embracing their gay consumers and culture, being a gay men’s underwear brand in Dallas also has its obstacles.
“I do see it as one of our struggles,” concedes Richard. “I love Dallas and it is great, but the fact that we are a gay brand is that it’s a little bit tougher here than it would be in L.A. or Miami. We try to do little things to where we push little places where we can, like let’s walk down the runway holding hands. Dallas is very conservative so even with the Pin Show, they didn’t want any shirtless looks so we really tried to work with them on what was brand appropriate for us.”
“We’ve shown more racy things at strictly gay events in the past but we have to get approval for it,” says Marek.
Though the designer’s relationship may sometimes bleed over into their business, the two think they are better for it.
“Fighting is always a good thing; it’s just passion masked,” says Marek. “We are always trying to one up each other on who has the better idea on design and how we are going to shoot this, whose collection will sell better. It’s just funny to see how it works out. With two neurotic minds attacking it, you end up with a better product at the end of the day.”
Although their current line consists mainly of men’s underwear and casual tops built around funky, colorful themes, the pair has a vision beyond briefs. They plan to expand into casual bottoms for the fall, swimwear next spring and launch a women’s wear line under the Marek+Richard umbrella in 2015.
“I don’t want to sell underwear short,” puns Richard, “but our true passion is to have a lifestyle brand. We understand the limitations of what we have as far as production and investment capital.
We knew that underwear was something we could get into and that we understand, then can grow the brand from there.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 24, 2013.