Recently, I had the opportunity to connect with Antonio Brown, one of the hottest young fashion designers in the market. He is the founder and CEO of the premium men’s fashion brand, LVL XIII (pronounced ‘Level 13′), that recently launched a line of high-end sneakers that is getting a lot of attention. Celebrities such as Jason DeRulo, Nas, and Chris Brown have appeared in his collection. He is also the author of a new book entitled Muted Dreams, which is being called the male version of Push (which became the movie Precious) We spoke about how he has built his company, what got him interested in fashion, and his philanthropic work focused on helping young men from poor households or abusive relationships.
How do you define your personal brand?
For me, my core values extend to being inspirational and driven. I’m young and I’ve been able to attain a certain level of success, and it’s because I stopped thinking about things and dreaming about things and I put actions behind my thoughts. So that is what I would want people to know. A lot of people say they are inspired by me and that I give them hope to follow their own dreams to be successful.
What got you interested in the fashion industry?
I have a personal interest in fashion, I always have. I am interested in luxury brands and luxury products. And I got tired of going to Gucci and Louis Vuitton and spending my money on their shoes when I felt like I could do it better myself. Even though I didn’t have the experience in fashion, I did the research and the due diligence to understand the market. That’s how my brand got started.
How did you build the brand from there?
The brand took about a year to build. This November the brand just launched into retail stores across the United States. But it was a struggle. People ask me all the time, “I want to start my own business, how do I do it?” It took a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication, a lot of money, and a lot of “no” before I started to hear “yes.” Really it was about building the right team, a team that could position the brand in the right place for the right consumers. I have a great PR team and a great VP of Product Development and Manufacturing. All of us coming together has led to a lot of good and bad days, but it’s all worth it because walking into a store and seeing your product is an incredible feeling.
You do a lot of charitable work. How do you hope to inspire others?
You’re going to laugh when I say this, but someone I’ve always admired while growing up, well, I’ve always wanted to be like the male version of Princess Diana. She was so inspiring, and she didn’t just care about the Royalty, she cared about the commoners, the people who didn’t have what she had. And that’s what I want to be, to give back to the community and help people to get to where I’ve gotten. To continue to inspire people to follow their dreams and to become great even though they grew up poor or didn’t have as much money as other people. That’s always been my mission, to inspire a generation of change.
How do you juggle everything in your busy life?
It’s definitely been a struggle. I’ve had to put my book, Muted Dreams, on hold for a while so it can be picked up by a publisher. Because there are several publishing houses interested but I had to put it on hold because of the company. And it’s hard to start a brand like this when some of your competitors are companies such as Louis Vuitton, Giuseppe, Gucci, that have an empire behind them. I have a team of seven people. So it’s tough, but at the same time it shows people even more that when you want something more than anyone else, the universe begins to conspire in your favor to give you the tools for success. My book, my company, my brand, it’s all been a stepping stone into the right direction. When you want something really bad, you find ways to make it happen.
If you could pick one celebrity to wear your shoes, who would it be?
Honestly it would be Kanye West. The reason being that he is such a fashion icon, especially today, and he pushes the boundary and perception of what fashion can be. He’s someone I respect in the business, even though I think he’s cuckoo, he’s someone I respect in the industry and it would make me happy to see him in the shoes.
What are a few pieces of advice you would give to a young person looking to build their career?
I would say to follow your heart, and to stop thinking about things and put action behind what you want to do. So many young people in this generation, they all think and talk about what they want to do, but no one takes necessary action to make it happen. Take the steps to do what you want to do. Look at myself, I knew nothing about the shoe business except that I loved to wear luxury sneakers. And I got on Google and searched “How to start a sneaker brand.” I went from there. I didn’t care what anyone told me and the universe noticed and brought people into my life to help me make it happen.
Thank you to Lamont Johnson for setting up this interview and of course to Antonio Brown for taking the time to speak with me. Antonio is someone you will want to watch in the next few years, and I’m looking forward to enjoying his rise to the top from afar. His shoes are too expensive for me to purchase on a comedian’s salary, but they also look really, really, cool!