27-year-old Sean Brown is the Brand Director and Buyer of The Art of Reuse, where he has curated and opened pop-up stores in Toronto, NY and San Francisco, and designed Ivy League-inspired collection tees for Green Angle boutique in Japan. Sean is also a designer of the luxury outerwear brand NEEDS&WANTS, which has been featured in GQ, Complex, Esquire, Toronto Life, MTV, Four-Pins, Sharp for Men and a number of other notable publications. Along with fashion design, Sean is a fashion and wedding photographer, graphic designer, stylist and artist developer.
We sat down with the young entrepreneur to discuss his brands, NEEDS&WANTS and The Art of Reuse.
Describe your job in a nutshell.
I am the designer of a luxury outerwear brand, NEEDS&WANTS Studios, and Brand Director of The Art of Reuse (collective). Now more than ever, my aim and approach (through my art) is to advocate good taste. I find that the key element most emerging designers disregard or may not even consider is a well-rounded understanding of style when building a brand. You can’t just say your brand is a lifestyle, you have to live that lifestyle and share that lifestyle. Often, the objective is to sell clothing, which can be done but isn’t forever. Therefore, my job has become little to do with designing or selling clothes, but more to do with the design of living. The design of perspectives. The design of forever. The first thing I’m curious about when I see someone who dresses well is, what does their space look like? What’s playing on their iPod currently? What candle do they burn? What kind of cups and plates do they buy? I want to stimulate a well-rounded practice of style in all mediums. Fashion as I know it is merely an accessory of style and good taste.
How would you define your personal style and where did it stem from?
I experimented quite a bit to get to where I am now with my personal style. At times I keep it minimal or I’ll wear lots of layers. I donated a lot of clothes in the past couple of years and I’m still trying to narrow down my wardrobe. I want to rid myself of excess. The problem I thought I had was not having enough clothes, when in reality the problem was that I had too many clothes and no clue what to do with them. Excluding underwear and socks, I only need one of something.
What is your first fashion memory and/or most memorable piece of clothing?
My first stroll through Kensington Market changed my life. It was like walking through a museum and I could buy it all! It was a new world for me. but a world I wanted to master. That was around 2004 when I got heavy into thrift shopping and would start The Art of Reuse years afterward.
How did you get started as a designer? Do you have any formal training or did it just come naturally to you?
I started designing so that I could create in an industry I was investing so much of my money in. Initially, at 14, I was just sketching stuff. Once I got to high school I started with t-shirts and then custom sneakers. Soon after, I started a ready-to-wear label while I was attending IADT for fashion design. I did learn quite a bit in the few semesters at the design school, but my real understanding of the industry and where I fit in didn’t happen until I dropped out. And I needed that. I needed the real world. It’s something a lot of students don’t get to experience. Leaving school was my calculated risk. I knew some of the people around me would think I was crazy and that I was a quitterm but I really did have a plan. It wasn’t about following the path people thought I should take, it was about a purpose, my purpose… on purpose. Even though I couldn’t see the length of the long, winding road ahead of me, I was willing to take it. That self-actualization was my humble beginning.
Do you have advice for other young professionals?
Invest in yourself. Don’t get me wrong, mistakes cost money. But the experience you gain is priceless. Find something that you love to do and put all of your passion into seeing your dreams come to fruition. Don’t work somewhere and just be a number. Don’t just be apart of a system. Don’t be replaceable.
Quit working for any establishment more concerned with earnings than your happiness and growth. I’m not saying everyone should take a leap of faith and be an entrepreneur, I’m saying give yourself, your family, your relationships, your job, your art and your life meaning.
How would you define Toronto’s fashion?
As diversified as Toronto is, I don’t know if I view its fashion culture as a particular. I see the scope of the culture as a whole. In comparison to other cities around the world, Toronto is arguably the most multicultural. There is a lot of culture and influence to pull from. I’d say that it is constantly changing, like everywhere else. It is still growing. This Toronto generation has access to even more information and resources, so I think we’ll see Toronto’s fashion landscape take worldwide precedence in years to come. It’s already happening…
This month, MTV News Canada airs a segment entitled “Walk With We: Sean Brown” in which they give you a full behind the scenes look into the process of putting together our most recent NEEDS&WANTS ad campaign at The King Edward Hotel. Both my father and grandfather (both welders by trade) make an appearance on set and we reflect on my choice to be a fashion designer and the effects of our generational gap. It’s a pretty heavy story to watch considering it was only last summer that I left working at my grandfather’s shop to further my design endeavours. Tune in to see how the whole thing plays out. We’re also releasing new items in February.
Photos courtesy of Sid Singh