Esquire.com: How did Second/Layer start?
Joshua Willis: We started out in our basement in Venice, California. We’d started a creative agency about a year before and it was great for a bit, until it began to feel like we worked for someone again. Our clients were great, but it wasn’t for us. Anthony had been working from Paris, and we—Jacob and I—convinced him to come home and we would start a menswear collection based on exactly what we wanted to do. So we emptied our bank accounts and started the first season.
You have experience in the fashion industry, having worked with fashion house clients in the past. What was the point where you decided to go out on your own?
Ultimately, we wanted to do our own thing. We wanted to work for ourselves and we wanted to propose what we thought was missing from menswear at the time.
What was missing?
We wanted to propose this idea of non-gender biased, tailored daily wear paired with elevated essentials. This was how we were dressing and wanted to dress, but no designers had a laid-back, West Coast approach. We knew the styling of the collection would bring out our laid-back aesthetic and thought it would feel fresh.
How has Second/Layer evolved over the past three years?
We have been able to continue to evolve our proposition by building a clear visual communication of the brand on our social media platforms. This is something we were not very good at in the beginning. Social media was so foreign to us because we were not of that generation. Luckily, we have great people that work with us to help us to continue to evolve this part of the business and make it more meaningful to our brand. Also, every season we look to evolve and build the quality of our garments. This season has to be my favorite so far because of the quality and range of products.
The collection has an upscale feel but is still relaxed in a uniquely Californian way.
Every season, we somehow revert to our past, where we came from, and what we are into now. The luxury fabrics and constructions are an extension of our taste levels and what we want to wear. Everything we make and/or do is a translation of us and what we are into.
Where do you find inspiration?
We continue to find our inspiration from the streets and our group of friends. Our mentors also really help to push us and offer encouragement and advice when things get tough—as business owners as well as designers.
One of our mentors is Tak Kato, a legendary boutique owner and man of all trades. He was one of the ones who educated us in fashion as young kids. Back when you actually had to do the research physically—like going to the library or finding ways to make it to the stores you knew carried the designers you were interested in. We didn’t have the internet and Instagram or shit like Google. We had to want to dig deep to learn. He guided us in the right way by educating us on designers, stylists, and the business in general.
Describe your creative process.
I wish we had a great process that all started with mood boards or something like that. But for us it really just happens when it happens. We are always bouncing ideas around. Being business owners as well as designers is a very interesting dynamic because we are not always devoted to just the design and development process. We really start to get inspired when we start looking at fabrics. That is when it all starts.
Menswear in America saw a meteoric rise in recent years and now appears to be tapering off. Where do you fit into the sphere?
We feel that good product with an interesting proposition always wins at retail. We have also positioned our brand in a way that gives us the opportunity to grow into different categories; we think that also gives us an advantage from a market standpoint. Because if one category is slow, then hopefully we can put more emphasis on another to make up for it. We just have to identify this soon enough for it to really make a difference in our business as the brand develops.
What are your style essentials?
Relaxed suits with tees and sneakers. Twin sets. Elevated essentials. Keeping cool in heated situations. Dressing for the occasion.
What challenge are you most proud of overcoming with Second/Layer?
We are just happy to overcome each day right now. Seriously, we face challenges every single day that at the time seem impossible to overcome. We just try to keep moving forward and stay positive and continue to create an interesting proposition.