For Chris Ngo and Lee Ramirez of The Leverage Showroom, being the liaisons for the freshest up and coming streetwear brands is a position that few are not even aware of. However, their successful role of being the intermediaries responsible for what may be most of the fresh gear in your closet is one that happened through hard work, dedication, and a keen business savvy. We caught up with them recently at their offices in Downtown Santa Ana to discuss all things Leverage and the streetwear industry.
Who makes up The Leverage?
Myself (Chris) and Lee are the owners and we have our office manager Derek Nguyen, along with our sales reps Jules Wang, Richard Nguyen, Andy Vo, Kevin Tran, Trevor Hanhn, Michelle Coleman, and Nick Gorman.
For those that aren’t familiar, what exactly is a showroom?
We deal direct to wholesale. We are responsible for selling the brands we represent to stores such as Attic, Wlkn, Culture Kings, Karmaloop, Zumiez, Tilly’s and PacSun. We have an actual physical location where retailers can come by and see samples and purchase from us all the brands we represent.
When did The Leverage start?
April 20, 2012
Why and how did you and Lee start The Leverage? Describe the process.
I’ve been a sales rep for nine years and Lee actually worked under me while interning at IMKING. We’ve been working together for about four years and felt there was a void for solid distribution for up and coming brands. We felt through our network of vendors, we could really help grow and get smaller brands into stores that they would never approach or be able to see themselves. We started off really small working out of a small office and just trying to really concentrate on the few brands we had before we saved enough to open the showroom in DTSA. Our company is independently funded with no investment. Every cent we’ve made and put into The Leverage has been from our own pockets with no outside help.
What challenges did you run into when starting your own showroom?
There’s always going to be a lot of ups and downs when you are working with different brands. Each brand that we work with has a different owner and every owner has a particular way they want their brand represented and sold. We try our best to represent each brand with the utmost respect. If I owned a brand, I’d want my sales rep to look, talk, and act a specific way when selling my product, so I took that into consideration when I train my staff.
What is the key to running a successful showroom?
Thick skin. Not only are you going to have to worry about deadlines, deliveries and sales goals given to you by a brand, but you also have to multiply it a few times since you aren’t working with only one brand in particular. That’s why you have to be picky and choose who you want to work with. Every brand has their own specific way they want things done, so you have to really understand that equation.
What do you look for when choosing which brands to represent?
We really focus on the back end and business aspects of a brand. It’s great that a brand has hype and looks cool, but if they can’t deliver on time, ship product, and produce goods, then no one is getting paid. I make sure a brand is fully functional and capable of running a business and supplying my retailers with goods. I’d rather work with a brand that can supply the demand of my retailers than just show them smoke and mirrors.
What trends do you forecast in the near future?
After seeing a ton of stuff coming out in the next year, it looks like the same thing that streetwear has always been doing – copying off high end brands. Everyone is going with the black street goth, punk rock look. If you look at Saint Laurent, Givenchy, Rick Owens, Phillip Lim, Alexander Wang, and Dior Homme you’ll be able to see a lot of brands taking a ton of inspiration from them. I’m not mad at it though, they’re just taking a look that a normal consumer can’t afford and making it affordable.
For the streetwear industry to keep thriving, what are some important factors that need to be addressed or kept constant?
I think the streetwear industry is fine where it is. Seven years ago, it was a small niche market and there were maybe a handful of really cool boutiques that actually carried streetwear. Since then, it has evolved to pretty much huge collections at major retailers such as PacSun, Zumiez, and Tilly’s. How can the steetwear industry keep constant and thriving? I honestly don’t fuckin’ know. The consumer is always changing and brands just need to stay on top of what’s next. One minute a kid is all about being the Diamond Life and two weeks later the same kid is all about Been Trill. Kids these days are no longer really loyal to brands. They hop on trends and fads faster than anything. That’s the biggest difference I see in streetwear now than I did in years before.
What is the best lesson you’ve taken away from starting your own business?
Some days when you want to just say ‘fuck everybody’ and go home to watch Sportscenter…you can.
Photos by: Phillip Cendana