Christopher Bevans’ polished tailoring aesthetic has consistently captured the attention of major global brands and high profile influencers. Whether you’re working alongside Kanye West on YEEZYdesign bespoke men’s clothing for john legend and Jay Zor advise james lebron on a first athletic collection for NikeBevans has always had the right gear in the right place at the right time.
“Design is the most stimulating medium, because beautiful design has no color. But I aspire to design in a world that has different expectations for brown and black people.
—Christopher Bevans, fashion designer and chief creative officer, Shopify
Jessica Pliska: Your journey is made up of one remarkable career stint after another. If you had to choose a fateful career moment that got you started, what would you choose?
Christopher Bevans: When I was a kid in Rochester, New York, an R&B band was recording an album there, and my girlfriend at the time worked next door to the recording studio. They were like celebrities, with a Lamborghini parked in front. I had my own tailoring shack and they wanted an outfit, so I made things for them and this was my first foray into that lifestyle. I’m 21 and I’ve never seen it before. Working for them helped me understand the mentality of people in the limelight, and seeing that they loved what I was doing inspired me to take my skills to another level.
Pliska: You left Rochester for college at ADJUST. The fashion experience in New York is unique, and it must have been an education just by walking down the street. What has been the most significant for you in these years?
Bevans: During my studies, I worked as a tailor in one of the most expensive dry cleaners, where stylists would drop off stuff. I approached a circle of stylists and started to make a name for myself. One of them asked me if I could come on set for a little help while they were shooting a music video. I didn’t even care how little money. It was just to be in that scene. I ended up working on a lot of sets. I brought my travel sewing machine – it was like a big briefcase – to music videos, commercials and catalog shoots. It put me on a path.
Pliska: After graduation, even at the very beginning of your studies, you held management positions in companies such as Rocawear, Nike and Eckowell before launching your own brand at Dyne. How did you get those jobs so young?
Bevans: Being in the right place at the right time, culture-wise. The way streetwear culture was evolving into sports fashion at that time matched my style of design. I’m a better fashion designer; my aesthetic comes from a couture background. My look is clean and refined. Brands like Nike and Rocawear had an established aesthetic, but they were looking to branch out into new styles defined by a cleaner aesthetic, and that was me.
Pliska: Besides Kanye and LeBron, you’ve also worked with Pharrell Williams, Diddy and Roger Federer, to name a few. What is it about you that makes influential people want to work with you?
Bevans: I know how to communicate with people. I knew how to articulate concepts in such a way as to translate them. I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness. If you’ve ever had a Witness knock on your door, you know that we need to learn how to talk to people of all backgrounds and faiths. I learned at a young age to communicate with people on the spot, to learn to read people and to capture their atmosphere. So I knew how to talk to these guys in a way that inspired confidence.
Pliska: You are like the “whisperer” of the fashion entrepreneur.
Bevans: Top people have so much going on around them. When they recognize you as a reliable and trustworthy person, you are entrusted with important tasks and when you carry them out, you get noticed. I was good at listening, asking the right questions and delivering. You might not be recognized every time, but I never looked for that. I just wanted to be a strong link in the chain. And learn from these people as my friendship with them grew. You absorb it if you’re careful.
Pliska: Like what?
Bevans: Damon Dash taught me to be persistent and to believe in myself. Damon can move mountains. I have never seen so much confidence in a person. I would see him believing in his vision and I would know how to get everyone to buy in and believe in it too. You look at the people around him and they’re all focused on the same thing he’s focusing on. It thrills people that they can do it. He gives you the power to believe you can do it.
Pliska: You act as the main mentor for the first Google Black Fashion Founders Forum for budding fashion designers. As a black designer, how has race played a role in your trajectory?
Bevans: Design is the most liberating and stimulating medium, because pure and beautiful design has no color. It’s just an expression of yourself. But I aspire to create in a world that has different expectations for brown and black people: “Oh, you’re black, so you have to be a streetwear designer. “You must be the urban guy for us. This is the aesthetic we expect from you. At first, I would walk into interviews and it was like, ‘We appreciate your talent. You know how to sew and you have a keen eye. But we still need a certain cut from you, a certain fabric, a certain shape. Baggy meant urban. But I wore suits and ties. It was my style. I would walk into a room wearing a three-piece suit and people would be like, “Who is this guy?! I found it difficult to free myself from this stereotype.
Pliska: Is there a lesson here for young people entering the industry?
Bevans: These experiences just told me when I was in the wrong place. When it was time to look elsewhere. And how important it is to turn to models. that’s why [luxury designer] Virgil Abloh was so important to me personally, and why I’m so happy to work with his scholarship fund as a mentor for students coming into the industry now. I’m a big believer in passing on information and helping the next generation achieve their goals.
Pliska: I know you and Virgil, who died last year at 41, were friends. How did he influence you?
Bevans: I think a lot about where he’s from and what he looks like – a dark-skinned man, when complexion seems so important. It is extraordinary for him to have had the role that he played. I know the hardships he had to go through. For him to break through and sit at that table, to shatter all the stereotypes that I faced myself, that was an affirmation for me. He told me that I belong here and that I can crush him.
Pliska: Now you dedicate your talents to Shopifybecause you believe in this notion of ”democratization of fashion”. What does that mean ?
Bevans: Shopify levels the playing field for entrepreneurs and creatives. I want the next generation to understand that they can add great value to the fashion economy and get paid in this industry. Shopify makes it easy for them to build their websites, build their brands, upload product photos, link to their phones and social media, have all the plugins to showcase their work, and get a back-end support. We’re making it all more or less open source – it’s not free, but it’s the destination for scaling your business.
Pliska: Your daughter just walked into our interview to show you her outfit before leaving for school. How does it feel to see your daughter find her style?
Bevans: It’s a proud moment for me right now. She is truly into her style, developing her own looks. She comes in the morning and shows me every outfit she puts together. It’s the best.