How GQ Magazine helped launch Owen & Fred

I’ve been reading GQ since I was in high school. For me, it wasn’t an aspirational read – it was products that I couldn’t even dream of owning and a lifestyle that seemed far removed. It was a special thrill to see one of our products in GQ Magazine. As we approach holiday 2014, I’m brought back to that wild moment some two years ago. This press mention helped launch us on the path to creating men's goods sold everywhere from the Guggenheim to Nordstrom. 


We started Owen & Fred on February 12, 2012, as a test, really, with a credit card and an idea: to see if there was any interest in affordable design that was made in the USA. We had absolutely zero PR backing at launch. Our first sale --not including my mom who made a sympathy purchase -- was made about one week after launch. Yeah, sales were pretty slow, with every purchase personally boxed by me in a room no bigger than a walk-in closet. Literally about 85 square feet.

In April 2012, we were fortunate to meet Matthew Hranek from The William Brown Project, who liked what we were doing and wrote about us for the blog. The piece undoubtedly put us in the eye of the gents at GQ that make the decisions on what is the best stuff.

By summer we developed our famous luggage tag product and friends began to say: "Hey have you seen THIS BAG IS NOT YOURS; that product is everywhere." Indeed, it popped up on blogs and shopping websites.

In September 2012 GQ reached out to let us know that they were considering the luggage tag for GQ's Best of 2012. With such long lead times for print, they needed to choose their products quite early. I can assure you that when I got that e-mail I was completely thrilled, because the email from GQ literally came out of the blue. We didn't do any PR initiatives in order to get that press. It means that the guys at GQ have really got their antennae tuned to what’s hot, style wise. As well, I was a little scared. At the time I had no idea what it meant in terms of site traffic and sales. I wondered whether we could fulfill the orders that might flood in. We’d have to do our best prepare.

First, we created a prototype for the photo shoot; a James Bond luggage tag, which I stamped and dyed myself. It remains a very popular luggage tag for us. It took us about one month to prepare for what we knew would be a huge amount of orders. But even after building an inventory of supplies, training a small team, and getting our shipping department on point, we weren’t completely prepared for the reception once the magazine hit the stands on November 20, 2012, in New York. 

In fact, we didn’t know the magazine hit until a customer called, and said that he saw us in GQ. He was cool enough to take a photo of it with his phone, and send it off. We were so busy that day, and for the next three days, that I never actually got around to purchasing the issue until after Thanksgiving. 

Once the magazine actually hit coast-to-coast, purchases started to really fly in – something in the order of one every 15 minutes. At that point I knew we had both a wonderful and scary phenomenon. We really didn’t want to disappoint our new customers yet really wanted to capitalize on this opportunity.

As it turned out, we had to shut off the orders for this particular product very early in December, because of the incredible demand. One of our customers reached out and said, “Hey it’s really great for you that you got into GQ, but it’s a complete fail that they are sold out.”

He was right. 

So, I reached out to several former colleagues to see if they knew anyone with a can-do spirit and attitude. That’s how I found Laurel, who later came to work with us for two years on all manner of business operations and product development. Together, and with a team of artisans that we put together, some of whom work with us today, we managed to take a few more orders, but really, to fulfill the orders we already had.

That first eight days of December I slept about 27 hours and I lost 15 pounds. I was up constantly, and running around constantly. Be it motivating our team, figuring out how to get more space for work, getting new supplies to meet the demand, running into the city to have leather luggage tags cut in the Fashion District, or ordering food for our team. I probably personally stamped about 200 luggage tags that month on my own, aside from everything else required for the business.  I brought in a case of Red Bull after Starbucks Espresso Shots weren't doing the trick. 

Being in GQ Magazine was a great cap to our first year. It helped us launch our brand. 

Aside from launching us, I credit GQ Magazine with making me lose 15 pounds.

Yup, I’ve kept it off, too.