Danh Tran was born in Vietnam, where he grew up working in his family’s small tailor shop. Tran made his own clothes by the time he was ten years old, and dreamed of coming to America to become a fashion designer. When his family moved to California in the mid-1990’s, Tran got the chance to follow that dream.
Before starting his men’s dress shirt line Buttercloth, would you believe that Tran was designing clothes for Barbie? After excelling in fashion classes at his local community college, he landed a job at Mattel. Soon, his career took off and he was able to take even more courses at Otis College of Art & Design. Later, Tran went on to work for popular brands like 7 for All Mankind and Affliction Clothing.
Tran founded Buttercloth in 2017 with the goal of creating soft, wrinkle-resistant dress shirts that could be worn from office to happy hour with comfort and ease. Buttercloth has since formed a partnership with NBA legend Metta World Peace and earned a deal with Robert Herjavec on ABC’s hit show Shark Tank. We sat down with Tran to learn more about his journey, his predictions for the fashion industry, and his top five pieces of advice.
Can you tell us the story about what brought you to start Buttercloth?
I always hated wearing dress shirts. They’re stiff, they’re scratchy, and you can’t move in them! At the office I would wear a t-shirt, then change out to a dress shirt just for meetings. I asked myself, “why can’t I make a dress shirt that feels like my t-shirt?” That was my “aha moment.” I went to China and worked with mills to create a special blend of 100% long fiber cotton – a super soft, one-of-a-kind fabric I named “Buttercloth.” It has incredible breathability and 6-way stretch for comfort. Then I designed custom patterns and added signature details. These shirts make you look like a Friday night, but feel like a Sunday morning.
Can you share a story about a funny mistake you made when you were first starting as an entrepreneur, and what lesson you learned from it?
My design team has a thing for the color mustard. We were in the process of styling a photo shoot and they suggested mustard colored pants. I immediately rejected the idea. Mustard? No way! It came off as a hard “NO” and the two of them got offended, in a joking way. Then the three of us were looking at a few of the new styles I had designed, and they pointed out that I had incorporated mustard colors in the designs. Perhaps mustard pants were not be a bad idea? I laughed and learned a lesson: Keep an open mind – don’t reject ideas too quickly, and going out of your comfort zone can sometimes be a good idea.
What do you think makes Buttercloth stand out in the industry?
There are three things that make Buttercloth different than other brands. First of course is our one-of-a-kind fabric – super soft 100% long fiber cotton with incredible breathability and 6-way stretch for comfort. Second, we create our own patterns in-house, and add the kind of signature styling details that make people ask, “where did you get that shirt?” Lastly, we really care about our customers. We treat every one of them like family.
What tips would you recommend to your colleagues in the fashion and apparel industry to help them thrive and not “burn out”?
I would recommend getting out of your comfort zone. When someone gets out of his or her comfort zone, he or she becomes inspired. But it also provides a practice of keeping an open mind to innovation and change. As a designer, I can get burned out and hit a wall. When I get inspired, I design and design, but I can get stuck and go in circles. Taking a break and seeing something out of my element will bring back the spark needed to finish what I started.
Fashion is always changing. Do you have any predictions about how the industry will change over the next few years that you are excited about? How do you think the industry can improve in the next few years?
Fashion goes in cycles and recycles the past with new twists. I think the next wave of trends and style will surprise us. We won’t be afraid of using vibrant colors. As technology is becoming a huge part of our lifestyle, it will apply to how we develop, design, share, inspire, and live.
The apparel industry can improve in the next few years by focusing on comfort, style, and consumer education. Give the consumer insights by highlighting each individual strength in a tasteful way. For example, in the workplace, an employee should be comfortable. He or she is spending most of his or her day in one place, so why not be comfortable? Comfort shouldn’t be limited to home. Comfort should be everywhere – and not sacrificing style.
Finally, what is your advice on the Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry?
- Have a clear passion and mission.
- Stay in your lane. Focus on what you do best.
- Keep an open mind to continuously learn.
- Know your customer and design for them, not for yourself.
- Learn from mistakes quickly and move forward.