Danh Tran of Buttercloth: “Have a great product”

Have a great product — Make sure it’s unique and in-demand. After years of wearing T-shirts up until the last moment I could before walking into meetings and changing into stuffy button-downs, I knew I couldn’t be the only person out there desperate for a comfortable, professional solution. As part of our series about the 5 things […]

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Have a great product — Make sure it’s unique and in-demand. After years of wearing T-shirts up until the last moment I could before walking into meetings and changing into stuffy button-downs, I knew I couldn’t be the only person out there desperate for a comfortable, professional solution.

As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Danh Tran. Danh has always had a ferocious curiosity about fabrics and garment construction. Born in Vietnam, he grew up working in his family’s small tailor shop, making his own clothes by the time he was ten years old. As a boy, he dreamed of coming to America to become a fashion designer. Danh is proof that dreams really do come true. In 1994 his family immigrated to California. He took fashion classes at a local community college and landed a job at Mattel — designing clothes for Barbie. When he had saved enough money, he left Mattel and enrolled in his dream school, Otis College of Art and Design where he got his B.A. in fashion. Danh’s talent and mentorships later got him recruited by 7 for All Mankind, Hause of Howe (Union Bay), and finally Affliction Clothing where he was Head Designer for 10 years before starting Buttercloth. Danh sets the vision for the company and makes the final decision on all important matters. He directs all design and product development, and through his extensive overseas relationships oversees the factories and manufacturing details.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

You could say my Mom’s lap brought me to this career path in fashion. I grew up working in my family’s small tailor shop where I was born, in Vietnam. I used to sit there in her lap watching the needle go up and down and I was fascinated. I remember one day she told me, “Don’t ever play with this machine — it’s how I make money for us — and fashion is not good for you. You will grow up to be an accountant or a lawyer.” Turns out, I did prefer to play with that machine; and by the time I was 10 years old, I was making my own clothes and dreaming of coming here to America to become a fashion designer.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?

My most interesting story is without a doubt being invited to and appearing on Shark Tank. It was a life-changing experience for me and the company. The night it aired we had a small “viewing party” and a big map of the U.S. on the computer showing where our website visits were coming from. Within moments of our segment airing the map started lighting-up, going from hundreds to thousands of hits and it kept going till we had over 50,000 people on our website in one night.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Well, ignorance is bliss and I didn’t have a realistic idea of costs when we first started out. We were priced so low that once marketing and production costs came in — we lost money on every order! That was a big lesson in educating myself on production cost and profit margin before blindly attaching a price to my garments.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Our fabric is truly revolutionary — 100% long fiber cotton fabric with the incredible 6-way stretch and breathability. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, right? I always hated wearing a dress shirt. They’re stiff, they’re scratchy, and you can’t move in them. I would wear a t-shirt to the office and change out into a dress shirt just for meetings. One day I thought, “why can’t I make a dress shirt that feels like I’m wearing a t-shirt?” So, I traveled to China and worked with the four biggest fabric mills there, which initially turned out to be a failure. I wanted to use 100% cotton, but they all told me it couldn’t be done and tried to convince me to use polyester. But failure is not exactly in my DNA, and neither is using polyester! On the flight home I kept asking myself why it couldn’t be done, and I had an idea: maybe I could use a double-needle row to create a unique double-finished cotton fabric. As soon as I landed in LA, I emailed them with my idea. At first, they were skeptical, but after working together for three months using video calls, I got the good news that they could do it. I told them to sew up a shirt and would fly right over! The moment I got to the factory and tried on the shirt, I instantly knew we had something special. Buttercloth — the World’s Most Comfortable Shirt — was born.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Make sure to remember you’re not designing for yourself; you’re designing for your client. Don’t set yourself up for disappointment by creating a prototype that can’t reasonably be mass-produced. Either due to production cost or a difficult to follow the blueprint. Finally, don’t price yourself out of the market. Keep costs reasonable.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I’ve always had a personal mission of helping young and new designers fulfill their dreams. Through the Otis College Alumni, I support various exhibitions and mentor students on “Portfolio Day” to help them prepare for a career after graduation. We also try to give back to our community, and one of my favorite initiatives is on Giving Tuesday just after Cyber Monday when we surprise a number of deserving families, who are nominated by our customers, with holiday gifts.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?

I wish I could quote the entire book. In “Jump” by Steve Harvey, he says “If you want to be successful, you have to jump, there’s no way around it. When you jump, I can assure you that your parachute will not open right away. But if you do not jump, your parachute will never open. If you’re safe, you’ll never soar!” This book was gifted to me by my then mentor and now a partner at Buttercloth, Bob Stevens. I wanted to design my own line my entire life and was waiting for the right time. This book taught me it is never the right time, I have to make the jump and go for it. I would never regret trying but I would always regret had not. So, I quit my job, sold everything, and Buttercloth was born.

Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?

Comfort! All trends lean more and more heavily towards comfort. As Buttercloth expands into more styles, we continue to make sure comfort comes before anything else.

What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”?

1. Have a great product — Make sure it’s unique and in-demand. After years of wearing T-shirts up until the last moment I could before walking into meetings and changing into stuffy button-downs, I knew I couldn’t be the only person out there desperate for a comfortable, professional solution.

2. Build yourself a good team. I’ve seen businesses fall apart because of teams that didn’t work well and/or didn’t work well together. Both are key factors in a successful business.

3. Go into business with the right partner(s). My strengths aren’t all-encompassing of all things business. Maybe one partner is a strong designer, another is a brilliant marketing mind, a third may be an investor with a keen eye and experience in building new businesses. Most importantly, make sure those partners believe in your business as strongly as you do.

4. Focus. Don’t lose sight of who and what your business is about. In my case, it’s the needs of my customers. Be it a seasonal, a lifestyle, or in our case a soon-to-be women’s line.

5. Consistency — Stay consistent in your mission statement and your marketing. Our is and will always be comfortable, our long-fiber cotton, and our 6-way stretch. Our customers know that regardless of the garment they choose — be it a mask or a shirt — they will always get these 3 things.

Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?

Keep leaning into the curve of comfort based/ eco-friendly design.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I’d really like to start a trend of more entrepreneurs in the fashion world reaching out to budding designers to share our experience. I want to motivate more young people to make the jump and do the work. I think going to schools to provide motivational speaking and expanding on what I’ve experienced and learned can keep the upward trajectory of fashion alive.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @butterclothshirt

Twitter: @Buttercloth1

Facebook: @butterclothshirt

YouTube: Buttercloth

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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