Nestled in the heart of downtown Miami are the offices of the emerging designers behind Complex Apparel Ltd. Brand. The quaint design space is neatly stacked and organized to showcase the company’s three apparel labels that include Dungeon Forward, Two Hundred Forty Two and Delilah Johnson House of Fashion.
After giving an overview of the three lines, Complex Apparel’s chief executive officer, David Castro explains how the company began as a way for him and friend David Wallace, who is now the company’s chief operating officer, to look fashionable without breaking the bank.
“David and I were talking about how we wanted to look stylish and rock the latest gear,” says Castro. “But we were on a serious budget so we had to do it on a shoe-string. That’s when we got creative and began making custom T-shirts that we designed and hand-painted.”
The friends, who were both architectural design majors at Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University (FAMU), soon found that they were getting requests from others to create custom designs.
Just across campus, another FAMU student was also flexing her creative muscles.
A business administration major, Delilah Johnson was always sewing clothes for herself. After she and Castro ran into each other on campus one day and admired each others’ work, they formed a fast friendship and remained in contact as they finished up their degrees.
Following graduation, the two Davids received jobs at architectural firms in South Florida but couldn’t shake their desire to test the waters to determine if their T-shirt business could become a profitable venture.
Wallace convinced Castro that they should do a test run at Miami Carnival. So the two men purchased a booth, invested in T-shirts, and created each T-shirt as a custom, hand-painted piece.
After the investment in products, the cost of the booth space and the extremely labor- intensive process of hand-painting each tee, the project barely broke even and left the duo feeling pretty dejected. For several months, they decided to abandon the project until Wallace reached out to Castro and said, “We just can’t give up.”
Castro added, “I wasn’t sure if I wanted to move forward at first, but when we look back on that event now, we realize that that failure was really the best thing that could have ever happened to our business.”
With a renewed determination, Castro and Wallace went to work to fine-tune the business and get it back up and running in a more efficient way.
“We recognized that what we did best was design and that we needed to find a better way to produce the shirts rather than do that in-house. We now source the finishing and production to streamline the process which increases efficiency and profits,” added Castor.
Meanwhile, Johnson was learning some valuable lessons of her own about the direction that she wanted to take her career.
Following an internship at South Florida-based Office Depot, she realized that she wanted a role that was more creative, and went to her parents to discuss her options.
“I liked fashion, so my parents suggested that I secure an internship at a fashion-related business to get a better idea of what types of positions were available in a more creative environment,” Johnson said. “I landed a job as a buyer in Macy’s regional office in downtown Miami, which was a much better fit,” she continued, “and I was able to work on the creative and the business side, which was valuable experience.”
When Macy’s closed its regional headquarters in Miami, Johnson was offered a position in New York, but decided to heed the call to entrepreneurship and join Castro and Wallace as a partner and the company’s chief financial officer.
The trio’s business model for Complex Apparel is to nurture each individual line and target a specific niche market. Dungeon Forward is sold exclusively in the Bahamas, Wallace’s birthplace. Two Hundred Forty Two reflects the cultures of skateboarders, artists, musicians and street chic, and is a collection of T-shirts, polos and a soon-to-be Henley collection. The company’s newest addition, Delilah Johnson House of Fashion, is a collection of party dresses and separates infused with luxurious fabrics, rich colors and intricate touches.
Castro remarks that vibrant colors, special details and rich fabrics are hallmarks of all three collections. The lines range from $30-50 for both Dungeon Forward and Two Hundred Forty Two, and the price point for Delilah House of Fashion is $150-400. Both Two Hundred Forty Two and House of Delilah are available online at www.complexapparel.com and at a few local boutiques.
What are the long-term plans for the group?
“Well, let me start with our short-term vision, and that’s expansion for each line in each of our key markets, primarily on the east coast and in Los Angeles,” Castro said. “And just focusing on creating great clothes that people like to wear.”
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Fashion designers Delilah Johnson, left, and David Castro.