with most every designer we come across, the majority start out with
little to nothing and become a success by word of mouth all over the
state. And today's is no exception... with the small fact that he's
become an exceptional sensation around the U.S. to boot.
Nappi Clothing has taken on a life on its own both locally and around the country. Having a must-own jean line that's been doing very well on the west coast, as well as shirts and scarves that have become a part of the signature ensemble. They've found their way to television with shows like CSI, and even a main line of clothing for local singer David Archuleta and his backing lineup. I got a chance to chat with the namesake man himself, Danny Nappi, about his clothing and success as well as thoughts on local fashion. Plus some photos of his new store and workshop setup on the corner of 21st and Main.
Gavin: Hey Dan! First off, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Danny: I was born in 1977 and grew up in South Jordan and attended Bingham High school. I went to the University of Utah and majored in Political Science a far cry from fashion design.
Gavin: How did you first take an interest in clothing and design?
Danny: I was attending Salt Lake Community College at the time and shopping at The Gap. I was tired of looking like everyone else. I began altering my clothing and fell in love with the creative nature on clothing design, I taught myself how to sew and began making all my own clothing. People began to take notice of my unique style and wanted some Nappi clothing for themselves. I wanted to be taken seriously with fashion design and I felt the only way to do that was to start with denim, so I set out to make the perfect pair of jeans and spent two years perfecting the patterns.
Gavin: You have a bachelors from the U in Political Science. What made you choose the U and that particular degree?
Danny: I had just finished my associates degree from SLCC with the intent to finish at the U of U and go to law school, but towards the end of my political science degree I absolutely hated school and the thought of four more years was frightening. I finished because I felt I needed to finish what I started even though I new I wouldn't use it.
Gavin: Where did the idea to start up Nappi Clothing come from?
Danny: Originally the brand was called DF Clothing, but that was already taken with the USPTO so I looked at Nappi and it was available. I never wanted the brand to be my name because I don't like a lot of attention and having my name as the brand would always put me at the center of attention. Nappi however makes a great clothing company name so I went with it and was awarded the trademark in 2005. I used a lot of what I had learned from working at Lovesac as the product designer. I worked there for two years and was able to take products from conception to merchandised in the stores. I worked a lot with china and was able to learn the how the production process worked. In 2005 I quit Lovesac and set out to make Nappi Clothing a reality.
Gavin: Why did you choose the winged-bull design for the main branding?
Danny: I come from Italian decent and wanted to draw on that heritage and I felt the bull accomplished that. There is a lot of meaning in the bull, a bull is very tenacious, focused, hardcore, and fiercely determined. A bull will take repeated sword attacks and continue to charge his opponent till death. I feel like that idea of the bull represents Nappi well, as we too will not give up in the face of adversity. The wings represent my love for racing and gives the bull its agility, and swiftness.
Gavin: What was it like for you first getting started and working on the early designs?
Danny: I was a total disaster in the beginning I had no idea what I was doing, I got lucky on a few things, but over all it was a learning time for me and I was lucky to be just good enough to be taken seriously.
Gavin: How did the first year go for you having your clothing out in the local eye, both as a designer and a business?
Danny: It was fun to have the denim out in stores and see people wearing them, my first experience seeing someone I didn't know wearing my jeans came during Sundance in Park City. I was in the line for the restroom when a girl noticed my jeans and commented that she had just bought a pair of Nappi jeans and that she absolutely loved them and that they were her favorite pair of jeans. She had no idea that I was the designer, so it felt good to see my jeans being received so well. As a company it was hard I was out a lot of money in the jeans production and while they were selling cash flow was still a big problem.
Gavin: What's the process like in creating a piece, from design to final product?
Danny: My inspiration comes from anything and everything it may be something I see that is non-clothing related or something somebody is wearing will spark an idea. I tend to stay away form the fashion magazines I don't focus to much on what is "in" at the time I would rather be ahead of the fashion curve than up on the current trend. So once I have an idea I sometimes draw it out or just make it, but inevitably what I draw or start making always changes a little as I work through the process.
Gavin: When did you first start getting national attention, and how was it for you to have your work recognized beyond Utah?
Danny: During the 2009 Sundace I did a celebrity gifting suite where I met a lot of celebrities and was able to introduce them to the Nappi brand. From that suite I was able to make a lot of contacts not only with celebs but also media and it was there that I was invited to LA Fashion Week to show my line. Being able to penetrate LA from Utah has been a great experience, it is very hard to get noticed when your out of Utah, people don't look to Salt Lake City for fashion so to get some national recognition while still being in Utah has been really great. It also proves you can operate a successful clothing company out of Utah and I don't plan on leaving.
Gavin: What was your reaction to seeing your stuff suddenly appear in places like on television, or becoming apart of Archuleta's wardrobe?
Danny: It was great, the kind of exposer you get form celebrities is priceless. It is fun to see the things you have made and spent so much time on being out in front of so many people.
Gavin: As far as side projects, how did you initially start up Anatomy Screen Printing, and how has that venture gone for you?
Danny: I was screen printing a lot of shirts and waited till the last minute on one of the orders I needed, the company I was using was not able to print the shirts by the time I needed them, so I went to Home Depot and bought some wood and clamps and made a ghetto screen printing press, I then used a very old process for making screens and did the order myself. It would have been a complete disaster except that it worked and the shirts turned out pretty good considering what I had to work with. I had never done anything like that before. After I finished my order I thought if I can figure it out and using a home made press I should look into going into business making my own shirts and other company shirts also. So I did and we called it Anatomy Screen Printing. We just recently teamed up with Offside apparel and print and now run all shirts through Offside.
Gavin: Most recently, how did the idea come about to start up your own store?
Danny: All the stores I had selling my jeans started to struggle with the economy and some of them closed. I pulled all my jeans out of the stores that were carrying them and started my retail concept. The retail concept I have is unique, there is a retail store in the front and in the back are the sewing machines used to make a lot of the clothing. Behind the sewing machines is the screen printing company where we do all the printing. For those that come in they will be able to see a lot of how the clothing is made.
Gavin: How has it been setting up, and what drew you to the South Salt Lake location?
Danny: The set up has been difficult I have never opened my own store before. The location in South Salt Lake is great the building sits on the future development site of Market Station which is a huge development set to change the face of South Salt Lake. I plan to set up a permanent location in the new Market Station in South Salt Lake. Sosala!
Gavin: What can people expect from the place and what plans do you have in store for it down the road?
Danny: This is a temporary location for us we plan to be here about nine months and then we will move into a larger more permanent location. As long as we are here the store will be the design headquarters as well as where we will make and sell a lot of the clothing. The retail portion of the studio will only carry Nappi clothing, a lot of that clothing is totally unique and limited due to the fact that we make it in house.
Gavin: Going a bit local, what's your take on the local fashion scene, both good and bad?
Danny: There is a lot of very talented designers here locally I have seen that through the numerous fashion shows I have done in conjunction with other local designers. The hard thing about Utah is that a lot of the population is very trendy and afraid to be different, so a lot of the local designers struggle. The other challenge for local designers is production, there are not enough local factories here to get a small production made. Going to LA is just to expensive and the minimums are so high. So to produce something means you need to do it yourself or higher some contract sewers both of which present many problems. The only successful local company to do its own production was Black Chandelier and it is that model of production that I hope to follow.
Gavin: Anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?
Danny: For me having a small factory here in Salt Lake capable of putting out some small productions would be ideal. I think the main thing that would help the most is if the Utah people would be less trendy and more willing to be unique and different.
Gavin: What's your take on Fashion Stroll and what its done for the local business?
Danny: Fashion Stroll has been great it has really opened the eyes of the public to some of the products available from local designers. I think as it continues more and more people will be more accepting of locally designed and made products. It can only help Utah's economy by supporting local first.
Gavin: What are your thoughts about local retailers and how they deal with local products?
Danny: I have always had success in getting my products into local stores and that has worked well for me, the problem however still lies with the perception of local clothing being inferior to other brands therefor less local products are bought so less is put in the stores. I think it is kind of ironic that in the widow of most local boutiques there is a sticker that says "Buy Local First" yet that store has very little to no local products in there. The boutique wants you the consumer to by from them the local boutique, but they don't buy from us the local designer.
Gavin: Do you have any favorite clothing shops you like to work with or shop from?
Danny: I liked Model Citizen, it is a shame they moved from Broadway, but I think with the new location at the Library they will be even better at providing a great location for a lot of local designers to sell through.
Gavin: What's it like for you as a designer doing business in this current economy?
Danny: A bad economy is a great time to build a brand, but a bad time to sell clothing. So I have spent most of my time and resources in the brand building, most companies scale back their advertising so it is easier to get some attention.
Gavin: Are there any plans to expand beyond what you've got going now?
Danny: Yes if all goes well we will open a store in places like LA and maybe New York and then just get the clothing placed in some high level boutiques around the country.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and Nappi Clothing the rest of the year?
Danny: This year we will focus on building the line adding jeans, shirts, dresses, bags, coats, and accessories. It is important that we have a solid line before we go for national distribution. I am looking to expand out of Utah as soon as possible I feel my style fits better in LA and New York. I would like to be headquartered here in Utah with a strong national presence. Check us out online at NappiClothing.com and Facebook.