If you haven’t heard about them yet-you will very, very soon. Phormula, a quickly expanding clothing line based in Orange County, is setting the fashion scene on fire with their ultra sexy style. Mainly inspired by hip hop, their artistic graphics have quickly become universally liked by many different types of people who crave hot new designs. Watch out for them next year spring when they unleash a women’s line and accessories, but don’t wait until then-their merchandise has already sold out numerous times, so check it out now!
We sat down with co-founders Tony Mai and John Martinez to ask them about their journey in the fashion industry.
John: Well I did graffiti when I was younger, and PHOR was the name given to me and it kind of just stuck. I always wanted to do a clothing line and I needed to come up with a good name, and since I was always able to write PHOR or PHORMULA really well it became the name of the line. As far as the clothing line, I met Tony through a previous job and we never thought that each other would be into fashion or creating a line, but once the industry we were in started going down I started drawing again and doing all kinds of design stuff. I did a lot of freelance work for other companies, making them money while I wasn’t, so I decided to do my own thing. I always wanted to do it, but I never had a partner to start that journey with so it was hard. We kept in touch and one day I just threw the idea at him and turns out he was interested, so that’s pretty much how everything began.
2. How long has your company been running?
Tony: We started planning and putting everything together back in 2008. My background is sales and marketing, so we had to decide if we wanted to sell locally or really brand it out as a major player in the game. We didn’t launch until January of 2009, and ever since then it’s been pretty crazy. We’ve been picking up more stores and gaining a bigger audience, so it kind of just took off on its own. It’s still a lot of work though, since John and I wear a lot of hats on a daily basis. The first five stores we sold to all sold out, and we started picking up stores in Hawaii, Florida, New Jersey, and of course all of California. We are at the point now where we are definitely growing but we are not trying to grow too fast because the branding part is really important to us.
John: We have plans to work with some major brands soon and we are also planning on coming out with accessories like hats and hoodies, but our main emphasis will always be our shirts.
3. Any plans on extending the line for women’s styles?
John: Actually in January there will be a full women’s line, mainly consisting of shirts and some shirt dresses, all of which will have graphics on them from top to bottom. We are sampling out to a lot of bigger stores for spring, so spring 2010 should really be our time to expand and really get our name out there. Keep checking out website for updates!
4. What makes your designs different than other clothing companies out there?
John: We do have a lot of girls on our shirts, but we don’t just do a gray scale of them and throw on a font-there’s a lot of artistic thought that goes into it. We are into a sexier look, not raunchy like some other brands out there. These days a lot of people just throw on a graphic because everyone else is doing it and they think they can sell it like that, but we definitely take the time to plan it out and make sure the concept is there, and if we don’t feel confident about it then we won’t do it.
Tony: A lot of times retailers will ask for the same thing over and over so ideally you want to come up with something that sells. So far, what we have now is selling really well and the stores that carry our clothing are still asking for it, so everything seems to be working out to our advantage right now.
5. How did you get your clothing into so many stores?
Tony: It’s just reaching out and presenting it in a certain way. There is a lot of ways to do it, but
we sat down and decided that we were going to present our brand as something that we are
really proud of and that’s high quality. Building a relationship with retailers is key, because at
the end of the day if they’re not profitable then it’s not going to help us out. It’s not about us
picking up as many stores as we can-it’s finding out about that store. What kind of promos they
do, how they treat other brands, and understanding what type of customers they have.
John: We kind of took a chance by printing out mass quantities of our merchandise and letting
stores sample it out for free to show them our confidence in our designs. Instead of being
cautious and printing out one shirt, we let our clothing speak for themselves on the rack. Lucky
for us, our clothing has sold out multiple times.
Tony: You really have to believe in your brand, regardless. It can work to your advantage or it
can work against you, but we saw what was out there and we felt that nobody had what we
have. Not to say that we are the best, but people always want something different and new,
especially in this industry. But before we started anything we really had to believe in our brand
to make sure that this was what we really want to do, otherwise we would be just another
number out there. We are really passionate about what we do, and I think that passion added
to our success so far.
John: Music and photography really influence us. I become inspired by whatever music that I am listening to as I am shooting pictures, and once the photo and the song come together, that’s when I know I got the shot. Some of our shirts have song titles or lyrics on them. I think our message and our images stem from music, so we always try to make sure that they complement each other and that there is a concept behind it.
7. What kind of music influences you?
John: Mostly hip hop. I come from a DJ background, so music has always been really important to me.
8. What challenges have you faced so far?
Tony: I think we are at that point where more stores mean more account management. John and I did everything: the accounting, selling, designing, and now that we are expanding there is a lot more work involved. We brought interns on and have been approached by individuals who want to work for us, but it’s very difficult to see who is truly passionate about this and who just wants to jump on because things are starting to move forward. We have run into people wanting to join us for the wrong reasons, so that was a challenge for us.
John: I think that they forget how much time and work is involved in creating and maintaining a clothing line. It’s a long process from start to finish, and I think that if your heart is not completely into it, it’s hard to keep the enthusiasm and passion about it. A lot of people doubted us in the beginning, thinking we were just another clothing line, another two person partnership, but at the end of the day it’s how much time you put into it. It’s rewarding to see people buying it and wearing our designs, so that makes everything that we do worth it. We get emails from people from Canada to New York asking us to sell our line there, and we feel so fortunate that our brand has expanded so far in such a short amount of time.
9. What stores can we find Phormula in?
Tony: We have most of our retailers listed online at our site and they can also email us to find a location near them. It’s scattered around which is a good thing because if we were to put it in every single store then it wouldn’t be as exclusive. We’re in the process of working with some more stores outside of California for Spring 2010. For the latest updates, please keep checking back on our website. (www.phormulainc.com)
John: It’s hard for me to buy clothes. If I see someone wearing the same thing I am I can’t wear it anymore because it’s not unique. We really try to remain exclusive yet available if anyone is interested in our style, so it’s hard to balance.
Tony: Some stores told us right away that if we were to sell our clothing to another store in the same mall then they wouldn’t buy from us anymore. By the end of the day we try to make sure that each retailer selling our merchandise is profitable, because if they aren’t, then neither are we.
10.Where would you like to see Phormula in 5-10 years? Would you like to have your own stores or would you rather keep selling to retailers?
John: I think that the plan in the future is definitely a flagship store; I feel that flagships help with branding and also I think there’s a little bit more control. I see us being a full blown, top to bottom line. But the main concern for us within the next 5 years is expanding overseas.
Tony: Hopefully! I would love to see Phormula taken to that point. For me, that would be a really nice accomplishment because I definitely love shoes.
John: It would probably be Tony’s dream to collaborate with Nike.
12. To finish off, the hardest question: in three words, describe Phormula.
John: Crazy, sexy, cool TLC! Haha you know what’s funny? We get asked this all the time and it’s the hardest question to answer.
Tony: I would definitely describe it as sexy and unique. Sometimes when something comes so naturally to you, you can’t really put a word on it. I think for our audience we didn’t come out to say we are something in particular; we wanted to let our line speak for itself rather than place any generalization or tag on it beforehand. Our customers are pretty diverse, from the hip hop scene to ravers and also skaters, so it reaches out to a lot of different audiences. Its way more universal than we thought it was going to be.
John: I think we make clothes that look good, feel good, and are good quality. We don’t aim to please anybody-we aim to make clothing that we are proud of and that anyone can appreciate.
For more information on Phormula, check them out at: www.phormulainc.com
About the Author
Crissy Done graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a Bachelor’s in English and a strong desire to write. Her passions include fashion, beauty, music and travel. She hopes to one day become a successful and published author.