Above marquee image: An inspiration mood board, courtesy of Baja East
Building a luxury fashion brand from the ground up is a feat many dream of but few achieve. Among those few are John Targon and Scott Studenberg, who launched their cool-kid "ambisex" label Baja East in 2013 and have seen a rocket-like ascent ever since. After meeting at an Equinox workout class 14 years ago, the two became fast friends and later business partners—ones who (quite literally) ate, slept and breathed their brand as roommates in a studio apartment until it became a reality. Here, we sit down with the inspiring duo to find out how they started, what they learned along the way and how they're changing the course of women's fashion as we know it.
Baja East Prefall '16. Photo: Courtesy of Baja East
The Early Days: A Career Change-Up
The stars aligned from the beginning for John and Scott, who were both working in sales and strategy for luxury brands (at Céline and Lanvin, respectively). Their work schedules closely mirrored each other's—they'd both travel around the US to various retail locations, oftentimes linking up to visit stores together. As a result, they were able to see what men and women were actually purchasing and gain an understanding of who the true luxury customer is.
"We saw a void in the market for the idea of loose luxury," says Scott of the concept that would ultimately become the core of Baja East. "We would joke and say we should start our own brand—we said it enough that we actually convinced ourselves."
How They Made It To The Top
Despite being well-connected in the fashion industry, launching the brand didn't come without its challenges.
"We did everything [to get the brand off the ground]," Scott says. "We had both previously worked on small teams, but there was ultimately a way bigger infrastructure in place at those companies. It's easy to take that for granted. When it became just the two of us, we saw a lot more unfold."
After six months developing their debut collection, they hired their first employee to help with day-to-day operations. They toiled around the clock, using Scott's studio apartment on Wall Street in New York City as both a living and working space. Although they've now upgraded to a two bedroom in Chelsea, they maintain the concept of a living workspace—they host press appointments in their living room, welcoming the likes of Anna Wintour.
"We do everything here," says John. "We sleep here, we live here—we're always here."
The guys also understand the importance of consulting their network for support, and they leveraged their connections in a mutually advantageous way.
"We tapped all of our contacts and didn't just ask them what they could do for us but asked what we could do for them," Scott says. "We asked our designer friends which manufacturers they used, and in turn offered advice on distribution, since we understand sales. We wanted to see how we could help [the people that helped us]—we knew we could give back."
In the early aughts, John and Scott took nearly every meeting that came their way in order to keep an open mind and get genuine, honest feedback. This would ultimately help them amass the knowledge they needed to successfully execute their unique idea of creating a unisex brand.
The New Wave Of Fashion: Ambisex Dressing
The notion of unisex dressing has gained momentum in the last couple seasons (notably with the rise of athleisure), and Baja East has played a formative role in the movement. John and Scott first floated the idea when they started wearing their first samples out and got compliments from guys and girls. In an aha moment half a year later, they agreed that they wanted to do something totally different and blur the lines between men's and women's fashion.
"There were no luxury brands that sat next to Givenchy and Balenciaga that were ambisex," John says. Filling that void with a debut collection of core styles ranging from sporty sweatpants and pullovers to jet-set-ready tunics, Baja East hit the ground running.
Looks from the debut Resort '15 collection. Photos: Courtesy of Baja East
To circumvent the challenges of creating a line that needed to appeal to men and women, fabric became of utmost importance.
"In the early days of the brand, we set out to say that it's not about gender—it's essentially about confidence and how people feel in our clothes," says Scott. "That's why fabrics play a major role, from the cotton in our T-shirts to our most expensive cashmere. In the beginning, I think people were interacting not only with our unisex aesthetic but with how they felt in our clothes."
Flipping The Switch On Traditional Design
Cut to present day: Despite an unorthodox concept, the brand has amassed fans who represent some of the most influential artists in the world, from Justin Bieber to Lady Gaga.
In an era in which the consumer is clearly experiencing fatigue from the antiquated fashion cycle, this new wave of design—that feels at once exciting, authentic and inclusive—represents a shift in how we think about clothing. Scott and John consider this element of real-life wearability when they structure their collections.
"We're inspired by how people actually dress," says Scott. "In our Fall 2016 collection, we sent a $28,000 alligator coat down the runway with a vintage oil-washed tee, harem pants and Fila slides that retail for $95. Maybe you can't buy the look at all points, but you can still get into the brand and feel a part of it. We always want to stay relevant and relatable."
Flip through lookbooks or peruse Baja East's social media accounts and it's immediately apparent that John and Scott don't just talk the talk, they walk the walk. All elements of their brand ethos coalesce into a lifestyle that's at once aspirational and attainable—a true bridging of the gap between how an impeccably styled runway presentation translates to real life. Forward thinking yet pragmatic, Baja East's progressive point of view represents the shifting industry tide and paves the way for a future full of—as they've coined it—loose luxury for all.