A small town kid with big city dreams seems like a cliché saying for most success stories, but not for denim guru Donwan Harrell, founder of luxury denim brand PRPS. With his passion and love for comics and vintage cars, one would think that the two areas would never cross paths in a fashion driven society. But it was his impeccable illustration skillset that led him to land jobs at Robert Graham (formally known as Robert Stock), DKNY and Nike for over 8 years until developing his own line in 2002. Also attending drag races with his father as a young child were just only parts to the foundation of his global brand. But with his educational background from VCU and experience through Chambre Syndicale, he received his moms blessing who felt that he should do what was natural to him. Traveling the world at a young age and developing impactful connections, it was destined that Donwan was to take over the entire denim movement.
DH: Where were you born and raised?
DH: I was born in a little town called Ahoskie, which was a mining and tree-cutting town. My dad ended up getting a job building interiors for battleships for the Navy, so he moved the family to Virginia Beach and that’s pretty much where I grew up.
DH: At what point did you realize you had an interest in fashion?
DH: My mom was a seamstress as well as my dad’s aunts working for OshKosh B’Gosh, so I was always surrounded by extra bulks of fabric at the house and just got involved with it. It became pretty natural and that’s what I decided to do for a living.
DH: Aside from fashion, what was another interest of yours?
DH: I was a huge avid comic book reader! I was always redesigning the uniforms of all the superheroes I had collected, you know doing my own variations of the uniforms. Originally, I wanted to be a comic artist but thank god I didn’t go that direction because a lot of those guys aren’t in business or making much anymore because video games took over that genre.
DH: Was moving to New York apart of the action plan to explore your talents more?
DH: Well out of college, there were only two places to go if you wanted to be in fashion and that is New York or Paris. I had no intention of being at that level in fashion because all you hear were horror stories of how you would be slaving away at these companies.
DH: What was it about denim that attracted you and then just ONLY working with this kind of product?
DH: After getting bored with
DH: Did you feel there was need for another denim brand in the market at that time?
DH: I remember seeing a pair Citizen of Humanity jean in Florida on a young lady and when I saw that, I was thinking there were no men’s jeans of that caliber and this was in 1999. By 2002 is when I hit stores, but at that time there was only Diesel and Lucky Jeans. There wasn’t much else outside of that. Diesel was very good, but they weren’t using Italian or Japanese fabrics. Lucky was one of those LA brands that were very commercial washes. I wanted to do something more characteristic based on vintage, because being in Japan at that time I spent a lot of time learning and studying and understanding vintage concepts and utilized that as a springboard for washed developments as a line and that’s where PRPS developed its stem from.
DH: What were some challenges you faced along the path of trying to start your brand?
DH: I am faced with challenges everyday, but my biggest was transitioning my Japan collection to developing a goods line because I was always delivering to an inception of better stores. And what I mean better stores I mean the Ron Hermans, the Fred Seigals, the Barneys and Bergdorfs and to create a line that was going to be a spinoff but with out harming the original. Thus far we’ve done a really successful job with regards to differentiating the product and the name and the character of the line. But each season its very touch and go.
DH: Who is your ideal customer?
DH: Ryan Gosling would be my ideal guy! He’s like the new Steve McQueen to me.
DH: What are some of your thoughts on today’s brands? Any one in particular you like (aside form your own)
DH: To come out with a denim brand today, is no easy task so more power to them. They’re swimming with sharks, it’s like how do you separate yourself from the others. You have the H&M’s and Zara’s coming out with Japan fabrication at $49.99, how do you compete? You know. But fortunately, today we live in a brand hungry environment. It’s the one way a company like mine has an advantage.
DH: What sets your brand apart from the other denim brands?
DH: I’m a firm believer that a good painting starts with a canvas and ours starts with the denim, the quality. We use exclusive Japanese denim from 2 of the best denim mills in Japan. We’re not going to use 2nd tier or 3rd tier denim mills within our line. A lot of the character on the exterior of jeans is hand done. To replicate the kind of detail we’re going for, it has to be all hand done. 2 pairs are not going to be the same, they’ll all have different subtle nuances.
DH: What are some things guys need to look for in purchasing a good pair of denim?
DH:There are a few things. Number 1 is to try the jean on! Don’t be lazy and don’t do the whole measure the waist around your neck. Number 2, make sure when you put the jean on, it fits snug and that you can fit 1 finger in the waist. If you’re looking for 100% cotton, it’s going to expand a little bit. Number 3, when you go to the dry cleaner to get it hemmed; don’t ask for the same original hem. Just tell them to do a ¼ of an hem single stitch with the same color thread. Number 4, make sure you get a jean that’s been singed and what I mean is that there jeans that have a white hairy film, that’s unsigned. There’s a gas that’s used to burn off the film. Unsigned is more pure. But guys should get a signed, because it’ll take longer to get through. Last, don’t feel prone to wash your jeans on a regular. They were not designed to be washed. What happens, the indigo will start to fade and it’ll then it’ll start to look flat. If it starts to collect an odor, Febreeze it.
DH: Where do you see the brand going in the next 5 years?
DH: I would like to think within the next year go into licensing. Also go back into womens and develop kids.
BE SURE TO CHECK OUT PRPS AT BLOOMINGDALES AND SAKS 5TH AVENUE!
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