Gone are the days of athletes just playing their sport. They endorse products, design clothes, sell real estate, promote parties — diversity is key to success on and off the court. Matt Barnes may not seem like the modern athlete at first glance — a tough, hard-nosed complementary player who knows his role.
However, Barnes’ philanthropic endeavors has led him to the seemingly unlikely field of fashion design. Barnes is a co-owner of and investor in Elusion Clothing, a streetwear brand based out of Cleveland, Ohio. The Basketball Jones’ Megan Wilson recently spoke with Elusion’s creator and head designer, Danita Davis on what it takes to build and maintain a clothing brand today and how Barnes’ is a model, muse and collaborator.
Megan Wilson: How did Elusion Clothing start?
Danita Davis: Elusion was an idea of mine early on in college. I made it my goal to launch the brand. I was in college majoring in Computer Info Tech, bored out of my mind in classes. Fashion was always my love. I started the brand after studying fashion for five years … learning anything and everything possible about fashion, from designing to labeling to retail.
In 2006, I got very sick. My fiance [then boyfriend] held all of the bills down along with my brother while I launched Elusion. I had $250 left in my bank account when I started; that $250 bought me a couple of shirts that I gave to friends of mine. From there, the brand took off. I was also three months pregnant then with my son, Darrian.
MW: Where’d you come with the name Elusion?
DD: The name Elusion is a name my friends and I came up with in college. Elevating Life’s Unique Styles Instead Of Negating: E.L.U.S.I.O.N. My definition of that is to appreciate all styles of clothing, all types. When I launched Elusion, I wanted to create a brand that any type of man could wear and appreciate.
MW: How did you get involved with Matt Barnes?
DD: I chose to get involved with Matt after a friend told me about what he was doing for cancer research. At the time I was promoting a shirt we had made for a friend of mine who suffered from cancer in the throat. Matt had just launched his foundation at that time. Matt lost his mom to cancer a few years ago. I was already a big fan of him on the court, so I reached out to do my part to support. I sent him 100 shirts for the golfers and participants. He called me after the event, which blew me away. He inquired about the brand. I mentioned ownership to him and he was willing to help us. Since then, we’ve been close. He’s like my brother now.
MW: Can you explain Matt’s involvement in the brand? What’s he like as a model?
DD: Matt is co-owner. Matt is an investor. He does everything possible to get Elusion where it needs to be. We’re in the process of getting different events together promoting both the brand and the cancer organization. He’s heavily involved, he hits me on the phone if he doesn’t like something and he offers insight. As a model he’s alright (laughs). I can tell he’s getting better with it … his stylist and I both agree that he has the perfect look for the brand. He’s cool; he’s not arrogant at all.
DD: A friend of mine named Dustin Watson did the artwork for Matt’s tee. He’s an amazing illustrator who has done work for many athletes in the NBA. Matt and I talked about it after seeing a few teammates of his make different things throughout his season. He did a signing at a local shoe store in Orlando during the playoff run. The shirts flew off the shelves.
MW: How has the brand changed since you started it?
DD: Since I started, trends have changed. When I first started Elusion, baggy pants were still in style. Baggy clothes period. We had our run with the heavy slogan tee shirts [2006-2008] which did a lot for the brand, but I had to make real clothing in order to be accepted by stylists, stores and big time media publications. Started off with tees, moved into hoodies, sweatshirts and then moved into cut & sew. I wouldn’t say we changed; it’s been more of a maturation process. Fashion has grown up. So have we.
MW: Who or what are your design inspirations? Do you do all the graphics yourself?
DD: I followed greats like Tom Ford, Daymond John, Tommy Hilfiger and Marc Ecko. I do most of the graphics myself. Lately I have been working with Johnny Rocwell, a great friend of mine — comic book artist.
MW: What’s your target market and who’s your dream clientele?
DD: My dream clientele varies because Elusion covers so many different styles. If I had to narrow it down, I’d like to target people that appreciate true cut and sew. That’s why I truly got into the game of fashion. I want to create pieces from scratch and have it be appreciated. Athletes and celebrities appreciate Elusion because it’s fresh and limited. People that hate seeing someone walk down the street in the same thing they own appreciate Elusion right now because we are very exclusive.
MW: Do you plan on only focusing on menswear with Elusion?
DD: A lot of athletes struggle finding clothing with the right arm length for them. If I do get into it, I’d specialize in bringing the GQ/Esquire style to the athletes. They deserve to look their best regardless of their height and weight. We will be expanding the brand with a small women’s collection this spring. We will also have a small sports collection.
DD: In this recession, pricing is important. People aren’t spending $200 on an outfit like they used to. It’s not about a label anymore; you really have to have incredible clothing to stand out.
I think that keeping your clothing somewhat exclusive builds a high demand. I don’t want everybody to have access to Elusion Clothing. I want it to be limited so the customers that do get their hands on some of it can appreciate it and have their friends envy. Eventually, we will have no choice but to give the people what they want, but for now, I enjoy reading customer emails about how they’re the only ones in their city with a certain piece from our collection. It makes my day.
MW: What kind of advice would give someone who wants to start up a clothing brand?
DD: Do something else. It’s so overcrowded right now in the fashion game, mostly in the streetwear area. If you can drop a strong cut & sew brand, take your time, make it right. Fashion is never going away. Take time and watch how trends change. Watch how people flip from one thing to another. Remember that you have to be ahead of them to be a successful brand. It’s a tough ass game.
MW: Where do you see your brand in a year? 5 years? Will you stay apparel only? Will you venture into accessories?
DD: Hopefully by next year, Elusion Clothing will be a regular name in the mainstream fashion industry … we want Elusion Clothing to be a timeless brand, something that people can wear for years to come . We may have some more accessories; they tend to do well with us. No shoes, at least not right now. There are so many sneakers out, it’s insane. We will take our time and let the people decide.