Who is Nick Graham?
Nick Graham established his eponymous menswear brand in 2014. The company produces menswear for what Graham call the “Perennial Millennial” defined by Graham as men who do not represent a particular age or income level, but rather are looking for updated alternatives to the traditional menswear offering.
Creating a new dynamic - both recognizable and refreshing - Nick Graham is a mix of tradition, attitude and pure fun, taking Menswear just a little further stylistically than where it’s been.
At Nick Graham we don’t want you to get bored, so that's why we launch new products all the time. Our influences come from everywhere, because the world is more transparent and connected than ever.
We know you are your our own personal brand, and we hope our products allow you to express it in a way that is all your own. Thank you for letting us be part of your style.
Business and Fashion Career
Nick Graham in an early promotional photograph from 1987
Graham bought a sewing machine at a church auction in rural Alberta when he was 16 and, with the assistance of Elizabeth Sebbelov, he taught himself how to sew. Graham cites ‘Biz Biz’ as she is known, as inspiring him to first make clothes.
After graduating high school, he traveled to Europe and spent six months living on the island of Naxos in Greece, creating simple dresses for the tourist trade. As Graham said, “My dresses were really kimonos because I didn’t know how to sew curves.” After Greece, he lived in Stockholm and London where he continued to explore the design, fashion and art world.
Graham returned to Canada in 1979, settling in Vancouver where he created the company “Electricity Design” with his partner Maria Goldinger, producing futuristic architectural clothing, and became a staple of the dynamic arts and music scene.
Graham and Goldinger moved to San Francisco in 1980, and started a neckwear and accessory company called "Summ," a variation on the name of Howard Hughes's company Summa. Their involvement in the punk and new-wave movements inspired his alternative design and marketing instincts.
They operated Summ out of their San Francisco loft, manufacturing skinny neckties, selling them to local specialty stores as well as Macy's San Francisco. The Macy’s buyer liked the fabrics the company was producing, and asked them to make some underwear using them. Macy's was the first customer to order the product, and Joe Boxer was born. Graham was undecided whether to call the company Joe Blow or Joe Boxer, so he asked his housekeeper at the time which she preferred and she said Joe Boxer so he stuck with it.
Producing and silk-screening the underwear out of Graham’s loft, Boxer quickly caught on in the Bay Area, and expanded nationally in the late 1980s. The company also sold to Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York. One of the key styles the company produced was called the “Ultimate Hoser”, a pair of red flannel boxers with a detachable raccoon tail. The first order sold out of Saks in two-days.
Joe Boxer Underwear Vending Machine, 1995
By the early 1990s, Joe Boxer was gaining steam nationally, selling to every department store in the country. The company did no advertising, instead relying on word-of-mouth and great design. In 1990 Graham won the Woolmark award for menswear, and in 1991 The Earnie Award for Children’s Wear.
Graham was accepted into the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 1991, and the same year co-hosted the “7th on Sixth” AIDS fundraiser in San Francisco with Donna Karan. Graham has continued to support charitable causes throughout his career.
The Joe Boxer sensibility was one of irreverence and style. Graham has said that a key to the companys success was they were 2500 miles from New York and the heart of the fashion industry, so they had no rules defined by the norms of the industry. During the 90’s the company created hundreds of distinct textile designs all geared towards a whimsical sensibility around men's underwear. The company created glow-in-the-dark underwear, 3D underwear, and its trademarked Mr. Licky patterned based on the classic 1960’s happy face. The boxer was a large print of a happy face in the center of the short, and was also known as “Nose Not Included”, which could be rectified by the wearer.
This same design sense was extended to home textiles in 1991 and children's underwear and sleepwear in 1992. Boxer added its first international license in 1992 through a licensing arrangement with Caulfield Apparel Group in Toronto.
Joe Boxer “Girlfriend” model on the “Cyberscooter”, a joint promotion with Motorola in Nieman Marcus Christmas Catalogue
The company added the women's brand “Joe Boxer Girlfriend” in 1995, extending the slightly cheeky nature of the brand to products for women. The company added watches with Timex Corp, with some watches that ran backwards and some that were filled with water. In 1997 the company added Joe Boxer Jeans with a license to VF Corp.
The company continued to expand and was soon available in over 800 stores across United States. Joe Boxer made an impact in department stores like no other brand had, becoming a favorite throughout North America. Its sensibility of design anarchy in a then otherwise staid environment made it one of the most popular underwear and lifestyle brands.
The company added active wear and swimwear in 1999, but that and other issues challenged the company financially. Citing the classic case of business overexpansion, Graham’s sold a majority of the company to the Windsong Allegiance Group in 2000. . “One thing I learned from this whole experience,” Graham said, “is that a company should really stick to its prime source of revenue, and not extend further than it reasonably can.”
After operating at department store channels until 2002, Windsong and Graham decided to license the brand directly to Kmart Corporation in Detroit. Graham envisioned a complete collection at Kmart using all of their manufacturing capabilities, designing products such as plastic dog toys with packaging that read “I Cant Believe Its Not Steak” or “Motivational Kleenex” with uplifting messages printed on the tissues.
Joe Boxer “I Cant Believe Its Not Steak” Dog Toys proposed for Kmart
Graham continued to be involved with the company until 2005 when it was sold to Iconix Brand Group in New York. Iconix continued the license with Kmart where the brand remains today.
Once the Iconix transaction closed, Graham started a new company called “Wonderbrand” out of San Francisco, and developed products for many multichannel retailers around the United States. The company successfully launched four brands in 7000 stores within 18 months. At the same time, Graham was hired by the JCPenney Company as a design consultant for their private label businesses. He also started “Nick- it”, a menswear collection at JCPenney geared towards young men, which was a precursor for his current Nick Graham brand.
“Nick-It: Traditionally Twisted” promotional photograph 2006
In 2008, Graham became Mens design director for Delta Galil, an underwear company based in Israel, and spent two years helping Delta develop men's underwear products in many multichannel retailers.
In 2012, Graham moved to New York City from San Francisco and began developing the idea for his current Nick Graham collection. The brand launched online in December 2013, and expanded into department stores in October 2014. The same month Iconix Brand Group invested in the company, and continues to be a shareholder today.
His company motto is “Because He Can” which is the punch line to a joke about a dog, but its also reflects his philosophy that Men are becoming more and more interested in dressing well, and just need the tools to do so.
Today Nick Graham can be found in over 3000 stores in the United States, and is known for its leadership in men's design and fashion. Graham says his target market is what he calls “Perennial Millennials”, which he defines as men with no specific age or income level, but who want something more from their wardrobe. Graham also cites the changing workplace having an enormous effect on men’s style.
As he wrote in the Robin Report in November 2016, “The rise of entrepreneurship is also affecting workplace style. Statistics from the Small Business Administrations Office of Advocacy cites that…of all companies in the United States, 99.2 percent had less than 500 workers, and 86.2 percent had fewer than 20 employees. Small firms accounted for 63 percent of the net new jobs created between 1993 and mid-2013 (or 14.3 million of the 22.9 million net new jobs). Since the end of the recession (from mid-2009 to mid-2013), small firms accounted for 60 percent of the net new jobs. Small firms in the 20-499 employee category led job creation.”
Looks from Nick Grahams Spring/Summer 2017 “Our Men in Havana” collection
Says Graham, “It's pretty clear what is happening here. The confluence of technology and the explosion of small businesses are changing how men dress. The rise of the entrepreneurial nature of the workplace is allowing for a new image. Look at the explosive growth of shared work environments like “We Work”, and its clear what is happening. The days of the large corporate office are numbered, and so is the traditional uniform of what Men wear to work. Casual Friday is dead, and we are all better for it. For many men, it was too confusing anyway.”
But Graham stresses that just because the workplace is becoming more casual, the new economy and demographic is giving rise to a new modern look that Men are slowly adapting too. Pocket squares, neatly printed shirts and untraditional neckwear, combined with color and texture in sport coats and suit separates, are transforming the sales of traditional Menswear with a big upside for the industry. Graham notes that women’s clothing sales in the U.S. are about $120 billion, men’s apparel is about $60 billion, and its not because there are twice as many women. Bringing color and pattern into everyday style is something women have known for a long time. If more Men adopt this trend, it speaks well for the industry as a whole.”
But it’s not just the workplace that is undergoing this transformation. “President Obama has famously turned the Oval Office into a tie-optional zone, and the same goes for the Canadian Government, but sometimes Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn’t even wear a shirt.”
Graham currently runs his menswear collection out of an office in New York's Bryant Park. In two seasons at New York men's fashion week, Graham has become well known for his experiential fashion shows, which are more performance art than traditional fashion shows. For Fall 2017 Graham is launching his “Life on Mars” collection, in anticipation of mankind’s pending visit to the red planet.
Graham has long been known to be a leader who utilizes alternative marketing strategies. Throughout the time that Graham ran the company, except for a Times Square billboard, the Joe Boxer brand never advertised, relying instead on experiential events to get the word out. In 1990 he coined the phrase “The brand is the amusement park, the product is the souvenir,” which best sums up his concept of marketing. He also describes branding as having the ability to create an emotional relationship with an inanimate object. “Brands are human, and many companies forget that.”
Graham and his San Francisco based team, led by Denise Slattery, did all the marketing work in house, and only on one occasion in 15 years hired a PR firm. The company felt that it knew itself better than an agency would, and relied on its gut instinct to make headlines. In the days when stories were measured in column inches, the team created stories that compelled the press in ways that hadn’t seen before.
Joe Boxer Boxer Shorts confiscated and burned by the Secret Service in 1985 for suspicion of counter-fitting
1985-1990 Chanel, Surf Russia and Secret Service
Graham cites an occurrence in 1986 as formative in his marketing sensibility. Shortly after starting the company, Graham was silk screening designs on his fabrics and making them into underwear. One of the designs was a $500 bill, and after someone found paper in a dumpster behind Grahams loft with the currency printed on it, the Secret Service was alerted. Agents came to Graham’s door and confiscated his underwear and burnt it. The story went out on the newswire, and the company was suddenly known throughout the United States.
Graham also liked to play with other established brands imagery. Graham once produced Joe Boxer No. 5 T-shirts as a gift, which resulted in Chanel sending him a cease-and-desist letter asking him to withdraw the T-shirts, which he did. Graham subsequently made a T-shirt out of the letter. He also like to play with established imagery, which resulted in his 1989 collection “Surf Russia”, combining images of Lenin and Gorbachev with stylized surf imagery.
Nick Graham and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in Times Square for the Worlds First Cyber Wedding
1990-1995 World's Largest Email, Impersonating Elvis and a Virgin in Times Square
Joe Boxer was always a leader in the use of technology, and is assumed to have been the first apparel company on the Internet when it launched joeboxer.com in 1991. The website had a virtual-underpants feature where the user could stand with their waist against the screen and download the underwear into their pants. That same year the company put its URL on the elastic of its underwear.
In 1993 the Joe Boxer rented a 4000 square-foot billboard in New York's Times Square, and installed the “World’s Largest Email” where anyone in the world could send messages to the billboard. In 1994 a couple from North Carolina proposed marriage to each other on the billboard, and seeing that, Graham flew them to New York and hosted a wedding officiated by then Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. The bride and groom read their vows and “I do’s” from the digital ticker in front of 500 attending press and audience.
Also in 1994 Graham reached out to his longtime hero Richard Branson and was invited on the inaugural flight of Virgin Atlantic from London to San Francisco. On the flight, Graham and Branson, dressed as stewardesses, handed out underwear, telling passengers that everyone entering the United States had to have clean underwear on. Later that year Branson and Graham were suspended above Time Square in the bucket of a crane, promoting the companies’ buy-bye program where anyone buying 5-pairs of underwear got a free companion ticket to London on Virgin.
When launching Joe Boxer in Japan in 1995, Graham exited a car in front of 1000 employees of the department store chain in Tokyo - in his underwear. In their silent and unassuming way, the Japanese were somewhat shocked, so Graham decided that he should put his pants on, but the driver had taken off in the car and Graham was left in his underwear for an hour until the driver could be found.
Nick Graham and Richard Branson in Times Square promoting their “Buy-Bye” campaign, 1995
In 1995 in celebration of Joe Boxer’s 10th anniversary, Graham, a minister of the Universal Life Church, hired a chapel in Las Vegas and officiated as an Elvis Presley impersonator over the wedding of two of the guests who had been randomly selected from business cards left at the door. The couple divorced immediately after the party, before the marriage could be consummated.
Throughout the 1990s Graham promoted the brand internationally, launching in Australia in 1996. In 1998, together with artist Damien Hirst, Graham sponsored an underwear design competition at a design College in London. That same year, he launched the brand in Mexico City, but rather than spend promotional money on a big party, Graham used it to build a playground in one of the poorest sections of Mexico City.
Joe Boxer Rocket taking off from Black Rock, Nevada. At 700mph. the rocket reached an altitude of 120,000 feet with a payload of Joe Boxer and Russian underwear. The Russian underwear was found in Nebraska, the Joe Boxer underwear was never found
1995-2000 Space Program, General Motors and Icelandic Princesses
In 1996 the company launched rockets from Black Rock in the Nevada desert, sending underwear 120,000 feet into sub-orbit, which is the highest-point a pair of underwear has ever gone unmanned. Accompanying the Joe Boxer underwear was a pair of Russian underwear. The Russian underwear was found in Nebraska, the Joe Boxer underwear was never found. The company also launched a rocket for 500 of its customers in the Las Vegas desert as part of a promotion at a tradeshow. Unfortunately, the rocket exploded, sending underwear down onto the crowd, but thankfully, no rocket parts hit anyone.
Also, in 1996 he collaborated with Warner Bros., hosting what he called the "Cartoon Couture" fashion show in their flagship store on Fifth Avenue and 57th St. in New York. Graham reimagined the classic characters in the Warner Bros. archives, creating over-the-top outfits for a fashion show with 1000 people in attendance.
The same year hosted the world’s largest breakfast in Times Square with General Mills, promoting frosted Cheerios. 900 people showed up at a long table erected in the heart of New York City for breakfast courtesy of Joe Boxer. A contest was held for customers to appear on the Time Square billboard in their underwear, and the company had thousands of entries. At the same time, Graham also develop the world’s first underwear vending machine, placing the machines in strategic parts of New York City in San Francisco.
1997, Joe Boxer closed New York fashion week in Reykjavík, Iceland, flying in 200 fashion editors for a 48-hour extravaganza including horseback rides, cocktails with the president, and a fashion show for 2000 people at an abandoned airline hanger in the heart of the city. The company also launched “Fashion Targets Breast Cancer” Iceland initiative in conjunction with the CFDA. The show opened with 200 Icelandic choir children, and included sheep, salmon, fisherman, and ended with 13 Santa Clauses and a gigantic Ice Princess. The show was the first ever live-stream of a fashion event sponsored by Microsoft.
General Motors and Nick Graham created Joe Boxer Taxis and all fares collected went to breast cancer research in New York and San Francisco
In 1998 the company, in conjunction with General Motors, built two Joe Boxer cabs, using Chevrolet venture minivans that were put on the streets of San Francisco and New York city, with all fares going to breast-cancer research. As part of the development process, Graham stood in a giant wind tunnel in Detroit, and aerodynamically tested his underwear.
The same year purchased the title “Lord of Balls” from the Manorial Society of Great Britain. As Graham says the title was marked down, and being the CUO of Joe Boxer he couldn’t resist to be the Lord of Balls.
The company also worked with workout pioneer Jack Lalanne to promote its new activewear collection and Graham toured the country with Jack and Elaine doing workouts for customers in various locations.
1999 Graham promoted Eddie Izzard's first tour in the United States, “Dressed to Kill”. The company erected a billboard on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles where passing motorists could tune in to hear Eddie Izzard on their radios. Graham has long had an affinity for comedy and has promoted other comedians over the years.
Joe Boxer staged the “Worlds Fastest Fashion Show” with a Human Cannonball over a Kmart store in Detroit
2000-2010 Human Cannonballs and Random Acts of Politeness
Graham launched the collection at Kmart with a high school marching band at Kmart's headquarters in Detroit, and also marched seven drag queens with shopping carts down Astor place in New York City, where he performed a wedding between Mr. Licky, the company's mascot, and Ms. Kmart, a model dressed in a wedding dress made of Kmart shopping bags. The fashion show took place in-store, with the models coming up and down the escalators, and was attended by 1000 people and press.
Joe Boxer hosted its own parade through Astor Place to launch its association with Kmart
Mr Licky and Ms Kmart are married in Kmart store, Astor Place New York
In 2001 Graham received permission from the CFDA to send a human cannonball over the fashion tents at Bryant Park, in what he described as the world’s fastest fashion show. The show involved one outfit, and the cannonball would be in the air for 1.2 seconds. The event was scheduled to happen on September 12, 2001, but was canceled due to the attacks in New York City. Graham finally used the cannonball in the parking lot of the Kmart store in Detroit in 2003.
In 2007 Graham staged an event called Random Acts of Politeness for “7th on Sixth Fashion Week” to promote “Nick-it” at JCPenney, where in he dressed twenty men in suits and bowler hats and who were assigned the sole mission of being nice to New Yorkers in Times Square.
In 2009 Graham teamed up Goodwill Industries in San Francisco and developed a line of repurposed clothing under the brand name “William Good”. Graham and his designers would take clothing from Goodwill and redesign it into couture one a kind pieces.
2013 Nick Graham Launches
Nick Graham, Bill Nye and two National Park Service Rangers at the Fall 2016 Fashion Show in New York.
The Statue Of Liberty Gets A Makeover
In 2013 Graham launched the Nick Graham brand on-line only. He had originally intended to launch the site by sending a human cannonball over a party at Art Basel Miami into a net with balloons full of paint attached to the bottom of the net. When the cannonball hit the net, the site would go live and, from the impact, the balloons would explode onto a white canvas below. The Jackson Pollock inspired painting made was to be auctioned for charity. Unfortunately, the event was cancelled at the last minute by the Miami Police Department as being too disruptive.
Graham launched the site by offering anyone with the name Nick Graham a discount of 50%. He also did a search for other people named Nick Graham to work at the company. Graham hired " a filmmaker from Brooklyn named Nick Graham to film promotions for the company.
Nick Graham launched at Macy's New York in October 2014, with a parade down Broadway led by identical twins. The twins made their way into the store and then participated in a "Twin Off", a dance competition in the dress shirt department at Macy's.
The same month, Graham hired a helicopter to fly a 200-foot bowtie in front of the Statue of Liberty on Halloween. The company created a huge amount of press, with most people wondering how the National Parks Service could allow the company to put a bowtie on the Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, the bowtie was not aerodynamically prepared to make the flight, and rather than have the bowtie ending up in the Hudson River, Graham cancelled the event two hours before its planned flight.
New York, London, Havana and Mars
In July 2015 Graham did his first show for the Nick Graham brand as part of New York Men's Fashion week. In January 2016 Graham collaborated with the National Park Service for its 100h Anniversary and staged his "Men in their Natural Habitat" fashion show. He removed all the seats from the space, replacing them with pine trees and placing the models, each named after a national park, in a forest for the audience to discover. In July 2016 Graham staged his "Our Men in Havana" collection in tribute to pre-revolutionary Cuba. In addition to recreating the famed Tropicana Club in 1958, with a ten-piece band and eight elaborately feathered dancing girls; Graham named each model after a fictitious international spy, whose sole mission was to feed trend forecasts around the world.
In November 2016 Graham dressed Bill Nye for his upcoming Netflix series Bill Nye Saves The World, which is scheduled to be broadcast in 2017. Graham is also currently dressing the Preservation Hall Jazz Band from New Orleans. In January 2017 Graham will present his "Life on Mars" collection, which he calls his 2025 Fall collection in light of Elon Musk aiming to put humans on Mars in 2025.
MUSIC AND PERFORMING
Graham has been involved in many bands over the years. His first band “Jeux” was a San Francisco trio that relied on conceptual soundtracks and imagery. He also was the lead singer for the “Passengers” and “Screen of Dreams”, two San Francisco bands that would regularly play the Mabuhay Gardens and other underground venues in San Francisco. In 2005 Graham, along with 5 other musicians, formed the Phat Barbie’s, performing regularly at Grahams private club “The Lord of Balls” lounge in Marin County, California. Graham would also play the Bay Area’s Dot Restaurant, in which he was a partner.
Graham is currently working on his new iteration as lead vocalist in a group called “Nick Graham and the Vagablonds”, a 12-piece big band that he will debut in New York City in 2017. The show, “Soundtracks from Films Never Made”, is a set of all original material written by Graham over several years. His writing is influenced by singers such as Leonard Cohen, John Prine, Bob Dylan, David Bowie, Cole Porter and Gordon Lightfoot. The Vagablonds also draws influence from the likes of Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble and Nellie Mckay to name a few.
In 2002, Graham started to develop his concept called “100 Minutes”, attempting to define what branding really is and how to help people maximize the potential of their brand. Grahams meesage is simple.
The 100 Minute Brand shows how people can reinvigorate their creative process to translate (externally) the value they have within. Using his theory, based in part on Charles and Ray Eames Powers of Ten, Graham demonstrates how the power of a single individual can outwardly create memory for others. It is also used to illustrate that the memory contained within an individual (their DNA), can and will dictate how they can translate their own memory to others, ultimately creating their own "brand."
In conjunction with the philosophy, Graham wrote and published “100 Questions” a guide to better understanding what Graham sees as a purely existential process of defining one's own brand. The first question asks: "Who are you?," and the last "How do you want to be remembered?" Graham published the book and distributed it at the TED conference in 2009.
In 2011 Graham developed a plantation in Borneo for the growth of patchouli oil and other fine fragrance products with Elizabeth Gaynes In 2012 “Gaia One”, as the company was known, signed a 10-year agreement with Givadaun, the world’s largest fragrance maker, based in Geneva, Switzerland, purchasing patchouli oil from its sustainable plantation.
NOTABLE AND FAVORITE QUOTES
The Brand is the Amusement Park, The Product is the Souvenir.
Mars is the new Black.
The world is small when you know the right people.
Sorry is the Canadian Aloha.
If you don’t ask the, answer is no.
Branding is having the ability to create an emotional relationship with an inanimate object.