MG: How did you get started in the fashion industry?
DP: I started doing screen printed t-shirts five years ago. At the time, I was working at a newspaper and had a four day work week. I had three days a week where I didn’t have anything to do. I had a lot of down time and I went to a friend’s house one day and he had one of those home silk screen kits you buy at the store. I thought it looked like fun, set one up and started making t-shirts as a hobby.
Then a friend saw some of my t-shirts and said, “I would pay for that!” I was like “Really!” So maybe this could be more than a hobby. Everybody was liking what I was doing, and that was my motivation. Then once I really got into it, I realized I wanted to be like Mossimo – they started with t-shirts and then spun out into a whole clothing line. That was my whole motivation. I wanted to go beyond t-shirts and design other items that I wanted to produce. Then I realized everybody and their mother are designing t-shirts. How do you get noticed in an industry like that, where everybody is doing the same thing? There’s a lot of really cool t-shirts out there. I thought, “My t-shirts are cool, but those t-shirts are cool too.” I wanted something that would set us apart and have people take notice of Platinum Dirt.
MG: I love the VIN Jacket! What was your inspiration behind the VIN Jacket?
DP: I got the idea for the jacket because I was doing the t-shirts and I needed something that people would notice me for. I wanted to do something which would get me recognition as a serious designer. Every morning, I woke up, that was in the back of my head. That’s how I came up with the jacket idea when I was driving to Cole Coffee in Rockridge. One morning I was driving to the coffee shop, still waking up. I had an old Volvo with ripped up leather seats, just a bucket. The seams were falling apart and I was thinking, “I’ll never get a date in this car.” I was down on myself, just driving and thinking my seats are all F’d up and broke. Then I thought, “But wait a minute! That leather has some quality to it. These seats are kinda distressed and that’s really in right now. Hmmmm.” That’s when I came up with the idea, “I should make a jacket out of old car seats.” By the time I got to the coffee shop, I was like, “Yeah! I’m going to put the VIN of the car on the jacket, so each is one of a kind. I can make the zipper pull out of the hood ornament.” So that first year, I went to the junk yard to see if it was even a viable source to make this product. There’s plenty of leather out there. The junk yard was pretty much just throwing it away.
MG: And the leather quality is perfect for a jacket. It’s very durable and it has the worn look from it being distressed.
DP: Yeah, and most of it has been around for 15 – 30 years, so it’s been worked in. I got the idea that first year. I went to the junk yard and looked at a few cars, took the leather off the seats and cleaned it up. I took a pattern off a jacket that I liked and had a pattern made. I had a first jacket made and then made alterations to the pattern so that it worked better with the leather that I had. From there I sized it, small, medium and large and started making jackets. Then a year later, Oakland Magazine approached me for an article. I met the editor of the magazine at an East Bay Express function party and she loved the jacket. She wanted to do a piece on me. After that article came out, I met Aaron Parish, who is now my partner.
MG: How did you two meet?
DP: He contacted me to get a jacket. Right after the Oakland Magazine article, Urban Daddy did an article on me. Aaron saw me in Urban Daddy and emailed me about getting a jacket. So I told him, “This is how much they are, this is how long it’s going to take. It’s just me doing all this right now. I don’t have any help.” At the end of the email, I kind of mentioned I was looking for a business parter and investor and to let me know if he knew anybody. He called me up and said, “Yeah, I totally want to help you out. I want to see what you’re doing”. He came out to my workshop and thought, “alright, this guy is serious”, and from there he has been handling getting us into fashion shows and talking to people about the company. He’s good at the stuff I’m not good at. I’m not really good at the schmoozing, people part of it. I’m more of an introverted person. I’m the crafty one. So it’s a good fit, because it allows me to do my thing and then he’s out there selling and getting the press for us. He’s been able to get us into a bunch of fashion shows. He managed to get a jacket on Jamie Foxx.
MG: Now that part is very impressive. I know there are a lot of independent designers trying to market their brands, but they haven’t been as successful as you are.
DP: Yeah, recently we’ve gotten Carlos Santana to wear our jacket. We’ve got two guys from Entourage wearing them. It just kind of happened. The thing is, people love the jackets way more than I thought they would. When I first came up with the idea, I’d wear the jacket to a party and I’d be like “Hey, this is the jacket I made. This is what this detailing is,” and people were falling out. They were checking it out, trying it on, and saying, “Oh my God, this is really amazing.. I was like, “Calm down. It’s a jacket. Chill out.” That’s when I started to realize I was onto something. Everybody likes it. From the homeless guy on the street to Jamie Foxx. Nobody has been, “Oh, that’s just an OK idea.” So we’ve been running with that.
Jamie Foxx came to town. It turned out he was playing a private Clear Channel event at Temple Nightclub, which Aaron helped open, so he knows the owner and all the security. Aaron is really good with making connections for us. He’s been a party promoter for years and years within SF, so he knows a lot of people in the industry and he knows what to say. To this day, we can pretty much get into any club or venue.
So we had an “in”. Jamie Foxx rolls in, we held the elevator for him, we rode in the elevator together and I noticed him checking out my jacket. He then goes up to the green room before the show. We followed him to the green room, just walked in, and stood by in the wings. After a little while, Jamie’s security noticed us and said to us, “Who are you guys? Can I help you guys?” We knew Jamie’s manager’s name, Marcus, and so dropped his name. We said, “We’re friends of Marcus.” and he said, “Oh, OK. We’ll send him right over.”
MG: So you knew him?
DP: No, we didn’t. So the security guard goes over to Marcus and he comes over. We put it out there, “We’re from Platinum Dirt and we make jackets out of old cars and we would like to give one to Jamie after the show”. He saw the jacket and was like “That’s a Cadillac! Whoa!” He tried it on and said, “Yeah, he would love one of these. No problem. Come on back after the show.” So they went down and played and we went backstage for the ‘meet and greet’ where people were lined up to meet Jamie. It was a scene. There was some other woman trying to talk to Marcus to get Jamie to promote one of her products. We were kind of like, “We don’t want to be part of this show.” So we hung back at the food table, kicking it, and talking to Jamie’s friends. So we met his personal chef and his wife. We were telling them about the jackets. So when Jamie came by to grab a snack, that’s when we ended up talking to him. “We’d love to gift you one of these jackets”. He looked at it and said “Wow! That’s really beautiful.” We were going to give him the white jacket, so he tried it on and was like “cool.” I had on the burgundy one, which was the first one I made. He eyed it and said, “What about that one”. I told him he could try it on, since it’s the same size. He was like, “Oh yeah, that’s my color.” He goes over to the mirror, tries it on and checks himself out.
MG: How did that make you feel when he was trying it on?
DP: It was pretty cool. I was feeling really good about myself. You get that kind of natural high, “Oh my God! Jamie Foxx is wearing my jacket.”
MG: And he loves it!
DP: So I was like, “Well, you can have the white one. We came to give you the white one, but I can’t give you my jacket – but I’ll make you one.” So we took Marcus’ card, I went home and two weeks later, I probably made one of the best jackets to date. It turned out perfectly. I loved it. I almost didn’t want to give it away. To get to Jamie, we were in contact with Marcus’ secretary since Jamie and Marcus were so busy.
He eventually came back to the Bay Area four months later for a performance at the Concord Pavilion. She arranged for us to be in touch with him through that event. However, she forgot the important detail of putting us on the guest list. So we get to the Concord Pavilion and half way through the show, we go to the pavilion and find out we’re not on the list. So we played it up like we were on the list. “We brought this jacket for Jamie” and we dropped the names of some of Jamie’s people that we knew – Marcus, Randy and Guy. So we were like, “Check with Marcus.” The security at the pavillion were all flexing and saying “You gotta go through me”, and talking on their radios. We just stood by listening. Through the course of events and security thinking we were trying to scam something, people started to leave. Eventually, the guy who was watching us said, “I gotta go over here and check on something. You guys do whatever you need to do.” So he turned the blind eye and we went back! Then we were in a long line for the ‘meet and greet’.
So we get back stage to where everyone has their little sticker pass for the meet and greet. We’re kinda just standing in line and finally Guy comes out because he is coordinating all the ‘meet & greet’ people. Security kept the crowd controlled by saying, “You gotta have a sticker. No you gotta stand over there. Or over there!”, doing their security thing. They eventually saw us and said, “Where’s your sticker? What, are you guys special?” And we’re like, “YEAH! We’re special! And we’re not going anywhere!” So we finally saw Guy and told him, “Guy, can you tell Marcus and Jamie that we are here and we have the jacket?” He said “OK, hold on a minute.” He goes back and moments later, comes back to us and pulls us out of that long line of people going in. He just takes us in and we’re finally thinking “cool!”
So we get in and there’s people lined up taking pictures with Jamie. So we get into this line and wait for our turn to get up there. When we get to the front, he recognized us and the jacket. It all clicked for him and we said, “Here it is” and he’s like, “aaahh!”. He threw it on his shoulder, like in that picture, and said, “Let’s do this.” We took a picture, and then he immediately took off his own jacket and put on the one we brought him. He then continued to take pictures, in our jacket, with the rest of the fans that came in. We were like “Oh my God, he loves it!”
MG: Did this open the avenue up for other celebrity connections?
DP: First we had Adrian Grenier from Entourage. Then we gifted Adrian’s stylist. Then we gave one to Jeremy Piven from Entourage through our PR person Heidi Pettit with Vie PR. She has a connection to that group and also introduced us to Darren Moore, host of “Alter Eco” on Discovery’s Planet Green channel. We then gave one to Jamie. We just went to Vegas recently and are giving one to Carlos Santana.
With Santana, we had a little bit of a connection through a friend of a friend. We were able to meet him and now we’re making him one. Now there’s talk of possibly a partnership in supplying some leather to him because he is starting a men’s shoe line.
We were in LA Fashion Week and went to Magic in Las Vegas, where we met the English Laundry people. They loved it, so we’re taking to them about getting into all of their stores. They want to carry us, so we need to figure out what they want. It’s been exciting. We still haven’t made any money, but it’s catching on. People seem to like the bags and clutches as well.
MG: The bags are a beautiful design.
DP: And everyone loves the the pockets and the liners that I use. Its a fuzzy pink pocket inside the clutches and bags. People are eating them up. Nicole Doherty actually has our first bag. It was the first thing that I ever sewed, which is the prototype to the Shark Bag. I call it Shark Bag because it’s shaped like a shark fin. In developing it, I sewed a big piece of leather together and folding it into a design. I didn’t even use a pattern, I just sort of cut it out. It doesn’t even have a zipper on top. It just folds over.
MG: Did you have a fit model when you were developing it because the shape makes sense. When I go out at night with a shoulder bag, I don’t like when the bag gets in the way under my arm, especially when I’m taking pictures. It gets in the way.
DP: It fits right in back, so the bag doesn’t get in the way. It’s practical. It’s kind of a weird design because it just has one corner and everything falls through the front. The way I designed that bag, I didn’t have an end result in mind. I just kinda go with it and let the piece of leather dictate the bag. The leather wasn’t flat and square. It was rounded, which was like the shape of the bag. So initially it was a flat bag, two seams, zipper and a strap. It wasn’t until I made a few of those, that I had to repair one and I thought of changing the seams. I took the two parallel seams and made them perpendicular seams. It turned out to be pretty cool and practical in how it fits. It’s a sporty bag. It wasn’t intentional. It just kind of happened. That’s the way I design things. I start with something and then keep building upon it.
Like with the jacket, I started with three or four pieces of leather that I really loved. I would select one piece of crinkled leather that I really loved, which would have to be in the jacket, and start from there to build the rest of the jacket.
MG: Do you do all of the sewing of the jacket yourself?
DP: I do 90%. I have all my patterns, so I fill all the pattern pieces, sew them together and cut them out. I put the pockets in and the VIN detailing in, then I give it to the seamstress and she puts it together. All the bags, clutches and wallets, I build myself from beginning to end.
MG: What about the leather qualities. Do you choose the leather yourself?
DP: Yeah, I go out to the junk yard. I do it all. I rip it out of the cars, I bring it home. I’ve been giving it to my dad. He’s retired and wants to help out. So he splits all the seams, gets the rest of the foam off and gives me the leather, which I take home and work with.
MG: Were your parents always supportive of your interest in fashion design?
DP: No, they wanted me to stay with Engineering when I was in college. When the Oakland Magazine article came out, I quoted my mother who said, “You know Dustin, with all your crazy ideas, I think that this is one that might actually work.” So that’s what I’ve been dealing with my whole life with my crazy ideas.
It wasn’t until the jacket came along that my parents started getting behind it. Now they’re really supportive. My mom helped me out financially with some lawyer stuff for the business. So they are all believing in me and pulling for me. When I came home with the picture of Jamie Foxx wearing my jacket, I was like “Okay! Okay! Can I get some credit! It’s not a crazy idea!”
MG: What has kept you motivated?
DP: I have a dream, I have a vision. I kinda just gave up on giving up on the dream. I have a saying now that “I am the competition”. How many times have you heard, that if you have a new idea for something, most people will be “Oh. There’s so much competition.” You know, anything you do in life is going to have a lot of competition. So I don’t know how many times I’ve given up on an idea because I was like “Yeah, they’re kinda right. There is so much competition.” You know what? I am the competition and I believe in it, and I’m just going to do it and keep doing it. So there! That’s kind of been my attitude since I’ve started Platinum Dirt. I’m the competition. I’m going to do my thing. I don’t care that it’s been labeled as high avant garde fashion. Great. I was just trying to make a cool jacket, because I love jackets. It’s one of my favorite fashion accessories for men.
MG: In designing, do you have a target customer in mind?
DP: No, haha…just the cool crowd. People who are kind of hip and somewhat fashion forward. People who are not afraid to wear something because nobody else is wearing it. I just wanted to do something cool that would put me on the map in the fashion world, and I think this is it. I don’t want to just do jackets. I know once these jackets take off, just like anything else, they will fade out like a novelty. There will probably be a whole lot of sales within the first couple years and after that it will be a specialty item. I have other items planned. For example, the stuff we’re going to do with luggage is going to revolutionize the way people use luggage. Yeah, we’re going to do luggage with leather. As for designs and ideas, we have some exciting plans down the road.
MG: What’s impressive is that you are very eco conscious and that is the current trend towards fashion.
DP: We kinda just fell into it. That wasn’t my initial plan, “Oh I want to start this eco green fashion line.” It was not my intention at all. Not that I’m not trying to be responsible at all. It kind of has inspired me to be more responsible and eco conscious. We’re obviously in a time of change as far as the way people are fed up with how everything is so disposable. There is so much waste going on and people are tired of it and looking for a change. People are open and receptive to things that bring positive change.
MG: What are your strengths that have helped you be successful?
DP: It’s kind of been my age. I got tired of sacrificing what it is that makes me happy because of somebody else’s influence. Somebody telling me, “There’s so much competition in that industry. How are you going to make it?” I got to the point where I was fed up with all the naysayers, and decided to do something that I love. If it makes me rich, that would be great. But if it doesn’t, that’s OK because I’ll still be happy doing something that I love. If I can make a living off of it, that would be awesome.
It’s like I hit rock bottom. It may sound cheesy. I’m 40, I’m single, I have nothing to lose by going after this. I have nothing to lose. Yeah, I might lose my day job or I might be broke at the end of the day, but at least I can say I tried and made an impact. I’m hoping we can start a $100 million dollar company. That’s our goal. Aaron and I want to have a $100 million dollar company in five years. People can sit back and laugh, “Hahaha, yeah right”, but I’m not listening to those people anymore. I’m just going to do my thing. People might say, “Oh you’re not qualified. How did you learn that?” I’m like, “I don’t need anybody to teach me.” There are so many resources out there right now, I can teach myself. If I need to learn, I’m going to learn it. I don’t have time to waste, I’m just going to do it.
MG: Have you thought about how you’re going to expand. Right now, you’re a one man show for production.
DP: I’ve given a lot of thought to production. We’ve kind of started a new industry in a sense, because this is a resource that has been thrown away.
MG: I actually did a little bit of research on other designers using automobile parts and I found one person in Uruguay doing leather bags. Basically everyone is using the seatbelts or the rubber tires for accessories.
DP: It’s a little crazy because the leather in the car is the most substantial amount material in the car that’s probably useable. It has a higher quality. When I first started doing it, I was kind of surprised that there was no one else that has been doing it. It’s kind of cool that we started it. As far as production goes, it’s never going to be a jacket that’s mass produced in the thousands. If we can sell a thousand jackets a year, that’ll be great and then we can do the other products and stuff.
I’ve given a lot to the production end of it. It’s a very involved process. It’s not as easy as getting a pattern, buying the materials, cutting it out and making it. The junk yard is involved: getting the leather, breaking it down and getting it ready to work with. Fitting each pattern. That’s what makes each jacket different. You can get two identical cars, but you wont’ get identical materials. There are different factors at work with the leather. So it’s kind of like a big puzzle.
We’re planning to open a design studio and I’m going to hire about four poeple to help me design, so I can oversee what everyone’s doing and train them. So we can do the design and development part and give it to the seamstress or production house to put together. We’ve already done all the designing, so the production house can do their part. We really want to stay in Oakland and keep production here, local.
MG: How did you develop your own personal style and sense of fashion?
JD: My neighbor, Lara, was a big influence. I lived over in Oakland, in Rockridge, and had a flat with another one across the way. I would see my neighbor a lot and we became friends. So every time I would go on a date, I would go over to her place and ask “Is this OK?” I developed my fashion sense in my late 20’s. That was when I had somebody telling me “What are you wearing?” I developed an eye for style over the years. I was kind of a hippy child, with long hair and a rebellious attitude. I thought “Fashion, that’s stupid” but eventually I started to realize that I liked how clothes made me feel. Clothes gives self confidence and individuality. I started getting into jeans a lot, such as Diesel. I love putting them on and feeling good. Diesel puts out more effort into designing than a cookie cutter pair of Gap jeans.
I do most of my shopping at Crossroads. If I need something special for an event, I’ll hit up the designer level at Macy’s. When doing retail therapy, I go to the Diesel outlet downtown. I stay away from V-necks (Cheesy). When getting dressed, whatever it is you decide to wear, you have to have that “rock it” attitude. My friend Lara, was my fashion police that I would run everything by. Now I’m the fashion police.
MG: It’s amazing that a visionary sense of style is coming from the junk yard.
DP: I’ve always been kind of the creative type. Always kind of crafty. Doing my own thing. At the junkyard, essentially all that stuff is being scrapped down and sent to landfills. It’s an incredible waste. I got the idea, went to the junk yard, started researching it. It’s a viable and new industry. We’re essentially going to approach junk yards and get all their leather that they are essentially throwing away. It’s more money for the junk yard.
People gravitate to more than the jacket, it’s a piece of Americana. It’s a piece of our culture, that they can now wear. Each piece has a story behind it. You don’t know where it’s been. You can do a car fax on each jacket, to find out where it was registered and how many states it had been in. There’s a history there. How many babies were made on this seat, who had their first date in the car, who rode in the car, etc.
It’s American culture we are saving. We keep it going. You can wear that leather for another twenty years. It’s thick leather. It’s not thin leather that’s going to wear out within a couple of years. That jacket is going to be around for awhile.
The only downside of the jacket is that they’re not a soft supple jacket when you first wear it. It’s kind of like when you get a baseball mitt, when you’re a kid. It’s stiff and hard to use, but you have to break it in, rub the oil in and wrap it up at night. With the jacket, as long as you wear it, it takes two months to get broken in. And once it’s broken in, it’s like, “That’s my jacket. I love it”. So, that’s kind of been one of the harder sells. For the girls especially, or even some of the guys. They’re used to these high-end supple jackets that are buttery already. These you kind of have to man up to. You have to break this thing in. There is a disclaimer on the jacket, “Wear your VIN, don’t let the VIN wear you”. You gotta wear it and eventually it will get broken in.
I always like to do things that nobody else is doing. If people are going this way, I want to go that way. It’s always been my own thing. So I’m not looking to copy someone. I want to be a trend setter. I want to do my own thing and be recognized as a designer that is forward thinking. I want to change the way people dress.
MG: I appreciate that about you. The jacket is popular but you are already looking for the next opportunity.
DP: This jacket was just to put me on the map. That’s what I wanted. I have many other ideas, things I want to do. I have a fair amount of learning to do too, but I’m good at figuring things out. If you give me a problem, I’ll figure it out. It might take me a while the first time, but once I learn it, it’s a skill learned. Then I can move onto the next thing. I want to embellish on the finer details on my clothing that will set it apart. I’ve been concepting a new approach to getting dressed.
MG: That’s a great way to describe someone who is stylish, who is trying to create their own signature.
DP: It’s about setting trends. I’ve got one prototype that I’ve been working on and have brought into work a few times to get some reactions. The comments have been kind of discouraging. You just have to put those on the back and you can’t let those stop you from being innovative. Otherwise you would never get anywhere. The comments would be enough to break you.
MG: How do you know how to filter the comments?
DP: I just brush them off. It’s my adult ADD I guess, haha, “I’m not really not paying attention to you”. If someone really rips into my idea, I’m like “Trends aren’t set by those who follow them.” You can either follow me or you don’t have to. If it catches on eventually, that’s how trends are set. It’s from people who are doing things that are not the norm.
MG: What advice would you give to someone who is starting off in design?
DP: It is a challenge. The most important thing is to have a vision of what you want. You got to have a dream and know which direction you are going. I mean, it took me 30 years. Don’t listen to all the naysayers. That’s the biggest problem when you do have a dream. There’s all the naysayers who can deter you from pursuing it. So as long as you have a vision and a dream of what it is that you want, that makes you happy, just do it. And remember that “you are the competition.” Don’t let people discourage you.
You might have a crappy idea, but do it. You’ll learn from it. I’ve had plenty of crappy ideas and the process of just doing it makes me come out better. It’s kind of like when you design, you have to get out those shitty ideas that are in your head, because they’re stuck in your head. You have to do that before you can move onto other stuff. Keep pushing your ideas out and get the crap out of the way, so that eventually you can really do what’s really amazing.
We have also been putting together a show idea based on the dream versus reality. It’s a variety show, part reality show and part fantasy. The dream. What’s the dream? There are ways you want things to go down – that’s the dream – and then there’s the way that things actually go down. We want to show both sides of the street. For example, we gave Jamie Foxx a jacket, we stood outside of the show in the cold, we didn’t get to see the concert and froze our asses off to get back to see Jamie for 15-20 minutes. It wasn’t like “We’re on the list!…And we’re in the front row watching the show… And after the show we’re going to give him the jacket and hang out with him.” That would have been the fantasy. Everything would have gone as plan and then there’s Jamie saying “Hi guys!” The reality was, that we had to do some hustling and a lot of name dropping, and had to stand out for the show before we actually got in.
MG: A reality inspired show exposing both the dream and reality would be interesting, entertaining and informative. So, who are you inspirations within the industry?
DP: The Diesel brand is a big part of my inspiration. I love their jeans and the image they created around their brand. Also Versace. Everything they do I’m in awe of. They have it all and cover all bases from street to formal wear.
MG: I like how when you open yourself up to your dream, all the opportunities do come. Whether it’s with training or meeting the right connection. Things do work out for people with a clear direction and focus.
DP: To be honest, when I want to do something, I’ll do it. I don’t care if somebody thinks I’m not qualified or that I don’t have the skill set to do it. I work best if I have a problem in front of me and have a goal in mind. I do what’s in front of me and I do it. Sometimes I have to learn it, but I learn it as I go. It’s been fun. I have made a lot of mistakes along the way too. You can’t be afraid to make mistakes. I know there’s always a way to get to point B, even if you can’t see the direction.
For more information on Platinum Dirt and Dustin Page, please check out their website www.platinumdirt.com.