Brent Wilson is one hell of a stylish man on the move.
We mean that quite literally too, as someone who runs his own eponymous label, rides fast in just about anything with wheels and pumps iron on a daily basis for magazine covers.
D’Marge sits down with the ex-sparky to talk bikes, business and how dropping out of school became his most fashionable success story.
MH: Formalities first. What do you love about fashion?
BW: Creating and building. Having an idea or concept and letting it grow before putting the finished product for the public to respond to. It’s a good feeling when people like what you do and you enjoy what you’re doing.
MH: I also know you’re a fan of cycling, cars and motorbikes. What’s your collection like?
BW: My collection is not that big at the moment. I had a customised Harley Davidson which I recently sold. I’ve got two Ducatis – a 749 which is a full race bike and my 1199 Panigale superbike which is also a full race bike.
I’ve got a motocross bike and then I’ve just got a Mercedes Coupe. And I’ve got a proper race go-kart as well.
MH: It must be fun being Brent Wilson.
BW: I’m very lucky. The things that I love doing allow me to meet some amazing people along the way.
MH: What was life like as a kid?
BW: I didn’t like school. I was lost and I didn’t know what I liked so I didn’t really apply myself. Probably even caused a little trouble as the class clown until I got kindly asked to leave before Year 10.
MH: Let me guess, you excelled at the sports?
BW: I didn’t like the sports they offered, but you kind of do things because your friends are doing it. It wasn’t until later in life that I found out it was okay to do your own thing. I’m pretty sure my parents haven’t kept one single report card of mine.
MH: Surely you aced the fashion and textiles subjects?
BW: I went to a blue collar school – very trade oriented ‘blokey-bloke’. I think we had textiles, but they were making kites or something. I liked metal work and I was always sketching or doodling. Even if there was fashion, I probably wouldn’t have done too well at it.
“I opened a retail store before almost anything – I’d never even worked in retail.”
MH: I heard you started your label at a very young age.
BW: Probably twenty-three or twenty-four. I started my electrical apprenticeship for four years at age sixteen, then I started working for Wayne Cooper and it was great. I really enjoyed it. I met people who I bonded with, had similar values and interests with. It was exciting.
I was a kid from the Northern Beaches and here’s a group of people from the city. Everyone there took me under their wing, not just Wayne. It was a really good time in my life and I learnt enough to start my own business.
MH: Most kids are out partying at twenty-three. Where did you find the motivation to open a store?
BW: I don’t know if I was solely motivated. It was probably more stupidity and not knowing what was involved. Totally naive.
I opened a retail store before almost anything – I’d never even worked in retail. I got a bank loan and opened a retail store in the city – what an idiot.
And you know what? It puts you in a position where you’ve got to learn quickly. And I’ll be honest, those first couple of years were tough. I was losing money.
You’ve got to take it seriously and put your head down and work. Putting yourself under pressure, you learn a lot. A store in the city is expensive, staffing is expensive. I was working seven days a week and I made a lot of mistakes.
MH: It appears you’ve done okay.
BW: I like work. I’m not afraid of hard work.
MH: So what advice do you have for the up and comers in retail?
BW: The big thing people have to realise is that you can do a lot yourselves these days. It’s all at your finger tips. People who go, “Oh, I can’t do it because I don’t have a model,” you’ve got your iPhone, you’ve got your camera. Don’t wait for tomorrow, do it today or nothing’s going to come to you.
MH: Is this why you model all your own garments?
BW: It’s more me pushing and promoting my brand. Who else is going to do it?
I’d say to people, work hard but use your head. Speak to people. In hindsight I made so many mistakes. Back in the day you needed to get in the magazines and be in the stores. Today you can open an online store. If you put in the effort you can do it all yourself.
MH: Tell us about some of those past mistakes.
BW: Lack of experience and knowledge across many areas. Also a bit of an ego as well. People probably did offer me good advice and I didn’t take it. I know you learn from mistakes, but I wish I was a little smarter. A lot of those mistakes costed me a lot of money and put me in a bad position.
A lot of the skills I’ve got now, I’ve acquired over many years. And now, I think I can run a good business. I’ve basically done a business degree over the years I’ve run a business.
There’s also no right or wrong. You can have the best education and excel, or have the worst education and excel. It just depends on the person. Except maybe a brain surgeon. You’d probably need proper training for that.
MH: Best business advice you’ve ever received?
BW: Do things in your time. My dad gave me that advice. If you’ve got to make a decision, do it in your time. If you want to change something, do it in your time when it’s going to suit you.
Why go off your head? Just be calm, be level headed and do it when it suits you.
MH: Does that work well for you?
BW: It does now, yeah. I sit back and every decision I make now is very strategic. If you see a new direction I’ve taken with my brand, I’ve thought about it for a very long time and it’s a very clear and strategic decision. It’s not, “I’m just going to do this”.
“I used to have He-Man toys and my dad told me we once had a garage sale and I sold all my toys because I wanted to get the money.”
MH: So it’s obvious you like to work. What was your first job?
BW: I worked at McDonalds – which was very brief. Even when I was young we had a business where we used to steal the roses from our neighbour’s garden, put them in the microwave, spray them with mum’s perfume and sell them around the street as Potpourri.
Then we had another business where I remember dad came home one day, and we were literally counting wads of money.
Dad says, “What have you guys been doing?” and we had a pile of McDonalds in front of us as well. We got a stencil and we used to knock on people’s doors and paint their house numbers on the gutters. We charged $5 per house.
MH: Isn’t that the council’s job?
BW: Yeah…we may or may not have said we were associated with the Scouts. Or the Cubs.
We’d say [to the clients], “It’s pretty good value! Because I get $2.50 and my friend helping gets $2.50…” and they’d be like, “Ok.”
We weren’t allowed out of a certain area so we did every house in the area…and then we started venturing out. You do a couple of streets, $5 per house! It makes me think why I’m not still doing it.
MH: Amazing. Where did you inherit your business acumen from?
BW: I don’t know. I’ve always had it. I used to have He-Man toys and my dad told me we once had a garage sale and I sold all my toys because I wanted to get the money. I don’t know why. Dad would say, “Those toys costed a fortune and you sold them for $10!”
MH: What was your first car?
BW: I hated it. Ford Laser. Didn’t want it. I wanted something faster. I had a car before I had my L’s because I was working.
MH: Were there any tragic fashion fails for young Brent Wilson?
BW: Oh yeah, plenty. Even as an electrician I wore some pretty out-there stuff. Back in the rave days, the Keppers, the baggy pants days in the 90s. The skin tight lycra tops. Heaps of shockers.
But now my style has changed and my way of designing’s changed. A lot of my style is quite traditional. It’s quite understated, I think.
MH: Any exciting plans for the future?
BW: I’m really excited for the future. Looking at opening one more store in Australia and then we’ll be moving into the States. A lot of people are saying it’s a hard market but we’re not looking at opening hundreds of stores. We’re trying to make it more of a real destination for people to go to with great staff and great product.
MH: Finally, seeing how you like to sell your toys, how much for your prized Ducati?
BW: That’s not for sale.
Photographed exclusively for D’Marge by Phillip Papadis – No reproduction without written permission.