Darryl Brown is in the middle of relocating. After spending the past five years in Los Angeles getting Midwest Kids and his eponymous label off the ground, he’s taking it back to Toledo, Ohio, the city where he grew up that he says inspires everything he designs, for the launch of his second full Darryl Brown collection.
“My brand and my support system, what I'm doing is so Midwest. I didn't want the pictures to come across looking unauthentic to what it is that I'm trying to do,” Brown tells Complex. “The second collection is so big to me. I didn't want it to be palm trees and sunny weather in the back.”
Brown’s brands, Midwest Kids and Darryl Brown, are his love letters to his upbringing. Midwest Kids is inspired by his mother’s wardrobe of gold chains and sweatsuits when she was a high school athlete. It’s focused on sportswear, T-shirts and hoodies that act as symbols for anyone from the area looking to rep it. Darryl Brown is his workwear line, a nod to the work uniform his father wore throughout his life. Think staples like canvas jackets, button-up work shirts, and cargo pants, reminiscent of what he also used to wear to work everyday clocking in at factories or as a railroad conductor.
“I worked at Chrysler. I worked at General Motors. I used to be on the assembly line making the front of Monte Carlos. I worked on a railroad. I watched my dad go to work at Chrysler for 30 years and wear boots everyday and work second and third shift,” he says. “I just feel I'm so involved in it. From my family, my town where I come from. It's not a trend.”
He believes this connection gives him an upper hand in producing workwear pieces because he’s actually worn them in their intended setting. Ultimately, Brown wants to build his own legacy in workwear, so that one day his clothing can be in the same conversation alongside industry standards like Carhartt or Dickies.
“This is a way of life. I kind of took that mission on like, ‘You know what? I'm going to make my own workwear brand,’” he says. “I look at Carhartt and Dickies and Ben Davis, and I love all those brands but all those brands are families. They’re people. My 10-year, 15-year plan, Darryl Brown will be at the same table with them, where people will look up and be like, ‘Darryl Brown is a Workwear brand.’”
But, ironically, he didn’t always want his own brand. He preferred to just be the creative consultant making moves behind the scenes. For over a decade, he held various jobs across the fashion industry. After attending Vincennes University in southern Indiana, Brown moved back to Toledo and became a buyer for a local streetwear boutique, NEX, owned by his friend Zach Beebe, while also working as a conductor for the Norfolk Southern Railroad. Eventually, he started to work as a personal stylist for local artists.
“I didn't even know what a stylist was until I was 21 years old,” he says. “I was blown away. Somebody pays someone to dress them? I thought people just had their own style because they were rich and famous and they could just get whatever they wanted. I never knew that this career even existed. And so I fell in love with it.”
His first styling job was with fellow Midwest native Machine Gun Kelly, someone he still calls one of his best friends to this day, some time between 2008 and 2009. The two first met at a concert held by NEX in Toledo. MGK complimented his hoodie, which spurred into a gig for Brown with the rapper. He says all of his checks from the railroad were being filtered into styling the Cleveland rapper at the time. “I would not be where I am today if it wasn't for Machine Gun Kelly,” says Brown. “He literally is the thread and needle for everything that I've done, directly or indirectly, he's been with me every step of the way. I've never asked him for nothing. I've never asked him for a dime. Machine Gun Kelly is literally one of the illest friends I ever had in this lifetime.”
Around the same time, he also connected with Rocksmith, a popular streetwear brand at the time, through NEX after shooting an impromptu lookbook for a brand rep when he paid a visit to the shop. He quit his railroad job, moved to New York, and worked with them for the next seven years, from 2009 to 2015, while still styling on the side. From there, Brown wound up landing a job with Kanye West after a conversation between MGK and one of West’s styling assistants. At first, Brown was brought on to assist with the Yeezy Season 3 show at Madison Square Garden. Eventually, he became the rapper’s personal stylist, a role he held for three years from 2015 to 2018 before ultimately pursuing his own ventures.
“Kanye is my brother, he changed my life,” says Brown. “I look at him like a brother slash father figure. He taught me so much, besides fashion and stuff like that. He taught me so much about how to be a man, how to be a leader, a husband, the ins and outs of running a company. I was there watching. I got to see the good, the bad, the ugly.”
Now 35, Brown compares the various positions he’s held within the industry to “getting his PhD.” Rather than work under someone else again, he felt he could apply the knowledge he’s been able to soak up from major streetwear brands and stars like West to his own venture.
“I'm doing it for all the right reasons now. I feel ready. I have a story to tell. I'm really tapped in with my lane. I was like, ‘This is it. I have to do it,’ and if it doesn't work at least I`ll know the brand thing isn't for me and can go back to consulting or something like that,” says Brown. “But I have a message that's genuine and authentic, and I feel like people will really get behind it.”
This week at ComplexLand, Brown wants to introduce his idea of the Midwest wardrobe to the masses. Shoppers will have the opportunity to shop essentials, all produced in Los Angeles, from Darryl Brown’s second collection like brown sweatsuits, perfect for lounging around the house during quarantine, minimal logo T-shirts, or his wide leg cargo pants inspired by his trips to Japan for anyone trying to add some workwear to their closet. It’s affordable too. Nothing costs over $200.
“I'm just hoping [ComplexLand customers] look at me with honest eyes,” he says. “2020 has been a crazy year for a number of reasons. Consuming goods, I feel like people are going to go about that totally differently. I feel like I'm making classic, timeless pieces that can live in your closet. Your wardrobe may go through so many changes over a six year span, but then you`ll look up and somehow the same grey hoodie survives all of that. That's what I want Darryl Brown to be to our customers.”
ComplexLand takes place from Dec. 7 to Dec. 11. Sign up for more info and access at complexland.com.