alex mazelow of carbon & leon vymenets
Bridging the gap: entrepreneur meets artist and fashion meets art. These two men stand tall as Carbon joins the market to be one of only a handful of stores in Toronto to cater strictly to men’s fashion. But what makes these two different from so many others that have ventured into the world of fashion? For starters, neither of them has actually ever stitched a garment, nor do they have any formal training in fashion. But that hasn’t stopped owner and buyer, Alex Mazelow from opening a store on Yonge and Eglinton, because the one thing he does know is what men want. Knowing his demographic is probably his greatest asset entering into this business. Second that with his love of Canadian designers truly makes Carbon a rarity in the Toronto fashion landscape.
Enter artist Leon Vymenets, the man behind the signature t-shirts you see hanging as soon as you walk into Carbon. A local Toronto artist, Leon creates art that flows with his life’s mantra of simplicity, minimalism and a sense of childlike adventure. His illustrations and drawings are tightly packaged, yet spontaneous and raw. Brought up on the subcultures of skateboarding and hip hop, it’s no surprise that Leon’s art focuses on the rawness and true representation of his reality, and not cluttered by pop culture art that is so common in today’s fashion world.
So how did these two men who seem to have nothing in common come together? We were wondering the same thing, so we decided to sit down with both to learn more about this unique relationship, how it translates to fashion and what the men of Toronto can expect when they walk into Carbon.
Alex – Born and raised in Toronto, Carbon’s owner and buyer.
Carbon – Men’s casual wear boutique.
Leon – Having moved to Toronto when he was three Leon had a a natural artistic talent, he has been interested in illustration since he was 10 years old, went to design school, and have developed his own personal, very distinctive style.
Leon: What was your childhood like growing up in Toronto?
I loved skateboarding and was immersed in the hip hop genre early on, and the urban scene influenced me a lot – that influence is seen heavily in my designs.
Alex: How did you get into menswear and into the retail industry?
I opened the store because I was frustrated with shopping in Toronto – good clothes came with a lot of in-store hassle, overeager salespeople, and no return policies. I wanted to offer a positive experience to customers – something that I had been looking for and couldn’t find easily.
When I was young, my favourite art was skateboard art – the illustrations were unique, and the iconic visual element of the sport resonated with me. I started a skateboard company and incorporated my drawings, but at that time, my designs were more focused on logo art. I slowly transitioned into the type of art I do now from those beginnings.
What have been your greatest challenges thus far in your career?
Alex: Buying the clothing for the store’s clients because it’s hard not to gravitate towards things you like personally! Putting myself in my customers’ shoes sometimes takes me from 20 to 70 – I have a very diverse clientele.
Leon: Pushing forward, trying to get my work out there and making a name for myself has been tough. You can put art on a wall, but if people don’t know your work, it’s harder to sell. Staying patient has been a challenge!
Alex: Who or what inspires you?
My father – he’s a go-getter and has instilled the entrepreneurial spirit within me.
Art is my life – I design furniture, bicycles, work in graphic and branding design and user-experience design. I take my inspiration to the world around me, from everyday encounters.
Alex: What made you locate Carbon to the Yonge/Eglinton area rather than in other locations such as Yorkville or Queen West?
This area was in need of a cool men’s store, and the Yonge and Eglinton neighbourhood is in the midst of a retail face lift. It’s being completely revitalized, from the sidewalks to the new condo developments, and this was a great time to join the area.
Alex: What is Carbon’s philosophy?
We are looking to dress people in a way that makes them feel good and look good while offering them the option of choosing environmentally sustainable brands.
Alex: It’s been a hard time economically for all businesses, especially in retail. How do you think you’re going to avoid what other retailers are facing right now?
We’re offering many pieces at reasonable prices – customers can look great without breaking the bank. Though people are more cautious about spending, but that doesn’t mean they’re not spending! Clients are still looking for an experience when they shop, more so when they’re not shopping as often. We provide that to customers at Carbon.
Having my work showcased at Carbon has been a highlight!
Rip Curl, who makes surf wear, chose me as the only Canadian artist to create an illustration for a limited artist series of board shorts.
Also, having my work published in the 2007 book– “Hand Job: A Catalogue of Type.” It was available everywhere from Chapters to Urban Outfitters. It made an impact on the way people perceive hand-drawn typeface.
Alex: What are your comments on men’s fashion in Toronto?
Men in Toronto, for the most part, dress on the conservative side. We want to offer them a place where they can buy conservative clothing, with a twist!
Alex: What will the Carbon male look like?
He will be casual, trendy, comfortable and ready for work or play.
We have a couple of Canadian designers represented (Leon, Mackage and Shared Clothing) and we’re open to working with other Canadian designers as we develop the store’s offerings.
Leon: What differentiates you from other Toronto artists?
My art has a hand-drawn, raw element, and I’m multi-faceted artist – my work isn’t strictly illustration-based.
Alex: As an owner of a men’s retail space, in your opinion what are the most common mistakes that men make when dressing themselves? What tips could you offer them?
Men often look for jeans that are too baggy. A nicely fitted pair of jeans will make the man look more put together.
Alex: Carbon has an emphasis on stocking organic brands, what made you decide to go for more eco-friendly brands (such as Alternative Earth, Loomstate etc)?
I like fashion, but I’m becoming more interested in fashion with a conscience – investing in brands that are producing clothing responsibly is important to me, and I want to give our customers the option of doing the same.
When you need alterations, we get them done for you and we absorb that cost. As a lifestyle store, we’re catering to your lifestyle – we accommodate customers’ schedules, so if you’re unable to pick up your alterations, we’ll deliver the garment to your door.
We stand behind all of our products, if a shirt rips or discolors through no fault of the customer, we’ll take it back and try to replace it. If your jeans rip, we’ll send them back to the company for you. For repeat customers, we’ll keep the store open late if they’re in a jam. When women have come in to shop for the man in their life, I’ve even tried clothing on for them so that they can see what it looks like on a body!
Alex: We all know that men sometimes are less enthusiastic about shopping than women, and you were quoted as saying:
“I want to make shopping a positive and fulfilling experience for men, and I’ve taken into account that men sometimes have less patience than women when shopping for clothing…”
Why do you think the majority of men are not as eager to shop as their female counterparts, and how does a retailer change or cater to that attitude?
Women have more access to fashion and its influence through the media – there are less fashion publications/programs/blogs dedicated to menswear. Men aren’t exposed nearly as much to the fashion industry.
Often, the service level in men’s stores is lacking, leading to a longer and more frustrating shopping experience. As Carbon, our service is incredible – we give customers one-on-one attention and if a man needs to get in and out, we can accommodate that.
I was fascinated with 3D Chaos Art, and the founder of allmaple was heavily involved in this type of design. I met him online and began pitching ideas and helping out with seasonal issues. He really liked my work and eventually made me Sr. Editor. This role has gotten my name out there and shown that I’m a serious designer.
Leon: At what point in your life did you decide that illustration/art was going to be your career?
I’ve been drawing since I was young, but wasn’t distributing my work to the masses. It was a personal thing for me. On a whim, I submitted my designs to creative websites, and the next day, other reputable sites were linking to my work, artists that I respected were emailing me telling me that they loved my work. This gave me the push that I needed to continue designing and networking and moving forward on this career path.
Over the last few years, Toronto has begun to make art part of its fiber. Living in the west end of the city has exposed me to the art culture here, and has helped me expand my creativity.
Leon: How did your partnership with Alex and Carbon come to be?
I met Alex through his girlfriend. He had heard about my designs, checked out my work and wanted to collaborate.
“Very raw, minimal, stream of consciousness.”
Elaborate on “stream of consciousness”.
I draw inspiration and ideas from my surroundings. I’ll grab onto a random idea – it catches me by surprise and I get it down on paper. It comes to me organically, not through a planned process.
Alex & Leon: Leon was quoted as saying:
“Partnering with Carbon was a smart decision for me. Any retailer supporting local talent is doing a service not only to artists, but to consumers looking for something both environmental and unique…”
Are Toronto retailers doing enough to support local talent?
Alex: I’ve had a hard time finding local designers that are being featured in stores, and that’s something we want to bring into Carbon to showcase for customers.
Leon: I don’t think that they are. Retailers usually go with popular brands in order to make money. It makes it harder for artists who aren’t as well known to get their work out there. I find that the smaller boutiques are the ones giving local artists a chance.
Leon: You’ve been in the Toronto arts scene for about a decade now, what’s Toronto’s evolution look like from having a very small scene, to now having city-funded events like Nuit Blanche? And where do you see our city’s arts scene heading?
It puts Toronto on the map as being as being a heavy hitter in the art scene. It shows the world that we take art seriously, and this gives some amazing local talent great exposure. It can only get bigger and better from here – art is starting to become a more profitable vocation.
Alex & Leon: What can we look forward to in the coming years?
Alex: We’ll always have fresh fashion, we’ll be conscious of the environment, our customers, and their wants and needs. We will not lose sight of how important customer service is.
Leon: More custom limited edition art and design work. My art will continue to evolve and I’ll continue to create distinct work.Carbon 2581 Yonge Street (416) 487-0795 http://www.carbontoronto.com/
Shout out to Daniel of Rinzler Photography for the photos.