When fashion designer Matt Baldwin was growing up in Wichita, he’d mow the lawn for Gentry Ltd. owner Britt Fulmer in exchange for Polo shirts.
He’d also accompany his mom on her shopping trips to Nouveau.
Now Baldwin is 38, a Leawood resident whose own clothing line is growing worldwide – carried by Gentry and Nouveau – despite being based in the Midwest. He’s also a TV star of sorts, appearing as a contestant on the reality series “The Fashion Fund” airing on Amazon.
The annual Fashion Fund competition is sponsored by Vogue magazine and the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Baldwin was one of 10 designers – the only one not from New York – selected to compete in 2015, taking part in design, advertising and social media challenges.
“The tone of the series is unscripted and follows the life of emerging fashion designers,” Baldwin said last week from Leawood. Baldwin and his wife own four clothing stores, two named for his Baldwin clothing line. Two of the stores are in Leawood, and two are on the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, Mo. “It’s been an amazing perspective in the behind-the-scenes look at what it takes to be in this industry.”
The first show of Season 3 aired last week, and Baldwin will be one of the designers highlighted in this week’s episode, airing Thursday at Amazon.com.
The series was taped in late summer and early fall last year and is unlike other competition shows in that there are no eliminations; the winners were announced in November. Baldwin was not among the three designers who each got $300,000 and a year of mentoring by industry professionals. But he’s getting lots of exposure, including a spot in Vogue with model and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” star Kendall Jenner, who modeled one of Baldwin’s denim skirts in Vogue alongside Baldwin and his three children last fall. Some of his clothing also is being carried on Amazon.
“I think for me it was so much about mentorship, being around the most talented minds in fashion right now and learning from them,” Baldwin said of the competition. “It was an amazing opportunity.”
Baldwin, named as a best new menswear designer by GQ in 2013 and one of the best men’s designers in the world by Esquire in 2015, grew up in Wichita and graduated from Andover High School in 1996. Fulmer of Gentry Ltd., located on the Waterfront, was friends with Baldwin’s parents.
“He’s always had a fashion sense,” Fulmer said of Baldwin. “He always knew exactly what he wanted. I don’t think that’s something you learn. You’re born with that.”
Baldwin studied the business side of clothing as well as the art of design, receiving a degree from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in Los Angeles. He and his wife opened their first store, Standard Style, in Leawood in 2003, carrying “a cool mix of East Coast and West Coast and European labels.” They then opened a second store on the Plaza.
“I was a resource in the Midwest for designer denim,” Baldwin said, with a dream of starting his own label. He did so in 2009, starting with denim and then expanding to a full line of clothing, including a wool hat cut to the pattern of a 1950s baseball cap and emblazoned with the letters “KC.” He said that the Baldwin label can be described as a combination of grit and grace, a classic Midwest sensibility meeting the modern.
Being based in the Midwest “is a really important part of the branding,” he said, and technology means that anything’s possible for a designer living in Kansas. “We’re charting some new territory.” In fact, Baldwin was just getting ready to take off for Japan to introduce his clothing line there.
Baldwin’s parents moved to the Kansas City area a few years ago, but a grandmother and an aunt still live in Wichita, and his mom still stops by Nouveau when she’s in town.
“It’s fun that we carry a denim line that is growing so much, and we can also tell people it’s from a local Wichita designer,” said Taylor LaBuda of Nouveau. The store in Bradley Fair is also expecting a spring shipment from the Baldwin label, including the skirt that Jenner wore in Vogue.
Fulmer is hoping he can get Baldwin to Wichita for a trunk show in the fall, when Gentry also will be carrying more of the Baldwin line.
“It’s been a lot of fun for me,” Fulmer said of watching Baldwin grow up and into a designer increasingly known on the national and world stage.
“One of the fun things is when I go to market, New York, Chicago, Vegas, wherever I go, people are getting to know Matt more and more, and they know I’m from Wichita, and they say, ‘Did you ever know Matt Baldwin?’ I’ll pause and then say, ‘Matt used to mow my lawn.’ ”