The Best Damn Dress Shirt
Words by Ginny Ellsworth
Photos provided by Mizzen+Main
What you’re about to learn just might change your life. If you’re a man, this will up your wardrobe game. If you’re a woman, you can kiss goodbye the struggle of what to get him for his birthday this year. It certainly changed the life of Kevin Lavelle—an engineering student turned dominator of a men’s clothing empire.
During his college internship on Capitol Hill, Kevin witnessed a staffer run into a meeting; the sweat stains on his wrinkled dress shirt clearly indicating his rush. As an engineering major, Kevin immediately started wracking his brain for a solution for this all-too-common problem.
The moment passed, but the idea never faded. After graduation, Kevin traveled the globe in a corporate position, but the thought of blending technology with traditional attire kept germinating.
Years later, Kevin finally started putting action behind his idea. He hunted for the right fabric and the right tailor to help him craft something that could weather the most perspiration-inducing tasks. And he tested it everywhere—we’re not just talking about wearing a shirt around the house; Kevin worked out and even cut the grass in his test formal button-down shirts.
Unannounced, he came home from his 9-to-5 in the latest prototype. His new shirt immediately evoked a compliment from his wife, and he knew he had found the winner. He sought out manufacturers and got to work spreading the good news that men no longer had to suffer with sweat-soaked, stain-ridden, crunchy, expensive-to-dry-clean cotton dress shirts.
In the creation of Mizzen+Main, Kevin didn’t abandon practical style. His product marries tradition with the modern technology of advanced performance fabrics. Even the name reflects that. “Every sailboat has a mainsail and a second sail called the mizzen,” Kevin says. “We wanted the name to be something that sounded as if it had been around for a long time.”
Not only is it breathable, but Mizzen+Main’s shirts don’t wrinkle.They aren’t just functional—the fit and feel will make you fall in love. Just ask the number of VIP clients on Mizzen+Main’s list. “When a new customer tries on our shirts for the first time, they become hooked… instantly,” says Katie Futris, who manages the trunk shows and pop-up shops the company does around the country.
Online it looks like a traditional shirt, and in this e-commerce driven world, the company has a unique challenge in an environment that hinders the marketing of the company’s main selling point. Kevin surrounds himself with a staff as creative as his solution, providing success for Mizzen+Main in unique ways—where the men are. In a partnership with The Gents Place, a men’s salon franchise, they gave new members each a shirt and still host popup shops at The Gents Place events.
Mizzen+Main is also targeting professional athletes. Trunk shows in locker rooms became a big hit, and word spread fast about these moisture-wicking shirts that keep the professional look. “They joke about matching their teammates and coaches on the plane en route to away games,” says Katie, “I’ve even heard there was a group text going around to see who wore it best.”
Even if you didn’t get drafted this year, you can still get your hands on Mizzen+Main. These game-changing shirts can be found at men’s boutiques, golf shops, and by the end of July (the company’s sixth anniversary), every Nordstrom location will carry them.
“The most rewarding part of Mizzen+Main is building something that creates value for people—our customers, our team, and our investors—and getting to work with an extraordinary group,” Kevin says, reflecting on the company and culture he has created.
There’s a focus on company culture at Mizzen+Main. Every morning, the entire team huddles to review priorities for the day, challenges, and yes, even feelings. To some that sounds terrifying, but at Mizzen+Main, the staff is more like family. Once a month, the office shuts down and the team does something fun together. Everyone is extremely busy, but keeping the creative and nurturing environment intact is a priority for Kevin.
“The work is fun, but I think everyone’s favorite thing about working here is the trust we have in Kevin and how leadership treats us,” Jaclyn Bishop, Mizzen+Main’s communications manger, points out. “I’ve never worked for someone like him.” Leadership of the company is key. Kevin wants every employee to be invested and is transparent with the entire staff. Whether the news is good or bad, he’s found that being open earns trust. Not to mention, it keeps creative solutions flowing.
Last year, the company released performance flannels—yes, you read that right. With a few new product categories coming out in the fall, the company’s offerings continue to evolve.
See what can happen when you’re late to a meeting?