Style File: John Carvalho on advising men’s fashion

By Lora Hlavsa

It is not a secret: Macalester has a reputation for shaping extremely driven and educated minds. And like many other Macalester students, Psychology/Music major John Carvalho ’12 seeks to join the ranks of the business elite, but not in the traditional fashion. The Chicago native has applied his education to developing a business model for a company that deals in a field that is not usually frequented by Macalester students – fashion. This week, The Mac Weekly sat down with John to discuss his budding business, quality cashmere, and the importance of dressing well in the workplace. How would you describe your personal style? I’ll usually wear a nice suit that’s classically cut and well-fitted in a British sense, but then I might wear a much sharper or out there shirt or tie, or go ahead and add on a pocket-square that is in a sense more ‘pushing the envelope.’ I’m a combination of British and Italian styles. My thing is also partly to always be comfortable. Wearing nice clothes and looking nice, you don’t have to sacrifice comfort. If I feel like crap in something, I’m not going to wear it. Do you look to designers to find your style inspiration or is it something that comes from within? It’s a combination of both. I really like the aesthetic of Ralph Lauren Purple Label. Everything is so luxurious. You can’t make a cashmere sweater nicer than the ones they make. There’s a very small company out of Berkeley that’s just started called The Elder Statesman that makes incredible cashmere stuff. The guy flew to Mongolia and spent six months sourcing everything before they started and started making really small batches in America. Your basic Banana Republic cashmere sweater cost $130, and you find it on sale for $79.99, and you’re like, “Yeah, cashmere!” It’s typically two-ply, which has to do with how the threads are woven together and how the layers are woven together. Ralph Lauren Purple Label and The Elder Statesman typically work 14-ply. So you’re just looking at stuff that’s beautifully put together. I think it’s also really important to appreciate things for what they are and how they’re made. I have a pair of Frye boots that are nice, and it’s not like, “Oh, they’re Frye, great!” It’s a question of bench construction, 195 different steps to put the shoes together. I think it’s a slightly deeper level then just, “Oh, I graduated and now I’m making money so I’m going to buy the first $500 thing I can find.” So where did you get so much exposure to designers and fashion? I started working two summers ago in a fairly high-end retail location selling really nice shoes. I think that extra exposure also helped a lot. But you know, I never really dressed like a schmuck, and I woke up and dressed nicely. I think it was in my case a really gradual transition [laughs]. The first time I wore a polo shirt in the 3rd grade I actually wandered into my sister’s room beforehand to her if it was too formal. So how did your business first come together? What I’m doing is starting an image consulting/personal shopping firm, very specifically targeted by guys for guys, which is where the space net market it. Often guys won’t go to girls for help with this sort of thing because they think it’s weird, and they won’t go to female friends for that because essentially they think that it de-sexualizes them. They think, “Oh, she’ll never think I’m cute again, she’ll just think I’m the guy who can’t pick out his shirts.” I don’t think that’s true, but guys think this. The second part is that I know how to dress, but I’m also weirdly good at shopping. I got back up to school and I spent $250 on clothes. And that’s not insignificant money, but I got just under $1400 worth of clothes. We’re not just saying let me dress you, but saying look, if I can teach you how to spend $200 for $800 worth of clothes, it’s worth it to spend $100 once to: a. learn how to do that, b. make sure they’re the right clothes, c. understand why they’re the right clothes, and d. be prepared to do that in the future, so suddenly we’re talking value added. You’re giving me $100, but I’m giving you $500 of value. And what’s got me excited really is that it’s sort of a skill and that I can kind of help people with it and help them prepare. It’s a question of look, when you get out into the real world, these are the rules. People look at how you’re dressed, how you carry yourself, and they make judgments about whether or not you can do your job. If that’s the game, then all I want to do is help you with the rules and show you the rules. You can argue day and night about whether its fair that people judge you based on how you dress, but the fact of the matter is they do. So we can either try to find a way to change that the world over, or we can buy you a well-fitted suit. So what stage is the business in at this point? It’s the slow early growth stage. We’re still doing market research. What I’ve been doing the last Saturday and Sunday afternoons the last few weeks when there’s not much going on, is going to these really nice bars in downtown Minneapolis to make friends with the bartenders. And now I have 2 or 3 really nice bars in the heart of the warehouse district where I have a few bartenders who are expecting my business cards in the next week or two so they can start handing them out to people who they think need some help. What’s cool about that is two different things. I have access to a pool of people I wouldn’t normally have access to here in Saint Paul, but I am also having my customers pre-screened for me, which is suddenly a whole extra step. It’s not going to launch with a roar, but it’s going to launch.