March 28, 2013
You might say that fashion designer Mandy Misle likes to “think big” — big arms, big legs, big guys. And clothes that fit them all.
For more than two years, Misle, who is in her mid-20s, has been on a professional mission to address the lack of fashionable clothing for big men between the ages of 18 and 35. The result is HB Clothing, her big-and-tall label that is manufactured downtown.
Back in early 2011, Misle’s idea arose out of a minor crisis: Her 6-foot-2-inch, broad-shouldered boyfriend, Jordan Benedict, could not find a decent V-neck cardigan, even online. He wanted one before auditioning to host a show on Comedy Central.
“We went to four different stores, 15 boutiques and couldn’t find a V-neck cardigan to fit him,” Misle recalled. “And we’re in L.A.! Could you imagine someone in Minneapolis?”
Even stores supposedly dedicated to addressing her boyfriend’s fashion frustration, such as Rochester Big & Tall and Casual Male, didn’t satisfy Misle. She said they either targeted an older crowd or lacked the quality she sought.
So she decided to create a company to fill the void.
“She is taking styles and patterns seen in department stores but not cut appropriately and allowing us to enjoy what is being sold on the rack,” Benedict explained. “Her style caters to bigger men’s physiques and doesn’t make them feel as if they are cramming their bodies into a sausage casing.”
HB Clothing produces clothes ranging in size from large to 6X. Bright, hot colors are of no interest to the graduate of the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM). The overall palette: subdued and subtle.
Its sweaters and shirts (V-necks, polo shirts, dress shirts) come in solid dark to medium colors (blues, grays, charcoals), and there is a small array of plaids and stripes as well. Her leather jackets come in black and brown. Items range in price from less than $100 to $500.
“I’ve picked all the fabrics, done all the designs,” Misle said. “They don’t give extra room in the arms or the stomachs, so we made everything cotton so that it moves well and breathes well.”
Misle was born in Nebraska, where she said her father, Howard, ran the biggest car dealership in the state. But he decided to trade his family business for that of his wife’s family and moved West, where he pursued scrap metal recycling. At age 7, Mandy moved with them to San Jose.
She said she has received nothing but support from her parents in her professional endeavors. Her father, a big guy himself who played football at the University of Texas, even helped back the launch of her label. He’s invested in HB Clothing in another way, too — its name.
“It’s my mom’s nickname for my dad,” she said. “Howard Bear.”
Arriving in Los Angeles to complete a year-long program studying apparel manufacturing at FIDM, Misle eventually settled in Hollywood.
After graduating with a master’s degree in apparel manufacturing, Misle paid her dues at several T-shirt makers. In late 2010, she worked at Fortune Fashions, owned by the philanthropic Kayne family, for six months until right before the company entered bankruptcy.
Last August, Misle took part in the Chicago Collective trade show, which featured hundreds of men’s apparel exhibitors, but that was an ill fit.
“The crowd was mostly 50 to 60 years old,” Misle said. “They really don’t want to bring anything new in their stores.”
Currently, HB Clothing’s products can be found at Tradition inside the Beverly Center in West Hollywood. Online they are available at hbclothingcompany.com.
She aims to land her wardrobe in more high-end brick-and-mortar stores, such as Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, and she aspires to host the first big-and-tall fashion show someday.
“I don’t want to try to be on Rodeo Drive with Tom Ford and Roberto Cavalli,” said Misle, who added that she is wary of “people you have to please and personalities you have to deal with. I want to veer away from the path of the traditional superstar designer.”
Misle said Judaism has always been an instrumental part of her life, influencing everything from her decision to join a Jewish sorority when she was a retail and consumer science major at the University of Arizona in Tucson to her Birthright Israel trip.
Her mother, Tamara, hails from a Polish/Russian-Jewish background, while her father is of Latvian descent. Back in his high school days, Misle’s father served as cantor at services every Saturday for his Conservative synagogue.
“They were really involved in Jewish life,” Misle said.
Misle said she feels blessed she can create clothing that makes her boyfriend, whom she met on JDate, happy.
And Benedict? He’s not complaining either.
“I am extremely proud of her,” he said. Then he added, “Honestly, I am also not going to hide the fact I love that I get free clothes.”