The best athleisure is the kind that doesn’t pronounce itself as athleisure to the world—it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to look like you’re coming and going from a yoga class. Rather, it’s about a perfect balance of style and comfort, the ability to authentically hop from a bicycle to a board meeting.
Gary Lenett saw the demand for that was being met in womenswear, but not so much within the denim industry. Coming from a long line of entrepreneurs and the son of a successful clothing manufacturer Gary he knew the ropes, but came to the launch of the DUER brand in a roundabout way—he did a stint as a corporate lawyer, then teacher, and finally partnered up with his brother to become the largest manufacturer of retail clothing in Western Canada. That expertise led him to launch DUER, a brand that has absolutely perfected marrying denim and athletic wear, for fashion that looks professional but feels as comfortable as if you were lounging at home on your sofa.
We sat down with Gary to talk about being a serial entrepreneur, the knowledge he gained from growing up in the industry, and the importance of making sure the sleepless nights are worth it.
Jenna Marie Bostock: How did you get started in the clothing industry?
Gary Lenett: In many ways, I was born into it. My father was a clothing manufacturer. My mother’s father was a multi-line clothing rep. From the very beginning, I remember them telling me about the crazy, the good and the bad of the industry. As a kid I used to be forced to work in the shipping room, and initially I did not want to go anywhere near the industry. I worked as a teacher and lawyer, but it was in my blood and something about the challenging nature of the clothing industry drew me in. I started my first company by partnering up with my brother on a manufacturing business (that would become one of North America’s largest denim manufacturers) and now I am nearing 30 years in the industry.
Jenna Marie Bostock: What motivated you to launch DUER specifically?
Gary Lenett: When I launched DUER, I had already been in apparel for more than two decades. By that time, I was getting tired of the race to the bottom, where labels buy the same trend reports and try to create the same products faster and cheaper than anyone else. At the same time, I started riding my bike everywhere, and realized there was nothing on the market that I would wear on the bike that I’d also wear to an important meeting. The thought of solving a real problem facing people and doing something to help people live happier, healthier lives drew me back in.
Jenna Marie Bostock: Can you tell us more about what it was like to break out on your own as an entrepreneur?
Gary Lenett: I don’t know anything but! While I was both a teacher and lawyer for brief stints, the bulk of my career has been as an entrepreneur. To be an entrepreneur you have to have vision, stubbornness and poor memory. Vision to see something that doesn’t exist in the market, stubbornness to get through the months where company-building feels hard, and poor memory in order to forget all those previous challenges and keep forging ahead.
It is a stretch from lawyer to entrepreneur but for me the biggest benefit was the confidence it gave me that I can quickly assimilate a lot of new information quickly. A legal background does not really help you with risk assessment but it really helps you mentally organize all the information you need to make a difficult decision.
Jenna Marie Bostock: Tell me about your family lineage (coming from a long line of entrepreneurs), is there a legacy to the DUER brand?
Gary Lenett: It is the culmination of everything that’s come before. My understanding of wholesale comes from my father, which has helped me build an omni-channel business. My understanding of manufacturing helped me find a great business partner, and nail the production side of our business before scaling too fast (which is where so many clothing companies fail.) My decades in the industry have helped me weather the highs and lows – and really appreciate the uniqueness of the situation we’re in, where the product is right, the timing is right, and customers get it.
Jenna Marie Bostock: Where would you say you draw your daily inspiration from?
Gary Lenett: Real people and real problems. We want to make it easier for people to get dressed, so they can get on with the good stuff in their lives – the healthy, adventurous, meaningful stuff. Our clothing is designed for those real people, to overcome those real problems (whether related to comfort, performance or style.)
Jenna Marie Bostock: What separates DUER products from others in the denim industry?
Gary Lenett: What separates us not only from others in the denim industry, but from athleisure and apparel as a whole, is that we flip the usual paradigm on its head. Athleisure is apres-gym. We’re all-life. Rather than making gym wear slightly appropriately for the street, or heritage denim slightly stretchier, we’ve created something entirely new that’s suitable for all you do in a day.
Jenna Marie Bostock: What is the best and/or worst piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Gary Lenett: Both the best and the worst advice came from my father, who said never to get into retail. This business is hard. It really is. But having that insight and still forging forth has made me realize how important this vision is, and how much opportunity this company has. Sometimes the advice ignored is still the best advice given.
Jenna Marie Bostock: What’s new for DUER, anything exciting coming up?
Gary Lenett: Taking over the world! With our mission of helping people get dressed and get on with it, we’ve been able to spread our wings and expand our offerings. That means new geographic distribution (we’re now available for sale in 6 European countries, all across North America, and across the world through our ecommerce platforms), new product arrays (we’re launching shirts this summer) and new categories (DUER Women’s will be coming in 2019.)
Jenna Marie Bostock: What’s the best advice for our readers who are contemplating breaking off on their own?
Gary Lenett: Make sure your dream is worth the sleepless nights, find yourself a great partner (or partners), prioritize staying healthy, and have fun.
If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it.