Panama: Dan, you and I have known each other for damn near close to 20 years. How did you come up with the idea for Nexx Unlimited? What prompted you to start this brand?
Dan: My mother moved to New York from North Carolina and she was a seamstress on Fashion Avenue. My grandfather was a tailor. My family’s been in the clothing business for generations. They’re from Chicago, in the clothing business there. I went to school at F.I.T. (Fashion Institute of Technology) and I graduated high school with a fashion portfolio. So I’ve been designing and making clothes my entire life. I started riding motorcycles when I was, I don’t know, probably around 12 years old or 13 years old and what happened was, I was looking for a motorcycle jacket to match my bike. At that time I had a 1994 ZX-11 and I couldn’t find one or I couldn’t find one I thought was hot. The jackets that I thought were hot cost too much money. I couldn’t afford it so I made one.
Panama: And that’s where Nexx was born.
Dan: That’s where Nexx was born (laughs). I talked to my mother about it and she said that she really didn’t know anything about leather so I started a little bit of research on jackets and skins and stuff like that. I went to a fabric store and bought a pattern for a jean jacket so I built a pattern off a jean jacket and made it a motorcycle jacket. When I started Nexx, that was like, 1998. You didn’t go online to look for stuff at that time. You’d go to the Yellow Pages. I looked in the Yellow Pages to find a place to buy leather from. That’s when I started to learn about leather. So, I bought leather and then I took it back and my mother and she was like, “I can’t sew this. It’s too thick for my machine.” I had to go back and do research to find out how to sew it. You know, that was a trial and tribulation thing. I finally figured out that she couldn’t do it so then I had to find someone who knew how to sew leather. I lucked up with an Indian lady and she ended up making the first Nexx jacket.
It wasn’t a brand yet. It wasn’t like, “Ok, I’m making Nexx.” It wasn’t a brand. So, I made the jacket. It was just a black and red jacket. Like, a black and red stylish motorcycle jacket. I wore it one day and my boy liked it so he was like make him one. His bike was purple. This dude’s name was Van. Acutally, Van’s doing life in prison for murder. That was my riding partner. He was like, “Yo, make me a jacket.” So I go back to the tannery and got more leather, I sketched out another jacket a little different from mine, and I made him a jacket. Then my other boy, this dude named Big Pat, saw us one day when we were riding. He rode motorcycles and liked the jacket so he was like, “Make me and my girl one.” It still wasn’t a brand. At that point I was still making motorcycle jackets because people liked them. I didn’t know about brands yet. Fubu wasn’t really that big. Karl Kani was still on the scene. You know, a brand in my mind didn’t come up. My boy Orville Hall, you know Orville? That worked for Adidas? He’s the guy that introduced Run-DMC to Adidas and made that whole marriage, right?
Panama: Right, yea.
Dan: That’s my homeboy. We grew up together. So, I was telling him a little bit about it because he grew up in the clothing business. He was like, “Yo, come with me to the Adidas design house.” He was in charge of the Adidas streetwear at that time so I went with him and he explained to me about the brand and told me that I had to come up with a name. And while we were in my 1994 Acura Legend coupe, I’ll never forget it, we were on the FDR Drive and I said, “Yo, life’s about connections. Everything is about connections. This all comes about by connection.” And I kept saying, “Connects, connects, connects…” and I just said, “Nexx”. And that’s how the brand came about. So we were on FDR Drive and we ended up at the design house and they were designing the Spring line. I’ll never forget, there was a Ferrari on the wall. They were designing off of Ferrari cars. I told the design team the whole concept of what I did and they were excited. They started to sketch out logos. I sketch too. I actually sketched out the first logo, NEX. Then I learned about trademark, and this and that. I started to make jackets for a lot of people because Big Pat was cool with Funk Master Flex. So I made a jacket for Mike Tyson, because Tyson was riding at that time. Uh, (thinks) I made a jacket for Nas, you know, I started to make clothing for people. So I mean, that’s how the brand kind of started. I started making custom leathers for people and then it kind of morphed off into motorcycle jackets because that’s what everybody was looking for.
Panama: Where do you pull your design inspiration from?
Dan: Uh, (thinks) I mean, keep in mind that I’ve been designing since high school. So my inspiration just comes from the streets. I’m a street guy. I’m a street guy, I’m a biker, I use to do graffiti so I’m a graffiti artist, I paint, I do illustrations, I went to the Philadelphia College of Art for graphic design. You know, I’m a big fan of Ralph Lauren. I wear Ralph Lauren clothes so my inspiration comes from that. I’m a big fan of Asian art. I’m big into that. Its just art. If you look at my apparel, my apparel looks like art. Like, you could take a jacket, and unfold it, and hang it on the wall. If you come into my house, my jackets are all over the walls. They’re art, you know what I’m saying? There’s not one Nexx jacket that doesn’t have an artistic look to it.
Panama: How are you approaching you design process with your products?
Dan: Me personally, I’ve been making motorcycle jackets for so long now that I might see a billboard or something that inspires me and I might sketch a jacket out. My inspiration comes from whatever. You know, I might see a shadow and that might inspire me. Again, for me it’s art.
Panama: Where are you doing your manufacturing and what is your process?
Dan: My intricate jackets are made by me. Once I started the company and I started to make apparel, I went back to school. I went back to F.I.T. and I took “Men’s Leather Design”. I learned how to sew, I learned how to cut, I learned how to pick out skins, all of that. I learned how to make patterns. From there, a friend of mine had a factory and at night I would bring a couple of guys in there and we made our own jackets. We was grindin’.
Panama: That separates you from other people. You decided to go back for classes and learn whereas a lot of newbies just want to have a manufacturer do everything while they remain hands-off.
Dan: Right, see the big difference is that somebody could tell you anything. Like, I know how much square footage it takes to make a jacket. I know how many stitches per inch. I know how much leather it takes so I can’t be ripped off because I know the manufacturing. When I’m designing something, we’re not talking about a t-shirt. We’re talking about a piece of protective equipment that has to meet certain specifications…Can it be made? And how can it be made? When you make a leather jacket or motorcycle jacket or any kind of apparel it’s made inside out. And then you’ve got to be able to pull the jacket inside back through a little hole to make it right side out, you know what I’m saying? If the jacket is too crazy you can’t even pull it out. How you do that? You feel what I’m saying? So, one of the things I first learned in F.I.T. was that you could design anything. You could make anything look crazy but can you make it? That’s the question. Can it be made? I made the first Harlem World jacket for Ma$e, I did a lot of stuff for Busta, I did stuff for Nas. Wu Tang Clan, I did a lot for them. Shit man…
Panama: I know you put in a lot of work. I’ve seen 50 Cent wearing your jacket. Da Brat, Cam’ron, Trey Songz, Lil’ Scrappy, Backstreet, Angus Sutherland from The Lost Boys movie, Biker Boyz, Fabolous…
Dan: Fabolous, Jim Jones, I had what’s his name from the Rolling Stones. Um, Mick Jagger from the Rolling Stones, Mary J. Blige, yea. After the World Trade Center went down they opened back up the airport the first person that actually flew had on a Nexx jacket. They wrote me up in the New York Times as “Changing The Face of Motorcycle Jackets.” Before me, there was no stylish motorcycle jackets. It was just a bunch of jackets.
Panama: I had a conversation with someone not too long ago and the subject of motorcycle jackets came up. I told them that the two hottest motorcyle leather jacket companies, in my opinion, are Corsa and Nexx Unlimited. The difference between us is like the differences between BMW and Mercedes. Both are built differently but both are high quality products. Nexx is “STREET” inspired design and Corsa is “RACE” inspired design. Other companies just don’t have the swag that our two companies do. It seems like these bigger companies want to bite the style of our smaller companies.
Dan: I’m in the streets. I’m in the clubs. I’m fucking with the rappers. We’re in the streets, you know what I’m saying? The music is our lifestyle. So just think about it. I’m a biker. I’ve been riding motorcycles for over 30 years, right? I’ve been designing clothes my whole life, my mother would design clothes, my grandfather was a tailor, I’m an artist, I’m into music. Where do you get that from? Where do you get combination? Your average designer, he ain’t fucking with “D” and them from RUN-DMC. Before 50 Cent was 50, he use to be in the barber shop that I hang out in. And I’m in New York. I’m in the fashion capital of the world. I’m a fashion guy.
Panama: The stuff you do is organic. It’s probably in your genes from your family.
Dan: It is. It is.
Panama: Other people are trying to imitate us because they don’t have it in them organically.
Dan: Exactly. Listen, in high school I would go down to Canal Street and buy t-shirts and we would jack the spray paint from Woolworth. I would make custom t-shirts for people in my school. I would paint t-shirts and jean jackets and things like that. I’m in the clothing business from high school. Making t-shirts.
Panama: You see? That was similar to what my brother and I would do back then. Remember when people were painting on the denim jeans and stuff? We would paint on jeans and jean jackets for people in our high school. That was back in the 80’s.
Dan: Right. The early 80’s. You’re in DC, so in New York, Harlem, Queens, you know, that’s what we did. The clothing business, me personally, I’ve been in it a long, long, long time, where the guy that owns a certain popular motorcycle jacket brand, he had a motorcycle shop and hired people to design his jackets..
Panama: Yea, that vibration is totally different.
Dan: Right, its not organic.