In Conversation With: Kevin Burrows of Fuck Yeah Menswear and the Windmill Club

Kevin Burrows was the one I didn’t see coming.  When news broke on the identities of the pair that co-created Fuck Yeah Menswear, the National Lampoon meets Naked Lunch meets Aquemini of the menswear world, I wasn’t surprised that Lawrence Schlossman, arguably the loudest voice of this movement, was one of the collaborators on the project, but I can say that I never would have guessed that Kevin Burrows would be the other half of the duo.

Kevin works as a production coordinator for Dreamworks animation by day, but on the side he runs The Windmill Club, an L.A. based label that began as a tie company but is now branching out into other designs.  I’ve never met Kevin before, but as any blogger in this day and age I was certainly familiar with The Windmill Club, and with the Fuck Yeah Menswear book launch just about a week away, I was quite intrigued by the chance to interview Kevin about not only his endeavors, but menswear in general.  In our two hour conversation I realized that Kevin is one of the most intelligent and opinionated minds I have come across so far in this world, but it’s no wonder that he was he’s part of the team behind the wit and snark that made FYMW famous.

How did you get started in menswear, and where did that interest come from?

I think it was this moment where I went to school and I hadn’t really thought about clothing ever, but it all really came through blogs.  It was through reading Michael’s stuff on ACL, and James’ stuff on Secret Forts and just figuring out “oh okay this menswear, this is interesting.”  It was definitely a process that started my sophomore year of school, and then slowly built from there.  I remember making the very distinct choice during fall of my senior year like “I’m gonna wear actual shirts, I’m gonna get some oxford cloth button down shirts, and those are gonna be the shirts I’m gonna wear everyday instead of tee-shirts.”

I was also very inspired by that East Coast style as well, as trad clothing was definitely on the upswing.  That was like 2009, 2010 and having a lot of friends that grew up on the East Coast and seeing their style, and where they were coming from was very interesting to me.  With anything I do I get very obsessive about it and so it became about finding all the info, finding blogs, Styleforum, Superfuture threads, tracking everything down.  So it was both equal parts starting from blogs but then it was like once I was looking for it, I saw it all over the place.  I had my one friend at school who was super into selvedge denim, and he was like “you gotta go to Blue in Green in New York,” and stuff like that.

Going off that, how did everything get started with Windmill Club and where did that idea come from?

I’d been reading a lot of blogs and I was seeing these guys, especially Phil Annand with his Award Tour stuff, just doing cool work and I was like wait there’s nothing stopping me from trying to put together some clothes.  And so I did a preliminary run of shirts, which I like to call the “beta test” of the brand because shirts are relatively easy to do.  And so that was fun, I worked with my buddy and put up the website, put them online and then that next summer I was looking for an internship and I cold-called the Apolis guys and they’re like “yeah sure, show up.”  It was kinda very unclear if that was a real internship or not, but I showed up on the first day and they’re like “okay, yeah we’re doing this.”

Working with them all summer really solidified my interest in actual menswear and it was really inspiring working with them so from there I started to do ties, because that’s where you start in menswear right?  You know, like Ralph Lauren, and Scott Sternberg, ties and shirts, they’re easy to do, and they’re fun.  And so that was in 2009, 2010 and I did that first set of ties and then I’ve just been working from there.

I always really admired how with Windmill Club, you’ve strictly done such small batches of your products and so I was wondering if that was a decision based on production or was that more of a creative choice?

It’s a bit of both.  My thing, especially working with the deadstock stuff, is there’s just not that much of it, and I think part of me has always aired on the side of making a collection that maybe one hundred people, two hundred people, can love passionately and not just creating a bunch of stuff that’s waste.  For the most part, most of the collections have sold out totally, so I think that’s cool in that, this is a fabric that no one was going to use and now it’s out there and I’m not seeing just these piles of clothing go to waste.

To me it’s more interesting to create something that people are going to really love, and I’m not about pushing it down people’s throats, like “oh I have to sell all this.”  And so I think it’s both, and I do think it’s fun, because if you want to get a tie you can get a tie anywhere, but it’s finding a brand with a cool story and knowing that something is unique and is special to you when you’re getting it.

So Windmill Club was ’09-’10 when it started, but then how soon after that did Fuck Yeah Menswear come out?  How did that project come together?

So that was Fall 2010, and obviously I’m quite immersed in Internet menswear culture, and so I think it was sometime in October, and Lawrence had tweeted something about, “oh man, I wish there was some kind of comedy site for menswear.”  So, I got off work and it was like nine or ten at night and I just made the Tumblr, and I had never done a Tumblr before, I was just like “oh okay this will be fun.”  And then I did a couple posts and I DM’ed Lawrence and was like “hey check this out,” and he was like “oh shit, this is so awesome, this is great, lemme do some posts.”  So, we just started doing posts back and forth and then the next day it blew up.

Yeah, I remember when it hit and it was as if no one knew about it, and then all of a sudden everyone knew about it.  Was that mainly based on Lawrence already having a following and then reblogging it, or was there some other way, because you guys picked up steam really fast?

I know he definitely tweeted about it and then reblogged it.  I think it was just this thing where no one was making fun of it, it was this moment, this critical mass where everyone was taking it way too seriously, and it was fun.  I like to think it was something fresh.

Was you guys being anonymous on it something that was intended from day one or did it just kind of build that way?

That was kind of part of it, I think it was cool being anonymous and really that was the best part.  I would wake up in the morning and login and see one of Lawrence’s posts and vice versa, and so that was fun as well in that Lawrence and I were also an audience to the site.  And we were able to do a lot more posts as well, which was cool.  But it was definitely part of it, that whole mystique and “Menswear McCarthyism” of “oh it’s you.”  I think that’s also why it worked, because in an industry that has to take itself so seriously, when someone’s gonna make fun of it, it’s like “oh wait who is it.”

Is that how you guys have always written it, with each of you writing separate pieces?

Yeah, pretty much all that first year, we just wrote our own posts and went back and forth, and then when we started working on the book we worked together.  So usually what we’d do is one of us would write a first draft, and we’d have an idea, and then we’d sit down and work through it together to punch it up and riff based on that.  And I think that those posts, where we collaborate, are some of the even better ones, as we both came in with different stuff.

When you started out had you even met Lawrence or were you both just working through the Internet?

I talked to Lawrence once when he interviewed me about Windmill Club, because he was really the first one to find out about that, cause he found my video.  I think I followed him on Twitter, and then he found the video, which was the only thing up on my site at the time, and he immediately hit me and was like “dude what is this?” So we did the interview, and I then met him once in person on Fashion Night Out at Gant Rugger, just having some Porkslaps.

Fuck Yeah Menswear was both ahead of the curve and kind of made the curve so to speak, by creating that weird link between twenty-something menswear guys that take ourselves so seriously in how we dress, but also spend so much of our time reading rap blogs and listening to this music that doesn’t naturally align with obsessing over clothes.  So how did you guys make that link between rap and this budding interest in menswear?

It was very much about who this group is, because basically to me rap is the music that we all grew up with, and it’s also the coolness.  You know, we don’t have Steve McQueen’s anymore, we don’t really have rock and roll stars, it’s rappers and rap music that’s cool, and it’s how we define and talk about cool stuff.  That’s how I talk about stuff, that’s how I conceptualize stuff, so it’s just coming from that.  I think it’s that hyper-reality too though, where it’s like, okay you’re really excited about how awesome your two-inch cuffs are, how are you going to talk about that?  You’re going to use that “swagger, steeze” bravado.

With the book deal, were you approached by someone or was that something that you guys had thought of or how did that come to be?

It was in January of 2012 or so, and we had just done that anonymous interview for the GQ Eye, which was fun, and at that point we were like “okay, what do you want to do with this?” So, on a whim, we emailed three or four agents one night, and the next morning I woke up and they had all gotten back to us.  So we went from there, eventually picked an agent, and then spent that summer working on the book proposal.  It was just this thing where we were like “oh maybe someone will be interested in doing this as a book,” and then people were really amped on it.

The website itself is very straightforward, so how did you go about turning that into something more substantial as to create a full-fledged book?

That was one of the main questions early on because it needed to be a book.  Writing for a blog is not writing for a book, and a book has to have some permanence to it and a reason why you would go back to look at it again.  So, our approach was not only to do our poems, but also to write it so if you have no idea about this subculture by the end of the book you understand it and can go back and reread it and get the references.  So, for a hardcore menswear dude, some of the stuffs going to be met with an “oh I know this,” but hopefully we’re doing a humorous take on that basic knowledge.  For example, breaking down what is merchandising and stuff like that, and so that was the approach, just figuring out the sections and determining how to put it together, so it gives a context for what we’re making fun of.

It’s interesting to me because we’re at this point where we are so in the moment, where menswear blogging, especially with the nature of tumblr, has become this super fleeting experience.  And yet, you guys came out of tumblr and created a tangible product, so how do you think that works in the larger scheme of things?

That’s always what our approach has been, because this book is very much going to be a time capsule.  The stuff that we’re talking about, the shoots, the editorial stuff that we did for the book, we did like six months to a year ago, so it’s not going to be “modern,” or with the moment.  But we decided very early on not to try to do that, not to make it anything but this time capsule of where we are right now.

Beyond the book, what’s next?  Will the website continue or is it over?

Once we started working on the book, we needed to make sure that all the good stuff was going into the book but we were also aware that because this was so much of a moment, that kept the website where it was and we didn’t want to oversaturate it by posting too much.   I think we’re going to wait and see what happens with the book, but I would imagine that if we went back and started doing stuff on the blog again we would figure out a new and fresh take, and figure out what our approach is now because now we’re responding to a world where making fun of menswear is part of talking about menswear.

Moving on from the book, I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that this current wave of menswear is incredibly New York centric and as someone that lives on the opposite side of the country, how do you view this scene?

It’s fun for me because I am totally outside it, and I can just sit back and watch it happen.  But it is interesting because it is really New York centric, it’s very much like everyone lives there or is traveling there to do menswear things.  And I think that is part of the city culturally, New York is a place where people do get dressed up, it’s a place where people care more about clothes so it makes sense for it to be there.

Obviously, you were someone that started out as being anonymous by nature and then when news broke that it was you and Lawrence behind the site, you were suddenly thrust into it so, going forward with the book coming out, with Windmill Club’s new collection, how do you feel about your rising presence within the field? 

I still don’t really feel like I’m in menswear, but I’m just going to keep finding projects, and working with fun people, and hopefully either entertain or create products that are fun.  And that’s what I’m working on now, is finding out more about creating products that are personal to me, but also just continuing to push things.

With The Windmill Club you’re moving beyond ties now so do you see that becoming a bigger collection down the line?

My view on The Windmill Club has always been very long term in that if I can keep putting out small collections of goods that people are going to be really interested in then I’ll keep doing that for as long as I can, and I’ll expand accordingly.  But it’s also really fun to think about, creating this brand long-term.  I get a lot of inspiration from brands like Unis where she’s been around and doing her own thing for ten plus years, and now she’s really hit her stride in the last two-and a half years or so and really blown up, because her product’s really, really good.  I don’t have formal design experience, and so to me it’s about taking my time and working to create something that is worthwhile and not rushing things.

So for my final question, Fuck Yeah Menswear in two years, went from a blog to a book deal and I feel like that little story is quite indicative of how fast menswear hit and how big it became so quickly.  So in your opinion, two years from now, will we still be talking about menswear with this much fervor?

I think so, but I think it’s gonna be really different, I think it’s going to be interesting.  I feel like we’re in this holding period and there hasn’t been anything new, so I wonder who’s gonna be the new voice, who’s gonna take things in a new direction, and that’s what I’m excited to see.  This is a conversation where we are all just talking about clothes but I think there is going to be a new voice and a new take on it, and I don’t know what that’s gonna be.  Like, adventure travel menswear, I wanna read the blog where a guy travels the world and stops in and talks about the history and heritage of factories across the entire world with different styles and traditions.

I wanna read a blog where it’s very personal and intimate stories about peoples families in menswear, there’s always going to be something new and fresh to do with it, and I think that intersection of history and culture is what makes menswear interesting.  It’s about why clothes are a certain way and why people wear certain things and I think the more personal stories have yet to be told.

But I don’t know about this whole hype thing, I think it’s gonna get even bigger before anything else.  I think this hype, especially with guys like A$AP (Rocky) and that whole movement, is going to get even more mainstream of people being super amped about certain clothes.

I feel like that whole hype thing, is almost the strangest story to come out of all this and it’s something that not a lot of people do talk about, but it’s becoming hard to ignore in the younger generation.

Yeah, definitely, and the other thing is, I certainly don’t think menswear’s going to stop because once we’re all in our thirties then we’re actually going to have the purchasing power to support this obsession.

A big thanks to Kevin for doing this interview, it was a pleasure talking to you.  You can follow Kevin/The Windmill Club on Twitter, Tumblr, and their site.  And of course go get the Fuck Yeah Menswear book when it drops on November 6th.

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  1. Absolutely loved this interview. And stumbling on The Windmill Club through this is the icing on the cake!

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