Breakfast with the Boss: Anthony Caputo, Senior Vice President of Design and Merchandising at DDK / Boston Traders

This morning the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund scholars were lucky enough to be invited back to DDK / Boston Traders, where Anthony Caputo, SVP of Design and Merchandising, approached us from the creative side of the business. After a robust question and answer session, Anthony showed us the design process from conception to shipment, inspiring us with larger ideas and concepts (beach sunsets, surfing, volleyball, sailing) that are later channeled into the product categories, prints and fabrications of the overall brand. Take a look! 

About DDK / Boston Traders
DDK is a leading manufacturer and global distributor of men’s outerwear, sportswear and swimwear. The company distributes under licensed brands and private label, with ownership of the Boston Traders intellectual property and design. Boston Traders, a New England-inspired modern yet traditional line of men’s sportswear, is known for outdoor lifestyle comfort, function, value and of course fashion. Additionally, DDK exclusively distributes private label for Saks Fifth Avenue’s modern collection, a path that the company hopes to expand upon with other private labels. As SVP of Design and Merchandising, Anthony is responsible for DDK’s overall design, serving as creative director for the Boston Traders brand as well as working on private labels and new brands. 

The Boss' Journey: Steps to Success
A designer at heart, Anthony graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a degree in Menswear Design & Marketing. Anthony has a wide background of creative experience, coming to DDK from LF Americas, where he served as Vice President of Men’s Design. He started his career at Tommy Hilfiger, and then went on to serve as Design Director at Joseph Abboud and Calvin Klein. Additionally, Anthony served as Creative Director of his own collection for nearly five years, an experience he jokingly likens to “getting [his] Ph.D. in the fashion industry.” Anthony has now been with DDK / Boston Traders for around seven months, an experience somewhat different that requires the use of all of his experience from the past. “DDK has that entrepreneurial spirit which I love,” Anthony explained. 

Words of Wisdom

  • Diversify. “When starting out, get as much exposure as possible to different areas of the industry, including various brand aesthetics and distribution channels, in order to help define where you want to go in the future.” Whether you’re on the design or business side of the industry, diversification is especially important. 
  • Don’t stagnate. For maximum exposure and growth, “try not to get positioned in one distribution level or aesthetic throughout your career. On a daily basis, I work with product that is sold at many different price points and have an understanding and appreciation for all of them.” 
  • Design with both sides of the brain. “I come from the creative side, but having said that, this industry requires more than that. If you’re on the creative side, really try to understand and integrate with the business / merchandising side of the process, and vice versa.” 
  • Develop Relationships. “Networking goes beyond finding jobs and mentors—If you want to have your own business one day as a few of you have mentioned, it will help to build respectful relationships with retailers as well.” 

Q: Dvorah Elster (University of Wisconsin-Madison)- “What do you take into account when designing for private label brands vs. your own brand?”
A: “Your own brand should have a very specific point-of-view from an aesthetic standpoint regardless of who you sell it to. A lot of it also depends on where the brand is in its life cycle. If you have some brand (selling) history, I think it’s a balance of further developing this core while determining how to evolve with new product that compliments the brand. [As for] private label, you’re going to think very specifically about that private label’s aesthetic and provide product accordingly.”
Q: Oliver Selby (Savannah College of Art & Design)-  “If someday I hope to start my own business, what direction would you recommend steering in terms of gaining job experience now?”

A: “If you’re looking to start a business, something on a smaller scale is probably going to help you best. The smaller the company, the more exposure you’ll get to the ‘business of design.’ That doesn’t mean you’ll be running the operation, but it does mean that you’ll be more hands-on. The amount of overlap between functions is far greater—as it must naturally be when you have five people running a company [vs. hundreds or thousands]. When everyone is speaking to each other, you can better understand the logistics of [each department]. I learned a ton of that when I had my own business, but I had worked for ten years before that. It doesn’t have to be ten, but get some years [of previous experience] in there before venturing on your own.”

Q: Katie Class (University of Missouri)- “What do you believed has helped you become a leader in this company, and in the industry as a whole?”
A: “I think that I learned at my first job, while working for Tommy Hilfiger, that he knew a lot about everything going on within the company, from business to design. Because of this I decided to choose a smaller company for my second career move that really took me into the trenches…I was in Hong Kong, China, India, Europe…that experience was invaluable. I left a growing company to join a smaller one because I felt it would help me gain exposure to more, ultimately helping me to understand the ‘business of design.’ While having the brand name experience is desirable, and something I ended up coming back to, getting that diversification was critical [to my growth and leadership].”
Q: Dvorah Elster (University of Wisconsin-Madison)- “Starting out working for someone else, how do you maintain your individual creativity / design aesthetic if the brand you’re working for has a more narrow customer or style?”
A: “The short answer is that you usually don’t—meaning that you have to, as a designer, say, ‘this is who I’m working for, I’m going to get my head into it and channel my creativity into this lane.’ As designers, we have to figure out how to get ourselves entrenched into the aesthetic of the brand we’re working for. I’m not saying give up your creativity—after all, brands hire you for the creativity they see in you. But being able to design product within the lane that resonates with the consumer and the brand you’re working for…keeping the integrity of the brand…this can be challenging but is necessary. I guess that’s why designers seek [to have] their own brand…but as a designer, there’s something valuable to be learned working for someone else. Try different levels and different brands…see where you feel best!”

Thank you to Anthony and DDK / Boston Traders for your continued generosity and words of advice!

Copyright © 2015 YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, All rights reserved.

Rachel Feller

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