Rodney Patterson loves accessories and has a knack for making customers think outside the box. In 2015, his desire to create and to challenge the fashion industry led him to start Esenshel, his accessible-meets-avant-garde headwear brand, which has been widely recognized by celebrities and in stunning fashion editorials. Read more about his story and stance on the #BLM movement below.
Photo: Courtesy of Esenshel
1. Tell us about your brand story. How did you start?
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Between corporate roles I’ve launched two independent men’s and women’s fashion collections. As a designer and stylist, I’m interested in creating new fashion points of view; I like to challenge the consumer to think differently. I am passionate about accessories, particularly hats, bags and shoes, and I’ve learned the great impact these items make when paired with very simple clothes.
Upon leaving my last corporate role I began plotting my next design foray, and what I hoped to create was a niche collection in an arena less saturated than ready-to-wear. Esenshel was born in 2015 as a headwear collection. It is unique in shape and proportion, but its origins are rooted in classic headwear. Its appeal is in its simplicity. At first glance it looks quite ordinary, but upon closer inspection you realize there is something different about it. It’s been said to be the perfect mix of art and commerce.
Esenshel is successful as a bespoke direct-to-consumer brand—it’s a niche brand with a niche following. The collection is a favorite of top fashion stylists, has been worn by celebrities, and appeared in many of the best fashion magazines. It has also been sold at Joan Shepp (Philadelphia), If Boutique (New York), American Rag Cie (Los Angeles), Beams, and Maiden’s Shop (Japan).
Naomi Campbell in Esenshel for Vogue Hong Kong
Photograph by Chris Collins, styled by Patti Wilson
2. How has your business been affected by COVID-19? As the states start to reopen, what do you feel is the future of your brand?
In February 2020 we showed Esenshel Headwear for the first time in Paris. The collection was very well received, and we were very optimistic about the new relationships and partners we’d developed and the new orders to come.
Two weeks later, we and the world were under lockdown. Our direct-to-consumer business went quiet. We received a great deal of inquiries, and we could have sold a great deal of hats, but we declined most sales because we weren’t sure when would be able to fulfill the orders. Many of our die-hard fans placed orders knowing it might be months before our workrooms would re-open to create their pieces. It’s amazing to have such loyal followers.
The before mentioned wholesale orders never came. In depressive times of the past, larger retailers have always cancelled the independent and niche brands first and doubled down on larger brands with the greater ad budgets and brand awareness. We believe this moment will be no different, but we will bounce back. We plan to stay true to our core values, continue to build the direct-to-consumer channel, and create those special wholesale relationships with affluent shops but never depend on any one channel for our survival. Once things get up and running, we will pursue the right retail partners again.
3. As Black voices are being heard across the globe, how do you see the fashion industry moving forward in support?
I am not very optimistic about a change in the system, but I believe a change is definitely needed and has been for a very long time. Many organizations have formed in support of Black in fashion initiatives, and I believe I’ve joined every one. With that said, I’ve never wanted to be supported only because I am Black. Equality would mean I am never excluded or not receive the support and consideration because I am Black. I want you to buy my headwear because I make really great headwear of impeccable quality.
There is an absence of Black-owned businesses at most tradeshows. A move forward in support for a tradeshow like Coterie would be identifying 10 Black Brands “that make great product” and give them booths to help with visibility and access to buyers and the retail community. I believe this would benefit Coterie by offering a greater spectrum of product and draw more diverse and additional buyer traffic.
It is important that you don’t capsule them as a part of a “Black Initiative” but that you place them as part of the general show. Genuine support of Black brands for the future should not be highlighted as a public relations initiative. The addition of Black brands to your roster will not go unnoticed.
4. Have the present times led you to innovate and implement creative solutions? If so, what are they?
Innovation and the development of creative solutions has always been at the core of my brand. The Covid-19 shut down gave me a pause and the opportunity to re-evaluate my business. It gave me the time to create. The present times have shown me the importance of having an impactful digital presence. I am creating digital strategies and tools for better communication with wholesale and our direct-to-consumer customers.
5. What have you learned from today’s climate and how will it affect how you operate moving forward?
I have learned that distribution of the product by multiple channels is the safest way to avoid financial ruin. I will continue to develop the direct-to-consumer portion of my business, and I will also be building a new e-comm website. The site will include a wholesale portal as a means of reaching buyers that are hesitant to travel. I will continue to exhibit at select tradeshows to further the exposure of the brand. And last but not least, I will open an intimate boutique where one can come and experience the brand first-hand.
Photo: Courtesy of Esenshel