The MADE Mobb is getting used to risk taking.
“We know what it’s like to walk into something blind,” laughed Mark Launiu, co-founder at MADE Urban Apparel.
Launiu, along with co-founders Vu Radley and Jonathan “JP” Platz, launched MADE in 2012 with the streetwear apparel line selling in just a few pop-up shops. Early partnerships with stores like Made in KC and Westside Storey helped set the stage.
Since then, their team has grown to 12 and MADE products can now be found in 20 retail locations across the city, as well as in a vibrant online store selling to all 50 states and six international destinations. A pop-up location in Melbourne, Australia, also recently found success.
It’s all possible because the trio share a lack of ego, a willingness to grind through challenges, and a certain amount of fearlessness, Launiu said.
“We don’t really have a plan,” he said. “We’re just very passionate dudes who are willing to learn from our mistakes.”
MADE’s growth not only includes an unexpected flagship store downtown on Grand Boulevard and the establishment of The Kritiq, a community-minded fashion show open to a variety of Kansas City fashion designers. The apparel company also is taking steps to expand into another neighboring state, Launiu said.
A store manager is venturing to Denver this week to begin the process of getting MADE apparel into Colorado to test the market, Launiu said. If all goes well, the company could eventually open a store in the Centennial State.
“We’re just going to keep it in the Midwest for right now,” he said.
The company’s evolution from pop-up to powerhouse has also meant ramping up production from a new collection every three months to dropping a new exclusive capsule every two to three weeks, said co-owner Radley, who also serves as MADE’s creative director.
“We’ve been trying to drop as much stuff as possible; explore with a lot of garments; get into more cut-and-sew pieces,” he said. “We’re trying to up our game.”
From heavily MADE-branded styles and streetwear to the popular x KC x line, the company hopes to offer fashion that attracts all members of the community, Radley said.
“We want the culture of KC to grow through apparel, through visuals, through design,” he said. “We want to show Kansas City love and grow the culture for streetwear, for fashion.”
Five years ago, Launiu was a 21-year-old engineering student who had saved up money to attend Kansas State University, he said.
“I was never interested in fashion,” Launiu admitted. “I was wearing tall tees and basketball shorts.”
A chance encounter with a customer wearing a poorly designed, block-letter “Trippy Mane” T-shirt at the Sprint store where Launiu, Radley and Platz worked changed everything, he said.
“JP and I were like, ‘Man, people are really paying money to wear something like that? We could do so much better,’” Launiu said.
It was the first time the trio had closed the store together, which Launiu now takes as a sign. Platz, the store manager, and Radley, a graphic designer and University of Missouri-Kansas City graduate, were initially skeptical of Launiu’s idea to launch an apparel line, he said.
They weren’t alone.
“My family and friends were like, ‘Don’t do it. You’re crazy. You don’t even know these dudes,” Launiu said.
It was definitely a risk … even if it worked, he admitted.
“Either I lose all my money that I invested, and I go broke, again — I know the feeling. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to lose everything,” he said. “Or it does pay off — I’ve never been there before. I don’t know what it’s like to run a business. I don’t know what it’s like to succeed at something like that. I don’t know what it’s like to have something with your name on it.”
All three ultimately agreed to roll the dice.
For six months, they met at Buffalo Wild Wings locations across the metro, melding their diverse backgrounds and struggles into what would become a new urban apparel company.
“We had notebooks and designs out on the table, but we didn’t have a name,” Launiu said.
Drawing inspiration from the movie “Goodfellas,” MADE eventually took its name from the idea of a person who is untouchable: the made man, Launiu said. The company’s team — known as the MADE Mobb — also was inspired by the now-classic 1990 gangster film.
As an acronym, MADE is also known to stand for “Make And Destroy Everything.”
An accidental HQ
MADE’s flagship store at 1110 Grand Boulevard was nearly as unplanned as the company’s origin story, Launiu said.
Operating out of a coworking space in the West Bottoms and later on North Tracy Street, MADE’s co-owners were content to wait another year to further establish the brand with a standalone, physical store, he said. The team was, however, searching for a spot to play host to its spring 2017 collection’s drop.
A couple members of the MADE Mobb stumbled upon the Grand location in early 2017 during a night in the Power & Light District, and immediately called to sell Launiu on the idea of changing plans: establishing a headquarters in the revitalized city center without waiting for 2018.
His vote was a solid “no,” Launiu said … until they used FaceTime to show him the Sprint Center within eyeshot of the storefront. A lease was signed within 48 hours, sight unseen, he said.
When Launiu, who had been traveling, finally stepped into the space, he was shocked by the state of disrepair. But the Mobb got to work, he said, and the space was gutted and renovated in 28 days.
MADE celebrated an “epic” grand opening April 15 with an estimated crowd of 1,200, Launiu said. The message: the MADE Mobb is Kansas City, born and raised.
“Even as we grow, our headquarters are going to stay. This is home. We’re never leaving here,” Launiu said. “We were born here. We’re going to die here.”