You might know not know his face, but if you’re a Detroiter, you have definitely heard his name. Ty Mopkins has been lighting up the fashion industry for more than 20 years, but most recently he is the creative mastermind behind the resurrection of the Starter jacket and the brand ambassador for Mr. Alan’s Elite.
Celebrities like Big Sean, DJ Envy, Grant Hill and Fabolous have all been spotted wearing his designs. His jackets are so in demand that the black Lions Starter jacket, Big Sean, wore during the 2015 Lions halftime show sold out within minutes.
However, the road to success for the life long Detroiter has not been without its share of pot holes.
We recently sat down with the designer and influencer to talk about his origins in the fashion industry, how he worked through his depression, and the importance of keeping a hustlers spirit.
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How did you get into fashion? I was born and raised in 12000 block of Rose Lawn on Grand River and Livernois. That’s where I first fell in love with Fashion. I was 12 or 13 when I noticed how the street hustlers and the guys on the block were dressing. Back in those days some of our taste-makers were Run DMC, LL Cool J, Eric B. and Rakim.
Everyone was wearing ADIDAIS and Fila sweat suits. We didn’t have role models as kids, so the hustlers were our role models. That’s what we thought was success. We wanted to have the expensive clothes, the exotic cars and the jewelry. It was because of them that I fell in love with fashion.
In the early 90’s everyone wanted to wear dress clothes and the big block gators. The “Stink Pink Gators.” Biggie raps came from Detroit. Fancy silk Versace shirts.
How did you get your start in fashion? My first job in retail was at Strictly Sportswear when I was 22. I learned the game and the business part. It was a big go-to spot for brand name clothing.
We were the first to introduce Guess and Coogi. We were selling $800-900 Coogi sweaters. That was the in thing. Guess suits and Girbaud Jeans. I learned how to go to trade shows and pick out stuff for the season.
I had the most bottom job you could do. I used to sweep 7 mile and keep the outside of the store clean. It was a black owned, mom’s and pop’s store. I learned everything from cleaning toilet to rotating stock. I had to earn my way onto the sales floor by learning the product.
I always had an eye for fashion because of the way I dressed. And with me being a heavier guy, people would say, ‘man you dress sweet for a big guy,’ and I was like, what you mean? I dress sweet regardless. So me putting together outfits was nothing new because I was labeled as the fresh big guy.
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When I got on the sales floor, I would put different outfits together with the shoes. It got to the point where guys wanted me to put together full outfits for them. The founder of Strictly Sportswear, Dorothy Hamlin, took me under her wing and taught me more in one little retail store than in 10 years of college. She took a chance on me and threw me out to the world.
When did you decide to leave Strictly Sportswear and strike out on your own? Since it was a family owned store, I could only so far in the company. Plus, people kept telling me to do my own thing and to get out there. But I think I should have waited.
I made a name for myself as one of the best buyers in the industry and I had people saying to me, ‘Ty you got the eye,’ and it wasn’t so much that I had the eye, it was that I come from a city where I feel like we still the freshest city in the world.
Nobody dresses like Detroit. We can go to Alaska and I can spot someone from Detroit, just from the way they dress and by the way we put things together. I feel that our city doesn’t get enough credit for that. We are one of the fashion capitals of the world.
What was your next move? I teamed up with some friends and we started Hip-Hop University. We started in a small city in Pontiac. We wanted to be different from everyone. That was one of the worst things we could have ever did because we moved away from the attention I was getting in the city. We tanked bad, to the point where I had to come back home.
We moved closer to my old neighborhood. It was a gift and a curse because when you grow up in the inner city, you always want to go back where you came from and do productive things there. We wanted to show love to the city, but as popular as we were, there were a lot of break-ins.
We were one of the first independent stores in the city to have the throw back jerseys. We created a buzz and were selling 50-60 jerseys a day. But that prompted like 4-5 break-ins in one month. Insurance didn’t want to mess with us because we were high risk. It hurt because it was happening in my community and by our own people. We would give so much back to community, from giving away school clothes to giving away food. I just couldn’t understand.
How did you cope with the business failing?
In 2003, I lost everything. I suffered through a bout of depression,
I feel in our community, people are ashamed to talk about it, but it happens. I think people need to see that you can overcome and rebound from it.
At the time, my business was failing. I had a failed relationship at that time. Everything was coming down on me and I didn’t know how to handle it. I wouldn’t answer the phone for anyone. I just wasn’t trying to do anything. It was to the point that I was admitted. My mom and some close friends admitted me. It wasn’t getting better and they didn’t want me to deteriorate like that.
At one point, I just didn’t want to be here anymore.
Now that I look at it, that was one of the most selfish things, that I feel bad about. At the time, my son was eight and as a father and a man, I let my son down as being a hero and being someone he can look up to.
I’m glad things got turned around. It’s nothing like laying in the bed and having someone sit across from you that you don’t even know, that’s watching you to make sure you don’t harm yourself.
After talking with doctors, I got the help that I needed. I didn’t have to take any medicine. When I came back out, I was able to hit the ground running. I needed that spark. Sometimes, you have to have a test, in order to have a testimony. I felt like that was my test.
If you suffer with depression, no one is going to snap you out of it. It has to be you. People can give you pep talks and clichés but you have to be the one to do it.
Where did you go after you sold your store? I worked at another retail store inside Northland Mall called No Limit for four years. It was a humbling experience, but I loved what I was doing. During that time, that’s when I met my wife. We got married in 2008.
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Well we got 10 years in Meek… August 30, 2008 I married this woman for richer and richer (those who were there know… lol) Today is our 10th anniversary… Marriage is something… Marriage is not perfect… you make mistakes along the way but you learn and grow… We now live in a era where people give up on each other fast… I can honestly say in these past 10 years I’ve learned what love is… You have stuck by me when it seemed like the world had given up on me and for that you are owed the world… You believed in all of my dreams and have never doubted anything that I have ever done… A thousand years from now will still be holding it down… our love was and will always be worth all that we have been through… you keep me grounded and for that I love you! Happy Anniversary Mrs. Mopkins let’s go for 10 more! Ball with the same one who held you down when all you had was a dream!
She kept me motivated and stuck by me when I was going through my thing. After that I worked at Designer Warehouse and Puffer Reds. I was still known for putting outfits together for people, but 2013 is when things really took off for me.
What changed? What was different in 2013? Social media. Instagram came. This was the whole social media age. I started an Instagram page and began putting outfits together and tagging celebrities and using hashtags.
I started getting a lot of cliental from the Detroit Lions. I would tag people like Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson and Cliff Avril. I would get them to come shop at Puffer Reds. But again, like Strictly Sportwears, it was a family owned business and it was only so far I could go. I was getting the urge again to start something of my own.
Is this where Mr. Alan’s come in? Yes, so funny story. I had some mutual friends come to me and say I know where you would be a perfect fit… Mr. Alan’s. And I said, ‘What? $29, 2 for $50.’ I’m tight, and I’m not desperate. But my friend said the owner’s son, Jacob Bishop, was looking to rebrand and reimage with a new concept and I think you are the type of person that he needs to get the message across.
In the meantime, I started getting a lot of offers out of state, but I didn’t want to leave my family or uproot them from their home. Eventually, me and Jacob started talking and exchanging ideas. I wasn’t even employed with the company yet.
What really sold me on Mr. Alan’s was the fact that I believed in what Jacob doing and plus, this is my home, my city. I became a brand ambassador and this is how the Mr. Alan’s Elite was born.
How did you team up with Starter? I had a mutual friend that knew Carl Banks, former linebacker for the New York Giants, Michigan State Hall of Famer and president of G-III apparel company. I ended up having a conversation with Carl and jokingly told him we should bring Starter back, since he was one of the first players to them. He said, ‘let’s do it, come up with four or five jacket designs for a collaboration.’
So, of course, the first jacket design I did was for my favorite sports team, Detroit Lions. We a special release date for the Lions jacket, the day before Thanksgiving. The jacket sold out in five minutes and the rest is history.
Wow! So what’s next for Ty Mopkins? You just have to stay tuned…