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Q&A: Mugsy Jeans Founder Leo Tropeano on Designing Men’s Denim for Comfort

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Accounting, and the stress that comes with working at a prominent New York City firm and dressing the part, led Mugsy Jeans founder Leo Tropeano down an atypical path in denim.

“I actually got the idea for [Mugsy] when I was living in New York—got to the real world and realized I needed to start dressing better and ditch the old college clothing,” Tropeano told Rivet. “First thing I started with was jeans. I was a soccer player growing up and I had the bigger legs. Finding slimmer fits that were comfortable was impossible.”

Tropeano says he would spend a whole day on the Bloomingdale’s sales floor searching for a pair of jeans that would fit his body type. When he couldn’t find a pair, no matter how hard he looked, a light bulb went off and he decided to make stylish and flattering denim for men with an athletic profile.

Three years after launching as a direct-to-consumer brand, Mugsy Jeans offers a collection of men’s stretch jeans, chinos and shorts for sizes up to 42. And each continues to be built on Tropeano’s original need for comfortable, good-looking fashion. Jeans retail for $98 and come in a range of slim, tapered fits in classic shades like faded gray, medium-dark blue and dark washes.

Here, the Chicago-based exec shares with Rivet how Mugsy Jeans is changing the misconception that men’s jeans must be rigid and the steps it takes to guarantee comfort.

Leo Tropeano

Rivet: Tell us about the jeans’ fiber makeup.

Joe Tropeano: When I started Mugsy, comfort was the goal. But, I think it is super important to keep that denim look and feel. A lot of what you find out there is that when something goes toward comfort, it stops looking like a jean and looks like athleisure wear. Keeping that cotton look and feel is super important. We got our blend down to 70 percent cotton and then the real magic is in that 30 percent. We add in some rayon for that synthetic, silky soft feel, spandex for that crazy stretch when you are moving around and then we bolster it with polyester to make it super durable.

Rivet: You describe Mugsy Jeans are some of the most durable jeans in the market. How did you design durability into the line?

JT: Polyester is super durable but it has some tradeoffs. So, getting the right amount where it changes shape and can withstand a lot without making it heat-trapping or uncomfortable was the goal. We also used Lycra T-400 technology.

Rivet: Why is Lycra T-400 the right ingredient?

JT: With the T-400, it’s not necessarily the fabric, it’s more the way that it’s woven together. You take your stretch component and then wrap the fabric around it. So, it protects the more susceptible fibers just by weaving it a different way. My designer told me to think about it like a steel cable bridge, where the wires that hold the bridge up are reinforced by wrapping cables around them.

Rivet: What would you say is the Mugsy “calling card,” or the style that you want people to know your brand for?

JT: We try to stay with a classic look. We don’t do anything too crazy for our washes, we just bolster the classic styles with a slim, tapered look. It’s not going to be too baggy, it’s not going to be too tight. At the end of the day, we want our product to give guys confidence. We don’t want someone who probably isn’t a huge fashionista, doesn’t quite know exactly what they’re doing in a storefront, to put on a pair think, “Are these going to be too tight?” or “Are my friends going to ridicule me?” No, we’re sticking to the basics. You pretty much know that our jeans are going to look good on you.

Rivet: What is a common misperception about denim design you’ve noticed?

JT: What we find for the guy that we target is that they think you have to be uncomfortable in denim. A lot of the feedback we get, especially in the early days, is “When I wear jeans to work and I come home, the first thing I do, before I even take my sunglasses off, is I take my jeans off and put my sweatpants on.” The technology has improved so much that that’s not the case anymore.

Rivet: What made you decide to go direct-to-consumer with Mugsy?

JT: Retail, in general, is in such a weird place. In the early days, I messed with it a little bit. I got into a few stores in Chicago and quickly learned that it’s not working. Actually, four out of the five [stores] are no longer in business. It made a lot more sense to just go to the consumer directly. That said, I think there is a space for it. We can start direct and just scale from there, endlessly.

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