The Balance Between Innovation and Tradition at Mack Weldon | Matthew Congdon
Matthew Congdon is the Vice President of the Product Creation and Design team at Mack Weldon. Born in Wisconsin, Matthew graduated from Parsons School of Design and immediately started working in fashion. From Club Monaco to J.Crew, Uniqlo, Calvin Klein and finally Mack Weldon, Matthew has demonstrated his love for design and how to find the perfect solution to any type of problem.
MiND met him in Mack Weldon’s office in New York to learn more about his background and career.
Matthew Congdon has always admired aesthetics and design, but also enjoyed engineering and problem solving. His grandfather had an ammunition factory and that has always brought a young Matthew to investigate in how things are made. He was always a crafty kid, always drawing something. One day Parsons School of Design introduced itself at Matthew’s school and he immediately knew where he wanted to go after high school. “What’s great about Parsons, compared to other fashion schools, is that they really give you this 360° approach to design, where it’s not just about the mechanics but how to think like a designer. Which for me meant to think like a problem solver. Whether it be designing a button or a garment or thinking about the marketing angle or how you’re going to merchandise. I really appreciated feeling like there is validity in all areas.”
After graduating, he started working for Club Monaco, which at the time was a smaller name. As the brand moved its first steps in New York, Matthew started learning more and more. He then started working for J.Crew. Here he saw how the brand played with traditional classics and the positive impact on a brand when the team is all working together towards the same goal. From there Matthew worked for Uniqlo for six years, working on reinventing classics in a modern and innovative way, without losing the elements of trust that classics carry with them. Matthew later moved to Calvin Klein where he experienced how a global brand can be influential in different ways all while still keeping the same narrative.
All of these experiences came together when he joined the Mack Weldon team. Matthew was excited for everything to really come full circle. Mack Weldon’s straight forward approach combined with the synergy of the beauty of the Calvin Klein’s design aesthetic, the simplicity and innovation of Uniqlo and the classic mentality of J.Crew, and the start-up energy from Club Monaco was the dream. He had the opportunity to take the reigns of the team and go with it. In the last 4 years, Matthew has played a vital role in the brand’s growth.
Mack Weldon is digital native brand, but it has recently opened a physical store in Hudson Yards. It isn’t easy to switch an online-only experience to a in-store one, so the key for Matthew is to have an easy and clear experience. Having a physical presence has been a great opportunity for Mack Weldon to learn about their customer’s wants and needs.
Since working at Mack Weldon, Matthew has been building a strong underwear line. His focus is on innovation, especially in the materials used, but also creating iconic pieces that consumers will always love. While the technology in the fabrics and stitching may be complex, the design is always simple and classic with minimal branding which really allows the products to speak for themselves. “It expresses that guys who wear this are confident already.”
To Matthew, working in menswear makes you more pragmatic and more focused on the bottom line. “That’s what I really like about the American part of the industry and the American sportswear history too because at the end of the day it has to be wearable and solving a problem.”
When you’re a designer, it’s like it never turns off. You want to vacuum everything up and have your mind formulate and edit it and put it back out.
His inspiration comes from walking all over the city, absorbing pop culture and everything that surrounds him. He travels a lot for his job and this helps him put things into a different perspective: besides seeing things through a different lens, Matthew thinks that when travelling you are putting yourself out and about in the world and you start thinking about the things that work and don’t work. While fashion is almost always focused on the present, design concentrates on problem-solving and can take inspiration from things that have nothing to do with fashion itself.
The challenge, when working in this specific genre, is trying to find the balance between innovation and traditional classics. “It’s about saying how do we define what an essential is and do we have something new to say about it”. As a designer, Matthew really aspires to give men something that is basic but that will solve their problems, whatever it is, and still feel and look good in it. This is also where the value of the brand lays: giving customers a peace of mind and comfort, making them feel and look good in an effortless way. But in the end, it isn’t effortless as there is a lot of studying, testing and brainstorming behind a collection.
The difference between fashion and style is that style is taking aesthetics to design, and design is problem solving.
Even though men’s underwear seems to never change, Matthew takes a great deal into searching for the best design and especially the best fabric. His travelling is often done to factories and mills, where he sees new technology happening and that is where he finds the best elements for his creations. A recent creation, the Stratus Short, is a pair of running shorts that have a technology called 37.5. It turns sweat into vapor. To Matthew, everything should be a hybridization. The AIRKNITx line of shirts is based on a technology that was designed for a man to run a marathon in, but it can also be worn on a normal casual day. “And I think that’s what makes something a success when it can do a variety of things”.
He is also working with the team on a new sustainable and recycled collection, Stealth. The fabric is made of recycled fibres and it has been chosen among many other different ones. Matthew does’t believe in doing something for the sake of doing it. Many brands, according to Matthew, jump on the band wagon and follow the “trend”, whilst Mack Weldon’s choices are the consequence of waiting to be able to do it right. This is especially true for the brand’s sustainability efforts. “I think the evolution is hand in hand with what were allowed to do.”
In the end, designing underwear or activewear for men isn’t as easy as it seems but with great minds like Matthew Congdon’s, MiND is sure that we can expect great products at Mack Weldon.