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Love Nail Tree founder Tyler Madsen never planned on a career in fashion. Raised in the LA County gateway city of Whittier, Madsen dreamed of becoming an architect and was accepted into Cal Poly Pomona's prestigious school of architecture. "I got to school and realized it wasn't for me," Madsen says, and after dropping out of the first quarter in late 2004, he began making his own graphic tees using "crappy white tees and iron-on transfers that you get at Office Depot."
"I was passionate about provoking conversation; one thing led to another and before I knew it, I was in fashion." In 2005, he began peddling his wares from elaborate stands he built himself at local flea markets and vendor fairs like the OC Market Place, which eventually became the cornerstone for his lifestyle label. Today, Love Nail Tree's edgy-cool basics (all made and designed in LA, no less) can be found at major retail hubs like Westfield Century City and the Americana at Brand, but the brand isn't stopping at apparel and accessories. This week, the label is producing its second installment of STORY, a live theater series inspired by LNT's latest collection.
But Love Nail Tree's rise wasn't overnight. At first, the brand was sourcing their tees from basics labels like American Apparel and Groceries. In 2008, Madsen's wife, Michelle, joined the team and added antique-inspired jewelry to the brand. The couple continued to work their day jobs until 2010, when they decided to "take it to the next level" by working directly with DTLA pattern makers and showcasing their brand at trade shows. From there, business took off.
We sat down with Madsen at The Daily Dose in DTLA's buzzing Arts District, not far from LNT's HQ, to find out more about the rising brand, its mission and more.
What are you drinking today?
"Just straight orange juice. I'm more of a simple juice kind of guy."
What's the inspiration behind Love Nail Tree?
"I still don't feel completely right within fashion. I think that's what makes us unique; we're trying to be different. All of our shirts come with a story and our graphics all tell stories. So rather than calling ourselves a clothing line, we call Love Nail Tree a collective of storytellers that was born out of a desire to provoke conversation with shirts. We create original stories because we believe they can change the world."
Image via Love Nail Tree
"Architecture is still in my blood so I love to build. Our warehouse is great and we live there too; I'm building this whole deck-slash-grassy area and an above-ground pool. So my splurge right now I guess is wood."
What's in your fridge right now?
"Grapefruit juice, like three cartons. I'm obsessed. Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have the best grapefruit juice."
What's your favorite city besides LA?
"Austin, Texas. There's lots of fresh water and lots of trees. You think Texas you think desert, but there's so many trees. And maybe New York, but not for too long. Just enough to feel it. But I feel like I'm going to be here [in LA] forever."
If you could travel back in time, when would it be and why?
"Oh man. And still keep the knowledge I have now?"
Yeah, why not!
"I'd probably go back to when I first started. I made a lot of mistakes. I was 18 years old, I didn't know what I was doing [and] I'd never started a business before. Literally, I was 18 years old and I walk into Bank of America and they give me a $40,000 line of credit. $40,000!"
Image via Love Nail Tree
What would you have done differently?
"My mentality was, 'I need everything that a business needs to operate,' so I was just buying brand-new equipment. I would've for sure bought used equipment and spent way more money on actual product versus getting the business up-and-running."
And what advice would you give to others starting their own business?
"If you're going to spend any money, put it into the product. I ended up having to do screen printing instead of building our own brand because I was trying to make enough money to cover equipment."
Sweet or savory treats?
"Desserts, all the way. I'm a sugar freak."
Favorite school subject?
New Year's Resolutions you just can't seem to keep?
"At this point I don't even do New Year's Resolutions. [laughs] It'd probably be trying to give up sweets. Sometimes I can get out of control."
"Cheeseburgers or pizza. I'm on an Umami craze right now [...] It's too expensive though, it's like $20 per person to eat there for a hamburger and fries. [My wife and I] share the fries! It's so good though."
"I haven't taken a vacation...we went to Berlin for a trade show and then after we spent a week hanging out. We [also] went to Denmark and Copenhagen. Actually, going back to the question, Berlin is another city [I'd love to live in], maybe even over New York. Berlin during the summer is amazing; the culture and the community there is super cool."
What's the last vegetable you'd want to be?
"Maybe broccoli. It's just so big and poofy, I dunno. [laughs] It's not my favorite vegetable."
Got any interesting family traditions?
"My mom's from Wales and we always do a big Christmas dinner. We have these things called poppers that you pull apart; it comes with a paper crown and everyone has to wear [it] through the entire meal. It's a British thing."
· Love Nail Tree [Official Site]
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