Most fashion retailers are gritting their teeth, driving as much e-commerce revenue as possible and waiting for the pandemic to end so they can welcome back shoppers into their stores. Abdul Ahmed has a different agenda: developing Adesso Man into a mission-focused brand that not only elevates men’s style, but has a positive impact on society at large.
Based in Calgary, Adesso Man was launched in 2016 when Ahmed, who had been working in various retail management positions for 15 years, noticed a trend among his customers. Many of them were looking for premium men’s products that were European-inspired but available at an accessible price point.
“There were not a lot of options in Calgary at the time,” Ahmed told Menswhere in a recent interview by phone. “We were behind the trends when we compared our fashion options to Europe, or even the U.S. That’s when the wheels started turning.”
Adesso Man’s first products included a bold range of tie clips, neckties and other accessories. It has since expanded into everything from skin-care products to an eye-catching collection of leather bags that launched last month.
Contrary to popular wisdom in business circles, however — where the future of retail is seen as largely or exclusively online — Adesso Man’s clientele was looking for more than another site to fill a digital shopping cart. As a result, Ahmed and the team began opening pop-up shops and exhibiting at major retail events.
“We kind of changed the strategy to build a foundational customer base. Coming from retail, that was my expertise — it’s about connecting with people, not just merchandising a product,” he said.
“There’s a lot of men that are quite hesitant to try something new and step outside the box, or who just face judgements around what a man should be. We wanted to tackle that stigma. Our ethos is not just to help people look good, but to feel good.”
Adesso Man has been able to achieve that by creating highly welcoming, lounge-like store spaces in two major Calgary shopping centres.
At the same time, however, the company launched a social media campaign, #AdessoListens, which aimed to better understand what its customers were going through beyond wardrobe challenges.
What Ahmed said they heard were grouped into common themes which now serve as the core pillars of its social impact activity. These include a desire for better financial health, mental health, physical health, the need for improved skills and education, and developing their personal relationships.
“When you first start out, you don’t think about those things. It’s just, ‘Let’s get the product to market,” he admitted. “But we’re different people now, and our brand is an extnesion of who we are. We’ve matured, and our priorities have changed.”
Though its efforts began before the pandemic, Adesso Man has since partnered with more than 15 different brands on charitable giving initiatives. Ten per cent of the proceeds from sales of its Good Vibes Only Underwear, for example, are donated to Calgary Bridge Foundation for Youth, which supports immigrant youth.
Buy any of the 16 different pairs co-designed with celebrity athletes from the Classroom Champion Sock Collection, meanwhile, and all proceeds are donated to Classroom Champions, a North American organization that works with athletes and educators to mentor children in school.
“As we refined our brand messaging and platform, we started to ask ourselves, what’s the legacy that we want to leave behind? I want to make sure I every day I go to work, I feel proud,” Ahmed said.
It’s just not a matter of aligning with worthy causes, however. Ahmed said the Adesso Man team is also thinking more deeply about the relationship between sustainability and style as it brings new products to market.
Like many other brands, for instance, Adesso Man has worked with third parties to find factors with ethical manufacturing processes. In some cases, though, the brand has gone the extra step of buying “dead stock” (inventory that didn’t sell) instead of new materials to make its leather bags.
The bags are also designed to multi-task, with additional pockets and compartments that could eliminate the need to carry multiple bags at once.
Although I haven’t shopped with Adesso Man myself, I’m looking forward to trying some of its products, and hopeful that, once COVID-19 is contained, it can go back to its plan to expand its physical presence into additional markets, like Toronto.
“Our in-store experience is great. That doesn’t always translate online, but no matter where we are, we want to be a place to educate yourself on self-care and style,” he said. “When that happens, there’s a real energy exchange.”
And as Adesso Man has proven, when you give off good energy, it only feels natural to give some back.