Polished. Handsome. Tailored. Stuffy. Uncomfortable. Stiff. When describing traditional men’s formal wear, the words comfortable and functional have never made the cut. Until now.
As an accomplished classical violinist with a small army of young students, Kevin Yu struggled through performances, night after night, in constricting, stifling shirts. Suffering (and sweating), he sought a solution to a generations-old problem.
Did we mention Yu’s additional aptitude as a business start-up expert?
Though he admits that he “didn’t know the first thing about the fashion industry,” Yu put his talents to the test of inventing a better formal shirt for men. The Gershwin tuxedo shirt, premier product of his company, Coregami, was the result. As of this month, it’s available for pre-order, with more products on the horizon.
Crafted of four-way stretching, moisture-wicking fabric, the Gershwin has been tested and touted by some of the world’s most elite concert musicians. What’s more, Yu joins his innovative product with a work ethic par excellence, a philosophy that rings as universal truth, and a home base right here in Big D.
Grooms-to-be, emcees, gala attendees, and beyond, take notice. Read on to learn why Coregami ranks as one of the most exciting Dallas fashion companies we’ve encountered, and how the marriage of formal wear and performance wear is nothing short of revolutionary.
DFW Style Daily: First things first, your professional background is fascinating. Tell us about your dual-focused career path.
Kevin Yu: “I wish I could tell you that this ‘dual-focused career path’ is exactly as planned. The truth is, I still don’t know what I’d like to be when I grow up. Fortunately, we live in a land where people have many chances of rebirth.
“As a kid, I was lucky to be pushed and pulled by parents and teachers. We were immigrants from Singapore. Crushing it in the classroom, being a teacher’s pet, and playing an instrument were basic expectations. But then I fell in love. Music was the only thing that could calm me down. Accolades and medals were followed by big scholarships. Getting prizes for doing what you love is like getting a high-five for eating ice cream.
“This ‘dual-focused career path’ started the moment I was accepted into the undergraduate business program in college. As soon as I landed on campus, I got a phone call from the violin professor, who took me under his wing. I was a student by day and an intern at a tech startup by night. Thereafter, I’ve spent the bulk of my professional career in the energy industry. After leaving the office, I would head for symphony rehearsals, and I would take vacation days to perform with artists such as David Byrne, Wayne Newton, or Three Dog Night. Twenty years in corporate America and thirty years studying the violin evolved into a system. Work fed my body and music fed my soul.”
It would seem that this unique perspective had everything to do with your desire to innovate and market a more functional formal wear product. Is that a fair statement?
“The years in corporate America have been tremendously helpful in running a small business, but I was never looking to invent, disrupt, or design anything. I was simply trying to solve a personal problem: I got frustrated when I couldn’t find the right tuxedo shirt.
“The idea of Coregami was conceived on the Katy Trail. At the end of each run, I’m usually drenched from heat to toe. As I was cooling down one morning, I took a closer look at myUnder Armour running shirt. It was stretchy, moisture-wicking, and light as air. I thought to myself, ‘Why can’t I be this comfortable while I’m on stage?’ It’s true what they say – frustration is the mother of invention.”
Following ideation, describe the steps involved in developing the Coregami product. How long was the timeline from ‘light bulb moment’ to real-world product testing?
“It was a long journey. The time from ‘light bulb moment’ to first prototype was about eight months. From that point to our current soft launch period was another 16 months. I didn’t know the first thing about the fashion industry, much less how to design an article of clothing. But having worn formal wear for thirty years, I do have a clear understanding of what is comfortable and suitable to honor the occasion.
“It was uphill from day one. First, through a lot of research and a few meetings in Los Angeles, we were able to procure some really special fabric from a world leader in this category. This fabric provider took an active interest in the mission of Coregami, and continues to serve as a great partner and advisor.
“From the beginning, we always included key members of our community into the development process, as well. We iterated through any prototypes, and failed our way to a solution.”
Tell us, from the perspective of the wearer, how Coregami improves the experience of formal dressing.
“We operate based on some general insights: First, men do not shop. We buy. Second, while most women are willing to pay less for something they don’t need, men are willing to pay morefor something they really need. Finally, when it comes to shopping, the top criteria for men is not price or looks, but rather, comfort.
“From the outset, we did not design something that a lot of people like. We designed something that a few people love. Our customers are some of the most elite musicians on Earth, and their needs are specific. We bring comfort and functionality where it has never existed before. Last but not least, we make shopping easier through our website and risk-free trials.”
As of today, where does Coregami stand in the start-up evolution process?
“We had a soft launch in June, 2015. At this stage, our objectives are to determine product and market fit, test the production, and validate the price point. Since opening day, we have gone viral in the classical community, and as it is a pre-order process, we anticipate that we will deliver the product in early September. ”
What is your estimation of Dallas, so far, as a base for an apparel start-up?
“I’m so happy to be in Dallas. There was a point where I could have placed this concept anywhere in the country, with San Francisco at the top of my list. Building a start-up is resource-intensive, however, and this region happens to be highly cost effective. Also, I’m lucky to be surrounded by intellectual giants who are willing to help me. There is no doubt in my mind that setting up shop in Dallas is the right decision.”
What is next on the horizon for Coregami?
“This is our opening act, and we are simply trying to make the best tuxedo shirt in the world. In our next stage, we want to rethink every item in the men’s formal wear category.
“We want to usher formal wear to the present, and introduce the concept of Performal – where formal wear meets performance wear. In addition to our original product, the Gershwin tuxedo shirt, products on the horizon include a more functional tuxedo jacket, breathable dress pants with an athletic waist band, bow ties with four-way stretch and improved latch system, and more.”