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January 9, 2024

Keeping It Fresh

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CELEBRITY TAILOR RICH FRESH is cut from a different cloth. In taking the fashion world by storm with striking but simple looks that have caught the eye of clients like LeBron James and Doja Cat, he has also taken a pair of scissors to the industry rule book in following an unorthodox path to the top.

The self-taught stitcher and stylist leads two growing businesses with a mix of savvy social media presence and gut instinct. His glad rags to riches story—which has been featured in the leading business magazine, Forbes—has had “no real strategy,” he admits. “It was really just like, ‘Just get started and don’t mess up.’”

When he moved to Los Angeles a few years ago, Fresh didn’t know anyone but decided he was “going to figure out how to make money and provide a service, a product—and I’ve been able to build two companies off that.”

That approach has worked. His custom Rich Fresh designs were taking off when COVID-19 hit and brought business to an almost standstill. He pivoted, launching a line of fashionable face masks with his brother Chase. Those protective coverings got a PR boost from celebrity users and, unlikely as it seems, the House of Representatives, when Nevada congressman Steven Horsford wore one on the floor.

The Henry masks—the name a nod to his birth name, Patrick Henry Jr.—are not just a moneymaker. A portion of each sale is donated to health care workers and families in need. “You just hate the idea of people not being able to eat food in the U.S.,” he says.

As well as making money, Fresh wants to make an impact. He sees his social media presence—lifestyle selfies and latest styles paired with inspirational thoughts—as “a form of ministry, because there’s someone who needs to hear that, however bleak this scenario is, there is a whole community of people who are dealing with bleak scenarios and we’re finding ways to power through… Sometimes you need to see what the other side might possibly look like.”

He also hopes to challenge some stereotypes. He wants to “make sure that people know I’m not just like a pretty face that makes clothes, like I’ve got something going on up here,” he says, tapping the side of his head. “If you hang around me, I’m not the friend who’s talking to you about the TV shows and the bullshit. I’m talking about a book I may have read or a trip I’m planning on taking or just a breakthrough that I’ve just broken through.”

“I wanted to take tailoring and make it look so cool that other people would aspire to do that.”

A new name
Starting out in the industry, Fresh couldn’t find someone he wanted to emulate. “It was either rapping or hooping, or maybe you’d be a movie star, but if not that you better take your ass to college, you better get a good job, otherwise you are stuck. And I was like, if men weren’t so damn macho, they [could] take this sewing machine and figure out how to get in the game, they can make some money. They can take care of their family. And even women, like, just knowing that it’s more than just doing little things, sewing on buttons… no, how can you take this machine and really turn it into something?

“I wanted to take tailoring and make it look so cool that other people would aspire to do that, like they would just see it as another option. Like, ‘Oh damn, I could also figure out how to do something in fashion because this dude, he’s young and he’s cool and he’s got a lifestyle just like the ballplayer, and I don’t have to be six-four. I can just apply myself.’”

There’s a spiritual dimension to all this. When he moved to Los Angeles, he changed his name to Rich “because I liked the idea of saying it to the universe enough that it becomes true. If I say I’m rich, I’m rich. I just reasoned that the universe won’t be able to decipher between it being the name or my economic status. So I started calling myself Rich and it just made me kind of move a little different.”

If the Rich part is about the Benjamins, the Fresh part is about the brand. “If you’re fresh, that’s like the highest; you can’t be better dressed than fresh. Fresh is higher than well-dressed or stylish or sharp, it’s the pinnacle.”

More recently, he’s actually dropped the Rich. “I go by Fresh because this is more of a character. I know people named Rich… If I tell you my name is Rich, it doesn’t tell you what I do, it doesn’t tell you what I represent. I tell you my name is Fresh, you get it.”

Fresh began experimenting with fashion as a 13-year-old, secretly tinkering on a sewing machine he found because he didn’t think anyone would understand what he was up to. He learned to hem, take in waistlines, do zippers. And “I fell in love with the process of making something from nothing.

“As I got better, I started getting more jobs. I never went to school. I never did any apprenticeship. I would just challenge myself; I would teach myself how to do something. I’ve never looked at a fashion book. I just… think I know what it takes.”

An inner compass
People talk about him as an overnight sensation, but Fresh says that’s far from the truth. Yes, he went from having just a few hundred dollars to his name to making a million in a year, “but it took 18 years of struggle without quitting to finally have a formula that got me that kind of result in a year. I’m a 20-year success, but people were just now catching onto it.”

Part of his nontypical approach has involved bypassing traditional marketing and focusing in on social media. That’s not only because it works, but because it suits his personality. “I’m a super introvert,” he explains. “I absorb energy… I don’t really deal with a lot of people. So I can’t go into office buildings and sling cards around and go to all the mixers and do all this stuff; it doesn’t work for me. You know, I used to have alcohol problems, [and now] I’m sober, so being in those environments, it’s like, ‘Nah, that’s not gonna work for me. How can I put this out here consistently?’ I got to use social media, because I can be out there because I’m not really dealing with people physically.”

Reflecting on his rise, Fresh sees two important factors at play. “Who I work with, for sure. I was very, very careful about who I work with.” He turned down some opportunities with athletes who “had some big stains on them… people who I just didn’t feel were going to go in the right direction.”

Then there was sticking to his gut instincts and not trying to be all businessy about things. “I did not do any of this the traditional way,” he says of, for example, designing clothes just to show, not sell. “Like, it doesn’t make sense, but I have this inner compass that bets big and it usually wins, and I just had to make sure that I stayed true to the impractical voice.”

There are so many people out there with logical, practical advice, he says, “and sometimes you have to listen to that thing that’s not practical, that’s still in the dream world, that can make magic happen.”

Fresh doesn’t just believe in speaking things into reality— like with his name—but writing them into being. He has a vision board on which he named the likes of Kevin Hart, John Legend and Barack Obama as clients he would like to win. And in due time he did, connecting with stylists and “putting myself in front of them” to develop relationships that opened up doors.

A growing business comes with challenges, and Fresh identifies two. First, recognizing areas he doesn’t need to be involved in and hiring people to tackle them. “Just go do the thing you’re responsible for, and they’ll do the thing they’re responsible for, and you actually cover more ground… You hear it all the time: It costs to be the boss. It does—you’ve got to pay the rent, pay the fees, the taxes, the insurances, all this stuff.” But that overhead isn’t a negative, because “when you keep all the money yourself, you don’t grow that way.”

Along with that realization came the need to set bigger goals. Henry couldn’t have happened without “a partnership mentality” with his brother. “I had to be able to relinquish a certain amount of control and trust his ability,” Fresh says.

“When you grow in certain phases, you have to align with someone else. My brother’s a genius when it comes to production. He can build things; I’m really good at creating things. If I had tried to do his thing, I would have failed. And if he tried to do my thing, he would have failed, but us utilizing each other’s strengths and respecting each other, and like respecting the partnership, we were able to grow into phase two.”

“Sometimes you have to listen to that thing that’s not practical, that’s still in the dream world.”

A creative influence
Fresh names three designers who have been influential on him, for their personalities if not their creations. He credits Ralph Lauren for having “single-handedly crafted American fashion” with an uncompromising vision of what he wanted to do.

When told his ties needed to be smaller, and without a logo, as he started out, “he said no and left, and they called him back and said, ‘You know what, we’ll take them,’” Fresh recounts. “Like, he stuck to his guns, and he took that and he built an empire on it. And this kid was an immigrant… he had to go out there and hustle and just do some things that weren’t expected.”

Then there is Tom Ford, whose ability to “make clothing sexy” he appreciates. “He has a sexy, upscale mentality, but it’s not starchy and unapproachable,” he says. “When I met him, the thing I noticed about him was he was his brand; he didn’t design something that was off-base with who he is. He designed clothes that he wanted to wear and built a whole universe around that. So when it was time for me to roll out Rich Fresh, I said, ‘I’m going to do it the way Tom Ford did it.’”

The third name may be unfamiliar to many in the U.S. Ozwald Boateng was the first Black designer to have a store under his name on Savile Row in London, in the heart of Britain’s old-school, white fashion world. “He did something that was completely unprecedented,” Fresh says. “Just his swagger, seeing a cool dude in this space was different than seeing what I was used to seeing, so it was very necessary for me to have that experience. It helped shape what’s possible; I don’t have to conform.”

Those influencers aside, where does he turn for inspiration when it’s design- or decision-time? “I go for a walk,” he says. “I got a really nice view in the Hills, so I look at nature. I go talk to a tree. I smoke some weed, perhaps drink some tea. I like to relax, ‘cause everything comes to me so easily when I’m just in a space of receiving.

“When I need to tap into something, I just get cool. I throw on some jazz, something to match the environment that I want to create… create the elements and just let it happen.”

Asked to describe his design philosophy, he chooses minimalist. “I just like color, because you can feel it. Color emits emotions for me—they can make you feel happy or sad or hungry. I can look at colors and I can feel them.” When it comes to style, he chooses “simple, comfortable, tailored and timeless. I don’t want things that keep you stuck in a certain last season and you can’t wear it again. I like the idea of just having pieces: you don’t have to think about it, you can just grab it, put it on and it feels great, it looks great.”

Fresh hopes his unlikely story can inspire others— “the next generation of entrepreneurs, not just fashion entrepreneurs, but people who want to contribute to society and make a change, provide for their family. I want to inspire Black people to defy the norms, to inspire Black men to be themselves and not dumb it down or cut it off. Like, be who you are, provide the value, provide a service, be yourself, be authentic.”

My father, for certain; he’s my No. 1 waymaker. He was a self-made guy: grew up poor, put himself through school and just showed us what hard work was like. I got to see his way of being and what he instilled in me. He always instilled greatness. He was always like, “You have to be greater than me.”

From an interview with Louis Carr