One of a kind, exclusive items have always been a hot commodity in the fashion industry, but over the past few years the demand for rare merchandise has drastically increased. With the sneaker market alone accounting for $2 billion of the now $29 billion resell industry, everyone is looking for their way to make some cash. And with Houston's dense population and diverse culture, the city is a southern hotspot for the fashion industry.
While The Galleria is host to multiple high-end fashion flagship storefronts, you'll have to go to other secondary reseller shops to obtain these exclusive items, as most sought after "hype" brands such as Supreme and Bape have very limited storefronts, with none being even remotely close to Texas. These reseller shops are sprinkled all around the city and are in constant competition with each other to have the rarest and most exclusive merchandise.
While most have an established physical storefront or website, one man has completely overtaken the rest from his one-bedroom apartment and cell phone.
"It's crazy!" says Houston entrepreneur Michael Mills. "People don’t know that one of the hottest clothing stores in all of Houston, is run inside a 950 square foot condo. And I’ve been killing it for over a year, with no overhead!"
Mills is owner of Houston Closet, a reseller shop boasting more than 25,000 followers on Instagram. Mills runs the entire business from his phone and apartment. Customers send a direct message through the Instagram app and set up a date and time to come check out his offerings.
Seeing Houston Closet up close is jaw dropping. The walls are covered in skateboards and artwork from top designers such as Kaws and Taksashi Murakami; glass casings are filled with rare trinkets and accessories like locks, matches, whistles and keychains from brands like Palace, Supreme, and Bape; and racks filled with shirts and jackets from the hottest brands are spotlighted in the middle of the room. The quality and selection garners the attention of many collectors and local celebrities such as recording artist Dice Soho and Billboard charting rapper Maxo Kream.
However, a storefront was imminent. Location is everything, so to ensure the stability of his next venture, Mills has teamed up with none other than master jeweler and Houston legend, Johnny Dang, to host the newest location of his now renamed The Closet. With their soft opening already accomplished on June 15 the store will host a grand opening event July 4th weekend.
The soft opening offered a small selection of the rare merch and shoes. The Closet will occupy the top floor of Johnny Dang & Co.'s jewelry store at 6224 Richmond Avenue — with a lot more open shopping space than the small one-bedroom apartment. Shoes will line the walls, racks of rare tops will cover the floor and in the center will sit a custom Johnny Dang/Travis Scott ping-pong table.
“He told me beforehand,” explains Mills, “’You know what I’m going to bring to the table Mike, but you know what you need to bring. You have to bring people through these doors, you have to bring in the best merch, you’ve got to have the hottest of the hot!’ And I was like ‘Johnny, it’s done!’ You allow us to do this, the rest is history.”
Johnny Dang, "raps favorite jeweler," is a Vietnamese born, Houston jewelry craftsman, most notable for his early work with Houston rap artist Paul Wall and the creation of high-quality custom grillz. Dang has worked with the biggest names in the industry such as Beyonce, Kanye West, and Lil Wayne and is known for his unique custom pieces and innovative techniques. He opened "the largest jewelry store in Houston" in October 2016. The 16,000 square foot complex houses millions in custom diamond pieces and even has a performing stage.
“The jewelry thing is definitely his lane, the thing with wanting to get into Johnny’s is to create that one stop shop for people coming through Houston," says Mills. "He gets huge artists and celebrities in his place, so to walk into a shop of that magnitude and see millions in jewelry, and then walk upstairs and see the connecting dot. You go from jewelry to fashion; The whole aspect is like a pop-up shop with exclusive items, but three sixty-five! Another cool thing is, in the history of Johnny Dang’s business, he’s never been open on Sunday, but with what we’re now doing with him, he will be open on Sundays!”
Even though Dang will remain the star jeweler, Mills has already begun work on his own custom diamond pieces. Continuing his knowledge of the “hype” lifestyle he created a limited supply of handmade, custom Travis Scott Cactus Jack necklaces, sporting the logo of the Houston chart-topping rap star’s record label, collaborating with Dang’s Creative Director, Patrick Vo of SeanPatrickVo, to bring the idea to life.
“They were like ‘Mike we should do something for the hype market.’ And I was like, ‘We should do a Cactus Jack piece! So, we took a solid silver cast, hand dipped it 18K white gold, and hand set all the CZ stones in there. Obviously, you could get you a flooded up one, but that’s going to run you a lot of money. We wanted something that the guy that pays $120 for a shirt, could get something like this. So, the piece was only $160. It’s manageable, but loud! It’s gorgeous, it shines and it’s just something cool for the culture. I can’t wait to actually get into Johnny’s, because the designs that he’s been doing is really next level, and were definitely going to continue our artist-line series together”
Our interview took a quick break as Mills, decked in luxury shades, a recently released Justin Beiber Drewhouse shirt, and the latest Yeezy slides, hopped off his couch to cheerfully meet a customer.
“Hey man come on in! Good to see you my brotha! You wanna take a look at some drip? There’s a whole lot of new stuff, let me move these racks around so you can see everything. There like five box logo tees just chillin here,” Mills says.
The venture with Dang is new but has been a long time in the making. Mills used to own a music studio between 2010 and 2012 called Audio Blueprint and met Dang on a few occasions but wasn’t on a personal basis until he broke into the fashion industry.
“I met him once when I was home from college, I wasn’t even in the industry at the time and it was just a quick thing, but fast-forward to 2010 when I had started my music studio, I started to run into him every now and then; but it wasn’t until I got into fashion that I got on his radar. I ain’t gonna lie, the day I woke up and saw that Johnny Dang’s Instagram page was following me was a really solemn moment, it was amazing! I don’t try and be a fanboy but I’ve always looked up to him.
"He’s always been about family, business, and doing the right thing. If you say you’re going to do something, that’s what you do, you don’t steal from people, you don’t take advantage of people, you don’t sell them a subpar product. You sell them the top of the top and you cultivate that relationship. You keep it, you don’t burn bridges. I learned this from my Jewish grandparents, they were Holocaust survivors, I learned a lot of the business etiquette from them, so when I see Johnny; he’s got a good heart.”
“My grandparents were Polish immigrants, they came on a boat here to Houston and didn’t have anything, so they had to really make something for the family. They came up with this spot called Mother’s PoBoys, it was a spot on old Kirby, a stone-throws away from The Summit when the Rockets used to play there.
"When I was little, I used to watch my grandfather greet and treat everybody with respect, it didn’t matter what color or race, he treated them the same and that was something that stuck with me. It all just melted together into the one way I see things, and I see that everyone needs respect and love, if someone does business with you, you treat them like family, you have to do the right thing. Of course, I look up to Johnny as a business inspiration, but getting to where I’m at, without my grandparents, my mother and father I would have never made it.”
Through the immense business skills obtained from his family at a young age, Mills moved up the ranks of retail sales, moving from door to door electricity and cellphones sales to selling motorcycles and high-end cars.
“When I was 15, the first sale I had was for Scott Covington, he owned a piano store and was like, ‘Mike you know how to talk well to customers, if you can actually sell a piano, I’ll give you a commission.’ Depending on what I sold, I could make somewhere close to a grand. And I was like ‘Oh shit!’ At the time I had never seen a thousand dollars in my life! So, I was like ‘Sure!’ So, I’m in there and I sold that $10,000 piano and made my first big commission; that was the first time I tasted blood.”
“Early on I was really into Diamond Supply Co., that’s actually the first brand the Houston Closet ever sold. Shout out to Nicky Diamonds, another person I look up to. Nicky would put out these things called “mystery boxes,” it was about $100 but they’d send you almost $500 in merch! So boom, I’d get my inventory and people at the time would be like ‘Where’d you get that?’ And I could sell it at retail and make a few bucks but it was too much work. I was like ‘There’s got to be a better way.’
"So, I took some time and did a lot of research. I went to other stores that sold clothing and shoes, and made a pros and cons list. And the common con that they all had, was they just had too much stuff! As a customer you want to know that what the store has is exclusive! If I walk in and see five pairs of the same shoe, five of the same colorways of a specific shirt, it’s just going to sit there! So, I looked into what were the hottest brands and of course came up Supreme, Palace, Anti Social Social Club, Bape, Yeezy and Kith. Those were my original six brands, and I decided I would only sell those six brands.”
After his dive into the high-end, exclusive items, he started to see more success, and eventually made connections that would propel him further including becoming acquainted with Chance McGrady, the brother of former Houston Rocket Tracy McGrady, at his shoe store, SoleLounge.
“I went to buy a few items and to show love and support for his business, while there he noticed what I was wearing and asked what I did. I told him about Houston Closet and he was like, ‘Wait. You have all of this? Size large? Bring it here tomorrow!’ So I show up with his stuff and we continue to talk and start to discuss the ideas of what would later be our first pop-up. But during our discussion Baby Jay Prince shows up and joins our conversation, he would later message me to help with the pop up for the New Wave Rap-A-Lot merch and their MobTies pop up after that. J Prince Jr., Jas, Dre, all the Prince family have helped me so much, I really value the relationship I hold with that family, they’re some of the nicest and most generous people I’ve met and the Mob Ties branding they’ve done has only just begun.”
Houston powerhouse family the Princes’ Mob Ties has turned from a simple brand, into a lifestyle over the past few years. With the connection to artists such as Drake and Migos as well as artist titling and directly mentioning the brand in songs, the movement has become a worldwide trend with affiliates and supporters everywhere.
Shoes are a major part of the resell business and no shop is complete without them. While Mills wants his main focus to be on fashion and not spend too much time on sneaker resells, he has also teamed up with Texas Shoe Exchange to take over the sneaker aspect of the store.
“I wasn’t going to sell shoes. I didn’t care how hype they were! That wasn’t the lane I decided on, I just want to do the hottest mech! So my shoe guy is the biggest shoe plug in all of Houston; Ben Wong of Texas Shoe Exchange. That’s the reason why I hooked up with him, he’s the best. He’s been in the game for ten, fifteen years plus, he’s been killing it way before Instagram, he’s been getting the rare Jordan’s and others since way back.”
Ben Wong is a major name in the sneaker community, aside from the notable reputation of TSE, Ben is also the founder of KicksEveryDay, an Instagram account dedicated to shoe collectors that holds almost fifty thousand followers.
“I’m really excited!” exclaimed Wong at Monday’s soft opening event, “With all of us together, there’s no limit to what we can do. This is a big step for both of us.”
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