In the summer of 2006, when Kevin Lavelle was an SMU student, he interned with the NRCC in Washington, D.C. One day he saw a man walk into a meeting completely soaked.
"Every man knows it's a cardinal sin to wear a colored shirt in the summer," says Lavelle, who almost always wears a white dress shirt. The sweaty guy was wearing an orange button-down. "It looked even worse when it dried," he says.
That's when the idea came to him: to create a dress shirt — one you could wear in the office and out to a bar — with sweat-wicking material.
Mizzen+Main founder Kevin Lavelle says that his favorite moment during the whole process was when he came home to his wife, Jen, and she didn't realize he was wearing "the shirt."
But years passed before Lavelle started Mizzen+Main. First, he traveled the world. After college, he lived in the Middle East for a year while working for a consulting firm. He calls Lebanon "the most culturally rich place I've ever seen."
After moving back to Dallas, the moisture-wicking shirt was still on the back burner. "I knew it was a good idea," he says, "but because no one else already created it, I knew there had to be a reason why."
He began calling around. "It took at least 25 calls to get to the right person," he says. And when he did find the right knit — many mill visits and swatches later — he confesses, "No one would make me a shirt."
Lavelle says that the knit fabric is so finicky that tailors and custom clothiers told him it was nearly impossible to see his vision come to fruition. But he didn't stop trying.
Finally he found an American manufacturer. After he spoke with a buyer at Neiman Marcus to counsel him on men's sizing, the Mizzen+Main button-down was born. Lavelle says he wanted shirts that "fit most guys — not hipster skinny or '90s baggy." So he found that balance by offering size small through extra large.
Soon he was on the path to creating "better-fitting and sweat-wicking dress shirts," as Lavelle calls them. When he turned to his employers at Hunt Energy Enterprises, "They couldn't have been more supportive."
He proposed to his girlfriend six months after their first meeting, married her in April and launched Mizzen+Main in July. Talk about a whirlwind. Lavelle says that his favorite moment during the whole process was when he came home to his wife, Jen, and she didn't realize he was wearing "the shirt."
At that moment, Lavelle knew his idea would work.
Lavelle also believes in giving back, so a portion of the sale of every shirt goes toward A Shirt for a Start program, which benefits veterans. He says this effort is simply ingrained in the company's philosophy.
"We're not shoving it in people's faces," he says. "We're about well-made sweat-wicking shirts, and we believe in giving back. It's just part of us." He plans to start a program for veterans to come work for Mizzen+Main, to ease their transition from service to civilian life.
Lavelle speaks highly of his e-commerce team, especially creative director Steven DeWitt and Web Smith. On the horizon for the Mizzen+Main team: a cornflower-colored button-down and, soon, patterns. Their latest victory? The shirts are now available at WAREhaus.