He could have done it in Houston, where he has built a lifestyle empire, but Travis Cal decided to debut his first menswear collection at home, in Kansas City.
This Friday, Cal will headline the “24K Gold Fashion Experience” at the historic downtown Firestone Building, along with Vanne McMillan of Vanne McMillan Fashion, Kechena Richardson of Kechena Designs, and the brand AuraLynn by designer Ronnisha King. In addition to the menswear, Cal will showcase his spring 2017 womenswear line.
The 37-year-old Kansas City native, who has an eponymous lifestyle brand, left for Houston in 2000. There, armed with ingenuity and technical tools honed in Kansas City, he began building his empire.
The Star recently spoke to the stylist and designer who counts a roster of celebrities like Travis Kelce, Dwayne Bowe, Patti LaBelle, Vivica A. Fox, Elise Neal and Mathew and Solange Knowles as clients about the role Kansas City played in his artistic development, why he decided to move to Houston and why he’s finally decided to return home.
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Q: You do a bit more than just style celebrities or design clothes. What’s the best way to describe what it is that you do?
A: I’m a lifestyle brand. With most of my clients, my entry into their life is through fashion styling. That’s typically where I start and from there that’s where I transition into fashion design. And then from there I branch off into event planning.
Q: How did you become interested in the arts?
A: I’m actually a product of the Kansas City Missouri School District. I was fortunate enough to attend during the time when the district’s magnet program was at its highest.
I’m a graduate of Paseo Academy, where I was a costume and makeup major that doubled in dance. So I’ve got a longstanding history with the arts. I attribute a lot of that to my early education in Kansas City. I’ve been an avid supporter and active member in the arts my entire life.
Q: When did you know you wanted to enter into the fashion industry?
A: My grandmother sat me down in front of the sewing machine when I was 8 years old, and it just kind of stuck. I maintained that interest throughout high school.
Then I graduated and went to Missouri Valley College, where I majored in business marketing. I quit the summer before my junior year, however. That’s when I decided to move to Houston.
When I moved to Houston I modeled for a couple of years and kind of learned what was going on behind the scenes: how production worked, what the different roles were. And from modeling, and with my interest in fashion, I would have people asking me to put looks together for their runway shows, and then I’d be asked to help hire models and book models.
It was then I decided I wanted to go back to school. I went to community college to study fashion design.
Q: How did you go from doing that to creating your own brand?
A: Houston is a lot like KC where you have to create your own opportunities. There’s a lot of money and prestige in Houston. I realized that was my best way in, to work with these people, with the celebrities, the NBA players and the NFL players and let that be my introduction.
My motto has kind of been “hit them with the styling, and then hit them with the design and production on the back end.” So with that mindset I launched my business full time on Jan. 9, 2009
Q: What have been your most notable accomplishments thus far?
A: I was the wedding designer for Mathew Knowles’ (Beyonce’s father) wedding, that was a pretty big accomplishment, but I think my music videos for the gospel artists I’ve worked with, I think those have been what I’m most proud of. Getting the chance to work with artists like Trin-i-Tee 5:7, Le’Andria Johnson and Alexis Spight to create really powerful visual statements.
What I liked to do with them was to challenge the conventions of what gospel really stands for and what gospel artists should look like. So when I styled their videos it was kind of controversial in how forward and aggressive their tones were. It kind of shook up the industry a bit. But I’m proud of that because I believe you don’t have to do what’s been done. And in order to be great you kind of have to shake things up and challenge yourself and those around you.
Sometimes being first is hard, so you just have to take the lumps. So although those artists didn’t get the accolades or the fanfare for pushing the envelope like they did, they did open the door for other artists like Mary Mary to do what they’re doing today and have a look that’s more feminine and not as churchy but still respectful.
Q: Do you have any design or style inspirations?
A: I’m kind of influenced by everything. Top designers, street style, my friends and family. My mom was always a pretty snazzy dresser in her own right. But she always had a look that was feminine and strong. So I think the women in my life are big influences. In terms of designers, I really like (Roberto) Cavalli for his bold use of color and textures and details.
Q: How would you describe your aesthetic as a designer?
A: I like really strong statements. I like a woman who looks like she’s in charge, who isn’t afraid to make a strong statement. Women whose style says “I’m in control of my body and my sexuality.”
I like my women to be strong, powerful and confident. And that can be different for every woman; my challenge is to discover what that means and to bring it out. You’re always going to find something in my design that has a strong color statement. I think color is transformational. It can communicate so many things.
Q: What inspired you to establish your brands roots in Houston?
A: Because I was already a big deal here in Houston, man (laughter)!
When I first started there were very few if any local designers here. So it was easier for me to build a clientele here. And also there’s tons of celebrities coming in and out of Houston, so it was easier to build a clientele. And once I started to build that clientele I thought, “Why go to New York and L.A. where I’m in competition with thousands of stylists and where everyone is competing with the same audience when I can kind of pick and choose who I want to work with here?”
Q: What inspired you to bring your collections here to KC?
Because KC is home, man. It’s been a dream of mine to come home and partner with Euro Productions and to create this show. The opportunity became available, and I figured why not. It just makes sense.
If you go
The “24K Gold Fashion Experience” with a fashion showcase from designers Travis Cal Styles, Vanne McMillan, Kechena Designs and more. 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 24. Firestone Building, 2001 Grand Blvd. Tickets start at $20 for the show and after-party. Dress code: no white T-shirts. Eventbrite.com.