By Annemarie Cutruzolla
Starting your own clothing line is no easy task. But for the two young designers behind streetwear brand Zander, a mixture of their creative skills, hard work, friendship and passion for fashion made it possible.
Sam Letnik, a third-year student in creative industries at Ryerson, and Matthew Alexander, a Mohawk College grad, are the co-owners and creative minds behind the brand that’s currently making waves in the local fashion scene.
The name of the fashion line, Zander, is a play on Alexander’s surname, and how he used to sign his artwork and graffiti.
“That’s where ‘Zander was here’ came from, which is our Instagram and our website,” says Letnik.
He says the name is also a reference to Alexander the Great, and “conquering worlds” was a theme they incorporated into some of their earlier designs.
Their collaboration started when the two met while working at Zumiez. Alexander asked Letnik to model his designs, and from there, Letnik gradually took on more responsibilities, such as finding models and taking photos. Zander came to life in 2017 and is most well known in Hamilton, where both co-owners grew up.
“When we started working together, we didn’t know each other that well,” says Letnik. “I feel like we’ve become better friends as it’s gone on.”
Since its creation, the brand has become a fusion of both Letnik’s and Alexander’s creative backgrounds. Letnik says the work is mostly split evenly, but with his photography background and Alexander’s experience with graphic design, they each bring something special to the project.
“I feel like we’re a really good team because our skill sets are so different but our mindsets are pretty similar”
Letnik and Alexander’s personal styles are both reflected in the clothing they create for Zander. “I’d say it’s definitely a mixture of tech and streetwear on [Alexander’s] side and then me, I skate and I have an 80s dad style,” says Letnik.
Letnik says he sometimes struggles to balance school with working on the clothing line, and that it can be difficult to find funds for the projects they want to do. But their passion for the project is a driving force.
They have hopes to expand into Toronto, already having done several pop-up shops in the city. The duo’s most recent project is the ‘Greenhouse’ collection, which dropped on Jan. 1, 2020.
For Letnik, the new collection is a step-up from their previous designs, with a focus on quality rather than streetwear trends.
“At the end of the day when we’re paying money out of our own pockets to do something, or we’re working around the clock for a month to throw an event, it’s worth it to us,” says Letnik.
“The Greenhouse [collection] is the first time where our ideas and our actual abilities production-wise linked up at the same kind of level,” says Letnik. “So now we’re actually starting to do what we had in mind three years ago, but just didn’t have the capability to do.”
The Greenhouse collection features button-ups, hoodies, windbreakers, track pants and more, each emulating aspects of the collections name. Most of the pieces have a relaxed fit and use solid, neutral colours, with the exception of the bold patterns featured on the boxy button-up shirts.
But Letnik’s favourites are the new dress pants, which were designed based on the silhouettes of the duo’s favourite thrifted pants. “Now [they’re] just my favourite fitting pants ever,” says Letnik.
Besides his love for the work itself, for Letnik, a major highlight of Zander is the people he gets to meet—especially those who have seen the brand grow from the beginning.
“Seeing people that bought our first T-shirt or our first hoodie, and seeing them continue to come to our events and come to the pop-ups… they stuck through and actually kept supporting. So that’s super cool to see,” says Letnik.
The co-owners also find new friends in the people they choose to model for Zander. Two of Zander’s most frequent models are twins named Whak and Mo, who Letnik met in high school. Since they started modelling for the brand, they have become some of his and Alexander’s closest friends.
“Zander brought us together,” says Letnik.