Buffalo’s Black-Owned Apparel Brand Matti Rouse Soaring To New Heights
Throughout the years, plenty of clothing lines/brands have emerged out of the Queen City. But when you mention those who have helped to start that very wave, you would HAVE to mention one that has continued to evolve and stand the test of time, Matti Rouse Apparel. Twenty-three years later, the lifestyle brand still boasts the unique appeal that made it so popular since the beginning. Matti Rouse was a vision that was dreamt of and made a reality by Buffalo, New York's own Stevo Johnson. Despite legal woes and nay sayers, the fashion designer, celebrity stylist, writer, author and influencer continues to beat the odds and push out premium yet affordable luxury apparel that includes custom leather pieces, bags, some new upcoming additions for women and more!
After seeing his recent expansion of Matti Rouse Apparel in cities outside of Buffalo, I sat down with Stevo to talk about what his longevity and success has been attributed to, new upcoming projects he's working including a book, music, events and more. Visit mattirouse.com to purchase or learn more!
REDDROXX: What was your motivation for starting Matti Rouse Apparel?
STEVO JOHNSON: I’ve always liked what FUBU brought to the table, Maurice Malone, Moshood in Brooklyn and Dapper Dan. I just became fascinated with European likeness and after visiting London really seeing the atmosphere of royalty, it made me want to deliver premium apparel, the affordable luxury.
I wanted to start a line because I got tired of the stigma associated with African American people. We rep these European brands, but most of us only feel complete wearing T-shirts, Hoodies and baggy jeans. I use to look at the photos of the European brands in the V Magazine and really be jealous. Our ad’s looked completely different from theirs, so I want to give everyone my version of European. I blame a lot of African American celebrities for not choosing brands affiliated with black designers. My dream is to be the black Louis Vuitton or Gucci, I love everything about high fashion from styling celebrities.
RR: That's amazing and a huge undertaking! It's been a pleasure watching your brand evolve. How would you define your brand?
SJ: Matti Rouse is quality, it represents fashion that’s more upscale and defined. The designs are well thought through, nothing is rushed and everything has to have a purpose. It’s easy to copy and paste your name on garments, I decide everything, the quality, texture, colors, stitching and patterns. if it’s not Stevo approved, it will never see the light of day. I just don’t release things just to release them.
RR: It definitely shows that you take great pride in your work. What do you feel sets your brand apart from the others?
SJ: When you purchase Matti Rouse, it’s a lifestyle my customers are purchasing. Other brands sell clothing, I sell a lifestyle and to me the lifestyle will always outlast the clothes. My clothing can be styled a multitude of ways because my customers have different lifestyles and that’s what keeps the clothing relevant.
RR: Versatility is important! Aside from that, What do you believe the key to your success and longevity is?
SJ: I don’t compete with others, I stay in my lane and stay true to what I know and that’s fashion. I started my career as a million-dollar salesperson in retail, styles change, names play out and clothing will outdated, you have to take risks, know your customer and stop looking to the left and right at your competitors.
RR: I feel you there and I feel like that's my recipe as well. Success doesn't come without hardships however, what has been some of the obstacles you’ve had to face and overcome throughout the years?
SJ: My biggest battle was a 14 year legal case that spilled over into my fashion career. It was things that I could do per my attorney and thing that I couldn’t do. I was limited on what I could say on social media, limited on what I could advertise, I was constantly being pulled into court, it was the most frustration things I’ve ever had to endure. Rumors circulated that I had fell off, I never did. My hands were completely TIED !!! and I HATED every moment of it. In the mist of that terrible legal battle, I lost my father, my aunt, best friend & significant other in death. All back to back, all behind the scenes, while looking and appearing fine to the general public, hiding damn near everything just to find peace.
RR: That's heartbreaking! I'm happy to see that you've made it through and continuing to make an impact. It's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel at times, what would you say was a key moment to the turning point in your success?
SJ: Having a dream that I was on The Oprah Winfrey Show and 7 years later the dream became a reality. When you meet Oprah and Tyler Perry in the same setting and Oprah wraps you in her arms as if you were her own baby and pray for you without ceasing, I knew God had his hands on me. My life and my journey is reality tv - vs - a Netflix original movie.
RR: Wow! You met Oprah AND Tyler Perry at the same time? I would have passed out. I can see that would be very defining moment for you. It can be hard to maintain a brand for so many years, how do you handle the naysayers?
SJ: After 23 years i’m still here, hate it or love it. I’m here by the grace of God and the perseverance of self determination. People talk, they’ll talk more after reading this, they always try to put two plus two together and to some of them it will equal 6, that’s 6 different versions of one story lol. l’ve reached a point in my life where I don’t care. People make you famous, I let them assume, I don’t even correct them. I use to fret every time I heard a disturbing rumor, these days I block it out. They harass my friends for stories, they troll my social media, i’m just me, a fashion designer, celebrity stylist, writer, author, influencer, father & uncle. I had to grow up and quit wallowing in my own sorrow, boss up and keep it moving. It’s about God first, my family second and the naysayers opinions are millions of miles away, I refused to be broken.
RR: That's amazing! Kudos to you for staying positive and in your light. You've already came so far but what’s to come for Matti Rouse?
SJ: I have a new product line for the ladies, something really special. The women have been my life line and I must repay them with something they deserve. Currently we are expanding, we are now located in 3 stores within the Detroit, MI metro areas. I’ve designed a super dope line of bags, actually two different lines, one that’s seen and one that nobody has seen not even my mother. I liked to shock and awe.
RR: Ooooh I have to get a bag for sure! Seems like you've mastered your craft, do you have any advice for others looking to get into the apparel business?
SJ: Do your home work and don’t compromise your quality. If you’re doing business overseas, hire and retain the best broker for United States customs issues and never send your money to anyone you have never done business with by bank wire transfer without checking their credentials. I’ve seen to many people who don’t take the time to build solid relationships, communication is key. If the communication sucks, that’s one of the first red signs to run. Take time for yourself & study your craft.
RR: Great advice! Are you planning to explore other business ventures?
SJ: I’m becoming a mixologist working on a liquor brand, but again it won’t launch until it’s totally up to my standards and I set them high. I have the Super Mansion Party planned with Samuel’s Grande Manor, were just waiting for covid to pass. I’ve been practicing my acting chops, I play George Rufus in a new upcoming web series. I’m interested in reality tv and more acting besides the clothing and the other ventures. My book “My Life Behind The Shades” is pretty much complete, we have to mix and master it and my first music single “We stay getting money”, is mastered for radio airplay, we just need to shoot the video. I’m still texting Mona Scott on her personal line to be apart of the franchise “Love & Hip Hop”, A Buffalo edition would be off the chain.
RR: Definitely looking forward to supporting and I'm sure our listeners are too. For those who'd like to, Where can Matti Rouse be purchased and more information?
SJ: Matti Rouse can be purchased at www.mattirouse.com, Strickly Sportswear In Detroit, MI, Indie Fashions in Southfield Mi and Check Me Out Fashions at the WestWood Mall in Jackson, MI.
You can get more information about matti rouse at the website www.mattirouse.com or by calling directly 917.474.9995.
50 Famous Brands That No Longer Exist