Courtin’ the King
Jean Le Roux & Paseo Del Mar Join SpectraUSA
A wide, handsome, wooden desk serves as a kind of demilitarized zone, a metaphorical buffer if you will, between the perpetual declaration of my ignorance of clothing production and Jean Le Roux’s voluminous knowledge of the global apparel industry. In olden times visitors approached and spoke to kings from a safe and respectful distance. This feels familiar here, in the offices of Paseo Del Mar in San Clemente where I am peppering owner Jean Le Roux with an avalanche of questions–dumb questions mind you–about how he came to be one of the stalwarts of Southern Californian, and global clothing production.
Remarkable, if only for his patience with me, Mr. Le Roux is opening up about his various tours of duty in the rag trade. From humble origins in South Africa where he learned the ropes of textile and fashion design to early career successes and opportunities for innovation in lingerie for the mighty Mark’s and Spencer’s. Now he’s dabbling in wetsuit production in the surf industry–taking over all the accessories and apparel manufacturing for Rip Curl. Then he’s leapfrogging off to PJ Salvage, followed by a segue into Hybrid Apparel–helping to build it up to a $600M powerhouse. Finally, Le Roux took a breath and had the vision for PDM apparel–some twenty years in the making–with early wins in highly technical tour merchandise for the likes of Carlos Santana, the Black-eyed Peas, and Pink, just a few of the the crown jewels of his most recent marquee.
In fact, there seems to be little he hasn’t applied himself to in the industry and I ask plainly if after all these miles he now knows where all the bodies are buried? Understated as ever Jean replies with the wry smile of an industry veteran, patiently explaining to me how he stumbled upon the best fleece in the world, what his years of visiting pre-boom China have taught him about travel and modern apparel production; nodding knowingly about where you can find the best knits on earth, and just how hard it is for a dyed-in-the-wool production man to find a well-made, perfectly color-coordinated brassier anywhere. This sort of experience, although not unheard of, is a rare creature in a rag trade famous for its attrition rate, making Le Roux a unicorn asset for any apparel producer. His experience literally spans decades, continents, marquee brands, and industries. Emerging from this last point is the principal reason he started to appear on the radar at SpectraUSA during the COVID -19 lockdown.
For SpectraUSA at least, COVID was a boon. Leveraging their vertically integrated business model helped them sidestep many of the distribution issues which beset the industry, finding novel ways to keep up with demand and stay ahead of their growing volumes of orders. In turn, this created a new set of problems–the additional demand for increasingly specialized products, the kind of thing Jean Le Roux has made his bread and butter for the last thirty or so years. Asking Le Roux about his passion for highly technical production briefs draws a short, definitive answer, “I start working at the point where most people are giving up on your project,” he says, referring to his particular, canny skill in being able to design, source, and produce hard-to-fabricate, custom items within extremely tight production windows and still deliver on time.
SpectraUSA’s Brian McLaughlin spotted Le Roux’s specialized skill set and never-say-die work ethic and, as he has it, “knew it was going to be a great fit with what we were trying to do at SpectraUSA.” The pair hit it off and SpectraUSA moved to acquire both Paseo Del Mar, its inventory, and the jewel in its crown–Jean Le Roux–to elevate the SpectraUSA teams’ production capabilities to the next level. With Le Roux on board, there is a real focus at SpectraUSA on being able to fabricate even the most demanding, intricate orders while leveraging the strength of their distribution and production systems to roll this capability out across their customer base. The production team, you might say, just recruited their all-star quarterback, a fact that has McLaughlin’s heels a-clicking.
This new partnership is easily the best possible way for SpectraUSA to start a year that is seeing the easing of COVID-19 restrictions and a general “return to normal” for businesses and the economy at large. With Le Roux in the wheelhouse, SpectraUSA has a focused, driven, and fiercely capable sourcing and production team that relishes the thought of complex orders and impossible asks. In turn, this opens up product dimensions for SpectraUSA that are simply not available to anyone else in the industry, something of a checkmate move for McLaughlin’s already dynamic team in Chino. 2022 it seems, bodes to be a very creative year for the folks at SpectraUSA, one worth watching closely as the likes of Le Roux and McLaughlin being to hit their straps.