He had had the final photoshoot scheduled, website ready to launch and the marketing plan prepared to initiate for a summer 2020 launch of his brand Nero. "Then, well, we all know what happened," says Kevin Jaedon. At first he was devastated, for all the obvious reasons, as he sat staring out at the floor-to-ceiling boxes of swimsuit orders that decorated his apartment. Remember: This was mere months into a pandemic that continues to ravage the world, so there was no telling if this was going to be a few months or, well, what it's turned out to be.
"Once it became clear I would have to wait a whole year to launch, I realized that the pandemic gave me a gift: more time. Most collections take about six months to design and execute, and I now had 18 months. I spent that time developing more styles, revamping my packaging and solidifying my business model." One year later, in the summer of 2021, Jaedon launched Nero New York, a brand proudly owned and operated exclusively by queer POC aiming to redefine swimwear in a way that embraces all colors, shapes and sizes within our community.
Standing in contrast to brands like Charlie by matthew zink, whose Instagram page reads more as a lust letter to chiseled abs, quads and glutes, Nero New York seeks to celebrate a wider — and often underserved — swath of the queer community.
The brand itself was born out of the most practical of senses: solving a problem. "I was tired of wearing the same black speedo every time I went to Jacob Riis Beach." Though he tried to find an alternative, everything he was seeing was either too preppy or too sporty. Meanwhile, he was designing costumes for Bushwig and Flamecon, events that center exuberance and inhibitionlessness (yes, I'm making up a word). As a result, his entire apartment was covered in fabric and pins, and that's when the lightbulb went off that he ought to try creating his own. He iterated until he was happy with the design, then posted about it on Instagram to see if anyone wanted to buy a pair. Forty swimsuit orders later, Jaedon began to realize he was on to something.
Before Nero New York, Jaedon worked in the design world with gigs at Club Monaco, Ralph Lauren, Macy's and Express. He then worked for a year as a designer at Nastypig, the sportswear and gear brand with a proclivity toward the highly erotic, something that resonated for Jaedon more than the corporate world of his previous gigs. "I've designed so many jockstraps and harnesses that my friends joke that there could be 100 bottoms in a room, and 99 of them would be wearing something I made," he says with a sly laugh. As such, he takes much inspiration from queer NYC nightlife and fuses that with traditional fashion sources, like art and the runway, and throws that in a blender along with nontraditional sources like anime, video games and the occult. That, says Jaedon, is Nero New York.
The thing that struck me most about Jaedon during our chat was his ability to substantively answer questions that often result in a roundabout, non-specific response. For instance, I wanted to know what makes a queer brand queer beyond the by/ for queers. "For me, queer fashion is clothing designed with queer people as the main character. Unlike larger brands that appropriate what they see as a queer aesthetic, queer fashion comes from within the community. It keeps our culture and our experiences front and center. For example, making the back right belt loop on a pair of cutoff shorts slightly bigger and reinforced so that it can securely hold a t-shirt that has been taken off on a dance floor at 3 AM is an example of designing for a specific queer experience. Design decisions like that don't fly at Banana Republic."
Another prioritization for Jaedon is size inclusivity, something many swim brands tend to ignore. Still, it's a challenge even for the most well-intentioned of designers without ample means of funding AKA angel investors. "The biggest challenge for any start-up brand is money," says Jaedon, who self-funded the launch with his personal finances. "Everything costs money, and when it's your first season, you don't have a sales history. You have no idea if you're going to sell 10 units or 1000 units."
As a result, for its first season, the size run went from S-XL. And though he's proud of the launch, this, he says, is one area of the brand he hopes to improve upon, and quickly. "My goal from the beginning was to be size-inclusive, but I needed a few months of sales to help me get there." Thankfully, he's at a place now where he can not only begin increasing the size offering, but modeling it on the kinds of bodies it will be worn on. "I had a casting call for people who typically wore 2-4XL to be fit models on the Nero TikTok account. I ended up working with six real people of varying heights/ weights to fit my 2-4XL sizes."
Changes like this underline not only a willingness, but an ability to scale the brand. But success, especially in this current climate, doesn't come easy. "I wasn't prepared for the emotional toll it takes to run your own business," he says. "Having a business almost feels like having a child, it needs constant attention, and I had to reorient my daily and weekly priorities to center Nero New York. Sometimes it felt like there wasn't time to breathe, as things are constantly moving. Of course, I'm thrilled that things are selling, it's a wonderful challenge to have, but I'm still finding that balance."
It's a process, not an endgame and, luckily, Jaedon's proven he's willing to be patient.
Welcome to "Wear Me Out," a column by pop culture fiend Evan Ross Katz that takes a look at the week in celebrity dressing. From award shows and movie premieres to grocery store runs, he'll keep you up to date on what your favorite celebs have recently worn to the biggest and most inconsequential events.
Photos courtesy of Nero New York