MILAN, Italy — Italian born and Shanghai educated, Giuliano Calza’s unique experience of the fashion industry encompassing Italian craftsmanship and Chinese commerciality, inspired him to create his streetwear label GCDS in 2015. The meaning of the acronym GCDS evolved to become: God Can’t Destroy Streetwear, and the brand launched with a line of street inspired t-shirts. Calza believes it is his brand’s authentic connection with the wider streetwear community, and its engagement with its own network of customers, collaborators and employees that distinguishes GCDS in its competitive market.
Despite offering a wide range of product categories, from ready-to-wear to jewellery and accessories, as well as number of irreverent smaller items like condoms, socks and matches, the team behind GCDS remains small. But thanks to its small size, and a shared passion for streetwear, company culture is both dynamic and extremely collaborative. Calza and his team consistently experiment with new ideas, but measure their success closely, in order to effectively respond to shifts in the market. Here the founder and designer tells BoF how he encourages GCDS’s young creatives to take advantage of its ‘Try and Test’ culture.
How did you approach building a team?
I started working in fashion when I was 20. By the time I was 28, maybe 29, I realised I wanted to prove that it was possible to do something that was all about Made in Italy, but also reflected global culture and needs. However, at the beginning I didn’t have the money to hire people straight from the work force. And, to be honest, I didn’t want that. I tried to create my team out of our community and actually it worked out really positively. We have a very happy work place. We work on the collection, we present to each other, go to the cinema together — we can create projects with the people we want to work with.
In a company that is this small, you have to really be a results-orientated business. You are allowed to go wrong, of course, but we have to go really right much of the time. So when there is a problem we always try to fix it. I understand that it can be really hard to work in a company that is so passionate about what it does, but honestly that passion comes not just from me and my brother, you really feel it from all the members of the team. It comes from everybody that works here and that is what makes it such a great place to work.
Even our recent runway show was more about the team behind it and what we want to do, than us trying too hard with a specific concept. We are just trying to get people together, whether that is working in the team, coming to the show, the store or speaking online.
How did you build the GCDS community?
The thing that engages our community most is that we communicate in a generation-specific way. All the statements we use in advertising campaigns, show-rooms, and inter-business communication are made using the same vocabulary that I would use in my own life. It is a natural thing, but partially it is because of the people we have hired.
At first we engaged the younger generation through social networks, talking to them in the same way that they spoke to each other. Then we chose influencers that we really cared about, and then they discovered it was coming from a completely different heritage and new point of view. Today people are trying to just sell, sell, sell. What we are trying to do is create an image of what we like and what we would like to share with the world.
How do you nurture a culture of collaboration?
When I started I did everything the company needed, simply because I couldn’t afford not to. Customer care, making things, selling things, all of it. But I found that perspective really useful and I want all the people in the company to relate to that experience — so that they understand the company fully and can really join our community. Now I ensure when people join the team that they meet with our people that work in customer care, community, etc. so they know how all the different arms of the business.
As a result we are very connected, in terms of who is buying, who is selling, who is promoting the brand. We are all coming from the same place. We have one big table where we brainstorm. It’s a great dynamic.
How would you describe the working culture of GCDS?
It is really a family business. When you start with people that are all pretty similar to each other, and then add what excites them and what they are interested in to the mix it makes communication and working together much easier. Previously I worked at one company where the approval process was completely out of control. It wasted time and was ineffective. Here we work under the principle ‘try and test’.
Being able to have a structure where you can talk to people freely makes putting that principle in to practice really easy. If you have a good idea, it takes no time to share it with the table or with the wider team. And very quickly it can become reality. It also allows us to act in a really agile way, to really respond to the challenges the business faces in real time. For example if we see a lot of stock of one t-shirt that is not selling, then we can find a solution to sell those t-shirts with the design team, the marketing team, the online team, whoever it takes.
What kind of people do you look for when you are hiring?
Because we work in fashion we need to prepare to go and up and to go down. But not only in a way that simply keeps the company alive, but in a way that sustains and supports the company’s continuing growth. There has to be a balance in what the creative team does and a balance of what the market wants to see from a young pop brand. So I am looking for people who can come into the company and bring new ideas that speak to that.
I also really look for people who are simply not afraid to work. I am the intern of myself. I still do the Instagram, I still unpack boxes, I still buy fabric and bring it myself to the factory. I am looking for is someone that wants to work. Someone that wants to work in general. Not necessarily for me, not necessarily in fashion, but wants to work. I think hard work is something that my generation has forgotten. Then depending on the position we are recruiting for, I do look for specific set of skills which can be multilingual fluency as well as a good knowledge of Adobe products. I also trust people that are able to communicate with different people in different environments. Not those who are star struck by what they believe is the world of fashion.