Benson is a brand we love here at Mr Derk! So we decided to talk to our friend Balance Velasquez who is the Director of Sales for North America for Benson. We get to do a deep dive into Balance's career, whats next for company and the distinct Canadian roots of the brand!
Pictured above is Balance
When Did You Start Out With Benson?
Balance Velasquez: I’m approaching my 4th year with Benson, I've been in the industry for almost 20 years now. I started off my menswear career with Hershy Weinberg when he had Diesel. I studied graphic design and marketing at Sheridan college and while I was working a part time job at a mall in Toronto a friend of mine referred me to Diesel. I remember going in for the interview and spending 4 hours at Hershy’s. He had the buyers from Holt Renfrew there and his fit model was a no show. He asked me if I could try on jeans for them and 4 hours later he asked me to come back to start my job the next morning. Since then I’ve been blessed to work with such great brands like J.lindeberg, DL1961, PRPS, Wings & Horns, Filson Fjallraven, Gitman Vintage and now Benson. My start with Benson came when a couple smaller brands I was an agent for were slowly on the down cycle. I received a call from one of my good customers who I'm lucky enough to call a friend, Aziz who is the owner of a shop called Good Neighbour in Toronto put me in touch with one the owners of Benson and they had an opening, we met and just hit it off! I felt the brand really fit my aesthetic, I was at the point in my career where I had the choice of working with many brands but Benson just had something I really loved. It just has a nice laid back, classic feel that just really hit home with me.
The clothing itself.. though casual had an elevated aesthetic. The appeal of fabrics used and the price point offered really attracted me to the brand and saw it being a real winner going into the market. Benson definitely checks off a lot of boxes
If you have a chance to check out the showroom here in Toronto I highly recommend it. The vibe of the whole place is relaxed yet still sharp and beautiful. It’s a re-designed industrial space that gives you the feeling of hanging your hat on the door and chilling out all day.
When Was Benson Established?
BV: Benson was established in 2009 by Michael Ryan and Tahsin Eltemur the two owners of the brand. Michael is Candian but he had a showroom in New york for his company Blue Agency for over 30 years. He eventually established a showroom in Toronto as well. He would fly back and forth non stop. Ilayda who is Tahsin’s daughter is now our head designer but at the time she was interning and going to school in New York. She introduced Tahsin and Michael and the two met over a beer to discuss trends in the fashion industry. Their conversation led to the problem of how fashion brands had to choose between good quality fabric and reasonable prices. Shortly after, Benson was born. Both had a lot to offer with a combined 70+ years of experience in sales.. Benson then started in a showroom in New York but Michael soon moved the operation back to his roots inToronto. Our showroom is located at 2 Strange st. in Leslieville, just east of Queen st. E and Broadview.
Benson Resonates Strongly With Canadian And Even More Specifically With The Edmontonian Style. Casual, Clean, Elegant With Great Colour Pallets. How Is Canada Related To The Design Process If At All?
BV: If you’ve noticed our Spring Summer collection and our Fall Winter collections are like Night and Day. Fall has more of a focus on knits, fantastic sweaters, amazing layering pieces and refined workwear sort of Filson-esk with a Cuccinelli twist. Where our Spring season is very light airy and resort driven. Fun printed shirting, the softest Italian linens and of course lightweight knitwear. We aim to have elevated essentials every season and continue to develop this program. We’ve used fabrics such as sea-island cotton and cotton hemps. We’ve also recently put more focus on our Sunday Collection, our “athleisure” lounge wear.
When I Look At Benson I Really See The Versatility Of The Brand, One Of My Favourite Pieces That Shows That Is The Suede Boreal Vest. What Is The Process Like For Coming To These Items?
BV: We love to do some outerwear and layering pieces but really making sure they are functional and something that embodies the Canadian lifestyle as well as the heritage of Benson. The versatility in our clothing is something that kind of just happens. When you make classic pieces like a merino wool full zip, a quarter zip or a crewneck where these items allow you to dress it up or down, if you are doing it right the versatility is just a side effect of making a great product. With any of those pieces you could put on a collared shirt and tie underneath, then you are all dressed up! Put on a pair of jeans with it instead and you’re watching the game on a Sunday! We are really going after a timeless collection so it kind of just happened effortlessly when it came to the styles.
We just wrapped up our sales meetings for fall 2021 and we just keep refining our process even further. We have this great communication through our company where Tahsin and Ilayda work very closely sourcing our fabrics and really listen to us here in Toronto as our ears are to the ground.. Asking customers for feedback always striving to put out better products every season. It’s a great system that works and I think it shows in the past collections we’ve put out. Benson’s been really hitting the nail on the head with our product for the last three years.
What Was Your Favourite Piece From Fall/Winter 2020 Season And Why?
BV: I have to agree with you, it's gotta be the Suede Boreal Vest. It's such a great layering piece and I'm a big fan of layering. We've done numerous vests since I've been with the company but this vest is hands down the best one. The second piece would have to be our lightweight plaid shacket (shirt jacket) we have. Even though it's cold in Toronto, I'm in my car all the time and I like to layer it. I’m actually wearing it right now over a hoodie it's just so versatile and practical. It's the perfect piece to just throw on with anything.
Can You Tell Us a Little About The Upcoming Spring Summer Collection From Benson?
BV: The Spring 21 collection is back to separating the brand into different components. We use our Italian linen and we've decided to try all of our basic linen shirts in different collars. Once the pandemic hit we really didn't know what the market was going to look like but Benson ended up being in a good position because we are a casual brand. I got non stop calls for shorts once shops opened up again after the initial lock down. Everybody was spending time at home and just wanted the most comfortable items. This upcoming spring Benson shorts are going to be strong. Our stretch short is made of cotton tencel and has a lot of stretch. It is one of the most comfortable shorts out there. You can dress it up or down like most things in Benson, I have two young kids and I chase them around the house or play with them and these shorts hold up so well through all the hard wear I put them through at home. We’ve added prints to this Benson staple. Look out for great floral and palm prints ! We’ve added a hemp cotton T-shirt to our basics collection, it's a fantastic fabric lightweight, and breathable in a pocket tee that fits great. We are keeping with tradition with our fun patterned printed s/s woven shirts. We’ve also focused on some lightweight cotton summer knitwear. The Fit is impeccable and at prices that won’t hurt your wallet.
Keep your eyes out for a linen safari jacket .. great combination of tailored goods with a casual feel.
What's One Thing In Your Personal Wardrobe That You Could Live Without?
BV: A great fitting t-shirt white black or navy... I like to start with the T and layer from there. I like essential pieces for my everyday lifestyle. I’ve simplified my wardrobe and really choose pieces that fit right and are comfortable while still giving a feel of effortless style. If I had to take three things with me on a weekend trip I would have to do white t-shirt, a grey hoodie and a shirt jacket, then I'm good to go for anything!
Benson Controls All Three Processes Of The Brand Fabrication, Manufacturing And Distribution, What Are The Advantages Of That?
BV: We're a vertical operation which means we own our fabrics and our factories. We don’t need to really outsource a lot of our garments. The collection is designed by our designers, reviewed by myself, Michael and Rose Cao our “Operations manager” but that's really just a title. She does so much more and wears many hats at Benson HQ. After the collection is designed they go into sampling which takes no time at all and they can produce samples really fast. We then go into the market and see our customers across North America to get our orders. After orders are sent into the factory Tahsin’s team works their magic and I'm proud to say we’ve delivered over 90% of booked orders to our customers over the past 4 years. Having our own factory also allows us to stay open in the market longer and allows us to be more agile and adapt to sudden changes in the market.
Finally Do you have any advice for our readers on building their wardrobe?
BV: Keep it simple .. start with the staples every guy needs. Gravitate to brands that are great at what they make.. Don’t buy clothes just for the label !
On Behalf or Mr Derk I would just like to thank Balance for taking the time to speak with me and give our readers more insight into the brand. We cant wait to show you all of the great new product from Benson!