High-end suit designer reflects on journey to success

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Kenneth Boggs reflects on his childhood and how it led him to his current success as Kenneth Boggs Suits CEO. (Addie Blacker)

Combine the timeless style of Motown groups like The Temptations with timely modern fashion, and you’ve got Kenneth Boggs: a well-dressed gentleman who has made a living creating quality custom suits.

Boggs didn’t own a single pair of jeans until recently, but his closet is filled with suits —  about 150 of them, according to his estimates.

“My wife bought me a pair of jeans, but I’m just not a jean guy,” Boggs said while wearing a custom burnt-orange suit. “There’s no middle me. Either I’m in a suit or I’m in sweatpants. I’m coming from the gym or I’m going to a meeting.”

Suits are about both style and opportunity for Boggs. His suits have taken him to big-time fashion shows in Paris, landed him business opportunities on airplanes and even scored him a few free meals from people who anonymously pay for him at restaurants.

“Having a suit literally got me to a place where I never even imagined myself being,” Boggs said. “People approach you a certain way. They take you seriously. … People will listen. They’re very attentive when it comes to the way you look.”

It’s Boggs’ suits — and, of course, innovation and thousands of hours of work — that have taken him from his childhood in Los Angeles’ Section 8 housing to become the CEO of Kenneth Boggs Suits, his own custom suit company that dresses some of the biggest names in professional sports.  

Although Kenneth Boggs Suits didn’t become a company until 2015, its story started long before then. Boggs’ interest in fashion started when he was 12 with the help of his grandparents: his grandmother, who taught him how to sew, and his musician grandfather, who always wore suits and introduced him to Motown.

“I’m big into The Temptations, The O’Jays, Marvin Gaye,” Boggs said. “They were renaissance men. They were guys who could play an instrument, speak another language. They were amazing men who were just educated.”

According to Boggs, full canvas suits are made of wool and horsehair between the lining and the fabric. He remembers his grandmother taking him to the farm to get horsehair to make custom suits.

“It’s just in my DNA to be a designer,” Boggs added, laughing.

Despite his upbringing in fashion, Boggs didn’t always plan to be a designer. He first came to Utah in 2009 when UVU recruited him to run track and field — a big step for Boggs, who was the first person in his family to graduate high school, let alone college. He grew up in a single-parent household with seven siblings.

Boggs came to Utah with the idea of getting a good job but eventually realized he’d rather work for himself, a possibility he hadn’t considered before. 

“(My family members) were like, ‘Hey KB, go to school and go get you a good education and go get you a really good job,'” Boggs said. “I come to Utah, and they say, ‘No, you go to school and work for yourself.'”

Boggs studied criminal justice with the hope of working in law enforcement, but after graduating in 2012 and accepting his first job offer, he realized it wasn’t for him. He then took the LSAT to attend law school but realized that wasn’t for him, either.

“My passion was fashion, of course,” Boggs said. He said he used his interest in sewing and put in his “10,000 hours.” Things just took off from there, he said.

Boggs found a niche in Utah’s suit market — there were plenty of people who needed suits for events like weddings and missions, he said, but not many unusual options for those who wanted something a little different.

“I gave Utah Valley a little bit of flavor, as far as styles of suits, of windowpane suits, (bringing) out some more colors instead of your traditional gray, black and brown suit,” Boggs said. “Millennials and people after me, we’re not really into the traditional thing. We’re trying to break out that barrier.”

Boggs thanks his market niche and perfect timing for his company’s success. He started Kenneth Boggs Suits right as Instagram was gaining popularity and has used the platform to market his suits to more than 85,000 followers.

“I realized if this was something I was trying to do maybe 15 years ago, it would have been very hard because I would have had to go against legendary names,” Boggs said. “Now, content is currency. You can post up a picture and people will be like, ‘I like that. I want to buy that.'”

NBA player Dwight Howard was the first to direct message Boggs on social media to get a custom Kenneth Boggs suit. He was followed by stars like Jazz player Rudy Gobert and NFL player Ziggy Ansah. In Boggs’ words, thanks to networking, “it went from there.”

Despite Boggs’ success among the rich and famous, he wants the power of dressing well to remain accessible to those who can’t afford the highest quality materials.

For starters, he works with his suit clients based on their budgets. He also works with young men in urban areas across the country, teaching them how to dress and carry themselves to become successful entrepreneurs.

“The younger generation, a lot of them don’t really know how to tie ties. You would be surprised,” Boggs emphasized. “I teach them how to dress as men, so now they get the confidence. They love how they feel.”

Boggs’ outreach began when schools invited him to teach entrepreneurship, starting with Mississippi State University. Dressing to impress — along with having passion, eating well and traveling the world — inevitably became part of his entrepreneurship discussions. Even if the business advice may be unconventional, it’s what Boggs said has made the difference.

“I get them to understand when you dress a certain way … people take you serious in a certain way,” Boggs said.

This year, Boggs’ reach will extend even further, as he’s opening his first storefront on Abbot Kinney Boulevard near Santa Monica, California. His advice to young entrepreneurs like himself? “Do it.”

“Find something that you will do that just doesn’t feel like a job,” Boggs said. “What I do for a living, it doesn’t feel like work — I love what I do. If you can find something like that, just literally execute and game plan.”

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