MIDDLETOWN Both athletic and artsy, Dillon Milardo was that student in high school who always managed to fit into a diverse range of social circles.
The Middletown native took his unique combination of talent and charisma and turned it into a unisex clothing line that fuses his interests in art and design with his desire to see Middletown evolve into a fashion-forward city.
First Twelve Clothing — which started as an e-commerce business — opened its first brick-and-mortar location Nov. 1 in Main Street Market at 386 Main St.
The line is the brainchild of 21-year-old Milardo, a Central Connecticut State University senior, and his friend Dave Ambrose — a senior accounting major at the New Britain college.
And the brand’s identity harkens back to Milardo’s dormitory at the state university.
“The name comes from my suite number from my freshman year of college (Suite 112). When broken down, it literally means: first floor suite 12, therefore ‘First Twelve’ came to be. This was the room where the idea was came to be and came into fruition.
“It was our first idea for a name and we just knew it was right,” Milardo said.
In the summer of 2013, the two friends and former roommates put action behind their idea to create a line that could bring the “anything goes” fashion-forward look and feel of New York City to Middletown.
“I love Middletown. I’ve always been very prideful of the city and I always saw potential in Middletown in terms of the style of life,” said Milardo.
“Also, being somebody who loves New York City and goes there frequently because of the lifestyle and the atmosphere, I always say to myself, ‘Middletown could be a little piece of that.’”
Initially, when Milardo and Ambrose, 23, of Wallingford, started their e-commerce business — with Milardo serving as the designer and owner and Ambrose tackling the chief financial officer duties — response trickled in slowly.
The pair’s big break came shortly after the launch when First Twelve Clothing found its way onto the radar of the team at Complex Media. The company publishes Complex Magazine and is a new media powerhouse boasting a monthly reach of over 60 million “music, style, sports and gaming enthusiasts,” according to its website.
First Twelve appeared on the list of “10 Streetwear Brands Worth Checking Out Right Now.”
Milardo said that the recognition from Complex pushed the clothing line’s response into high gear and interest began pouring in from across the country and even internationally.
Today, First Twelve has retailers in Hong Kong, Detroit and SoHo, New York.
Milardo, whose grandmother was a seamstress in Middletown, taught himself to sew but quickly learned that it would be necessary to outsource his original designs to factories for mass production.
“I completely design the range of products. I design everything from scratch — the colors, the logos, the cut of the shirts, the measurements,” said Milardo, a 2010 graduate of Middletown High School and honor roll student.
“Then, I’ll outsource it to the factory and get it mass produced. There’s a factory in Portugal and there’s a factory in India and a few others that are good at making high-end sportswear.”
The line is made from various materials: soft cottons, polyesters, breathable polyester, moisture-wicking fabrics, and fleece and polar fleece for outwear,” he explains.
Milardo said that while he has placed a lot of emphasis on creating a stylish line of clothing, he is also interested in using his clothing designs to create cultural commentary.
“[The clothing] is a fusion of street and sportswear but I always like to say that’s really just the basis of it; it’s seasoned with a combination of different cultural identities,” explained Milardo.
“I like to investigate different countries — their style of life, how they dress, the way they do things in everyday life. I like to add little bits of that into the clothing so that it could make the clothing — not just sports- or streetwear — but a little more thought-provoking.”
Ambrose, while he is charged with handling the business’ finances, said he and Milardo are adamant about keeping the focus off of simply making a profit.
“Making money is important but we want to make a difference,” said Ambrose. “Money is more of a way to make the business effective.”
Majoring in fine arts with a focus on painting and illustration, Milardo has organized First Twelve’s store hours around his demanding school schedule.
The store is open Mondays and Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.; and on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 1 and 4 to 7 p.m.
Milardo said he stumbled upon the Main Street location that he ultimately decided to lease and make the home of First Twelve.
“When I saw [the location], it had that small New York City boutique look which is what we were going for and it didn’t really require that much work to be done to it. It looked almost like an art gallery,” said Milardo.
Their website, firsttwelveclothing.com, is home to their e-commerce business and accepts orders which can be shipped domestically and internationally.
Milardo said the average cost of a shirt on the website is $55 but prices are reduced at the Middletown store location.
Follow First Twelve on Facebook at http://on.fb.me/1FfNbDp or email email@example.com.