Photos by Jeff Martin, Words by Eden Raskin Jenkins
I have to confess, sitting in Maketto for the first time, and seeing so much incredible, eclectic talent in one place is what initially inspired me to start “DC Dream Jobs.” Drinking my perfectly foamed latte, munching on a deliciously spicy banh mi after perusing the expertly curated retail space–I wondered about the journey of Maketto, well mostly the journey of the individuals that brought this innovative mixed use concept to fruition.
Dominick Adams is the behind-the-scenes superstar who is responsible for the retail portion of Maketto, which sets the mood for your entire experience. The second you walk in you are transported to a clean showroom of street wear brands and collaborations that are impossible to find, yet it all still feels shockingly approachable, which is, of course, Dom’s exact intention. Dom is a DC native, who is deeply, deeply dedicated to making his city an exciting place for artistic, creative, fashion mavens like himself, and has spent a good portion of his adulthood getting people to believe that DC deserves to be recognized for more than just its political capital. And based on local and national reactions (hello GQ) he is definitely succeeding. As you read on, you will find that Dom’s story is defined by dedication, hard work and extreme graciousness, and that his thoughtful aesthetic and discerning exuberance are seriously infectious causing you to jump on any bandwagon he is leading.
What was your first job ever?
I’ve had so many jobs it’s hard to remember. I think my first job that I got paid for might have been cleaning up job sites with my uncle who is an electrician.
How old were you?
I think 13 or 14. My uncle was like “I’ll give you $150 a weekend.” It was good money. I didn’t have to ask my mom for money for the new Jordans. I had the money.
When did your shoe love start?
Obsession? I think then. When I could buy my own shoes and not be a burden, and not have to rely on anyone else.
What was your first job that really got you into this industry?
When I finally settled back in the area I was 23ish, and had just finished up with school, and my parents were like “you went to a real school, get a real job.” I tried the corporate sales job thing on K Street. Made some good money, wore a suit every day, and just didn’t like it. It didn’t feel like me. I was sitting in an office, and had a car and a person to drive me and it just sucked. I hated it. I had friends in the music business and people who were doing things with apparel and footwear, which allowed me the opportunity to just tag along when I could, and allowed me to give insight.
January 2009 I got laid off, and it was like the whole world was crashing down. You know you have this good job with a good salary. I had been doing the corporate thing for four years, and even though I did not like any moment of it, it was hard. I had been taking the money I earned on K Street and putting it towards what I really did. I would volunteer to do stuff and just being on the scene is how it all came about. I just had some good people that believed in my ability. I did a lot of things wrong, and they would tell me, so I would just figure it out and it allowed me to gain tougher skin.
What happened after you were laid off?
I was working with Tiffany Silver at Adonai Branded Eternal, which is a faith-based line. Tiffany allowed me the opportunity to understand how to make clothes. I was also doing a bunch of stuff with other local brands, and still had a relationship with athletes and rappers, and kind of freelancing a bit. I knew the guys at Major, so I went there as a sales associate, and then things changed structurally so I found myself as the GM. That sort of gave me a stamp—you’re in the club now.
What did you learn while you were the GM at Major?
I thought I had a very profound perspective on how the world worked and how the creative industry should work, and I should be getting paid this and doing that, but in reality who is going to pay it and at what point do you actually produce the revenue to justify the pay. So that experience taught me a lot in that realm. It also taught me that I could contribute something different to the landscape here.
When did you decide to leave Major?
People were finding me, I was finding people, and was developing all of these relationships. I was able to do my first music videos and personal shopping and got to a point one day where I knew it was time. I got up in the morning and things felt strange, and I just knew this was not for me anymore. It wasn’t a personal shot against anyone there it just wasn’t for me. A shoe literally fell off of a rack and hit me on the head, and I was like that’s it, I’m done. My friend was able to get me a gig at Apple, because I was broke. I was still consulting, styling and shopping, but Apple was keeping me at a baseline. I was getting money for my side jobs, and was leveraging my knowledge. I had a crew of 30-40 where I could just make a couple calls and connect the dots for people, and realized I could get money for doing what I already knew how to do.
So, I started working on this other project, and then started weighing out should I go work for a larger company outside of D.C. For me it was a big moral debate. When I was going to all of these meetings in New York or LA or Portland I would find people from D.C., and I’m like, “What are you doing here?” and they say, “I couldn’t do this in D.C., so I got with this company and moved here.” So it was a big debate for me. It was hard for me to detach and leave. I’m the oldest of all of my siblings. So for me, I’ve never been more than a car ride away from them so it was hard for me to stomach the idea of leaving my siblings. I knew I had to do a project for this area. For a kid like me growing up, it’s almost frowned upon to do anything creative, and so I started planning this thing out.
How did you hook up with Durkl?
Randomly, in December 2011 I got a call from the Durkl office. They wanted to do this new thing and they said I was the only guy who could help them with it and in my mind I was like “I hope I get paid,” but I was going to do it. This felt like a team I could really be on, and could learn some stuff.
And this was pre-Maketto?
At that point Durkl was just wanting to open their own retail. I knew Erik wanted to do something with night market stuff, but it was very, very early.
When did it become bigger than just Durkl’s retail space?
When we first started talking about this property there was no way that 5,000 square feet of retail was realistic without it already having a name. Some of the best stores in the world are these 1,000 square foot boxes. From a retail perspective it was scary. The initial talks were how to split the building up. After a lot of debate we all just decided to go for it.
The biggest blessing to me, which is a big word for me to use, is that the guys from Fundrise were supportive. They had ideas on how it could work. From my perspective whatever crazy things the team collectively thought of everyone sort of supported each other. Everybody respected each other’s lanes.
It obviously took a long time to get Maketto open, so what were you doing for those three years?
So the one thing I want to clarify for everyone is that street wear, urban and high fashion are very political. Meaning if you have designer A and you want designer E you have to get designer A, B, and C on board and make designer D not want you, so that E will say “ok cool, you’re in the club.” The old guard of what I set out to change in D.C., was there was a variety of boutiques and if one had one thing then they would fight other boutiques not to have it, which I just thought was crazy, because if you go to New York and you’re in SoHo it’s not like that, and it all works. The consumer decides where they want to go.
So in between working two jobs, and I say two jobs because I was still consulting and I finally sort of mastered that—how to consult and how to get money out of leveraging relationships in that creative field, and I was working at Apple to stabilize my healthcare benefits, sorry Apple, but it’s real. I was also still working on things for Maketto. So I was fighting those political battles for Maketto to get this brand you have to get this brand. We were still planning and projecting and meeting with vendors. You have to remember we started this project with no name. We were all under 30, trying to figure out how to raise funds, so while Will and Erik were taking care of that and Fundrise was taking care of capital improvements, and Chris was trying to build the coffee program, I’m like getting people to believe. Like hey DC does deserve to have this brand and so I’m traveling and trying to make it happen.
At the same time there were some moments that got challenging and it was like is this ever going to be done…please! It was a thing I dreamed of doing and wanted to do and a thing I was invested in, not only from the business part of it but emotionally it was important to get this done, because we needed a place in DC for people that were like me. I spent three years trying to get people to believe.
And now everyone believes now that you’re on the GQ 100 Best Casual Shops in America list.
Everybody believes! Yea!
Besides getting people to believe and the politics of fashion, have there been other barriers?
For me it was hard being straight, black, not skinny with a beard. When I walk in people are like, “Nah not that guy. He doesn’t know what’s going on. He doesn’t dress this way or talk this way or he’s not from fashion school,” so it was always a challenge. So fashion in general is rough and a lot of times it gets overwhelming and I get overlooked because of what I look like and I think sometimes it’s hard coming from DC.
What was your biggest get? Who was it hardest to get to believe?
I am so excited to carry Human Made. I’m just extremely honored to have the brand. That for me was a highlight to have someone that was a legend to get on the phone and talk to me. You know this is crazy, and for them to just be aware that we exist—a little guy from DC. Another get…this is ironic—Alpha Industries. They are local and they invented the MA-1 jacket and the M-65. Getting them to really say this project is cool and we want to invest in making it a partnership that meant the world to me.
What is the most exciting thing about being part of Maketto and curating the store? And what is the most stressful?
The most exciting, and I don’t know if the guys know this, but every single morning when I drive to Maketto, and this is no exaggeration, I pull up the photos of the journey of Maketto on my phone. I have this photo album that has the original sketches and the demolition. I look at this every time before I walk in. And then I walk in and say, “Damn we got it done.” So that is a highlight for me. The most rewarding thing is when people that aren’t the “target” customer get it. For someone to walk in and say I like that shirt and not because of the brand just because they like it. I know I did something right.
The most stressful thing is when people come in and they don’t initially understand the building in its entirety. That genuinely makes me sad, because I feel like we are very approachable. I want it to be a place where people can just feel comfortable.
What have been your most influential work experiences?
Definitely working with Adonai Branded Eternal, because there was no limit or cap to my creativity. I think working with my uncle—that first paid job was very influential. And Apple was really influential because Apple really teaches you how to meet people where they are and not get them to any place they don’t want to go and to be very attentive to the needs and be solution driven. That made a life long impression on me—to find solutions not just solve a problem.
What have been your highest highs and your lowest lows?
I remember a day in particular when I was still working at Major. I was real broke and I got an opportunity to go to G-Shock World Event. Kanye West was highlighting and there was a red carpet. I had $100 period. The bus ticket was $37 and I went to Major and we had a shipment of 50 boxes that we unloaded in the rain, went home to change then I walked to Union Station to save money which took 45 minutes, and then got on the bus, went to the party, walked the red carpet, drank the drinks, hung out with all of these people, saw Jeff Staple, and it was amazing! It was a million dollar plus party and I’m watching the show with Russell Simons. The highlight was so great, and then I remember having to leave at 12:15 because I had a 12:45 bus that was going to get me back in time to get back to DC to shower to then go back to work the next morning to finish lifting those boxes. So it was like the highest high that night and then the lowest low that next morning. It was such a yo-yo effect, and I was like is this ever going to work?
Who are your role models?
Definitely my parents. I don’t know how they do it. They really have exemplified what love is. Outside of them, I would say my cousin Diane who is like my godmother/fairy godmother. She supports everything I do. So, yeah those three people are all role models because they don’t look at a situation as bad or good they just look at them as life. And they just deal with it and keep rolling.
What is the most important piece of advice you have been given?
I don’t know if I should say this, but an older person in my family once told me to never argue with fools. The other advice was given by someone that said “how can I believe in you if you don’t even believe in you?” and that was super profound. Keep on believing that what you’re doing is right and it’s okay to fuck it up because it will figure itself out.
What advice would you tell your younger self?
Dom: I would tell my younger self to not waste time. You can never get time back, so every moment you put off saying you’ll get to it later. Just do it. And if it goes wrong it goes wrong, it’s not the end of the world. The sun, at least as far as I know, is still going to shine tomorrow. Being so bent on things going your way—you have no control. The only thing you have control over is your effort.
Where do you see yourself in 1, 5, and 10 years?
In one year I definitely see myself sitting in the company of some of the people that I admire and look up to.
Five years. This is super corny. I do hope that I am able to have a situation where I have a legacy. Where I have something that I have contributed to the city. And definitely a family situation. I think that is important, being able to support and sustain my family. Ten years. Maybe a little off center but I would like to do personal art and have the ability to be more involved with development projects. I would like to have a say in some type of town or city planning. To me that is art.