Patrick Duffy is the New York Entrepreneur redefining the fashion industry on an international scale. Through his business venture, Global Exchange Fashion, Patrick is educating the most renowned fashion houses on sustainability and innovative fashion, even speaking as the panel moderator at the United Nations on multiple occasions. The motivated game changer discusses climate change, Grace Jones and the future of fashion.
YOUTH and ROLEMODELS
How was your youth, did you have a role model growing up?
Strangely the first one and one of the biggest was Grace Jones. She was a role model because of where she came from and how she created herself and the strength that she had in terms of her performance and her vision and her beauty and basically kind of pulling that all into one super powerful embodiment and turning that into a phenomenon and really just changing culture is someone who I strangely being a young white boy from Minnesota choosing that person as a role seemed to work quite well.
Another one is my father, my father Michael Duffy was a very incredibly strong character who had his own set of really specifically challenging issues. He was born with a disease called haemophilia which is a blood disease where you’re actually unable to clot or if you get cut you’re unable to form a scab. So it goes up 100% with everything, so if you get lightly bruised what you have to do at that time when he was growing up is basically get something called a Factor VIII solution which is a plasma that is pulled from a donor’s blood which is injected into your own body so that you can form more scars. That was already a very challenging thing for him and then I wouldn’t necessarily call him handicapped but he had issues with his joints and with his limbs so he wasn’t very mobil, he couldn’t really walk very well, he wasn’t the typical sports playing dad so he had that. Then he also contracted HIV in the 80s and was one of the first kind of rounds of people to get that so as a role model for me I saw my father he was also very vagarious, outgoing and a fantastically charming person and so he used all those what some people would see as challenges and negative qualities and to turn those into strengths and became super super successful in business and has an incredible family. So I look to him as someone who really educated and taught me that my weaknesses are actually my strengths as oppose to wallowing in my weaknesses so between Grace Jones and my father…I’ve got those things.
The fact too that he also got this disease very early on in the 80s and he and my mother opted to kind of keep it from my brother, sister and our family as we were kind of from this small community that was not conservative but for example…we went to private catholic schools and to basically come out that I was obviously gay like when I came out of the womb I was dancing around in my mother’s dresses and all that kind of stuff and so everybody already knew it in the neighbourhood and it was already kind a taboo subject with my peers although my family loved it they thought it would be really harmful and detrimental if they were to tell the neighbour that dad’s got AIDS because it could have come down negatively to impact me which I thought post my father passing was such an admirable and loving and beautiful thing to do to protect his son. He is somebody who is a role model. He really crosses a lot of Ts and dots a lot of Is in terms of somebody who inspires me through business and personal relationships and connections with people and always doing my best.
Who was the first boy you kissed?
The first boy I kissed, ok so I was a model in the late 90s and he was also a model from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and his name was Glenn Hanson and he kind of looked like a cross between actually David Bowie and Grace Jones. He was so cute, like pale, blond blond blond like mid western nordic and this face that looked like this alien face. He was so gorgeous.
What was your relationship with queer culture growing up?
Interestingly enough I had a lot of queerness in my life. I had two gay uncles, Dennis and Theo and they’re married. And I could not have been more blessed because Dennis is a psychotherapist and Theo is a priest and Theo is actually one of the founding members of an organisation called the Radical Gays so having them in and around my life growing up was great because there was always this kind of okayness with being queer and being whoever you want to be and it’s ok if you’re dancing around putting on dresses, makeup and sparkles because that’s you and in terms of how I educated myself on queer culture well really the only thing that I could do was read books and watch public television we had a tv but we didn’t have cable. We were the only people in the neighbourhood who didn’t have access to the rest of the world. I would watch Tales of the City, Armistead Maupin the public television adaptation of it which was so fascinating to me then I would read Gore of the Doll, Quentin Crisp, Oscar Wilde, James Baldwin so I would reimagine myself through their eyes.
What advice would you give your adolescent self?
I would say just don’t worry about it. Keep doing what you’re doing. I have absolutely zero regrets I love every single step that I’ve taken, every single stumble that I love every wild and crazy conversations that I get looped into and meeting the most random people and going to the most incredible events. So my advice is believe in yourself and that’s it.
What does a role model mean for you?
A role model to me now, they have to be conscious about the world that they they live in and they have to be conscious about the people that are in the world with them and they have to really care about shit. It goes beyond just the two steps that are in front of them and they think about the big picture and how they came make an impact on the two steps in front of them and the 30 000 miles away from them it’s kind of like you think about every breath you take every step you take every drink you have every thing you do has a positive impact and I know that sounds super cheeseball but at the end of the day it’s kind of not. If everybody just kind of thought about those things, I mean you don’t have to do something super prolific and do something globally life changing every single day but if you hold the door for someone, that could change someone’s life, if you say thank you to someone, that could save someone’s life. It’s things like that, it’s conciseness which I think our culture has kind of loss especially recently. So what is a role model have, it’s conciseness, love, I feel like connection and love is something that people have really lost out on because of all these things that have been woven into our culture like grindr, tinder, facebook all these things. Connection, love and consciousness.
“What really matters is your vision, your life, what you want to do and how you want to make an impact.”
Can you tell us about your business Global Fashion Exchange and why you started it?
I actually founded it back in 2013 it was kind of a funny miraculous process so I came from the world of hospitality, events, parties and production and then from there I opened a restaurant and the restaurant was basically the wildest place on the planet. It was so fun, crazy and ridiculous, all my friends were performers like Justin Bond, Joey Arias and all these incredible performers that I would send a car to their house, pick them up, give them dinner and make the perform. It was so fun and ridiculous, actually pretty close to Studio 54. So then one day this woman came from Denmark and I’m part Danish and she basically was telling me why don’t you come to Copenhagen for Fashion Week, so she had something at at the time called Copenhagen Fashion Week and at the time I was writing for a magazine so I went to go see it and she then introduced me to the idea of sustainability and fast fashion and how detrimental that was and I really had no idea and at that point in time I really took a look at this industry that was really kind of doing me a disservice because I was working as a producer doing events and every single time I would do an event the budget was less and less and less but they would want me to do more and more and more so I was already disenchanted from it and then she showed me the ethical and sustainable side and the determinants there and I was like fuck I have to do something. There was a clothing swap in Copenhagen and that’s when the light bulb went off with me and I was like I can do this, I can take this concept and I can turn this into a massive educational tool for people and teach them all about sustainable development goals, teach them about consumption patterns, teach them all about the things that nobody is teaching them but do it in a way that’s different than showing them a bloody animal caucus or telling them how terrible they are and instead creating fun and exciting moments around education which then helps the consumer transform and from there that kind of took off, luckily, and then my one of my best friends and I do it together, Brooke Blashill who is the Senior Vice President, Global Head of the Boutique – Ogilvy. So we came up with this strategy and that strategy now has taken us around the world and we just started a campaign with Fashion Revolution. From there I was picked up by this incredible woman in the UK because I was flying around the world doing my clothing swaps and I had developed a really fantastic network of people and so now I head up engagement for her organisation which is a massive sustainable sourcing platform called The Common Objective and basically we have 15,000 relationships in 141 countries that we get to plug and play for designers’ brands, whoever that is to help create supply chains and to help them transform their businesses.
So now my business Global Fashion Exchange is not just consumer facing but how we can transform the business and the B2B side too so then we launched the consultancy and we’re consulting with different brands. Some of it is quite challenging because a massive fashion brand has all these things in their supply chain and they can’t suddenly change everything so it’s a very long and intricate process but we’re finding a lot of success because of the credibility that the Global Fashion Exchange has built up on the consumer facing side so it’s really going well.
Honestly I never thought that this is what I would be doing but every single day I wake up and I read the news and it just kind of impassions me to actually want to do as much as I can with the resources that I have, and I’ll be fully transparent I really don’t make a lot of money, but money really isn’t what drives me. When I launched my business I literally gave everything up, I gave away my apartment, I gave away all my clothes, I gave away all my art work I gave away everything, I probably only have 33 items of clothing, I got rid of everything material and really just focusing on my business, my relationships and my friendships. It’s incredible all these things that happen from that.
I’ve now spoken at the UN three times and they asked me back again, so that whole lifelong dream of mine. Actually Bianca Jagger is a role model too because she started out in night life and went to being a humanitarian and when I was a kid I was like I really want to be like Bianca Jagger because she rode in on a white horse and then now she’s a huge humanitarian and speaks at the United Nations and I was like if she can do it I can do it.
Actually one of my biggest inspirations in the world is George Wayne, as I’m doing this interview he is walking in front of me. He is the one that discovered me in New York City and literally took me under his wing and introduced me to so many incredible people. I’m walking through Washington Square Park to get to Tribeca and he has this very characteristic walk and he was walking in front of me and as soon as I said his name he looked at me like you crazy bitch….
What does the future of sustainable fashion look like to you and how are technology and climate change restructuring business models in the world of fashion?
Well it’s a big job, the future of fashion is kind of what’s on the tips of everybody’s tongues right now. I’m going to all these fashion talks and it’s really about innovation of supply change, innovation of product, innovation of techstyles the whole thing needs to be massively overhauled and the challenge is you have these behemoths that are kind of running everything and some of them are excited about making change and others not and the future of fashion in one word really is collaboration, it can’t really be anymore about the bottom line being about money it has to be about how we’re making change and how we’re doing things better for the planet and the triple bottom line: people, profit, planet. Just because we live in the west, everybody here is like Climate Change it’s coming but then you go to a place like the Philippines where people are already dying, it’s massive and it’s a bit chaotic because you have these massive issues but then you have this social business construct which is make money, make money, make money which is why I started the clothing swaps because I proved that you can have a successful project and a successful business model in something which is clothing swaps so that theres no money that changes hands, so I created a currency from your closet so I actually built a model which is a proven kind of case study to show people that you can do something on a massive scale that has a huge impact where the bottomline really isn’t just about money so that it relates to everyone differently but the bottom-line relates to innovation and very very quickly, like yesterday.
Do you have any advice on how we could become involved or somehow change our consumer habits?
The simplest thing you can do is never throw away your clothes, always recycle them, because some people just throw there clothes away which is so detrimental to the environment, so recycle them but also consuming less, not buying into the system not thinking oh I need that new pair of shoes or oh I need that new bag because us as consumers are the ones that perpetuate the system like we buy into it. I feel like when people choose to educate themselves and then they’re suddenly like oh wow by buying this it actually does that, I think people generally will want to do something positive, it’s a challenge, especially like I’m from the West, it’s a very privileged look at things here, but when I brought Global Fashion Exchange to Lisbon, I’m the first one to ever bring the concept of sustainability to Lisbon, through their Fashion Week. Like me this guy who owned a restaurant is suddenly working with a historic Fashion Week that’s like 60 years old, I put together a super strong panel of some of the countries top people and international influencers in sustainability and we were the first one to talk about it and it’s interesting because they said because of how the type of political and socio system they have they view vintage and second hand garments as lesser quality so it’s about perception and it doesn’t work that way everywhere in the world so the advice I have is that you must reevaluate your consumption patterns and at least recycle. Those are the simplest things, it’s not like you have to change your life. When you’re getting rid of something don’t throw it away and don’t give it to an op show because the op shop will end up throwing it away anyway so just being educated is a good way to start.
“A role model to me now, they have to be conscious about the world that they live in and they have to be conscious about the people that are in the world with them and they have to really care about shit.”
In 2017, what did you learn about yourself?
That I am a very resilient individual. I learned that simplicity is really for me what matters most. Having love and the people that I love around me and knowing that I love them every single day and making sure I’m doing the best that I can every single day with everybody and pushing forward everyday even when I feel like I can’t, just having the courage to do that. Resilience is kind of it, you’re given so much shit, at least for me in New York City having to keep up with appearances, you know what they say about the Jones’, it’s a very kind of dog eat dog world here and if you don’t look, act and talk like everybody then no-one wants to listen to you and so that provides a lot of stress so for me it’s like none of that really matters at the end of the day. What really matters is your vision, your life, what you want to do and how you want to make an impact.
Are there any young entrepreneurs that make you excited for the future?
There’s this girl that I just met, whose like a mirror image of me, she’s called Rachel Kibbe and she has this massive recycling platform called HELPSY and then I have this other woman who I work for in the UK called Tamsin LeJuene and she has a sourcing platform and she’s a fucking genius. She’s got this incredible platform which is super inspiring and it’s an honour for me to work for her.
Do you have any future projects that you’re currently working on?
I also work in several other different projects like development because of the relationships I have so right now I’m working as the development director for a huge project that takes over Times Square for 9 days for Design Week every year we have 5 plazas we focus on design, sustainability and how design can change the world I just left a meeting for something we’re laughing called Global Peace Day which is the largest global activism for peace recognised by the United Nations and the government and then I’m also working with NASDAQ to create a show for them loosely called change maker interviewing people and CEOs about corporate responsibility and what they’re do to catalyse change. So everything I do has this kind of ethos of transformation and the inspiration for me really comes from the fact that I’m just a guy who had a restaurant or I’m just a guy from Minnesota, so I want to show people that the process might be challenging but anyone can do it, so that’s what I always see what holds people back, they feel like it’s always too big to do, it’s always too much.
What would you graffiti on the back of a toilet door?
My phone number and it would say “call me for a good time”.