It's always a bit awkward interviewing someone by phone. Between the static and background noise, a lot can get lost in translation.
It also makes it hard to read people. When you can't look someone in the eye, it's difficult to know how candid he or she is being.
But none of this was an issue when I hopped on a call with Dan Caten not long after 5 pm last Tuesday. He was patient, genuine and forthright -- qualities that escape most people after work hours in the middle of the week.
For the past 30 years, Dan has worked alongside his identical twin brother Dean, cultivating one of the most celebrated brands in fashion, Dsquared2.
We didn't focus so much on fashion when we spoke, however, but more so on how the dynamic duo has gotten to where it is today.
Specifically, we talked about the way in which being family, and particularly twins, has been fundamental to Dsquared2's story and success.
Family is a lifetime bond, and a lifetime deal, Dan stated. It’s a guarantee that we’re in this together, that we’re there forever.
Born and raised in Canada, Dan and Dean were the youngest of nine siblings. Thus, as Dan explains it, they were outliers from the very beginning, "We were the big outlaws… the two weirdos... the outsiders. We didn’t really belong anywhere, but we had each other, and that’s where we belonged."
From birth onwards, Dean and Dan have shared everything, including the same interests and vision for the future. This is ultimately what drove them to follow the same path:
Being brothers, and being twins, has definitely been an asset to us. We've been together all our lives. We’ve both had the same passion about things. We’ve always worked together anyways, being waiters and caddies... There was never really a thought about not working together; it came naturally. We had the same goals and the same dreams… We’ve been together forever; it’s a different situation… We grew up together. We share so much.
Indeed, their paths have coincided so closely that both of the Caten brothers dropped out of fashion school at 19. It was a risky decision but obviously hasn't impeded their progress or success.
A lot of young people, especially Millennials, might be drawn to the idea that an education isn't an absolute necessity. After all, college is exceptionally expensive these days.
Not to mention, there are numerous success stories across multiple industries involving college dropouts, from Steve Jobs to Mark Zuckerberg and Elizabeth Holmes.
But Dan was wary of encouraging the idea that an education doesn't have value:
I’m not going to say 'don’t do school.' I think school helps you open your mind and explore things, he said. But I also think a lot of creativity comes from within. If you’re fortune enough to be able to go to school, it’s a positive thing… We wanted to go back to school, but we didn’t have any cash.
Everyone's situation is different, and for the Caten brothers, a higher education just wasn't feasible at the time. But they learned and grew through other experiences, finding strength and motivation via the deep bond they share.
I wondered, however, if the brothers ever got sick of each other. Let's be honest, not all of us have the best relationships with our families.
And mixing bloodlines with business is a risky endeavor. The old saying, "don't sh*t where you eat," comes to mind in this context. But that's never been an issue for the Dsquared2 duo, as Dan puts it:
[Our relationship] Is kind of odd… Maybe once in awhile we’ll get sick of each other, but it lasts for like five minutes (laughs)… It’s a very odd bond… There was one time when we were separated, not by our own will, and it was really hard for us. I think because we experienced that, we decided we didn’t want to through that again. When we’re alone without each other, we’re lost... When I’m alone without my brother, I’m lost.
I could tell he really meant this.
When I asked Dan if he had any regrets, if, looking back, he wished he'd done more things independently, he said no immediately. There was no hesitation in his voice. In his eyes, they are two halves that make a whole:
We’re two different people, but we’re kind of the same… We work off each other; we feed off each other, and we balance each other. He needs me as much as I need him. I think we’re a package, and the package is balanced.
The Caten brothers are now 50. They've lived and worked together for a lifetime. This has never been a source of weakness, however, but their greatest strength. "I think being a two we have a special power… a special force… We’re an automatic team… I feel stronger. When you walk into a room, and there’s two, you feel better," Dan said.
Dan and his brother have overcome a lot of obstacles over the years, from being the youngest members of their family to dropping out of school.
Not to mention, fashion is not exactly an easy industry to break into. But they never let any of the naysayers deter them. Dan would encourage young people around the world to have the same mindset:
The key thing is to follow your heart and your own instincts… You can always try something, and if it doesn’t work out, it’s not like you’re going to be any worse off than where you started… You gotta keep at it if you really believe in it. And the more believe in yourself the more people will believe in you.
Simply put, the world's not going to do you any favors. If you want something, you have to be willing to take risks, or you'll end up regretting never trying.
And when everything and everyone else fails you, family will always be there. Dean and Dan Caten understand and embody this notion perhaps better than anyone, and it's been the catalyst for their success.