Michael Toccin makes it look easy.
Not only has the Floridian, with the help of Alex, his wife, business partner and co-creator, built a career in the fashion business, launching a lifestyle collection in September 2019 of “get-it-together” pieces, but they also unveiled a line exclusively for Arkansas-based retailer Dillard’s in January, called LDT.
This fall, the duo will also present a fashion show as part of Arkansas’ Women of Inspiration gala, supporting Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas.
“I have been friends with the Hutchinson family for years, and I’ve had the pleasure of dressing First Lady Susan Hutchinson and [daughter] Sarah Hutchinson Wengel on multiple occasions,” Toccin says. “One of these opportunities included designing a gown for Sarah for Gov. Hutchinson’s inauguration, and that gown will be included in the First Lady Gowns exhibit in the Old State House Museum. Through this friendship with the Hutchinsons, I have learned how the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Arkansas carry out their mission of protecting children all over the state. My wife and I have two children of our own, and we are passionate about CAC’s focus on providing more services and resources to children in need.”
But growing up, he had no intention of getting into the business. What he did have was a cadre of women in his life — and fashionable ones at that. The rest, as they say, is history.
“I never thought I would go into the fashion business. I came from Florida. Fashion was not, per se, an industry there,” he says. “I always thought I’d go into real estate, be a lawyer. I was actually a criminal justice major in undergrad.
“The women around me were always very fashionable — my grandmother, mom and sister. One day my grandmother said to me, ‘Michael, you’re so good at fashion. Why don’t you do that?’ And I was like, ‘What does that mean?’”
Intrigued, Toccin started poking around after college and soon found himself interning at major fashion houses. He enjoyed it, but it likely would not have gone anywhere had he not had people point him in the right direction.
“People said, ‘Michael, you should go to design school.’ Again, I looked at myself and I was like, ‘What’s that?’” he recalls. “I got a partial scholarship to Parsons School of Design, and I went. And I was never the ‘A’ student, but when I got to Parsons, I really knocked it out of the park, and I knew it was meant to be.”
Toccin relays these events as casually as commenting on the weather, which belies just how rare his opportunities have been. And, this easygoing attitude is reflected in the Toccin collection of designs. The signature collection has evolved from effortless dresses and jackets to an array of soft-yet-structured trousers, skirts, tees, tanks, blouses and rich knitwear.
It’s affordable designer clothes for the woman of taste who doesn’t want to look like she’s trying too hard or paying too much.
“I think our designs blend in today’s world, to a degree,” he says. “Our price point is approachable on both brands. Our customer is someone that’s wanting to feel really put together, to feel confident in what they’re wearing and they want to feel stylish.
“It’s all about confidence and feeling happy and joyful. At the end of the day, they’re gonna feel all that.”
The Toccins met 18 years ago in their freshman year of college at George Washington University and have been married for a decade. Alex, the Type-A personality in the relationship, also studied at Parsons and provides the perfect balance to his laid-back persona. Together, they have built a solid brand in an industry where nothing is guaranteed and tastes change overnight.
“My approach came from the styling side of things,” he says. “Which is kind of where our business began. We created ‘Stylists to a T’ originally, a social media platform where we told women what to wear, how to wear it and where to buy it.
“I’m not a sketcher. At the end of the day, I’m more of a merchant. And I know what women’s wants and needs are, and I know how to make someone feel and look good.”
As the social media platform’s numbers started to swell, the Toccins began to think about moving from suggesting other designers’ collections to coming up with their own.
“We had launched our following group, and we don’t have millions of followers, but we have a true sense of community and more than 100,000 followers, so we were getting a lot of people engaged,” he says. “They were looking for the things that Alex was wearing on our platform, and so we tweaked it to say, how can we make this cohesive and make it our own brand?
“Alex and I both have always wanted to have something of our own. And it’s one of those things that you have to just go after the dream. And that’s how it happened for us. We really knew how to go after our dream once we knew we had a community and a customer base. And that was really all discovered via social media.”
Launched in September 2019 and inspired by the wants and needs of real women, Toccin’s direct-to-consumer brand quickly made it into Saks, Neiman Marcus and specialty stores coast to coast. Nine months later, the Toccins signed a deal to provide an exclusive line for Dillard’s.
“I have to say, I have not met a finer group of people to work with and to collaborate with than Dillard’s,” he says. “Arkansans really, truly are incredible people, and Alex and I both feel so blessed in how much the Dillard’s team believes in us. They are wanting to build such an incredible brand together with us, and we’re forever grateful for that.
“I’m really excited because LDT is what we envision to be a full lifestyle collection. And we have some amazing things up our sleeves, which I’m excited for our consumers to see that we will be taking care of lots of needs that they might have. You will be seeing them, I think, in 2022.”
The company generated so much momentum, even the pandemic couldn’t put a damper on its growth. Since launching in 2019, Toccin has ballooned to about 20 employees and stays in touch with the sometimes-mercurial tastes of its clientele.
“You know, at the end of the day, the voice of the customer is everything to us because they’re the ones that are purchasing,” he says. “We want to make sure that we’re able to answer their needs and wants within the umbrella and DNA of our brands.”
“We get their feedback through social media. We get it through visiting with customers, whether at an appearance or going to a store visit or being in market, hearing from our buyers. We really take all of that information seriously because we’re in this business to satisfy the consumer.”
As for being in business with one’s spouse, Toccin says the success of the partnership speaks for itself.
“Alex and I really bring out the best in each other. She’s Type A, I’m Type B, so when you bring the business and the creative, it just seems to work,” he says.
“One thing I do want to say about working with your spouse: It is extremely important to identify your roles instead of blending it all into one. Alex and I wake up every day knowing what our different missions are for the day because we have our titles. And I’m not usually one for titling things, but I think it’s extremely important in this case, so you know what you need to accomplish in the corporation.”
And as for running a company, especially one that demands collaboration, in the era of COVID-19, Toccin merely shrugs. Entrepreneurism has never come with a guarantee, and the company has just found a way over, around or through every challenge.
“Honestly, I think that working from home has been very successful with Zoom. It’s actually saved us a lot of time, and it allows everyone to meet holistically as one when we need to,” he says. “Sometimes I don’t get out of this chair. I’m here from 9 to 6 because everyone knows they can just throw a Zoom on the calendar, and you have to show up.
“I have to be honest; we’ve actually been so blessed and so lucky that we have not hit any big roadblocks. We’re very organized. We’re on time. You can’t be late in the business; you actually have to be ahead of it. That’s really what saved us.”
Photos courtesy Alex and Michael Toccin.