In today’s interview, I talk to Antonio Centeno, the founder of Real Men Real Style where he helps men improve themselves in just about any way imaginable.
I first got in touch with Antonio, when I left a comment on one of his articles at the artofmanliness, and he was quick to reach out to me. We got along and soon thereafter we got on the phone. At the time, the Gentleman’s Gazette was a one man show, and he asked me:”Are you still doing all the stuff yourself?”. That got me thinking, and today we have a great team of editors, assistants and video editors that made GG what it is today…
That aside, Antonio has always had an open ear and was quick to help when I asked him for something. An therefore, it is with great pleasure that present to you today the man behind Real Men Real Style: Antonio Centeno
Sven Raphael Schneider: Antonio, welcome!
Antonio Centeno: Thank you, Raphael! Happy to be here.
SRS: Wonderful! Okay so, you have a really fascinating life story, and you’re a self-made man and a YouTube style icon. Just give us a little background about yourself.
AC: Sure, I grew up in West Texas in a trailer park out there, not much going on, not much style and after that, I went to college up in Mount Vernon, Iowa, small town, middle of nowhere and from there I joined the United States Marine Corp. I was fortunate enough to be an officer of Marines and at the end of 2003, after a fun vacation over in Iraq, I decided to get out and transitioned out of the Marine Corp. and lived in Ukraine for about a year, married my fiance at the time, now my wife. We’ve got four young children, and we just live here in Wisconsin but when I was in Ukraine, I was exposed to a culture that they really wear who they are, it’s the European culture, at least in that part of Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, I just found appearances matter a lot. In the Marine Corp. actually appearances matter a lot and so I started seeing this thing how appearances matter a lot and in these situations, and I looked around, seems like a lot of Americans don’t seem to believe that. We’re in a society that tells us this isn’t the case, so I kind of saw this amazing thing and then I moved on, forgot about it, went and got my business degree in UT. After I picked up my MBA, I got a job out here in Wisconsin. I was promptly fired, so I found myself in this opportunity, “Hey, I’m out of work. I only have one child at the time, moving my wife to the United States, might as well start a company!”. So I started an online custom clothier in 2007 called “A Tailored Suit“, the business still exists but now it’s an information portal.
SRS: That’s interesting! So you had this exposure to style in Ukraine basically, and so then you said “Hey, that’s interesting” and once you found yourself out of a job, was that the first thought that came to mind or did you kind of do some research, how did you end up with that business?
AC: Yeah, I looked around at various opportunities, and when I was in business school, I had a couple of problems. One of the things is, in Ukraine, I wanted a nice suit when I was getting married, and it was hard to find a nice suit. There were these 100 dollar, two hundred dollar Russian suits which fit you like squares but still, at the time, it can be a lot of money. Or I went into this Italian shop, and I looked at these, because you got a big disparity of incomes there, so you’ve got very cheap suits and then you have like $3000 suits, it was like a huge jump, there was nothing in the middle and when I put on that $3000 suit, couldn’t afford it but I was like “Wow, this thing is amazing!”. I didn’t feel that good in a suit since wearing my uniform, and so I saw the power of how a suit can make you feel. I really wish I would’ve had that, I ended up wearing a modified square suit for my wedding but a couple years later when I’m interviewing at MBA programs, I flew out, looked at Harvard, met with people at Harvard, met with people at Cornell. Cornell actually flew me out because I was looking at their Johnson Means business program, so I figured “I’m going to these Ivy League institutions, I need to look the part.” and I didn’t want to show up and look like some country bumpkin.
SRS: Okay, so what was your style at that time? Describe it to us.
AC: Pretty typical American. I wear light colored baggy jeans, bright yellow Helly Hansen jacket, flannel tops, those were the same things I’d worn in college and my style had not changed in the decade. When I was 18, when I pieced together and looked around in 1994 on that college atmosphere was what I was still wearing in probably 2002-2003 and my wife she was always like “Well, he dresses very interesting.” but I felt I dressed just like the typical American guy but I did know the power of the uniform because I wore a uniform when I was in the Marine Corp., understand we paid attention to ranks, we looked at insignia, all these things we made a determination and so in the back of my mind, I knew it was real but I didn’t even know where to go to get this stuff really going. So that was, I think the start of A Tailored Suit, actually I went a little bit too far, looking back, when the business did not succeed because I wasn’t ready to fully commit, to buying a factory but also, there was a lot I had to learn and that’s really what that first company was for me, It was a learning vehicle. So I didn’t end up, I didn’t have this for my wedding but I did have this for those MBA interviews when I flew over there is I found a traveling tailor, right there in Kiev, it’s Imperial Tailors, they’re out in Moscow and in Kiev. So these guys focused on that part of the world and actually it was like, pretty interesting, all of their clientele was listed as all the presidents so at the time in Ukraine we had Kuchma. So it’s funny like I call them up and I’m like, I didn’t care about the price at that point, I had a little bit that I put aside and was ready to spend it. So this traveling tailors, he comes out to our apartment right there in Kiev. Probably doesn’t get too many calls to these areas but yeah, I bought a suit and three shirts and it fit me better than anything I could’ve bought locally off the rack and it fit me just as well as that $3000 suit and I only paid a $1200 at the time for that little packaging put together.
SRS: Not a lot of money for Kiev but it was worth it to you and it made a difference.
AC: Actually, I felt like I got this great deal because I felt like I was able to replicate the feeling I got from that $3000 suit and I also got three shirts thrown in with that at 1/3 of the price. When I saw this, it just opened my eyes to the world of custom clothing. Wouldn’t it be cool if this is an awesome online business? Okay, opportunity seen, I trip over amazing opportunity, I get up like nothing happened, keep walking. Two years later, I think about this again in business school and I find another custom clothier, I’m going to UT, right there in Austin, Texas and I see this again and I”m like, you know I talk to the tailor, I bought him lunch multiple times, every time he was in town. He came back like once every couple months and I just picked his brain. I found out the guy had like a fourth-grade education, was only working half of the year and was making about half a million dollars.
SRS: That sounds pretty good right?
AC: What are you telling me, I’m getting this fancy degree, I’m about to go sell my soul for golden handcuffs and only get paid a $150,000 a year. If he can do this with a 4th-grade education, Jack was a really smart guy over at Noble House tailors. I remember he was even curious about “Hey, you want to buy my roller dice?” because it took him 35 years to build up 5000 customers and from my perspective, you could use the internet and you could get those 5000 customers in a period of just a couple years.
SRS: A lot of times, people think “Where did you learn all of this?” I mean you said it yourself, you grew up in a trailer park and not being exposed to that so you didn’t have that but you still went and realized you can create content. How did you learn all that stuff and what can you tell others in a similar situation who are not too sure about what to do?
AC: I think the answer is right behind you, all those books I’m looking at right here. I mean, I’m a big believer of “A man needs to take time to educate himself and spend time thinking, reading and learning. There is just so much information out there. It’s funny, I talk with a lot of other style bloggers and people ask me “Do you ever take courses?” and I’m like “Yeah, I took enough courses to realize that that is just one path to learn” and so, I mean I’ve got a whole library, you’ve seen that, that hidden closet.
SRS: Oh yes, you like to read a lot of books just like I do. I was just in Florence and people walked up to me and they recognized me and asked a few questions and then they were like “One final question, the information on your website is unique, where do you get that from?” and I said From books and magazines, I have built this library and so they noticed because it really made us stand apart. If you dig a little deeper and you educate yourself, it’s basically an investment in yourself, you can produce great stuff.
AC: It’s really hard because we’re surrounded in a society and to some ways, we are on social media, I’m on social media for work but personally, I have no social media connected to my phone. My house, I have no computer, all of my business stuff stays here in the office. When I go home, I’m there. So I try to create these barriers which enable me when I come here, to focus in on and I’m going to steal this from Cal Newport, Deep Work. Being able to go in and I think that’s the key if you want to really create something the world’s going to take notice of, you’ve got to commit to that deep work of spending the time to focus in on yourself instead of doing all that busy work because no one’s going to, I mean, it’s cool that you got the inbox zero and you answered 50 emails today but did that really have a big impact. A project I’m currently working on is creating a new email sequence, an amazing one because I want people, when they sign up for my emails to be “wowed” and not just sold to which right now, I feel like our email sequence is a bit hard on sales and then I put them into a great broadcast sequence but broadcasting is something you got to do again and again so to be able to create something that is going to last like a book, it is a perfect example. Anyone that’s ever written a book realizes, it’s an all-consuming event especially if you write a great book and it’s something that any great writers from Stephen King to JK Rowling, they talk about how they have to separate themselves. I was just reading about Mark Twain, he basically was so isolated when he was writing “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” or “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” , they literally had to blow a horn on this farm he was at in Upstate, New York to let him know he has been out there for so long in this isolated cabin.
SRS: When we started, there weren’t things out there. We looked into books because there wasn’t anything out there. Today, all the things we’ve learned over 15-20 years, we put into a product because we realize those were all the mistakes we made and ideally, we shouldn’t have to make them so if we just guide people in a way and give them the best solution to their problems, you can save a lot of time, money and get the same results that took us so long.
AC: I think that’s really enjoyable and when you get these emails from guys that use your courses or use your free information, both of us put out so much information that even if you’re in India and you’re making, let’s say a thousand dollars a month, it’s just not enough that you want to spend $500 on one of my courses. Or you can’t come out to StyleCon in Atlanta, Georgia, which is our conference. You could use all of my information and you could change your life and improve it and next time I’m out in Mumbai, we’ll be able to meet and we’ll be able to shake hands and talk like old friends which is really cool. I love it when, and you’ve had people recognize you, it’s amazing when you can talk to them like you start the conversation, not at point zero but it’s like they know, they’ve watched many of your video or read many of your articles and they can start at a very deep level and I just love those type of conversations.
SRS: I think just the name of your website, Real Men Real Style is not just about being authentic but also having a real connection and you started as a website but then you realized maybe you could create this real connection with the real world. So, together with Aaron Marino, another YouTube heavyweight, you decided to create a real life event. Tell us more about that and why you did it and what the goal of it is?
AC: Yeah and I appreciate that. I actually, for me, the real men real style was kind of a rejection of, I mean runways are interesting in the fashion world but I honestly still don’t understand them and how things move through that in that industry and I wanted to just be really clear with guys that I’m just a regular guy. I probably could have said regular men, regular style but it was too long, real just worked better but you’re exactly right I reached out to Aaron Marino and I just found that I really enjoyed speaking and talking with all of my peers but that only went so far because even on a group call, people are getting distracted, we’re not in the same place and I was already going to conferences and looked around and was like why isn’t there a conference that brings together my friends, the people that I really connect with? I always found when I went to these conferences, media expo, social media marketing world, infusioncon, it was only 5% of the people that I connect with. What if brought all of those people to my own conference and I think that’s the beauty of we do, there’s so many different, depending on who you want to be inspired by or who you want to go to for information. If somebody is interested more in classic style, they want to learn about black tie, white tie, they want to learn about the history of menswear, they go to your channel. If they want to learn about the history but also want to learn about the science, maybe the military history, they want to be immersed in very simple how to do videos but still may blow their mind like how to tuck in their shirt, they go to my channel. if they want something that’s a bit more fashion forward, they want something that’s going to be a bit more entertainment but still very educational, go check out Aaron Marino. There’s so may different options out there and that’s what I love about our industry.
SRS: Yeah, it’s not exclusive. Just because you like Antonio does not mean you cannot like Aaron. Ideally, you’d watch all of them and get something out of each of them and I think that’s good.
AC: My website does put a cookie on people’s computers that block your website so..
SRS: Oh yeah, well thank you. Just listening to you talk about your business, you obviously have lots of systems in place, that’s great but for most people probably it sounds like that’s more than enough, you, on the other hand, may say “Well, maybe I can do something else” and you even have some side businesses, tell us more about that.
AC: Sure! So I’ve got one program called High Speed Elite and basically this is a coaching program for business, it’s a business coaching program for military veterans only and I have two other partners with that. John Lee Dumas of Entrepreneur on Fire and Tom Morkes of Insurgent Publishing and the reason I did this, couple of reasons why I wanted to, I really loved my time in the Marine Corp. and I wanted something I could do to give back that I control so this coaching program is a great way to do that. The other one is, I wanted to partner and hang out with other veterans I respect so both John and Tom, I learned from all the time, amazing people. I’m happy to be able to support them, so that’s what I love about businesses when you make it fun; you’re able to do good and you’re able to learn and sharpen your own sword. I also run a business with my wife called Bilingual Kids Rock which we help families create systems so that they can raise bilingual children and my wife has a podcast with that, she puts out a lot of content, so that one’s more of a passion project. We have four young children who are trilingual, they speak Ukranian, they speak Russian, they speak English and we’ve tried bringing in Spanish but it’s hard with all these other activities.
SRS: That’s amazing! Three languages and it seems like you take everything that you’ve experienced, the style that you were exposed to, the military, children and languages and you make it into a business to help others which is amazing.
AC: Well, you can approach it from a very selfish perspective too. Ayn Rand, when she wrote the virtue of selfishness, I really enjoyed that book back in college because it showed that even when you do good, oftentimes you can do good but you can do it in your own way so that you get, the value I get from creating that content is that we crystalize our thoughts and I’m able to put this out there once and I can even revisit what my wife has written or what we’ve written at bilingual kids rock. I’ve learned a lot more about how languages develop in children and because we’ve also got this platform, we can reach out to language experts who want to come in and interview with my wife so that they can get in front of her audience. The selfish thing for us is that we can ask very specific questions about our kids with world leaders on that particular subject.
SRS: A free consultation basically,
AC: Exactly! Not just free, we get paid for it!
SRS: So living in Wisconsin, your style is probably not in a three-piece suit everyday. Today, you’re wearing like a denim shirt, what would you say are your five staple wardrobe items that you couldn’t live without?
AC: You know, I’m pretty casual. I’ll take this during the winter so sweaters. I have a great collection of sweaters and it’s funny. I had them, the Aran sweater market over in Ireland. I had them as a sponsor awhile back and the best thing I got from them was all these sweaters and I love sweaters here in Central Wisconsin. The other ones for me are thermals. I just really like simple things but I like them to be the best and I’ve got this pair of thermals on and they’re like butter, it is awesome. Another thing, nice socks, I used to have those tube socks all the time. I actually have nice pairs of wool socks that feel great and the only thing with them is I like to wear them around the house now and I’m always worried I”m going to get them snagged and tear a hole. I have to admit, I wear jeans quite a bit and I wear sports jackets. I’ve got a lot of my sports jackets from suit supply, they just fit me really well off the rack but I’ve got a number of them custom-made as well.
SRS: Okay, so there’s a set of questions we always ask people, just a quick yes or no. OXFORDor DERBY?
SRS: Flannel or Worsted?
SRS: Necktie or Bow tie?
SRS: Belt or suspenders?
SRS: barrel cuff or french cuff?
AC: Barrel cuff
SRS: Off the rack or custom?
AC: I would go with off the rack
SRS: It’s great, you have the figure for it and it works.
AC: Yes, if you find the right brand, it’s just a great deal.
SRS: Totally and for me it’s very difficult because my shoulders are so much lower. Depends on your body, depends on the person, you always have to start somewhere. Ready to wear is great because you can see it right there and feel it, you can say I don’t like it. If you go custom sometimes, you can just envision it, and then it’s not what you thought it would be and it can be very costly when you make mistakes. So Antonio, thank you very much for your time and I think it was very insightful but where do you see yourself five years down the line?
AC: That’s a great question. I would say I know that time waits for no man. I’ll be almost 50 years old at that point so I would like to be in a place where I can travel more and spend more time with the people whose lives I feel like I’m lightly touching. I would like to go deeper with the guys and the women that are interested in talking more about this so I would see myself traveling and making myself more available maybe in cities that my audience will vote where we go to actually engage with people. I think StyleCon, too bad it’s only once a year. I would like something where every couple months we’re hosting an event, may be a bit smaller but a one-day event that just have a deeper connect with people in New York, Los Angeles or Milan or London. I would love to be able to go back to Mumbai; I love Mumbai. Places, where we could reach a global audience in person, would be great.
SRS: That’s fantastic, that’s a good approach. You obviously know and love what you do.
AC: Thank you, Raphael. I appreciate your friendship and looking forward to seeing you out in Atlanta.
SRS: Absolutely, I’ll be there! If you want to meet Antonio or me or all the other guys, Aaron Marino, Andy from The Primer, Baron from Effortless Gent and Brock from the Modest Man, Tanner from masculine Style and many others, you should check out the website at men’s style con, it’s something for you. I enjoyed it immensely last year and I’ll be there for sure!
AC: Yeah, I wanted to create a conference which didn’t suck and it’s my excuse to throw a three-day party, to hang out with my friends and hey, cost are covered, I like it!
SRS: Perfect! So, to parties that don’t suck!
AC: Exactly, exactly! Thank you for having me!
SRS: Thanks a lot!