In our seventh interview for “Suit Geek”, we invite our friend Steve Zeng. He began his career on Wall Street as an investment banker and later followed his true passion in sports content. Now, as the founder of a sports media start-up, he seems to be in one of the only working fields that encourages athletic wear at work. But is that really the case? What’s his take on classical menswear? Today, he joins us and shares his point of view on classical menswear, his passion for sports, and his vision for creating a look that combines suits and basketball sneakers.
“I am an entrepreneur, a founder of a sports media start-up. And as a founder, we do a little bit of everything. Sometimes I’m the driver…”
/On His Very First Suit
“The first time I got a suit was for an eighth grade history fair. My mom got me a black suit, with a white shirt. At the time, I was actually very tall already, about 1.6 meters; very tall for an eighth-grader. So it was really awkward, I was really thin and tall, and I wore this suit that was too big for me. I have a picture of that; I was holding my history fair project as well. But I don’t know where (the suit) is now.”
“I got my second suit when I was interviewing for internships junior year of college. Again, it was a black suit, white shirt. Got a couple of ties from my dad, too.”
“I always feel like a black suit and white shirt makes me feel like a waiter. Had I known what I know now, I probably would’ve gone with navy.”
/On His Journey to Tailoring
“Before I started my media company, I was in finance for about 10 years. Five years in New York, five years in China. So, I was living in New York, two or three years into banking, and I got a little cash from my bonus. One of my managing directors had a tailor in Chinatown named Mr Tim. An old Hong Kong guy who had been in Chinatown in New York for 30 years. He was semi-retired; wasn’t really making suits anymore; but he’d do it for old customers, including my managing director. So after getting our bonuses, our managing director took a bunch of us down there, and that’s when I got my first tailored suit.”
You’re very into the Carolina blue. When we made you your first jacket seven years ago, you really wanted this Carolina blue, you even have the Carolina blue cufflinks. What’s the story behind this?
“I graduated from the University of North Carolina. With (North) Carolina, the big identifier that everyone recognizes is basketball and Michael Jordan, who really represents our school. But our basketball history goes long before him. A lot of Jordan’s impact on (North) Carolina is that he has a ton of school pride. Had he just been a normal student graduate, I don’t think it would have been the same.”
What we always talk about is the ‘Carolina Family’.
“When I meet someone else who also graduated from Carolina, whether he played basketball or not, without saying more than a hello, I know that he has one common passion with me—we bleed Carolina Blue. It’s just something you don’t need to say much more and without saying anything else, you know this person has a really strong common interest with you.”
“Now, I work in sports media, so I interview all these NBA players. I remember meeting Sam Perkins, who played in the 80s on Michael Jordan’s team. I told him I went to Carolina and then we started to talk about the bars on Franklin Street, and that was how the interview started. It’s just different. That’s why when I wear (Carolina blue), I wear it with a lot of pride. It’s on my clothing, my bicycle, my everything.”
“My personal view is that, when it comes to clothing and fashion, what seems to be going out of style, 20 years later might be coming back again. Of course, they’ll have their own twists and turns; the technology and the cut get better, the fabric and texture will change, but generally, I see it as a normal course or cycle. If it’s trending down, then that’s normal, and they will trend back up.”
Foundationally, guys will always wear suits. The time, place, and occasions may change, but the general need for guys to suit up and to dress up is always there; and it’s consistent.”
/On His Daily Style
“When I’m at work, for the large part, it’s pretty casual; athletic wear such as shorts and sneakers… On production, it depends: if I’m interviewing an NBA player court-side, mostly I’m suited and booted because that’s a professional atmosphere, and I’m camera facing. And by wearing suits, I’m also telling this person that I’m working here and I’m being professional.”
“(When I’m interviewing people,) I also try to pick a color of a suit that they can identify with. Sometimes it depends on the color of the team. For example the Golden State Warriors, they have a lot of yellow and blue, so I’d wear more yellow and blue to try to fit their colors
“When I’m on camera, while it is important, that doesn’t represent most of my time in a day. Mostly I’m behind the camera, running around, so athletic wear is the norm. If I’m a one-man crew, I‘d wear a vest with a lot of pockets, so that I can put all of my stuff in them.”
I think you should design something like that, a utility vest, it would be very useful.
Do you have a favourite piece of clothing?
“I gotta tell you. One of my favorite pieces of clothing is that Fresco jacket, the one you made me in 2015 for my Europe trip. That one was awesome!”
“I was in transition, leaving my finance job after ten years, and I did a very classic thing: 3-month backpacking through Europe. I had to attend two weddings, one at the beginning of my trip, one at the end, and I needed a suit. I didn’t want to bring more than a carry-on, so you made the perfect suit.”
(The Fresco Suit) was great for the summer, unstructured, no lining, super breathy, and it just rolled into your bag. I love that one.
“I understand that not everyone can afford to buy a suit, but that’s not the purpose. The purpose is to look presentable. For me, it’s also not just about clothing, it’s more about personal hygienes. Your hair, your face, your hands, cuz those are the things that people are gonna see. And that’s more important than just what you wear.”
/On His Lifestyle
“Yeah I cook. To me, cooking is an art. And with all art, you need inspiration. First of all, who are you cooking for? I think that person is your first inspiration. Secondly, what is the ingredient that you really want to use today? Then the ingredient is your inspiration. If I’m just cooking a meal as a routine, it’s really difficult for me to make it well. But if there’s some ingredient or one person that really inspires me, then there would be a lot more thought that goes into it for me, and the food usually comes out nice.”
“I think my biggest challenge with cooking is more about consistency, because my inspiration for cooking only comes once every two months, haha.”
“Hotpot? I love hotpot.”
“I can never date a girl who can’t eat spicy food. (Then I dated a girl who couldn’t eat spicy food.)”
What do you do in your free time?
“A little bit of everything. I love being outdoors, whether it is hiking, biking, swimming… so physically if I’m not tired, those are the things I would want to do. If I’m physically tired, I’d be like any guy, watch movies, play video games, obviously I would love to have a drink or two.”
“I like books more than I like movies, and I don’t like watching movies if there’s already a book. I like the story more than I like a good video.”
But you make videos…
“Yes, I know. It actually makes perfect sense. When you’re reading a book, you’re the one who’s creating the video in your mind, rather than seeing someone else’s video.”
Your next piece of clothing?
“Yes I’m very excited! I’ve been pushing Justin on this for years. What I’m looking to do is to create a certain look that goes well with basketball shoes, casual sneakers and designer sneakers. I want to make clothing that highlights the shoe. We’ve already had polos and chinos, that’s slightly more on the causal side. But I’m also gonna make a ‘short suit’ (similar to the one Lebron James famously wore before). I’m not entirely sure what the occasion to wear this yet, maybe a party could be an event, but let’s see.”
Justin: I’ve never really done anything like it, (a suit) to go with basketball shoes!)
“That’s why I’m here, Justin, to push your boundaries.“
Interviewer: Justin Writer: Carrie Videographer: Nicholas Photographer: Adora, Nicholas Produced by PRINCIPLE M