(Photographs by Garrett Foster and Claire Crosby)
It’s 4:02 AM and my phone’s vibration jolts me awake. I check and find no new texts. “Must be an e-mail,” I think to my half-asleep self.
“Re: Crosby & Co.”
From: James J. Crosby
The last time I interacted with Crosby at this hour, we were throwing white ping pong balls into red cups that probably contained more beer than necessary for a game of beer pong. Despite attending college in Manhattan’s Financial District, I often found myself traveling to Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ to party with the likes of Crosby. He, along with his fellow Scarlet Knights, always managed to throw events that would have probably passed Miley Cyrus’ wild-o-meter (if she had one). Living in a collegiate apartment with two other guys didn’t stop Crosby and his crew from finding ways to make their festivities interesting: one night I’ll be suited-up for their Gatsby-themed party, the next I’ll be dressed up as Captain America.
This Crosby who’s emailing me business matters at the wee hours of the morning, however, I feel like I’ve never met. “I’m honored you want to do a cover story on us,” his e-mail says. “I have a few friends who do our photography so [getting photos for the cover story] won’t be an issue at all.” Crosby doesn’t have multiple personality disorder; his use of “our/us” refers to his newly-minted business, Crosby & Co., which we’ll discuss later.
His actual name is James, but I’ve never heard anyone not call him by his last name. “Guys in school from as early as I can remember always have [called me Crosby],” he says. “It just stuck from there.” Judging from a photo of him as a dapper-looking toddler decked in all white, it looks like his sharp sense of style has been around longer than his nickname. “Should’ve known from the start I was going to start a men’s accessory company,” he captions the picture.
Crosby does look the same. A well-fitting blazer has always been a wardrobe staple for him, even during his days on the casual campus of Rutgers. He says that he’s always enjoyed nice clothes and accessories, but was never the flashy type. “I don’t enjoy all the attention. I just happen to enjoy nice things that have an expensive price tag.” That statement was the farthest thing from a revelation, since anyone who has ever met Crosby can vouch for his affinity for life’s finer things. He lists “single-malt scotch, Cuban cigars, fast cars, custom-tailored suits, and steak dinners” among the things he enjoys. A quick scroll through his Instagram profile proves it: I counted at least ten photos showing a cigar-wielding Crosby in less than ten seconds. It’s worthy to point out, however, that being affluent and pretentious aren’t mutually-exclusive, and that Crosby doesn’t suffer from the latter. He’s one of those people whom you can tell are well-to-do, but are far from being the stereotypical I’m-better-than-you-peasant jerks the public believes moneyed people are. To put it another way, he’s at a stage where he can act like a complete nouveau riche, but doesn’t feel the need to. He just really happens to like quality stuff.
Although his jauntiness remains unaltered, it’s evident that something about Crosby has changed. His party persona, who could’ve easily been the spawn of Jordan Belfort, has been toned down in favor of a more mature character. And while his arrival may have meant “party” in college, his presence now suggests “business.” And it should: he’s in New York City to visit some boutiques as a business move for Crosby & Co.
Crosby describes his company as “a lifestyle company for refined gentlemen with elegant but bold tastes,” which almost seems like a direct reflection of himself, but in business form. The brand debuted with products including cuff links, ties, tie bars, and pocket squares, with plans to expand the collection in the near future. A “Coming Summer 2015” notice can be found under the “Bead Bracelets” section. As for where Crosby wants to go with Crosby & Co., his vision for it is as clear as day: to become the most distinguished men’s accessory brand.
In an industry dominated by fashion behemoths like Burberry and Gucci, the goal sounds ambitious to the point of naivety. But Crosby is anything but callow when it comes to business. Despite growing up in what many may consider to be a privileged environment in Medford, NJ, it seems that his family did not fail one bit in teaching him work ethic. “Throughout high school and college, I always had multiple jobs at one time. I’ve worked for a construction company, a computer company, a grocery store, a restaurant, a financial institution, and always, the family oil business.” It’s that last bit that makes his optimism about the future of his own company a rational prediction. Crosby grew up in a third-generation family business that deals with oil and energy, and thus has been exposed to all that goes on behind the curtains of an established company. He, however, claims to have a different calling. “I would’ve been the fourth generation to go into the company, but that just wasn’t my passion. I knew I would be successful, but if I wanted to be successful and happy, I would need to run my own company.”
Had the minutiae in the universe’s history differed just one bit, Crosby may not even have a say on what he wants or doesn’t want to do. In fact, “Crosby” wouldn’t even be a part of his name. “I was adopted into a very generous and supportive family when I was five months old,” he tells me. Born in Seoul, South Korea, baby James was welcomed into the Crosbys through Holt International, an organization dedicated to connecting orphaned children with loving families. Crosby has never met his birth parents, and says that while it may be a big deal for some people, he remains focused only on the good. “I definitely have a better life here than I would’ve had over there, and I’m so grateful that my birth mother realized that,” he admits with complete honesty. “Every single event that has happened in my life, down to the smallest, most insignificant thing, has put me in this very place where I am today. I wouldn’t change a thing, and that’s how I know everything happens for a reason.”
It’s this emotionally-raw side of Crosby that I haven’t seen before. My conversations with him during our college years never went beyond requests for reracks and other party-related jargons. I would be lying, however, if I did not admit that his personality was something that needed no words to be admired. Crosby’s character has the balance that most politicians would kill to have: the ability to get along with almost anyone. That’s why it’s no surprise that, when I asked him if he found it difficult growing up as an Asian-American not only in a white household but also in a town that’s 94% Caucasian, he said no. “I adapt very easily and can see things from different perspectives. This is one of my strongest attributes, because it keeps me very level-headed.”
“OH SAY, YOU SEE, THIS IS THE AMERICAN DREAM… HE CAN BE ANYTHING AT ALL IN AMERICA.”
– RIHANNA IN AMERICAN OXYGEN
While he didn’t choose the circumstances he was born into, Crosby seems determined to take the wheel for the rest of his ride. “I decided I wanted to be in control of my life and create an empire.” If you’re wondering where that drive emanates from, look no further than the American Dream. “I’ve had many individuals push me and motivate me, and I just want to be able to give that back.” He credits his parents, along with entrepreneurs Andy Frisella and Arvin Lal, as his role models. “I am extremely grateful for what I’ve grown up with. It has definitely impacted me, but I’ve had a drive my entire life. I was always hungry for success.”
Although having an American business in itself is a way of giving back to Uncle Sam, Crosby is determined to take that a step further. “[All our products for Crosby & Co.] are made in America,” he explains. “I want to keep America the best country in the world. We proudly manufacture everything in America, because I’m tired of seeing jobs flood out of this country. More and more brands are manufacturing in America, and I think it’s amazing. It costs more in the short run, but the long-term effects for the country are exponential.” This topic of patriotism seems to have struck a chord with Crosby, who goes on to proclaim his love for the United States. “People don’t understand how lucky we are to live in this country. I see so many individuals complain and get caught up in bullshit that absolutely doesn’t matter. I see so much wasted talent on a daily basis. I want to inspire individuals to utilize their talents, and inspire others to chase their dreams like I’m chasing mine.”
The dream that Crosby speaks of does not lack in grandeur. “I want to leave behind a legacy… I want to be able to impact as many lives as possible while I’m here.” And dawdling, he is not. Once Crosby & Co. gains enough traction that he’s able to put it on autopilot, Crosby plans to start courting his other love: real estate. Throughout our interview, Crosby’s words seemed to revolve around one common theme, and that is the American Dream. Extraordinary circumstances led him to being an American, and he’s determined to give back to the country that allowed him to veer from what could have possibly been a tough life for him. For Crosby, being successful is not a matter of if, but when. “If I keep working at this pace for the next five years, there’s no reason I shouldn’t be.”
Only time will tell.