(Photo: Shalan and Paul for St. Regis Toronto)
Interview with Steven Branco of Swagger
Fearless, creative, inspiring, strategic, and disruptive, are all words that have been used to describe Swagger Magazine’s editor-in-chief Steven Branco.
Defying all odds and breaking boundaries, Branco created the first digital modern men’s luxury lifestyle magazine that is truly targeting North American men from coast to coast, and across borders. All of this with very little premeditated career direction. Some would even say that his career chose him.
Branco is known for his eclectic and detail-oriented approach to fashion. Whether from following along on his daily journeys from the back of an Uber, or his swag-full posts on his feed @Mr.StevenBranco on Instagram. The guy clearly practices what he preaches. His mission? “To evangelize to the modern men of America, Canada and abroad, that swagger isn’t just style, it’s a way of life.”
swagger isn’t just style, it’s a way of life
Luckily, we had a chance to catch up with him recently for an exclusive interview.
Q: So tell us, what are a few things about you that most people wouldn’t know?
Well, in this digital age, it’s crazy to think how much people know about you. But then again, I don’t feel a need to hide it. Nothing crazy though. I was born and raised in the upper west end of Toronto in 1988, to first generation Latin/European immigrant parents. Funny enough, my native tongue was actually Portuguese. I spoke it at home with my mom, who didn’t speak a word of English. I actually didn’t even speak English until I was going to kindergarten around the age of 5 or 6. My mom always tells the story that the teacher called her in to tell her that she should look into seeing a hearing doctor, because she would speak to me in the classroom and I would just ignore her, so she thought I couldn’t hear her. She laughed and said, “oh he hears you alright, he just doesn’t understand what you’re saying.” She then called my name and said something in Portuguese and I came running over. I also learned Spanish later at a young age through the other side of my family and friends, and really immersed myself in Spanish culture. I loved the language, the music, and of course… the food. I mean, who wouldn’t?
Q: What made you want to become a writer, creative, editor, content creator, digital strategist, and an entrepreneur?
I simply love to create. Tell stories. Share with others what I learn from my passions and surroundings. Very early on in my career, I was very fortunate to have some amazing mentors, and I’ll never forget. It’s like it was just yesterday. I remember him telling me, Steven you work so hard. Your work ethic should be towards something you’re invested in, and the best way to do that is to work for yourself. In an age where everyone has a side hustle, in my mind I always was an entrepreneur. A short time after, I was offered the gig of a lifetime for a startup that was just taking off. Leading social media strategy and support using a social listening platform. Working with Fortune 500 companies and some of the largest agencies of the world. Sounds dreamy right? Wrong. I was chosen primarily for my language skills and pigeon held into a role that once again was the jack-of-all-trades. Because I was the only one in my division that spoke Spanish and Portuguese, I ended up doing everything for that market.. The advantage, however was that i got to learn the business inside and out. So all in all, when it came time to take the plunge and go out on my own, I remember my mentor’s words. He was my inspiration, and I did it. Sink or swim, like they say… and I swam for my life. Needless to say, I never looked back.
Q: What is your biggest win to-date?
Wow. What a question. How does one compare wins? I mean to summarize my last few years, I have been able to go on a partnership experience with brands like BMW and Fairmont and literally drive one of my favourite SUVs through the Rocky Mountains and be put up in castle penthouse suites. Also the experience of being able to be in the presence of Anna Wintour, interview GQ’s Jim Moore, have dinner with Nicolas Cage, bump into John Ham by the bar during TIFF, and fangirl over Nicole Kidman from across the room. I mean, how can I even choose? Being where I am today, I am nothing but grateful. Just this January we celebrated surpassing over half a million page views. Some would say that’s quite good, but then again, 2018 was a whirlwind. I traveled to one of my bucket list destinations, Israel — had a trip of a lifetime and built some lifelong friendships. Was featured in a cover page story in the Wall Street Journal (NBD… right?), and was asked to submit a proposal on how I could help the State Department Office “Up their Swagger”. To which they obviously denied because they would NEVER take swagger advice from a Canadian right? [Insert eyeroll here] That said, I wouldn’t be able to pick just one as they’re all incredible achievements in my mind.
Q: How would you label your style?
Eclectic. Depends on my mood, task at hand. Occasions, and whether I want to bend the rules. Definitely not mainstream, nor status quo. I’m the guy that would show up with either a red semi-transparent chiffon button up under a classic black leather moto style jacket and ripped denim jeans with a big black fedora and black boots, or a tone on tone wide peak lapel 2-piece suit with ankle cut trousers, a turtleneck, and white or black sneakers–or even just a full on tux. I am literally on all ends of the spectrum. My underlying goal… to make me feel and look my best. That’s what gives me the confidence to walk into the room with my chin up. Not giving a shit about what others may think.
Q: What’s your favourite pair of sneakers?
Ooh, that’s a good one. It varies. But I would say the ones I currently use most often would be my black with white soles Good Man Brand sneakers. They’re comfortable. Easy to clean. Look super clean with just about anything, and have held up quite well.
Q: What’s your favourite go-to piece in your wardrobe?
Hands down, my Boda Skins black leather with gold hardware jacket. It’s comfortable. Breathable. Stylish, and uncommon — because gold hardware is hard to find. It literally can be up or down-styled for various occasions. As well as styled to a number of temperatures. Pair with a sweater to keep warm, a clean Tee, or even a tank to stay cool. I’m obsessed and NEVER travel without it.
Q: How would you define Swagger?
There’s a lot of misconceptions. Many think its a term that comes from hip-hop culture, others think it refers to style, or “swag” as in branded paraphernalia. But it’s none of the above. Swagger means to have confidence, and to walk/strut or behave in a confident manner. At Swagger Magazine, we truly embody this definition. We educate men on being a better version of themselves. Starting with their swagger. Without confidence, it doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, you won’t look or feel good. It all starts from within.
Q: What made you want to be an entrepreneur?
Simply put, my drive. I had been a freelance part-time graphic designer right through school. Then later was pitching freelance writing for stories, and still managing a day job and school part-time. So I really started to think about it, and once i did, I realized my old mentor back at the beginning of my career was right. He also taught me that the best way to grow a company (or within a company) and be the best leader that I could be, would be to understand every aspect of the business. So I did. I jumped at every opportunity to learn what another department did, learn new things, accept new challenges and projects — even those outside my comfort zone. In the end, it paid off. I was the only person in the whole company that had worked or collaborated with every department. The result, I was swamped beyond belief. I was so stressed. Everyone leaned on me, came to me for advice, support and assistance. I was so bogged down, overworked, and obviously underpaid. But luckily what kept me afloat was my ability to still be creative. I expressed myself through my style, my writing and my photography (which I had just taken up earlier that year). Even if it was minimal due to the fact that I literally had no time. What I loved most, was peoples appreciation for my work.
Q: How did you get started with Swagger Magazine?
Well, I have been a creative, both writing and shooting now for over 10 years now, and wouldn’t change it for the world. In 2016 I connected with my now partner on Swagger and he ran the idea by me to help him with Swagger. He knew that I had written for some other men’s publications and that I had experience in both creative, social and writing and really wanted to work with me. To be honest, on my end, the time was right and I was appealed by the branding so I accepted the challenge. The rest was history.
Q: Who would you say is, or has been, a big influence on your style?
I wouldn’t say that any one person is a big influence on my personal style. I like to keep tabs on the industry as a whole, and what’s trending, what’s classic, what people are gravitating towards. Being in the industry also helps to be exposed to things a lot sooner than everyone else. But if I had to say someone specifically, I would say that I do have a handful of content creators that I keep tabs on. Include: @StreetsandGentle, for both his style, accessories, and overall aesthetic. @LevitateStyle, also known as Leo Chan. I’ve always loved how he masters both a dressed up and dressed down look. Lastly, not a creator, but the ultimate King of Swagger, David Beckham. I’ve always loved how he completely mastered both dressy and casual looks — the guy kills it even with his airport swagger. Is that even legal?
Q: What do you think about Social and Online Media’s disruption of the media industry?
Truthfully, the foundation hasn’t really changed. A lot of what is happening today, has been happening for decades. Just under a different light, and sold differently. For years print magazines have been signing partnerships and offering double page spread campaigns, and more, which in exchange would guarantee them certain inclusions in editorial. Editorial teams have been included by advertisers for years. The problem is, that the industry around them hasn’t evolved. Now the media isn’t getting the same advertising spends so editorial is being disrupted by branded content partnerships and integrations, as well as product placement. But it’s been happening for years. Just that now brands are being forced to pay for it upfront vs. as a byproduct of their advertising campaigns. So if you asked me, who is really being disrupted by it all? The PR agencies and teams. Their sole job was to influence editorial teams, but now that advertising dollars are being diminished, editors are becoming tighter on what branded exposure is offered without an investment, which essentially makes their job impossible. Until they catch on and figure out how to alternatively either shift budget or come up with a new way of doing their job (like making client’s branded content budgets mandatory), they are in for some troubled times. Luckily for us at Stamina Group, I strive to move the needle. Build relationships, and provide both our client direct, and agency clients as much value to ensure they see the need to spend with us. Not on advertising, but on projects, campaigns and branded content — either on an advertorial or content funding perspective.
Q: What do you want to be known for?
My passion, creativity and versatility both in my personal brand and the brands that I work with. A gentleman with swagger is fashionable and memorable without being over the top.
Q: Is there anything you are most vulnerable about, allowing you to learn yourself?
I started to really dive into my own sexuality only just a few years back. I decided to start openly dating men, and came out to my family. Just 2-years ago I actually celebrated my first openly Queer pride in Toronto. Crazy, I know. Middle aged (having turned 30) and finally being able to be myself. With no reservations, or reasons to hold back. It’s all new to me. But more than anything else, it’s allowed me to be comfortable in my own skin, and I welcome anyone else battling those mind games to do so, too. You will never be the same!
Q: Where can we find more about you and your brands?
Online. You can check my company out on Instagram at @Stamina.Group or HaveStamina.com, our new loft studio in Toronto at UrbanLoftTO.com, Swagger Magazine at SwaggerMagazine.com or @SwaggerMag on Instagram, and my other work on my Instagram @Mr.StevenBranco, and LinkedIn.