Manny Cuevas was born into a fashion design household – learning the business at the age of 6, and helping his renown father Manuel design for, and dress, everyone from American Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan, and both George Bushes - to music royalty such as Liberace, Johnny Cash, The Rat Pack Elite, John Lennon, Dolly Parton, Roy Rogers, The Grateful Dead, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Jackson Five, David Lee Roth, Kid Rock, Jack White, and Kenny Chesney - to Hollywood icons like Marlon Brando, John Wayne, Jack Nicholson, John Travolta, and Sylvester Stallone, to name a few. And Manny himself designed the suit that Johnny Cash was laid to rest in.
In 2005, he was approached by Allen Tucker (formerly known for helping Calvin Klein start "Calvin Klein") about creating a new ready-to-wear brand, and thus Wear It Out by Manny was born. An immediately successful brand, Manny headlined multiple fashion weeks around the world from New York to Mexico to Paris, and was primed to be a global fashion force to be reckoned with. Until suddenly, at the peak of his success, Manny inexplicably dropped off the radar.
Only those in his closest circles knew what had happened or why, but Manny is finally ready to share the secret he’s kept so closely guarded these last 5 years. I sat down with him hoping to solve some of the puzzle and satisfy a few curiosity points. I came away feeling uplifted and inspired.
[S.A.] The first thing everyone wants to know is why you took a sudden hiatus from designing while you were at the top of your game. What happened?
Five years ago, I was rushed to hospital with massive block in my intestines. I underwent multiple surgeries, some doing vastly more harm than good. I’m talking about medical malpractice suits - surgical pieces were left in my body. They left a piece of stint in my kidney, leading it to fail and eventually being removed. My ureter was accidentally cut, which they overlooked and did not repair. I ended up with an ostomy for life. I call him my “little friend." So, that’s what happened. My health was so bad that I couldn’t physically keep my store open.
[S.A.] What’s been the hardest part of this process for you?
Definitely working to overcome the stigma of having an ostomy, and generally just coming to terms with the massive change in my lifestyle. But I’m getting through it with the support of my beautiful family and colleagues, as well as strangers around the country, thanks to some unexpected and exciting new developments.
How ironic that the name of my company has been Wear it By Manny (used to be Wear it Out Manuel), and now I've got this device attached to my hip - I really have to "wear it out!" I'm seeing the opportunity to show other people with an ostomy that you don't have to dress frumpy. I want to help nurture them and get them over their own stigmas of having one of these devices attached to their bodies for their rest of their lives.
[S.A.] And how have you been able to impact others like that so far?
One of the largest manufacturers of medical appliances, devices and healthcare products for people with immune deficiencies is a company called Hollister.
They have a newsletter that comes out once a quarter. My name was put in the bag last year by my ostomy nurse, Jeanne Rudden - she's been one of my largest supporters - to be a featured story in their newsletter, and I was chosen. Since the story came out, I've been getting the most incredible feedback from people around the country about how it's inspired them to come out of their own shells.
[S.A.] So it’s safe to say that, not only do you have this incredibly creative gift to share with the world, you now have an impactful message to relay as well?
Absolutely. I went to this Ostomy fair to share my story with the public and medical industry about what I was doing to not just cope, but thrive, and Channel 5 jumped on the story. There was this big mystery about what was going on with me, which was probably justified. I was behind this big shadow for a long time. I was in hiding.
But I discovered that whatever the challenges in your life may be, sometimes they may seem like something you can't overcome, we're blessed - actually confronted might be a better word - but we’re blessed with this unforeseen obstacle. It’s something unknown that leads to greater things.
[S.A.] And people are responding in a positive way to your revelation?
In an incredible way! People are experiencing this "rebirth." It's nothing I ever expected. It's something that's so beautiful and humbling. I can't find any better words to describe it than it's creating a rebirth that's adding to my career. It's bringing something new to me that I could never imagine. It's allowing me to share my styling techniques, my fashion background, and applying it to this whole new world. It's just adding to Wear it Out by Manny.
[S.A] You always had incredible reactions to your fashion designs. What feedback is more important and validating to you...fashion or the health-related stuff?
The feedback and support about the health. Fashion is second place. The inspiration I'm giving these people is priceless.
[S.A.] So this isn’t just a one-and-done reveal for you…you’re planning on “taking up the cause” full time?
Yes. Hollister just reached out to me and offered me my own column in their newsletter. Completely out of the blue. It just seems like a gift I can share with people around the world. "Ostomy Is In Fashion." Talking about the challenges that I've faced, the examples and stories and people I've touched. If I can put a smile on someone's face - and bring them that joy and laughter - that's more important to me than anything else I've done.
[S.A.] So, you went on a fashion design hiatus. What is the current status of Wear It Out by Manny?
We’re in the process of researching the proper location to put up the new studio and working area in Nashville. Planning, designing and manufacturing in-house custom, unique, one-of-a-kind, limited edition collections. Starting with a small run of men's and women's shirts.
[S.A] And for those who may not be familiar with your work, how would you describe Wear it Out by Manny’s aesthetic?
Opulent, sexy, sophisticated wearables for all ages. Definitely not following trends in the fashion industry, but creating my own.
[S.A.] And other than your health, what other challenges do you see with this re-launching endeavor?
There are a few, the biggest one being limited resources. Also, consumers aren't buying the way they used to, so we're very conscientious about price points. But we've come out of the gate strong before by headlining New York Fashion Week multiple times as well as Mexico Fashion Week. And I’ve got my brand in over 160 domestic stores, as well as dozens of stores in Paris, Madrid, Japan, etc. So no doubts that we can do this again. And we're going to start it right here in Nashville.
[S.A.] Sounds like you’ve got some high hopes this!
The biggest hope is to find local manufacturing. Having "Made in TN" on the label would be amazing. And a larger dream is to facilitate the regrowth of America. There are abandoned factories in rural America with equipment that just needs to be turned on. I want to capitalize on that. A rebirth for America as well.
[S.A.] What are your goals for 2017, and where do you see Wear it Out heading in the next few years?
The biggest goal is opening the flagship facility here in Nashville to manufacture our own goods under our own roof. After that, the sky's the limit! Nashville as a city is really exploding, and we see this as an opportunity to add to the greatness Nashville is trying to build.
Aside from that, I'm all about sharing my experience with students. I'm about sharing everything - how I run my business, how I write my contracts, my resources. I'm not holding anything back. I want to inspire the next generation of designers.
[S.A.] How have your recent health challenges changed your perspective on life?
One of the most incredible things that it's brought to my attention is wellness. What we consume on a regular basis matters. What we feed our kids - giving them the knowledge of better eating habits - makes a huge impact down the road. I always thought I was relatively healthy. I was active. Then I found out I wasn’t as healthy as I thought I was. Sharing wellness with my mom - she's 100% Mexican and stuck in her ways cooking. But she's learning new, healthier ways of doing things, and I’m able to share that with her because of what I’ve gone through.
[S.A.] Any parting words of wisdom you want to share with the public?
Several. Treat everyone the way you want to be treated: self-respect, humility, kindness. And It doesn't matter how short or tall, skinny or fat, sick or well you are, you can put something on that will make you feel beautiful. We are all so different. We're all individuals, and that should be celebrated. Live life to the fullest. And any information you can share, try to be an open book. Don't hold back your information. You can broaden other people's horizon with your information. Never give up. It's time to Wear It Out!
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For a more in-depth discussion with Manny about how he got his start in the fashion design industry, and well as amazing insider-stories with Hollywood and music industry A-listers, check out my interview with him on the Live2cre8 podcast.