Like so many children around the world with older siblings, Desmon LeJeune, youngest of three children, often received hand-me-downs, having to wear clothes previously owned by an older sibling.
“Everything was always hand-me-downs. My mom would go shop at the Family Thrift Center. We just couldn’t afford the new clothes,” LeJeune, who was raised in Brusly, said.
LeJeune said that he knew that when he married and had a family of his own, he did not want his children to do the same; though, as a boy, he had a strong sense of individuality, he didn’t want his children to struggle with finding their own sense of self.
“If I didn’t have a shirt, I’d wear my brother’s shirt, I’d wear my Dad’s tie. I hated it, because it didn’t fit me. It wasn’t my own individuality,” he remembered. “That was one thing I didn’t want my kids to do…‘Oh, wear your brother’s clothes.’ No. ‘You’re going to have your own clothes, he’s going to have his own clothes, and you guys are going to have your own identity.’”
LeJeune’s sons, of whom he has three, ranging in ages from 1- to 8-years-old, inspired him to begin a venture - a clothing line - that would allow each of them to demonstrate their individualism.
Desmon learned at an early age that he had what many call the “gift of gab.” A sparkling personality that allowed him to speak to nearly anyone was culminated by his parents and church family, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Port Allen.
“I was in a suit every Saturday knocking on people’s doors,” Desmon recalled. “I was giving public talks at 7-years-old. They actually had to stack milk crates for me to stand on. That’s what I was doing at 7-years-old. You know how much self-confidence you have to put on to be able to do that?”
Desmon said that the days he spent going door-to-door helped to create a personality that many say exude southern hospitality.
He started working in retail while in high school at Brusly High.
“I worked at Pat’s Pizza right there in Brusly making $4.25 an hour,” he said.
In 1996, Desmon graduated from BHS and began college at Southern University, majoring in nursing. He later decided to pursue a biology major and enrolled at LSU, as the available classes worked better with his retail work schedule.
But it was his retail job where Desmon saw the most promise of a future.
“I’ve been in retail for so long. I worked at Burlington Coat Factory, I worked at Radio Shack, I’ve worked basically everywhere,” Desmon said. “Retail was something that, as a teenager, that’s your only field to go into to get you to that next point. I was the kind of guy that if I knew I wanted something, I would go and work there so I could get the discount. So, Burlington Coat Factory was my top thing.”
Desmon said that his love for clothing became apparent, and though he learned valuable skills like how to measure and mark-off measurements for menswear, he drifted toward selling clothes.
He said that he realized there was more money to be made in sales.
His proficiency in making sales earned him a job at Cellular One, which he followed to Houston, Texas. While in Texas, Desmon applied for a job as a flight attendant after being dared to by a cousin.
“That southern hospitality has carried me. It wasn’t because of brains or brawn when it came to being a flight attendant – it’s all about personality,” he said. “If you’ve traveled at all, you know that anywhere you go people can tell you’re from the South – not from the accent, but just from the hospitality, how you treat people.”
During his travels, Desmon met the woman that he would eventually marry, Suvi. They married and moved to Europe, to her hometown of Skelleftea, Sweden, where the couple currently live with their three children, Viggo, 8; Sasha, 3; and Tiago, 1.
It was soon after the couple began having children that Desmon realized another calling.
“I figured I liked OshKosh B’Gosh and Baby Gap and all that, but I wanted my kids to have a little more style,” he explained. “I didn’t want everyone dressing them in the same kind of clothes, I wanted to, kind of, give them an American kind of feel with the European quality.”
Desmon began making clothes for his children – and people began to take notice.
“I wanted to make something that brought out their personalities. I can’t just dress them in white t-shirts,” Desmon said. “I wanted their personality to shine through their clothes. And the best way to do that was to start making their clothes for them. That’s when I started making the clothes.”
He said that people took notice of the shirts his sons were wearing and asked when adult clothing would start becoming available. He said that there were enough people that asked about adult clothing that he decided to go into the shirting business.
“My parents told me that when they were growing up they had the ice man, they had the milk man, they had the sugar man – these guys, they knew them personally, they shook hands with them and expected their product, when they came by, was the very best product that they could buy. That was their trade – it’s what they did,” Desmon said. “And I am in the shirting business… To me, the shirt is like the breastplate of a man.”
Desmon began selling his clothing in Sweden, and in October 2013, he began selling in the United States.
His business, LeJeune clothing, has several meanings, including the literal interpretation from French meaning “the young,” but more than anything else, it’s a testament to his family and his Brusly, Louisiana home.
“My grandfather was one of the first people in Brusly – Archie LeJeune,” he said as he looked toward the ceiling with a sense of pride. “When I was thinking about a clothing name, I didn’t really put it as my last name just for pride or just for show – my last name means something in Louisiana. It means something to me. It’s the values that my parents instilled into me that reflect how I want my kids to dress.”
Desmon said that he did not create the clothing line for money, he created it because he sensed people should value things that matter.
“The most valuable thing about my shirt is the person that’s in it… I want people to realize that it’s not about making money. If it’s about making money, I have a job for that,” he said, speaking of the job he still holds at an international airline. “I want to do something that reflects upon my father and his father. It’s heritage. That’s why you have a last name – so people can remember that this is what you do.”
And that is exactly what LeJeune has chosen to do – continue making quality clothing and selling not only the garments, but selling the Louisiana culture, selling the value of family.
“I’m a father first, and a businessman second. If it weren’t for the love of my wife and kids I would not be able to do these amazing things. My greatest accomplishment is my family,” he said. “It’s a family affair. And I love that part about it, because I get to work with my family one-on-one. That’s what Louisiana’s been built on, is family businesses.”
LeJeune’s clothing line can be seen at www.LeJeune.la as well as his children’s line of clothing at “Oh Baby!” on Jefferson Ave. in Baton Rouge.