Back to Ba­sics

WWD Digital Daily - - Front Page - BY JEAN E. PALMIERI

A string of men’s wear brands are see­ing rapid growth by sell­ing el­e­vated ba­sics and re­fined ca­su­al­wear to the non­fash­ion male.

These dozen men’s brands have made in­roads sell­ing real clothes to real guys.

It’s all about sim­plic­ity.

At a time when streetwear is dom­i­nat­ing the con­ver­sa­tion in the world of men’s fash­ion, there are a num­ber of brands that are qui­etly build­ing siz­able busi­nesses sell­ing up­dated ba­sics to guys who don’t live and die for the lat­est Supreme drop or Vir­gil Abloh sneaker col­lab­o­ra­tion.

Brands such as Buck Ma­son, Ever­lane, Goodlife and Huck­berry are mak­ing in­roads sell­ing these items, which could be la­beled “ev­ery­day ca­su­al­wear” or “es­sen­tials.”

In years past, their cus­tomers prob­a­bly bought their chi­nos, T-shirts and hood­ies in depart­ment stores or spe­cialty re­tail­ers such as Gap or Ba­nana Repub­lic. But to­day, they’re in­creas­ingly seek­ing out other op­tions and spend­ing their money on brands they feel bet­ter ad­dress their needs.

“They of­fer sim­ple so­lu­tions,” said Wendy Lieb­mann, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of WSL, a global strat­egy con­sul­tancy. “When you look at all the new busi­nesses that are crop­ping up, they ad­dress the fun­da­men­tal is­sue in the in­dus­try, which is that men are look­ing for some­thing rea­son­able to wear that is com­fort­able and stylish.”

Lieb­mann be­lieves the “in­creased lack of ser­vice” at depart­ment and large spe­cialty stores, cou­pled with the “enor­mous” as­sort­ment of­fered “with­out cu­ra­tion,” is what is driv­ing men to indie brands that are trend-right but not over­whelm­ing. “It makes the av­er­age man loathe to em­brace fash­ion be­yond the but­ton-down shirt and khaki,” she said.

Com­pa­nies such as Ever­lane and

Un­tuckit fit the bill. As a re­sult, Lieb­mann be­lieves that brands such as these have a lot of op­por­tu­nity to scale. “The ques­tion is how broad is their ap­peal and do they have the strate­gies in place to stay ahead of the fast-mov­ing com­pe­ti­tion?” Lieb­mann asked.

Ba­yard Winthrop, founder and ceo of Amer­i­can Gi­ant, one of the com­pa­nies that has built a busi­ness sell­ing high-qual­ity made-in-the-USA ba­sics, be­lieves brands such as his of­fer so­lu­tions to a fun­da­men­tal prob­lem in to­day’s so­ci­ety.

“All of us are liv­ing in­creas­ingly dis­con­nected dig­i­tal lives,” he said. “And in response, peo­ple feel the need to con­nect back and rep­re­sent who they are by how they spend their money.” So, like the move­ment to­ward mi­cro­brew­eries, ar­ti­sanal cof­fees and lo­cal farm­ers mar­kets, many con­sumers are aban­don­ing mass-mar­ket brands and em­brac­ing newer com­pa­nies that re­flect their per­sonal tastes.

Matt Rubel, the for­mer ceo of Col­lec­tive Brands and Cole Haan and a one-time pres­i­dent of Tommy Hilfiger who is now a se­nior ad­viser at PJ Solomon, as­serted that some of the stal­wart men’s brands are “too stuck” in the past or have hitched their carts to the strug­gling depart­ment store chan­nel. The state of mall-based re­tail­ing isn’t help­ing.

But men still need to buy clothes and these new brands are reap­ing the ben­e­fits of chang­ing shop­ping habits. Some of these com­pa­nies sell mainly, or ex­clu­sively, on­line while oth­ers have em­braced an om­nichan­nel ap­proach. Some even whole­sale.

Re­gard­less of their ap­proach, all have homed in on the lu­cra­tive up­dated ba­sics niche — giv­ing the cat­e­gory their own spin.

In­stead of ba­sics, Rubel prefers to de­scribe these fash­ions as hav­ing “a ca­sual at­ti­tude at an ac­ces­si­ble price point. In men’s wear, we don’t get too fancy to be­gin with, but these brands are sim­ple and in good taste [and speak to to­day’s] re­laxed at­ti­tude.”

Un­tuckit is a case in point, he be­lieves. “It’s not ba­sics, but it’s not fancy ei­ther,” he said. “But then, nei­ther are most men.”

And while streetwear con­tin­ues to gar­ner head­lines, “for a large con­sumer base, this is their streetwear,” Rubel said. “It’s clas­sic Amer­i­can styling with a re­laxed at­ti­tude. It ap­peals to all age groups and it’s not go­ing out of fash­ion.”

As a re­sult, the op­por­tu­nity for growth for these brands is enor­mous, Rubel said. “They’re on the 25-yard line,” he said. “There’s a whole young herd [of com­pa­nies] out there who can grow much big­ger and more ma­te­rial.”

Men’s wear in­dus­try vet­eran Nick Wooster, the for­mer men’s fash­ion direc­tor at Neiman Mar­cus and Bergdorf Good­man, also sees run­way ahead for pur­vey­ors of sim­ple chic.

“Our lives are about sim­pli­fi­ca­tion,” he said. “I don’t have time to cut through floors and go up es­ca­la­tors. And these brands cut out the ex­tra­ne­ous mid­dle­man.”

Wooster said he learned early on in his career while work­ing for the leg­endary

mer­chant Fred Press­man from Bar­neys

New York, that “it’s all about prod­uct,” he said. “And these brands are build­ing a bet­ter prod­uct. If you’re in bed with the ma­jor depart­ment stores and the mo­ti­va­tion is price, your prod­uct re­flects that.”

Like the mer­chan­dise that these brands of­fer, the con­cept for suc­cess is also straight­for­ward. “It’s not a great mys­tery, but a lot of peo­ple have for­got­ten this sim­ple for­mula: Make amaz­ing things and peo­ple will buy. At the end of the day, that’s what will al­ways win,” Wooster said.

Here, a closer look at a dozen men’s wear com­pa­nies spe­cial­iz­ing in up­dated ba­sics.

AMER­I­CAN GI­ANT

Ba­yard Winthrop was look­ing for an exit strat­egy when he ditched his life as an in­vest­ment banker in New York City and moved to San Fran­cisco, where he soon found him­self run­ning busi­nesses in the con­sumer prod­uct space. But he was still un­ful­filled.

He saw con­sumer wardrobes chang­ing and the line be­tween work and ca­sual ap­parel con­tin­u­ing to blur. With large and im­por­tant Amer­i­can brands los­ing their foot­ing, and with the rise of the di­rectto- con­sumer model, Winthrop spied an open­ing.

So in 2012, he cre­ated a hooded men’s sweat­shirt, made in Amer­ica, and launched Amer­i­can Gi­ant. To­day the com­pany sells a full col­lec­tion of men’s and women’s ca­sual ba­sics, all made in the U.S., at af­ford­able prices. Pre­mium T-shirts are $36.50, full-zip hood­ies are $89, five-pocket can­vas work pants are $125 and a coach’s jacket is $99.

Winthrop be­lieves Amer­i­can Gi­ant con­nects with con­sumers be­cause it “looks and feels dif­fer­ent. The mas­sive brands have lost their at­ten­tion to cus­tomers and cul­ture. We don’t have ven­ture cap­i­tal money, we don’t spend on mar­ket­ing — we’re a very old-school brand in a mod­ern time.”

AMER­I­CAN TRENCH

Jacob Hur­witz was in Lon­don with his wife in 2009 and stum­bled across an ar­cade where a guy was sell­ing Aquas­cu­tum rain­coats out of boxes. He bought one and be­gan pon­der­ing why there were no Amer­i­can man­u­fac­tur­ers of rain­coats. He vowed then and there to change that.

So al­though they had no back­ground in ap­parel, Hur­witz and his buddy David Neill turned to Kick­starter in 2013 to raise the $15,000 they were seek­ing to pro­duce an Amer­i­can-made trench­coat.

Al­though their ini­tial idea was to pro­duce the coat in their home­town of Philadel­phia, they weren’t able to find the right fa­cil­ity, so they went to New Jersey, where their trade­mark trench is now made “by an Argentine fam­ily with deep Ital­ian roots.” The fac­tory makes the coats from water­proof Ven­tile fab­ric, made from cot­ton that is grown and spun in the United States and sent to Switzer­land to be woven into fab­ric. The coat has a plaid cot­ton lin­ing from North Carolina, and a wool warmer woven in Con­necti­cut. They sell for $849.

The has ex­panded into other out­er­wear pieces, in­clud­ing bombers, field jack­ets and pea coats as well as socks knit in Iowa and knit cash­mere hats made in Texas.

Amer­i­can Trench has also col­lab­o­rated with what Hur­witz said are “like-minded” brands to of­fer com­ple­men­tary prod­ucts to ser­vice their cus­tomers. That in­cludes Cor­ri­dor for shirts and shorts, Goodlife for T-shirts, Shockoe Ate­lier for sel­vage jeans, Low­er­case for sun­glasses and Ran­court for sneak­ers.

Al­though a key talk­ing point for the brand is that it’s made in the USA, Hur­witz knows that’s not enough. “Bad prod­uct made in Amer­ica is just bad prod­uct,” he said. “We know it has to be great. We have a very prag­matic ap­proach: nei­ther David nor I went to fash­ion school, so we didn’t set out to change the aes­thetic. We wanted to cre­ate a con­tem­po­rary, slim­mer, more mod­ern fit that looked clas­sic and won’t go out of style.”

BUCK MA­SON

“Only the es­sen­tials — clean, straight­for­ward ba­sics that stand the test of time.” With that as its mis­sion, Buck Ma­son has built an om­nichan­nel op­tion for guys seek­ing high-qual­ity shirts and pants that are com­fort­able and clas­sic.

Sasha Koehn and Erik Allen were neigh­bors in Venice Beach, Calif., whose back­grounds were markedly dif­fer­ent. Koehn was in the dig­i­tal ad­ver­tis­ing space, while Allen was toil­ing away at ap­parel com­pa­nies in­clud­ing Lucky Brand and the Jean Shop.

“I came up with an idea about rein­ven­tion,” Allen said. In­stead of the fickle world of high fash­ion, he be­lieved there was an op­por­tu­nity to “sim­plify time­less iconic clas­sics at an af­ford­able price.”

He got Koehn on board and they in­vested $4,000 each to cre­ate T-shirts un­der the Buck Ma­son name in 2013. Koehn built the web­site and Allen worked with a lo­cal fam­ily fac­tory in Los An­ge­les to cre­ate small-batch pro­duc­tion runs that com­bined old-school man­u­fac­tur­ing with mod­ern tech­nol­ogy.

Their big break came when the brand was fea­tured in The Wall Street Jour­nal in early 2014. “We’d been do­ing about $200 to $500 a day in sales,” Allen re­called. “We woke up that morn­ing and had or­ders for 4,500 units. That was the be­gin­ning.”

From there, Buck Ma­son branched out into indigo five-pocket jeans, a prod­uct that, like its T-shirts, was sea­son­less. “We be­came prod­uct builders, not de­sign­ers,” Allen said. “We don’t care about the fash­ion cal­en­dar.”

To­day the brand adds about five to eight prod­ucts every year and its of­fer­ing ranges from the $30 tri-blend curved hem T-shirts and $105 denim but­ton-down shirt to a raglan sweat­shirt for $82, twill trousers for $135 and stan­dard jeans for $175. The most re­cent ad­di­tion is swimwear, which re­tails for $65.

Al­though e-com­merce still rep­re­sents nearly 80 per­cent of sales, brick-and-mor­tar is an im­por­tant part of the equa­tion.

Since the be­gin­ning, the com­pany had op­er­ated a shop in a 350-square-foot garage off Ab­bot Kin­ney Boule­vard in Los An­ge­les. It will have seven stores by the end of the year, in­clud­ing Sil­ver Lake in L.A., TriBeCa in New York, Chicago and San Fran­cisco. It also has a con­verted school bus called The Open Road that trav­els around the coun­try; it’ll be in Nashville this sum­mer. “We love retail,” Allen said.

Look­ing ahead, the brand hopes to con­tinue “sym­bi­ot­i­cally growing on­line and retail,” Allen said, which Koehn said is now “com­pletely seam­less.”

“What we do is sim­ple and honed,” Allen added. “Men don’t want their clothes to change. So we do a few things very well and it helps us com­pete against the big guys.”

COR­RI­DOR

The Feds don’t dress es­pe­cially well and Dan Snyder would know. The founder of Cor­ri­dor started his career work­ing as an in­de­pen­dent con­trac­tor for the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion, but hated the way his suit fit. So he bor­rowed his aunt’s vin­tage Ken­more sewing ma­chine and taught him­self how to sew.

He be­gan de­sign­ing in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., cre­ated his first pat­tern in Bos­ton and started the busi­ness out of his sixfloor walk-up in New York’s East Vil­lage five years ago.

Snyder de­scribes his aes­thetic as “new Amer­i­can sportswear. It has a city sen­si­bil­ity blended with North­east­ern prep. It’s

ac­ces­si­ble and fa­mil­iar, but with a slightly for­ward lean in sil­hou­ette and pat­terns.”

Snyder started his busi­ness with one rack of shirts, but it has ex­panded to a life­style col­lec­tion that is car­ried in some 90 stores in 16 coun­tries. He also op­er­ates his own Cor­ri­dor store on Mott Street in NoLIta in Man­hat­tan, where he show­cases the shirts along with jack­ets, pants, shorts, ac­ces­sories and a small as­sort­ment of women’s wear.

Short- and long-sleeved sport shirts re­main the back­bone of the busi­ness and Snyder of­fers them in a range of unique fab­rics and pat­terns. Most retail for around $148 to $225 and are de­signed to fit the “Amer­i­can body type,” Snyder said. “They look sharp but are in­ter­est­ing — they’re not just an­other ging­ham shirt.” The sil­hou­ette is ta­pered with a broad shoul­der and a ta­pered waist and the shirts fea­ture a trio of pan­els on the back, which has be­come Cor­ri­dor’s sig­na­ture. “It was de­rived from old sewing pat­terns and has been on every shirt since the be­gin­ning,” he said.

In ad­di­tion, there are chi­nos, jack­ets and un­struc­tured suits that are half-lined with a nat­u­ral shoul­der. New this sea­son is a gar­ment-dyed re­sortwear line, Sun­shine Blues; a col­or­ful as­sort­ment of shirts; stretch cot­ton shorts, and pants, which all retail for less than $100.

“We strive to cre­ate cloth­ing that is taste­ful yet in­ter­est­ing, while still be­ing ac­ces­si­ble,” the web site says. “Our fo­cus is to of­fer the best value us­ing the finest ma­te­ri­als, and the gar­ments re­flect our core prin­ci­ples: fit, qual­ity and char­ac­ter.”

A sim­ple strat­egy, but one that is work­ing. The NoLita store has done “re­ally well” since open­ing this spring and as a re­sult, Snyder is look­ing to ex­pand his retail foot­print next year — pos­si­bly to the Hamp­tons — as cus­tomers con­tinue to discover his brand.

“No one needs an­other shirt, but if you make beau­ti­ful things, they’ll buy them,” he said. “Then you have to fig­ure out how to make it and sell it. Fash­ion is a blend of art and com­merce and if you don’t have the com­merce part fig­ured out, it’s just an ex­pen­sive hobby.”

EVER­LANE

The back­story is the stuff of leg­end. When Ever­lane launched its brand with a T-shirt in 2010 in San Fran­cisco, there was a wait­ing list of 70,000. And the brand re­peated that feat in 2017 when it launched denim and had a wait­ing list of about 50,000.

Founder and ceo Michael Preysman be­lieves the brand has been suc­cess­ful be­cause it has mastered the art of “sto­ry­telling” on its web site.

As he said dur­ing an in­ter­view last year: “On­line you can do things that are very dif­fer­ent than in a phys­i­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion. Since the early days, I guess you could say we used vi­ral mech­a­nisms to get peo­ple to tell their friends and tell the [brand] story. Now we do the same thing; we just do it very dif­fer­ently.”

In the be­gin­ning, Ever­lane re­lied mainly on cus­tomer re­fer­rals, but to­day it uses so­cial me­dia plat­forms such as In­sta­gram, where it has around 500,000 fol­low­ers hooked on its mis­sion of pro­vid­ing “ex­cep­tional qual­ity, eth­i­cal fac­to­ries, rad­i­cal trans­parency.”

Its web site boasts that it part­ners with the “best, eth­i­cal fac­to­ries around the world,” sources “only the finest ma­te­ri­als,” and shares its sto­ries with its cus­tomers, “down to the true cost of every prod­uct we make.”

That prod­uct of­fer­ing still cen­ters around that $22 to $25 T-shirt, along with the $68 denim, short and long-sleeved

“In men’s wear, we don’t get too fancy to be­gin with, but these brands are sim­ple and in good taste [and speak to to­day’s] re­laxed at­ti­tude. [On Un­tuckit as an ex­am­ple] It’s not ba­sics, but it’s not

fancy ei­ther. But then, nei­ther are most men.”

— MATT RUBEL, PJ SOLOMON

but­ton­downs, sweaters, sweat­shirts and hood­ies, chi­nos, five-pock­ets and swimwear, some out­er­wear and un­der­wear for men.

“We don’t have a mas­sive life­style com­po­nent to our brand be­cause it’s not about how you live, it’s about why you live,” ac­cord­ing to Preysman.

Ever­lane has a re­ported vol­ume of $250 mil­lion and the brand has raised $18 mil­lion in fund­ing from a va­ri­ety of ven­ture cap­i­tal funds. The brand now of­fers a full as­sort­ment of women’s wear, shoes and ac­ces­sories, too.

In the be­gin­ning, Preysman said he’d shut the com­pany down be­fore open­ing a brick-and-mor­tar lo­ca­tion, but he changed his tune. The com­pany’s first per­ma­nent store opened on Prince Street in New York’s SoHo at the end of last year and it also has a unit in San Fran­cisco.

A store, he said, al­lows Ever­lane to con­nect with cus­tomers “in this ADD world” while shar­ing the “val­ues of the brand.”

But whether it’s con­nect­ing via its store site or through e-com­merce, the mes­sage will re­main the same.

As Preysman has said: “Busi­nesses have to push the world for­ward be­cause, in to­day’s day and age, gov­ern­ment does some of it but not a lot of it. Busi­nesses are the ones pol­lut­ing, so busi­nesses have to lead. The eas­i­est change agent is busi­ness and so we do [what we do] as a way to ed­u­cate cus­tomers and as a way to change and do things bet­ter. If that means we won’t be a $10 bil­lion busi­ness, that’s fine with us.”

GOODLIFE

Chris Mol­nar was no stranger to the ap­parel busi­ness when he started Goodlife Cloth­ing in 2014, hav­ing worked for Michael Kors, John Var­vatos and WP La­vori in Corso over the course of his 15-year career in fash­ion.

And the in­dus­try was in his blood — his fa­ther was a Hun­gar­ian im­mi­grant who launched Hugo Boss in North Amer­ica.

While he could have con­tin­ued work­ing for other brands, Mol­nar de­cided he wanted to make his own mark. So he left his full-time job at Kors in 2013 to cre­ate a pre­mium es­sen­tials brand that blends nos­tal­gia and moder­nity and con­sists of “wardrobe sta­ples and time­less prod­ucts that is for­ever young, ir­rev­er­ent, but still so­phis­ti­cated, of­fer­ing the very best in fit and qual­ity,” ac­cord­ing to the brand’s mis­sion state­ment.

When he was work­ing for the de­signer brands, Mol­nar re­al­ized that what he was sell­ing wasn’t of in­ter­est to 95 per­cent of con­sumers. “They’re less in­ter­ested in sea­sonal trends and want time­less prod­uct — things they can wear for­ever,” he said.

Goodlife is cen­tered on knits: T-shirts, Hen­leys and sweats with a smat­ter­ing of ac­ces­sories. For hol­i­day, sweaters made from baby al­paca from Peru will be added, and a cardi­gan blazer was of­fered for spring. Swimwear is a new clas­si­fi­ca­tion for Goodlife, which is made pri­mar­ily in Los An­ge­les.

“Ev­ery­thing we do is a prod­uct with a pur­pose,” Mol­nar said. “We don’t be­lieve in giv­ing too many op­tions. It hurts sal­a­bil­ity and prof­itabil­ity.”

Un­like a lot of his ba­sics brethren, Goodlife’s pri­mary dis­tri­bu­tion is whole­sale, with Nord­strom its big­gest cus­tomer. Mol­nar said a five-store test at the Seat­tle re­tailer is be­ing rolled out to all stores this fall and the brand is key to the com­pany’s core re­plen­ish­ment knit pro­gram.

“It’s cool enough for the fash­ion cus­tomer, but not in­tim­i­dat­ing to the reg­u­lar guy,” Mol­nar said.

Be­cause Mol­nar’s back­ground was in whole­sale, it made sense to start the brand with whole­sale dis­tri­bu­tion. Around 30 per­cent of sales come from the com­pany’s e-com­merce site but Mol­nar said the goal is to in­crease that to at least 50 per­cent or higher by 2019.

In ad­di­tion, Goodlife has col­lab­o­rated with a num­ber of dif­fer­ent part­ners, in­clud­ing pho­tog­ra­pher Ben Watts on T-shirts and sweat­shirts; Blade, the he­li­copter flight to the Hamp­tons, on a lim­ited-edi­tion terry hoodie for big spenders; Surf Lodge on a hoodie and terry pro­gram, and 3x1 for T-shirts and lim­ited-edi­tion jeans.

Be­cause Goodlife is a pre­mium priced brand — T-shirts are $60, Hen­leys are $98 and a terry beach short is $125 — he knows he can’t ap­peal to every­one. “We’re not try­ing to take over the world,” he said, “we’re more as­pi­ra­tional.”

FAHERTY

Growing up, twin brothers Mike and Alex Faherty en­joyed surf­ing and fash­ion and vowed that one day they’d find a way to com­bine the two.

So af­ter mov­ing to New York af­ter col­lege, Mike took a job with Ralph Lau­ren, while Alex cut his teeth in the fi­nance field. But they never let go of their child­hood pas­sion and in 2012, they took the plunge.

Mike made the first move, quit­ting Ralph Lau­ren to travel the world search­ing for prints and tex­tiles to cre­ate the first col­lec­tion. Alex fol­lowed the next year, and to­gether they gave birth to the Faherty brand.

To­day the busi­ness boasts seven stores — the most re­cent just opened in Sag Harbor, N.Y. — as well as a healthy whole­sale busi­ness.

Alex be­lieves Faherty has been suc­cess­ful be­cause of its “su­per ar­ti­sanal and creative ap­proach to mak­ing cloth­ing.” Thanks to “Mike’s creative vi­sion,” he said, the com­pany cus­tom de­signs all its fab­rics and pat­terns to of­fer “easy, ca­sual cloth­ing” based on a “beach life­style.”

In men’s, 30 per­cent of the busi­ness is wo­vens, 25 per­cent knits, 25 per­cent bot­toms and the re­main­der is out­er­wear. Its shirt pat­terns range from washed ging­hams and plaids to oxford solids and Hawai­ian prints that retail for around $148 to $168. Khakis, twills and jeans are of­fered ($148 to $198), shorts are $78 to $138 and swimwear av­er­ages $128. There are also pon­chos for $188 and rugged jack­ets in the same price range. Women’s and chil­dren’s wear and col­or­ful blan­kets are part of the mix.

“Tops are the ma­jor­ity of our busi­ness,” Alex said, “be­cause guys have 10 but­ton-down shirts to one pant — that’s how they di­ver­sify their wardrobe.”

Over the years, he said, ca­su­al­wear has been equated with low qual­ity, but Faherty’s as­sort­ment comes with a life­time guar­an­tee. “The way Fil­son thinks about its bags, we think about our shirts,” he said.

“They’re some­thing guys want to wear on the week­end when they’re out­side and out of their work at­tire.”

He said Faherty’s “beachy, va­ca­tion” vibe has been es­pe­cially ap­peal­ing to guys in New York City and proves that the min­i­mal­is­tic, all-black wardrobe that has be­come de rigueur in the city has an al­ter ego.

The com­pany’s own retail — its two stores in New York and one each in Mal­ibu, Bos­ton and Nan­tucket — com­bined with e-com­merce, ac­counts for 65 per­cent of sales. This sum­mer, Faherty is re­lo­cat­ing to a sig­nif­i­cantly larger store in SoHo and al­ways keeps an eye open for “in­ter­est­ing, fun mar­kets” where its line will res­onate. “There are a lot of Sag Har­bors in the U.S.,” Alex said.

FRANK AND OAK

The story starts in what co­founder Ethan Song de­scribes as “a broom closet” in Mon­treal in 2012. It was there that Song and his child­hood friend Hicham Rat­nani de­signed a col­lec­tion of ba­sics — and a web­site — to help Mil­len­nial men dress bet­ter at an af­ford­able price.

The im­pe­tus for Song, who had stud­ied en­gi­neer­ing and was work­ing at Deloitte at the time, was that he had a hard time find­ing clothes he liked and that spoke to him and his gen­er­a­tion.

“We weren’t fo­cused on fash­ion trends,” he said.

Nei­ther, ap­par­ently, were its cus­tomers. By 2017, the com­pany had sold nearly 80,000 oxford shirts, jumped into the women’s busi­ness and at­tracted three rounds of in­vest­ment cap­i­tal.

Its prod­uct of­fer­ing to­day in­cludes T-shirts, short- and long-sleeved but­ton-down shirts, sweaters, sweat­shirts, jeans, un­der­wear and even suits and blaz­ers.

“Our cus­tomer is the creative, pro­fes­sional Mil­len­nial who works in tech­nol­ogy or mar­ket­ing,” Song said. “We do very well in New York and Sil­i­con Val­ley.” And while tai­lored cloth­ing is of­fered, it’s the “cool ca­sual” mer­chan­dise that de­fines the busi­ness.

And it’s at­tracted the at­ten­tion of a num­ber of ven­ture cap­i­tal in­vestors in the U.S. and Canada. In Fe­bru­ary, a Se­ries C round of fi­nanc­ing led by Caisse de dépôt et place­ment du Québec added $16 mil­lion to Frank and Oak’s cof­fers. The funds were ear­marked to “ac­cel­er­ate devel­op­ment of its dig­i­tal ex­pe­ri­ence and sup­port its growth on­line in North Amer­ica and other parts of the world,” the com­pany said at the time.

This in­cludes ex­pand­ing its new Style Plan monthly sub­scrip­tion pro­gram, Song said. “Men like the work to be done for them,” he said. “They don’t want to go to the mall and do the leg­work.”

While the busi­ness is still pri­mar­ily e-com­merce, Frank and Oak has 18 lo­ca­tions around Canada and has also dab­bled in pop-ups in the U.S. “We like to link the ex­pe­ri­ence of on­line and off-line,” Song said. With the ad­di­tional fi­nanc­ing, he hopes to soon ex­pand into per­ma­nent retail in Amer­ica as well.

“Our core fo­cus is to con­tinue to build ex­pe­ri­ences [such as Style Plan] and add more in­no­va­tive ma­te­ri­als and fab­rics in our prod­ucts,” Song said.

Be­cause the styles are clas­sics, Song wants Frank and Oak’s of­fer­ing to be dis­tinct by the use of its so­cially con­scious ma­te­ri­als. Us­ing re­cy­cled polyester and or­ganic fibers along with wa­ter-ef­fi­cient denim is part of the equa­tion, along with in­vest­ing back some of its pro­ceeds to hu­man rights or­ga­ni­za­tions and other char­i­ties — causes that con­nect with its tar­get cus­tomer.

HUCK­BERRY

“Boot­strapped, prof­itable and proud” — that’s the head­line on Huck­berry’s story.

But af­ter seven years, the brand founded by Andy Forch and Richard Greiner has cre­ated a bustling com­mu­nity and at­tracted some out­side cap­i­tal to al­low them to “take the Huck­berry ex­pe­ri­ence to the next level. So while we’re no longer tech­ni­cally boot­strapped, we’re still in­de­pen­dent, prof­itable and proud.”

The bud­dies were just 25 when they de­cided to ditch their cor­po­rate jobs and cre­ate a busi­ness that “spoke di­rectly to us” — guys who worked in the city but lived for the out­doors. They in­vested $10,000 each to cre­ate Huck­berry.

“We chose the name Huck­berry be­cause we both loved Mark Twain’s ‘Ad­ven­tures of Huck­le­berry Finn’ and thought Huck­berry was the per­fect totem for the spirit of ad­ven­ture we wanted our brand to em­body. More prac­ti­cally speak­ing, Huck­berry.com was avail­able on GoDaddy for $9.98 and Huck­le­berry. com was not,” Greiner said.

That sense of hu­mor has be­come a hall­mark of the brand, which plunged into the open mar­ket and bought men’s ca­sual wear that spoke to their mis­sion: Gray­ers, Tay­lor Stitch and Roark Re­vival shirts, pants from Adam Mar and Fin­is­terre, jeans from Raleigh Denim and Rev­town and ac­tivewear from Myles and Vuori.

It also has its own brand, Flint & Tin­der, which ac­counts for some 25 per­cent of sales, Greiner said. “We have over seven years of cus­tomer data and we take that in­for­ma­tion and see where there are mer­chan­dis­ing holes and op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Ap­parel and footwear ac­count for 50 per­cent of sales, and the re­main­der is “ev­ery­day carry,” which is ac­ces­sories and gear such as pocket knives, pens and au­dio equip­ment. There is also a home com­po­nent.

Greiner said Huck­berry’s strong­est as­set as a com­pany, how­ever, is the e-mails that it sends to over one mil­lion cus­tomers every Tues­day, Thurs­day and Sun­day. “It’s a cross be­tween a magazine and a news­pa­per,” he said. “There are 50 hours of work in each edi­tion. And we use that as our main chan­nel to reach our cus­tomers.”

For ex­am­ple, an e-mail right be­fore Me­mo­rial Day week­end speaks about

“our buddy,” a Green Beret who founded Goruck back­packs and other bags. Oth­ers have dis­cussed the “for­got­ten Eight­ies lawn game” of spike­ball and sock-free

leather slip- ons. “We’re very sto­ry­telling-driven,” Greiner said.

The com­pany is also pro­duc­ing four print cat­a­logues this year that will be mailed to be­tween 500,000 and 750,000 peo­ple.

Huck­berry is still head­quar­tered in San Fran­cisco, but will be mov­ing into a new, larger head­quar­ters this sum­mer, at which point it will open its first retail store there. “We’ll be dip­ping our toes into brick-and­mor­tar,” he said, adding that the com­pany is also seek­ing a semi-per­ma­nent shop in New York City for the fall and hol­i­day sea­son. Other plans for the fu­ture in­clude “be­ing more ag­gres­sive in cus­tomer ac­qui­si­tion and work­ing more on our own mer­chan­dise,” Greiner said.

Nei­ther he nor Forch had any retail ex­pe­ri­ence when they started Huck­berry, which Greiner said has been “in some ways a bless­ing. Fash­ion retail some­times gets snobby and not real, but we talk up to you, not down.”

SAVE KHAKI UNITED

David Mullen had been toil­ing in fash­ion for a while be­fore launch­ing Save Khaki United 12 years ago. He had cre­ated his own brands that were sold at bet­ter retail stores and also con­sulted with Mil­lard “Mickey” Drexler when he headed J. Crew.

But he felt he had some­thing to add to the ca­sual men’s wear mar­ket and cre­ated a pant that was “bro­ken in and washed down with a con­tem­po­rary fit,” he said. “Prior to that, all the pants were fuller and I thought that’s what was miss­ing.”

That pant has grown into a full col­lec­tion of what Mullen calls “pur­pose­ful ba­sics — we don’t pay at­ten­tion to trends.”

As the web­site de­scribes it: “Save Khaki United, a life­style brand of con­tem­po­rary Amer­i­can sportswear em­pha­siz­ing com­fort and fit. S.K.U. prod­ucts are ev­ery­day es­sen­tials: noth­ing is added with­out pur­pose. The re­sult is an aes­thetic that is minimalist at heart. Care­fully se­lected fab­rics are washed and dyed for bro­ken-in com­fort. Un­der­stated and eas­ily worn.”

Ev­ery­thing is made in Amer­ica and the Supima cot­ton used is ac­tu­ally grown in the U.S. as well. Man­u­fac­tur­ing is done out of the com­pany’s fac­tory in Los An­ge­les.

In ad­di­tion to the trade­mark pants, which retail for $120, there are also shorts, T-shirts, loungewear, sweats, fleece and light­weight out­er­wear. “We sell a lot of chi­nos, chino shorts and drawstring pants,” Mullen said. And al­though there is a sec­tion de­voted to women, the mer­chan­dise is ac­tu­ally men’s wear styled on women, he said.

Save Khaki op­er­ates three of its own retail stores: two in New York and one in Venice in Cal­i­for­nia and whole­sales to bet­ter stores such as Bergdorf Good­man, Union­made and Stag in the U.S. and Merci in Paris, End in the U.K. and Jour­nal Stan­dard in Tokyo.

Long term, Mullen said he’d ul­ti­mately like to tran­si­tion to more of a direct-to­con­sumer model as the whole­sale game “be­comes harder and harder. But we like work­ing with kin­dred spir­its.”

So he’d like to cre­ate some sort of con­cept that falls be­tween tra­di­tional retail and whole­sale, “like ex­clu­sive shop-in-shops with ex­clu­sive con­tent,” he said. “That’s where we’re head­ing.”

SHI­NOLA

As one of the founders of Fos­sil Group, Tom Kart­so­tis had noth­ing to prove when he set out to cre­ate a new watch brand that would be man­u­fac­tured in the eco­nom­i­cally strapped city of Detroit. Through his ven­ture cap­i­tal firm, Bedrock Man­u­fac­tur­ing, Kart­so­tis had pur­chased the Shi­nola name — it had been a shoe pol­ish brand founded in 1877 — and came up with the idea to use it on watches in 2011.

By the next year, the com­pany had ac­quired a fac­tory in Detroit and set out on its mis­sion to train a work­force in the city to be­come mas­ter watch ar­ti­sans. The first watches were sold in 2013.

In ad­di­tion to watches, which re­main the core of the busi­ness, Shi­nola pro­duces leather goods, bi­cy­cles and jew­elry. It also op­er­ates 30 stores and will open a cou­ple more this year, in­clud­ing one in the Shi­nola Detroit ho­tel that is open­ing this fall, as well as in Cleve­land. “We may add a few here or there, but we think that’s a good scale for us,” said Tom Le­wand, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, said. “We also have a nice healthy e-com­merce busi­ness and a whole­sale foot­print.”

It has also of­fered up unique col­lab­o­ra­tions un­der its Great Amer­i­cans Se­ries that cel­e­brates Amer­ica’s his­tory of in­no­va­tion and in­dus­try. It has part­nered with the Wright brothers, Jackie Robin­son, Muhammad Ali and Maya An­gelou for lim­ited- edi­tion prod­uct and the next one will be cen­tered around the Statue of Lib­erty through a part­ner­ship with the El­lis Is­land Foun­da­tion. “It helps us tell a story,” he said.

De­spite the pop­u­lar­ity of the brand, Le­wand is tak­ing a cau­tious ap­proach to growth. “We don’t want to be so big that we can no longer be nim­ble and adapt to how the con­sumer shops or get prod­uct to mar­ket quickly,” he said. “We’ve got­ten into a lot of cat­e­gories quickly so we’re work­ing to grow those cat­e­gories and in­tro­duce peo­ple to the brand in mar­kets where we’re new. There’s still a lot of run­way for us to grow.”

UN­TUCKIT

Aaron Sanan­dres and Chris Ric­cobono are prob­lem solvers. The busi­ness school bud­dies couldn’t find a ca­sual shirt that looked right un­tucked, so they set out to cre­ate one.

To­day, the busi­ness they founded in 2011 with $150,000 in fund­ing from fam­ily and friends has grown into a multi-faceted men’s brand with 20 stores around the coun­try.

The plan is even more ag­gres­sive for this year, when Un­tuckit plans to more than dou­ble that count to 45 by the end of 2018. Un­tuckit has also at­tracted the at­ten­tion of Cal­i­for­nia ven­ture cap­i­tal firm Kleiner Perkins, which in­vested $30 mil­lion last year to fund the com­pany’s growth.

While shirts re­main the back­bone — ac­count­ing for around 75 per­cent of sales — the com­pany has ex­panded into po­los, sweaters, sweat­shirts, shorts, pants and even sport coats as well as women’s wear, chil­dren’s wear and shoes.

Their tar­get cus­tomer for the shirts, which retail from $78 to $99, are men aged 30 to 65, as well as their kids and sig­nif­i­cant oth­ers.

From Day One, Ric­cobono said, the com­pany was prof­itable as its mes­sage hit home. As Sanan­dres said: “Guys have their own per­sonal chal­lenges and per­ceived lim­i­ta­tions when it comes to find­ing a great-fit­ting shirt. We wanted to make sure guys know we have a so­lu­tion.”

A look from Amer­i­can Trench.

Looks from Amer­i­canGi­ant.

Ever­lane says it is trans­par­ent with cus­tomers, down to the true cost of every prod­uct.

Buck Ma­son adds about five to eight prod­ucts a year to its as­sort­ment of T-shirts, but­ton down shirts and jeans.

Goodlife Cloth­ing spe­cial­izes in knits — T-shirts, Hen­leys and sweats as well as ac­ces­sories.

Cor­ri­dor de­signs shirts with broad shoul­ders and ta­pered waists.

A look from Frank and Oak.

Faherty’s shirt pat­ternsrange from washed ging­ham and plaids toHawai­ian mo­tifs.

A look from SaveKhaki United.

A look from Huck­berry.

A look from Shi­nola.

A look fromUn­tuckit.

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