Arkansas Based Strong Suit Proves Tailoring Doesn’t Have to be a New York Thing
“I think what is happening with suits is akin to what happened with denim. It went from being a commodity to being real fashion. Guys are buying suits now because they want to wear them.”
This quote struck us as really capturing the zeitgeist of menswear today. The man who uttered these words is Southerner Jamie Davidson, who has been in the fashion world for some time but just recently launched a brand he is very proud of, Strong Suit. The brand is filling a niche for affordable yet well tailored suits. Sure, you can buy one from J. Crew but why not stand out a little? That is where Jamie comes in. His suits and blazers are created with good looking solids and patterns with handsome linings that will make you feel and look like the fine, successful gent you are (or at least help manifest this to be!).
We sat down with Davidson to hear more about Strong Suit, his background and what’s next.
Why are you based in Arkansas?
I am from Arkansas. I really love it here. Like you, I have the opportunity to travel a lot. My friends in big cities usually have some quiet getaway. I just made the decision a long time ago that I would live at the quiet getaway and travel for work. I live ten minutes from my office in my grandparents’ old home. It’s really beautiful here and there are lots of good restaurants.
How is the suit business in Little Rock?
We actually do have local guys coming in to the studio although I expect that we will have a store front in the very near future. I am deciding whether we should be somewhere more established for retail or be pioneers in an up and coming part of town. I am leaning toward being a pioneer. Mainly because the building we are looking at is an old fire station and they still have the pole.
How did you get your start?
My background is that I started working in a local men’s store here called Mr. Wicks in 1993. When I turned 30 ( I’m 42 now) I launched my first label called Normandy & Monroe. It took off very quickly. We sold the best specialty stores in the country which is where I established most of my relationships. I started doing women’s in our third year and Joan Kaner of Neiman Marcus discovered us and put us in the front of The Book for Christmas. Around that time our factory in Oneonta lost their biggest client (Burberry) and at the same time Scalamandre ( who we bought our women’s fabrics from) went under. So we were stuck. It was then that I started Tre Vero. I needed global sourcing and for that you need quantity. We formed a partnership with Dillard’s and today Tre Vero, which is very casual, is in 116 retail doors.
So how did Strong Suit come about?
For the last several years I have really wanted to get back into the specialty store business. I want to sell things to people who are passionate about them and not just punching a clock. I have always really loved tailored clothing. I am one of those people who’s more comfortable in a suit than jeans. Always have been. Almost by accident, I found this great little factory in Mexico that was making a really exceptional garment with a canvas front. They were a craftsman level factory that really understood construction and fit. I am not claiming that our suit is Brioni. But I promise that there is not a suit out there under $1200 that can match our quality, especially at $595.
I feel very, very strongly that the specialty stores that I am selling need what we are doing. Firstly because I think J. Crew and Suitsupply have shown that the younger tailored buyer is the most dynamic in the market place but there is a price point where certain brands become inaccessible. I think what is happening with suits is akin to what happened with denim. It went from being a commodity to being real fashion. Guys are buying suits now because they want to wear them. Not because they have to. These stores need a way to capture that customer.
Tell us more about your brand?
Our focus is in continuing to provide a really beautiful garment that features a canvas front and lots of details and a sophisticated fit for under $600. We want to be there for the guy who is building his wardrobe as well as the guy who is exploring. We believe that fashion is in the details and that subtlety is key. We don’t want our customers to feel like they are wearing a costume.
What is up for 2014?
For spring we have a really great wool and linen suit that can also be paired with jeans as well as a modern take on seersucker with a wool/cotton blend. Our development going forward includes new unconstructed models and an ever more natural shoulder.
Of course being southern I love the traditional linen and seersucker but I wanted to execute something sophisticated from the fabrics to the silhouette and details. Also something that could be paired with jeans.
For fall ’14 we are introducing our shirt collection, wool and cashmere fitted top coats with a heathered fabric from Loro Piana, really beautiful. We are also introducing our cashmere neckwear collection handmade in Italy.
What is the main goal of Strong Suit?
Our main goal is to continue to make beautiful things in craftsman level factories and find the right retail partners.
What is next?
We are adding shirts, ties, and outerwear for fall ’14. Again I am looking for small factories with lots of skill that don’t have major distribution. Our shirts are made in Istanbul (at a factory that also makes Eton) and retail for $135. Our neckwear is all handmade in Italy