Shop Class – Old North Clothing

Old North

While interviewing people around the nation for all of our various columns, we have learned many things, but one that stands out is that people are looking less and less to the rent crazed, stress obsessed and congested big cities of New York and Los Angeles to start their businesses.

Take Jack Roche, co owner of Old North Clothing for example. Originally from Oregon, Roche worked in Silicon Valley during the tech boom and ended up in Los Angeles. After 20 years he had had it with the hustle. “ I moved to chase the American Dream, to do my own thing and work with cool people,” he told us.

Jack’s wife went to school in Asheville, North Carolina and when he was driving through 10 years ago they connected and have been together ever since. As he explained to us, “We fell in love with this town. We both come from a history of clothes and marketing and are so happy to be working with a bunch of great people here.”

Their store, Old North Clothing, opened in 2012 and has been one of the go-to men’s stores in the bustling little mountain town. Jack picks items from around the country that he thinks will work for Asheville. His wife, Wren Kelley, handles the money.

We spoke to Jack to learn more about how this all came to be.

Why Asheville?

It actually has a huge retail history. Since it was such a ‘Robber Baron’ centric retirement area (the Vanderbilts and others vacationed here) back in the 19th century, there used to be really large luxury boutiques based here like Bonne Marche from Paris. I think that is amazing. There is still a lot of old money here but it’s not a pompous town. Forestry started here, the first National Park is here and there is really a wonderful group of esoteric, free thinking people here.

Where do you find the brands for your store?

We go to the shows and we are grooming one of our sales people to be a buyer to help us out. I am pretty flush with most of these brands so I know the people at the factories and the brokers so it’s a great experience.

Who is your clientele?

The customer base is pretty broad. We are a very tourist based town so 60% is tourism and a lot of it is locals with whom we have great relationships. We are blessed with the people we have met here. 25-55 year olds and lots of famous musicians come through since this is a big music town. Lots of films are made here too so we get celebrities popping in as well.

What is the focus of the store?

Quality is number one for us. Next is sourcing so we try to find everything American. Sadly, American doesn’t always mean quality. There are a lot of crap companies, which have grown lax over the years, and we have to find the ones that are top notch. We buy from Japan and England too as long as the quality is there. We sell Whites boots and they have actually let me design my own boots to sell. We will be one of the first to sell a customized version. But we also like to have things for the college kids too. We keep it broad but tight, ‘an emporium of classic menswear’ is how we like to think of the store.

What has surprised you in your market?

Grooming has been interesting for us. East Coast towns seem to be more focused on grooming for some reason. We sell a healthy amount of pomades and waxes as well as skin cleansers. Our buyer comes from Barney’s Chicago so she knows what is up. I love collecting fragrances so I like to be a part of that buy. D.S. and Durga make very old- school scents and are based in Brooklyn. Oden does well for us too. It’s pricey but it’s an education to some guys.

What is next?

We have a jeans collaboration with Rail Car out now that is sold out!

Others include:

  • Whites boots dropping next month – two styles
  • Ebbets collab (Asheville 1968 tourists) ball cap launched this week
  • Hartford Denim Collab jeans coming next month
  • One of our speciality brands (Mile Marker) is finally in production and should arrive next month