If there’s one thing you can count on Sid Mashburn for, it’s service. Sure, you may have already heard about this Atlanta retailer’s legendary brand of hospitality and well-curated goods, but what you probably haven’t heard about is its founder’s nearly unrivalled sense of fit, American style, and retail psychology that elevate the in-store experience. Propelled by his love of clothing and design in his youth, Mashburn learned how to cut, sew, and sell not by going to school but by working at some of the most pioneering fashion houses in the country, including British Khaki, David Cameron, J.Crew, Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, and Lands’ End. By the time he left Lands’ End, Mashburn knew unequivocally that he wanted to create a vertical business and one with heart, so the unique business model of Sid Mashburn designs, curated goods, affordability, and generosity was born. Regarded as one of the finest menswear stores in the southeast to this day, the retailer opened a second location in late 2013 and now says it has plans to add a third, so we recently caught up with its founder to learn what’s changed and why 2015 is shaping up to his biggest year yet.
I think the first impression you get when you walk in the front door is you feel very welcomed, like you’re walking into someone’s home and there are people to take care of you. When somebody comes in they may need help, so we want to be able to get to people very quickly. We really amped up and ramped up the people perspective. Our tailoring has gotten much better. We’re doing more of our own products, particularly in tailored clothing, dress trousers, sport coats, suits, formalwear, and outerwear. I think the important part is when you walk in, you feel like you’re important. You should hear music, you should be offered a drink, you should be offered some space, so somebody’s not immediately going “What can I help you find?” We don’t want to do that. We want everyone to find their own way but, as soon as they need help, be right there, ready to help. Today we got roughly 10 guys plus some interns on the floor plus four to five tailors in the store, so you feel like there’s plenty of help in there to help you out.
We had a question about your appointment business. Why would we want one and what generally happens on an appointment?
The guy that makes an appointment is really someone who’s probably on a tight timeframe or someone who’s coming from outside the city. So we might have a guy from Cincinnati, from New York, from Los Angeles, from Nashville coming in, and they’re trying to plan their time while they’re here so they want to make sure that somebody is right there waiting for them when they get here. What we also do is try to get some information from them before they come—what are they interested in, what are they looking for, what’s their size, where are you shopping now, what do you wear?—just so we can have some context, because it’s super important for us to be ready to get to the point. It’s really about convenience and being sensitive to guys’ time.
Do you think that’s part of the reason why you’ve been voted time and time again one of the best stores in the country?
I think that helps, but listen, we don’t feel like we’re the best store in the America. One thing we really try to hire for is kindness—guy and girls who care for people, who really just want to take care of them and meet them where they are. Because when guys come in, we don’t want to say “Oh, you need this outfit.” We want to go, “What do you do? What’s your context? Who are you hanging out with? Who are you dressing for? What’s your job? What do you do after work? What do you do on the weekend?” Not to get into their personal lives, but to help them start to build a wardrobe and to think about their wardrobe in a way where they’re considerate of what they’re wearing.
The other piece we hire for is somebody with ambition of wanting to be very knowledgeable. We joke that if we can combine a guy who’s super kind with a guy who is or wants to be a subject-matter expert, we got the best of both worlds. I think the other thing we do really well is the price points. We really try to consider how do we get guys who don’t have a lot of dough to be able to shop in our stores. And we do that by offering Levi’s, Tretorns, Clarks desert boots—products that don’t break the bank. And for guys that don’t have a lot of dough but still like to be very stylish, we bespoke your Levi’s. So you come in and you go, “I don’t have a whole lot of money. I don’t love Levi’s, but I would if they fit properly.” So we say “No problem.” We put them back in the tailor shop, we pin the jeans, and then completely take the jeans apart and customize them for that customer for an extra $30. So for $95 you can walk out the door with a pair of bespoke Levi’s jeans.
Personally I’m dressing the way I’ve dressed since I started working at British Khaki. (Before that, there are some pictures I’d rather you not see!) But by that time I’d pretty much submitted what I like to wear and I always like pants with no breaks. I always like them a little slim. My style was basically based off guys from the 60s, from Dick Van Dyke to Sidney Poitier to Terence Stamp to Doug Hayward from Savile Row—natural shoulder, jacket a little close to the body, a little bit short, but never an extreme.
Tell us about some of the newest arrivals and highlights in the store for spring.
The store feels fresh literally every other day because we’re moving things around, we’re playing with things, and things may sell out, but right now probably the most exciting things are sport coats and our garment-dyed jeans. We did Levi’s in four new colors—baby blue, British khaki, stone, and sage. We like wearing those jeans with a sport coat, because it’s a way to add a little color to the bottom without feeling like “Oh, I got on my dressy sport trousers on” (because sometimes it gets a little stiff for us). There’s certainly a place for sport trousers (because we wear those too), but when a guy’s knocking around there’s something about putting on a pair of jeans that makes you feel easier. Coupling that with a sport coat is a real nice way to go. I wear sport coats all the time, and not just for look. It’s because it’s super functional.
Is the Houston store different from Atlanta?
A little bit, but not really. When you walk in there, it feels pretty much the same. It’s a beautiful store first of all and the guys that we have out there are fantastic. Not a lot of young guys have a whole lot of experience in pure, tailored clothing; we have one guy out there who’s got a lot of experience in that. The women’s side is beautiful too, and it’s a nice complement because there’s really just a threshold that separates the two. (When you walk from the women’s store into the men’s store, you definitely feel a difference in vibe.) But we also have some of the same furnishings—some midcentury modern pieces mixed with antiques, the ping-pong table, taxidermy. We tried to make it a little more germane to Houston and to the building we’re in, so for instance the building we’re in was built in 1947 and is almost a mix of where deco and midcentury come together. Even the inside cabinetry doesn’t really have molding on it. (It’s got more of a modern feel to it, but not a lot.) The flooring is the same (we got seagrass in both shops). The colors are roughly the same—we have black for our pictures in Atlanta, whereas in Houston they’re in grey. The other thing is when we go into a neighborhood we’re looking for adjacencies that aren’t your typical retail adjacencies. We don’t really care to be around other clothing companies; we want to be around lifestyle companies. So I like being next to a dry cleaner or a UPS store, but I also want to be next to a restaurant or bar or coffee shop, places where people are walking often.
Absolutely. We’re actually opening up in Washington in the next couple of months. We’re looking at space in the northeast. We’re looking all over the country. Part of it is we feel like with the retail experience we’ve been able to gain, the value proposition we have, the quality we have, and the fashion we have (we like to be current but not trendy), we feel like there’s an appeal to what we’re doing.
Do you have any predictions for where menswear is going in 2015?
Guys have gotten much more sophisticated in the way they dress. They’re very aware of what’s going on in the market, of construction, of make, fabrics, and I think you’re going to see that raise up a little bit. I think there’s going to be a bit more of an emphasis on tailoring, on being dressed up, and on being grown up. I don’t mean that pejoratively, but even if you do wear jeans and a flannel shirt and have a beard, you still have a special occasion around the corner—whether it’s a friend getting married or you getting married or your grandmother passing away. You have to be prepared for that. We’ve seen a lot of guys who start with just a pair of jeans, whether it’s Levi’s or A.P.C. Then ultimately in two years, three years, or five years, they need the suit. Our point is how do we give a guy a great suit for a great price that’s super high quality that he can wear in any setting.
For the trendsetter who has 24 hours in the city, what would you recommend doing and seeing?
When I get into the rental car I like to find out the local radio situation. There’s a fantastic radio station in Atlanta called 1690. It’s an AM station and they play everything. After that, I look at food, galleries, and music. Westside Market where we’re located has one of the best line-ups for food. From Taqueria Del Sol to JCT to Star Provisions and Bacchanalia, that is a hard group to beat. After that, one of my favorite places is Busy Bee, which is a soul food restaurant that’s kinda close to us. Music venues: the Variety Playhouse is fantastic. They’ll have a roll-up from Cee Lo to Janelle Monae to Leon Russell—it really covers the gamut. And then gallery-wise we have Jackson Fine Art, which is a fantastic photography gallery in town, and then of course the High Museum, which is a really nice local museum. For just really appreciating how pretty Atlanta is, I’d ride around. Atlanta is a great city to ride around because it’s arguably one of the prettiest inventories of residential real estate and architecture in the country. There are so many beautiful homes and the neighborhoods are pretty. After that: a walk around The BeltLine, which is a pretty new development here. One of the places it’s adjacent to is the Ponce City Market, which is a redevelopment of a two-million-square-foot structure on the east side of Atlanta that used to house Sears’s largest distribution center in the south. They’re turning that into mixed-used retail, office, and living. It’s very, very cool.
Sid Mashburn is located at 1198 Howell Mill Road in Atlanta and at 2515 River Oaks Boulevard in Houston.
Credits: portrait by Ali Harper; all pics courtesy of Sid Mashburn.
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