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Rothmans, NYC’s fashion staple, wants to find the next wave of designers, customers

Meet the brains behind a NYC staple

Rothmans NYC Street

The New York City fashion scene is one of the most prominent in the world. The hubs around the world that have become safe havens for sartorial creators, designers, and lovers of every thread known to man are topped by England, Italy, and the Big Apple itself. With such a huge industry and every clothing brand under the sun looking to make its mark in Manhattan, it is rare to find one that made its name and then kept it for a century. Enter Rothmans. Founded on Bleeker Street in 1926, this family-owned retail store became one of the largest in the country without ever leaving the five boroughs. Today, it is run by Ken Giddon, grandson of the original Harry Rothman. We got the chance to sit down with him and his son, Will, the next generation, to discuss who they are and how they continue the legacy of one of NYC’s most iconic brands.

“In 1985, I was planning on attending business school when my parents asked if I could go to NYC to close my grandfather’s failing business,” Giddon says. “What had once been a thriving business was then reeling. So, I kind of stumbled into the retail world. Despite not having a background in fashion or being a New Yorker, I found myself drawn to the business. When I got the crazy idea to reopen Rothmans, I deferred business school and started a 9-month plan to build a new version of Rothmans. 4 years later, I was lucky enough to have my brother Jim join me, and that was a game changer. We leveraged relationships from our grandfather and learned as we went, but ultimately, it was our passion for solving problems and connecting with people that drove us to transform Rothmans into what it is today.”

Becoming a NYC staple

Rothmans Store

By nature, fashion is cyclical. That means that something will come into style, and before you can get a handle on the trend, it is gone like the changing of the seasons. It sometimes seems that stores and brands do the same. Shopping malls and strip malls can feel like revolving doors for anything other than the largest and most corporate brand names. That creates a shallow shopping experience that leaves every man on their own to try to navigate a disappearing trend while being unprepared for the next. Ken talks about how their approach fixes that problem.

“By nature, I’m a people person and I want to make people happy and help solve their problems. I still use the term problem-solving when I talk about our business,” Giddon explains. He then speaks on the way they view their customers. “Men walk into our store because they’re on a mission, and it’s our job to solve the problem at the root of that mission. Now, what you’re going to wear is not the biggest problem in the world, but it’s often a problem. And we’re trying to solve that issue for them, whether it’s a fun issue or a serious issue, but we’re here to solve that problem. Being in New York and taking care of people is at the core of our business; we’ve always liked the people side of it. The fashion part was just the icing on the cake because it’s a fun business.”

Surviving adversity

Ken Giddon

If you have ever watched a movie in your life, you know that everything happens in New York City. Whether Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles scamper across rooftops, John McClane outwits a bank robber, or Dustin Hoffman just walks in a crosswalk, NYC feels like the center of the universe. That also means that there is never a shortage of challenges and adversity. On top of the rest of the business trying to thwart Rothmans’ growth, Ken has seen the universe toss-up plenty of obstacles in his nearly four decades at the helm.

He explains how he and his team focus on their original mindset to get them through. “Maintaining a sense of humor and lightness in the face of adversity has always been a core value at Rothmans. As Harry Rothman used to say, ‘You’re just selling pants.’ Over the years, we’ve weathered numerous challenges like 9/11, Superstorm Sandy, the 2008 financial crisis, COVID-19, and looting during the George Floyd riots. The key is resilience. We know we are going to get knocked down, but we also know that we will get back up.”

What’s NEXT

Rothmans Store shirts

Ken can’t do it forever, but he has help waiting in the wings as Will Giddon is stepping in to make his own mark on the store by spearheading Rothmans NEXT. Going down the stairs from the main floor, the collection of brands feels like the store’s exciting little secret. Can’t find what you’re looking for in our usual inventory? A slight nod and a secret password (not really, everyone is welcome) get you behind the curtain to exciting new up-and-comers in the NYC fashion scene.

There is a bit of a light in Will’s eye when he gets his opportunity to talk about his project. “Rothmans NEXT is our fashion laboratory, where we experiment with new brands and styles to stay ahead of industry trends. It showcases an expanded collection that has a different focus to allow customers to see something new. When I came into the business, part of my goal for the first few years was to look at the Rothmans brand from an outside lens and see what business areas needed extra attention. I looked at the areas of the business that we do really well and what areas needed some extra care or could use a closer look.”

But just getting his own spot in the store wasn’t just the goal. Will also focuses on the kinds of brands he is bringing in and is deliberate in his process. “We’re always on the lookout for new and innovative brands that offer something unique to our customers. Our selection process involves analyzing sales data, customer feedback, and industry trends to identify emerging brands with potential. We look for brands that fill a specific niche and align with our values of quality and style. We will identify three or four things that each brand does really well, and we will make sure that’s included in our curation from the top floor all the way down to Rothmans NEXT.”

Rothmans has been there for 98 years, and the Giddons are making sure it isn’t going anywhere. Outfitting anchors for new stations and national brands like ESPN and MLB TV is only part of their gig. The rest is ensuring that you can walk among those famous faces and look and feel as though you belong.

Mark McKee
Mark is a full-time freelance writer and men's coach. He spent time as a style consultant and bespoke suit salesman before…
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